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Culinary Art and Anthropology
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Culinary Art and Anthropology Joy Adapon Oxford • New York .
Cookery—Social aspects—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Berg is the imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd. Mexican.bergpublishers. Madison. King’s Lynn www. 81 St Clements Street. Food habits—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Cookery.M4A35 2008 394. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) Typeset by Apex CoVantage.First published in 2008 by Berg Editorial ofﬁces: 1st Floor. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) 1. OX4 1AW. cm.com . TX716. 3. Angel Court. Title. Includes bibliographical references and index. Cookery—Mexico—Milpa Alta. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of Berg. Oxford. I. New York. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Adapon. Joy. WI. 4. UK 175 Fifth Avenue. NY 10010. USA © Joy Adapon 2008 All rights reserved. p. 2.1'20972—dc22 2008017019 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. USA Printed in the United Kingdom by Biddles Ltd. Culinary art and anthropology / Joy Adapon.
How to Peel chiles poblanos. Hospitality and Exchange Flavour and Value Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Barbacoa in Milpa Alta Eating barbacoa Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. How to Achieve a Perfect capeado 2 Cooking as an Artistic Practice Food and Culinary Art in Anthropology Gell’s Theory of Art A Meal as an Object of Art On Edibility.Contents Illustrations Preface Introduction Milpa Alta. Milpa Alta Conclusion Recipes 29 29 32 36 39 43 47 49 49 50 54 66 68 vii ix 1 4 5 7 7 8 11 12 15 18 22 3 –v– . DF Organization of the book 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles The Range of Mexican Foods Home Cooking by Profession Cooking Tradition On Learning Techniques Food and Love Recipes Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato.
Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa. Motherhood and Virtue Suffering. Buñuelos de lujo. Home Cooking and Street Food Appetite. Taco placero. Torrejas The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life The Function of Flavour The Importance of Cooking in Social Life Fiesta Food in the Culinary Art Corpus Food and Love. Batter for Coating Fish. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal Culinary Agency Recipes Huevos a la mexicana. Carnitas Mole and Fiestas Compadrazgo and the mayodomía Hospitality and Food Mole and mole poblano Mole and Celebration The Development of a Tradition Fiesta Food The Presence or Absence of Mole in Fiestas Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’— for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home. Chiles and albur Daily Meals. Morality and Taste Recipes: Variations on a Theme 71 71 75 76 78 82 85 5 89 90 93 97 98 102 106 108 109 6 113 113 115 118 120 122 124 127 137 149 159 Notes Works Cited Index . Barbacoa 4 Women as Culinary Agents The Value of Cooking and Other Work Marriage and Cooking Work.’ Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela.vi • Contents Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa. Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo.
and Corresponding Food Terms 2.1 Terminology Employed by Gell.1 Feast Food in Milpa Alta.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus 5.2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole 5.Illustrations Tables 2. Shown as Families 103 104 34 35 100 – vii – . Arranged According to Type of Celebration Figures 5.
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Through her patience and understanding I discovered a new ﬁeld of study as well as a different direction for my academic life. He was my inspiration. I am grateful for the continued friendship and support of Simeran Gell. Their sensitive comments and insight were invaluable as I waded through the process of writing my dissertation on which this book is based. So I had to learn to cook. His advice to enjoy ﬁeldwork and take note of any ‘interesting trivia’ kept me going and looking forward. I was fortunate to be one of his last students before his untimely death in 1997. particularly important to me before my ﬁeldwork. During a period of culinary experimentation when I was into peppers of all colours and types. he repeated that if I was interested in chile peppers. who taught me that there are ‘tram-line’ people and ‘zigzag’ people. friend. Charles Stafford was consistently most reliable. guide. especially for taking me seriously whenever I came up with odd ideas. Maurice Bloch was always inspiring and warm. thoughtful. – ix – . In Alfred’s absence. I wish I could thank him personally for all his understanding and encouragement. So I went off to read up on Mexico and Mexican food before deciding for myself. I am grateful to Peter Loizos. supervisor and. if I can focus it on peppers. Without him I would never have begun this investigation. She gave me my ﬁrst opportunity for ﬁeldwork and supported my initial shaky steps into anthropology. I visited Alfred Gell in his ofﬁce and told him.’ Despite my hesitation. then Mexico was the place to go to. Fenella Cannell was especially helpful in grounding me during the period immediately following Alfred Gell’s death. ‘I’m thinking of maybe doing a PhD. several more people helped me to bring this project to completion with incomparable patience. nor would I have even thought of going to Mexico. that they all eventually arrive at their destination and that the different routes are equally valid.’ ‘Of course you can. Back in London. kindness and academic rigour. She shares her and Alfred’s love for life with all those who are fortunate to know her. This book is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Gell. most of all.’ he said. ‘Go to Mexico. Even just thinking of her is always encouraging and reminds me time and again to live in the present.Preface I love to eat. Peter Gow always provided timely encouragement and helped me to learn how to see. Looking back. thorough and frank. Sally Engle Merry ﬁrst introduced me to anthropology and instilled in me an immediate devotion to the subject during my undergraduate years.
he was eager to share with someone his favourite eateries and his love for the cuisines of Mexico. With his warmth. Ricardo was my ‘Muchona the Hornet’ of Mexican food. He was the ﬁrst person to really understand what I was getting at when I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time. especially Yadira Arenas and Luis Enrique Nápoles.’ he said. Ma. Antonio Rivera. homes and food with me. He in turn allowed me to sit in some classes of the gastronomy program and get to know the students and faculty. took a strange foreigner into their homes and shared much more than their lives. Janet Long-Solís generously shared her books and her contacts with me. Andrés Medina welcomed me to the Institute of Anthropological Research (IIA) in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a sense of humour. including José Luis Juárez and Ricardo Muñoz. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have met him. Conmigo siempre tienen su casa. I wish for the time when they can come stay with me. Juan Carlos López. Leticia Méndez was the second person I met in the UNAM who understood me both academically and emotionally. Ricardo Bonilla. Berlin or wherever I may be. Her premature death in 1996 was one of the great shocks that I encountered in Mexico. Other friends of his who were also chefs repeatedly told me that with my interest in traditional Mexican food. Their friendship and thoughtful conversations constantly provided me with security and fruitful ideas. Abdiel Cervántes. constant moral support and generous interest in me and my work. Primitiva Bermejo. Other friends in Mexico—Patricia Salero and her family. She introduced me to José Luis Curiel in the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. I was eager to learn all I could about Mexican cooking and to taste everything. It was through him that I met other scholars of Mexican cuisine who inﬂuenced my understanding of Mexican gastronomy. He welcomed me into both his professional and personal lives and was a constant friend even during the most awkward of times and strove to accommodate my every possible need. I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. Fabiola Alcántara. Alejandro Enriquez and Guille Arenas. It was he who introduced me to Luz del Valle. and I have missed her ever since. we had become inseparable friends. Doña Margarita Salazar. The people with whom I lived in Milpa Alta. in Manila. . I was in Mexico City for 24 months from 1995 to 1998 and within a few weeks of my arrival. he helped me to eventually ﬁnd my way during ﬁeldwork. Iván Gomezcésar shared with me thoughtful insight about Milpa Alta as well as several texts. ‘Now I guess you have to move in with me. Juan Manuel Horta and the rest of the staff of the Executive Dining Room in the UNAM—opened their hearts and homes to me. which I would have not found on my own.x • Preface In Mexico I owe a great debt to many whose generosity and presence made my stay both pleasant and stimulating. He is now internationally acknowledged as an authority on Mexican cookery and has published ﬁve books of renown. Gabriel Gutierrez. Ileana Bonilla. Even before my tiny ﬂat in Coyoacán became ﬂooded and unliveable. who offered me valuable friendship and a link into Milpa Alta.
providing much constructive criticism and tipping me onto certain crucial references that have helped me improve this book immensely. Thank you also to Simon Lord at Oxford University Press for granting unhesitating permission to use and modify Gell’s table of the Art Nexus. David Sutton was endlessly patient. And of course many thanks to Hannah Shakespeare at Berg. and for his astounding commitment to my work and to me. Anja’s editorial eagle eye never failed to impress and amuse me. Most importantly. . like Liese Hoffmann. for all the reasons mentioned above and more. and the Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 2001. And ﬁnally. enthusiastic and supportive. His openness and offers to help encouraged me in the academic path that he himself chose not to take. have supported me in all possible ways. keeping up my interest in Mexican food when I was distracted by other things. Yuehping was the ﬁrst and staunchest supporter of my using Alfred’s theory of art in my analysis. who showed humanity and equanimity at every blip along the way. helped me to reach bibliographic sources that I had difﬁculty accessing. especially my parents and sister. Anonymous readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript gave me something to chew on. I would also like to thank Tom Jaine at Prospect Books for his always quick and witty responses to queries. Michael Schutz provided valuable technical support at short notice. as well as willing eaters of all my culinary experiments. My survival and sanity depended on their constant presence and love. Thank you! Uta Raina read through a chapter at a critical time and. commented on drafts of this manuscript at various stages and were immeasurably helpful and intellectually stimulating. Marilya and Scott Reese supplied me with timely stocks of Mexican ingredients and new cookbooks.Preface • xi My occasional meetings with Chef Rick Bayless were always inspiring. critical when necessary. even when they did not understand what I was doing. much love and gratitude to Kai Kresse. especially Yuehping Yen and Anja Timm. My family. Saskia ﬁlled my days with such happiness that working at night seemed a fair enough exchange. Without his belief in my work this book would not have been published. and for permission to reuse my material published previously in Petits Propos Culinaires 67. Good friends and peers.
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even artistic process. Chef Ricardo Muñoz. experimenting. tasting.Introduction As a once aspiring chef. . and then he lowered the heat for it to simmer with some salt. white cheese and onions. and that individual dishes could be as meaningful as symbolic ingredients. a bit of onion and garlic. ‘This is a typical Mexican breakfast. liqueﬁed the mixture thoroughly and strained it into hot oil. exploring. I had always believed that anthropological studies of food were overly concerned with staple crops. quickly coating them evenly and warming them up. –1– . The day before he had cut up leftover tortillas into eight wedges each and left them to dry overnight. for I have my own story to tell .) One morning I arrived early at the kitchen of my friend. In a pot Ricardo had boiled green tomatoes (tomates verdes. was a key ethnographic moment. topping them with thin slices of white onion.1 I will discuss Abarca’s work elsewhere. That morning he deep-fried them till crisp to make totopos and set them aside for the excess oil to drain. but I am still compelled to begin with chilaquiles. He told me that he sometimes liked to put a bit of fresh coriander on top but that it was not really necessary. With or without. So for me. When I began this research. he tossed in the totopos. Before going to Mexico. not just preparing or eating it. He poured this into a blender with some of the cooking liquid.’ he said. I was struck by the fact that many ethnographies of food failed to take into account that cooking was a creative. The salsa sizzled for some moments. ‘I like to keep them crispy. crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or de canasto) and a dollop of thick cream (crema de rancho. experiencing chilaquiles. My interest in and knowledge of cooking came mostly from my own research.’ he told me. I had never tasted or cooked anything like it. (Some readers may be aware of Meredith Abarca’s (2006) recent book on Mexican and Mexican American women and cooking. that spices were as important as staples. When the salsa was ready. it was delicious. where she begins metaphorically with her mother’s chilaquiles. It is made of fried pieces of day-old tortillas bathed in a chile-tomato sauce and garnished with mildly soured cream. tomatillos). One dish that was personally meaningful for me during my time in Mexico was chilaquiles. ignoring the fact that food had ﬂavour and was enjoyed and relished by those who ate and prepared it. and it also looked beautiful. He arranged a mound of chilaquiles onto each plate. Chilaquiles is typical Mexican breakfast food. . reading. serrano chiles and epazote. like crème fraîche).
Abarca’s mother is quoted referring to it as the food of the poor (‘la comida de uno de pobre’.’ he said (‘The Chinese girl [as he affectionately called me] doesn’t believe me’). and his entire kitchen staff laughed with him. bread. Variations of chilaquiles were normal everyday fare. I realized that it was true. I thought. letting the totopos go soggy. I learned to feel the . when I watched or helped people cook I was naturally impressed with the methods of preparation that were so foreign to me and therefore often difﬁcult for me to emulate. They all agreed with him that this was a commonly prepared dish that any family might have on a regular day throughout Mexico. after asking several people and later living in different Mexican households. to use up leftover tortillas or simply for the pleasure of eating. I began to absorb culinary and gastronomic knowledge. Busy families made it a point to have delectable dishes for daily meals. meat. I also felt that I developed deep relationships with people because of my interest in their food and my respect for their expertise in matters including but not limited to cooking. Living in Mexico City. The salsa was too thick and not smooth enough. This was Mexican home cooking. My introduction to Mexican cuisine was inevitably by way of recipes and cookbooks. and I had not had it or practised enough times to really know what to do. eggs. among professional chefs in the centre as well as among barbacoieros in Milpa Alta at the outskirts. Though it looked easy. the more I got to know Mexico and the more I understood about the culture and cuisine. even if there was little time to linger over them. and even insisted on. 71). However. Conversely. Since I did not have the beneﬁt of growing up in a Mexican home. They were only cooking the kind of food that they always ate. Eventually. and I worked too slowly. 2006. Clearly I lacked the skill and knowledge to prepare chilaquiles properly. my ﬁrst attempt at making chilaquiles at home was barely edible. Many families had their chilaquiles with extra side dishes as well—beans. even if done to the letter. Ricardo was a well-known chef who specialized in traditional Mexican cooking.2 I felt that my cooking improved. in my body as well as in my mind. ‘La china no me cree. Even those who were not culinary professionals delighted in. This event reﬂected my worries—would I ever be able to acquire any true knowledge of or expertise in Mexican cookery. learning the culinary techniques needed to make Mexican food did not work as simply as following a recipe. I found it hard to believe that something so complex and laborious could be typical for breakfast. Perhaps.2 • Culinary Art and Anthropology My immediate reaction was to say. The textures and ﬂavours were wrong. and no one thought twice about it or found it particularly difﬁcult to make. and it looked like a sorry heap of nicely garnished mush. chicken. high gastronomic standards. this was food for restaurants or for special occasions. ‘No way!’ and this set him off laughing. from my perspective. p. if that were indeed possible? Would learning to make chilaquiles teach me something about Mexico? Or did I need to learn about Mexico to be able to make chilaquiles? The answer was yes on all counts. the food that women prepare for their families on any given day. and it certainly seemed easier.
Italy. 514). Since then.Introduction • 3 point of readiness when something was cooked ‘until it’s done’ or to discern how much water or broth to put into the rice pot until it was ‘enough’. in Jack Goody’s terms. 97–9). My concern with Mexico is secondary to this consideration of a cuisine as an art form. The people we study care about the ﬂavour of the food that they eat. 1981. Cowal. a ‘differentiated’ or ‘high’ cuisine (1982. Sahagún. 1950–1982). Rather. pp. 2006. but what might it mean to take this idea seriously analytically? This study focuses on cooking as a deeply meaningful social activity.3 Food-as-art easily rolls off the tongue. more often throughout this book. new foodstuffs have been introduced and incorporated. Though my analysis is based on ethnographic practice. for thinking as well as for cooking and eating. 1990. rather than ‘taste’. is the regional food of peasants and the cooking of exotic foreigners’ (1982. 1997). From what I read. I had come to Mexico interested primarily in chiles but found that there was so much more to consider. 2003. 104–5). What can be inferred from this is that any good cook is a ‘specialist’. Alfred Gell’s theory of the art nexus is the theoretical basis of this book. enriching the cuisine through the sharing of culinary and cultural knowledge. Corcuera. pp. ‘The imagination at work in the use of local ingredients means that eating is not the domain of the rich in Mexico. Turkey and India (Goody. Mexican cuisine was also considered a particularly ﬁne art in relation to other cuisines. Culinary tradition here is really peasant food raised to the level of high and sophisticated art’ (Cowal.4 Food in Mexico is a richly satisfying topic. from the national standpoint. For the higher cuisine also incorporates and transforms what. pp. reading cookbooks convinced me that Mexican cooking could be thought of as a form of art. pp. Even before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. In fact. Korsmeyer. Such a situation is what has existed in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived (see Coe. we recognize the creative skill needed to produce good food. 1994. so I speciﬁcally use the word ‘ﬂavour’. France. my aim is to explore how we can use a theory of art to analyze food anthropologically. and that this art was to be found in everyday home cooking rather than in restaurants. this is not intended as ethnography of Mexican foodways. in the ﬁrst instance. on food as a form of art. Using Gell’s notion of art as a technical practice highlights the social as well as gastronomic virtuosity that is embodied in skilful cooking. Flavour has more sensual than sociological connotations. 2005. throughout Mexico’s history. If we think of cookery as art. Goody counts Mexican cuisine among other ‘haute cuisines’ such as those found in China. My discussion of the art of Mexican cooking is based on the gastronomic . Chiles could not be examined without the context of the whole cuisine. 1990. 1–2). development and innovation of culinary techniques. 510. or. a ‘high’ cuisine depends on ‘a variety of dishes which are largely the inventions of specialists. Approaching cooking as artistic activity is most salient when what is under scrutiny can be deﬁned as an elaborate cuisine. But by no means entirely. which I prefer to emphasize (see Howes. there has been continuous adjustment. As he deﬁnes it. Stoller.
4 • Culinary Art and Anthropology
life I experienced in Mexico City, mostly in the homes of barbacoa makers and other families in the district of Milpa Alta. With this perspective, I address questions such as these: why is it that no one cooks better than my mother? Or, in other words, why does food taste better when it comes from home? Also, why—seemingly contradictorily—does street food have such an appeal? Why are ﬁestas incomplete without mole? And so why is barbacoa, pit-roast meat, served instead?
Milpa Alta, DF
Milpa Alta is the smallest municipality of Mexico City (Federal District), in the southeastern edge, adjacent to Xochimilco.5 Yet Milpaltenses talked of Mexico City as a separate entity, and they were self-consciously attached to their land and traditions. Milpa Alta is a semi-rural, mountainous area spoken of as the ‘province of Mexico City’. The name literally translates as ‘Highland Cornﬁeld’ in that it is a region of high elevation, formerly dedicated to maize and maguey (agave/century plant) production.6 The word milpa refers to a maize plantation, whose borders were traditionally delineated with a border of magueys. The maize was planted in rows and intercropped with beans, chiles, squash and sometimes tomatoes. Plantations were organized like this since before the Spanish came to Mexico, and Milpa Alta began to produce less maize only since the latter half of the twentieth century. The population was fairly young; 79.8 per cent under 40, and those in the most active productive ages made up 61.9 per cent of the population (Departamento de Distrito Federal (DDF), 1997, pp. 15–64). According to the ﬁgures for 1990, among the 45,233 who were over the age of 12, 43.4 per cent were economically active. Among them, three-quarters were men and a quarter were women (p. 77). Three-quarters of the economically inactive were women, more than half of whom were classiﬁed as housewives (dedicated to housework; p. 83). As I later explain, a large proportion of these people may actually contribute their labour to the family business, although they did not ofﬁcially represent themselves as wage earners, consciously choosing to deﬁne themselves as dedicated to their homes and families rather than as businesswomen (comerciantes).7 Around half the inhabitants of Milpa Alta lived in Villa Milpa Alta, the municipal capital. Villa Milpa Alta has seven barrios called San Mateo (the site of this research), La Concepción, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Agustín, Santa Martha and La Luz. Barrio San Mateo is one of the largest barrios, with around 1,000 families residing there. Following the census of 1990, each household contained an average of 5.2 occupants (as opposed to 4.6 for the whole Federal District; DDF, 1997, p. 83), making the population of Barrio San Mateo an estimated 5,000–6,000.8 Milpa Alta’s barrios are each dedicated to a particular trade. In Barrio San Mateo, most people prepare barbacoa de borrego, pit-roast lamb, for a living. Barbacoa is usually eaten on special occasions since it is a dish made in large amounts because
Introduction • 5
whole sheep or goats are cooked overnight in an earth oven. There are restaurants in Mexico City which serve only barbacoa, but it is more commonly prepared like a cottage industry by families called barbacoieros. Unofﬁcially, barbacoieros earned an estimated Mx$3,000 per week (equivalent then, in the mid-1990s, to around £214 per week). Several families earned more, because the barbacoa business can be very lucrative, but since all transactions were in cash, they needed not declare all their earnings. This meant that though they enjoyed considerable economic comfort, at least on paper they were consistently portrayed as among the poorest of Mexico City.
Organization of the Book
Chapter 1 focuses on Mexican cuisine and how it is commonly thought of as art in published material as well as in casual conversation. I also discuss the issues of skill and learning techniques and the key notions of sazón and love. In Chapter 2 I describe the theoretical framework of this book. I outline my perspective that cooking is an artistic and technical practice and therefore Mexican cuisine can be analyzed as a body of art. Gell’s theory of art premisses that almost anything can be deﬁned as an art object, anthropologically speaking. Indeed, I am not the only one who has been inspired to use his theory in areas that we normally think of as non-art (Pinney and Thomas, 2001; Reed, 2005). The next three chapters provide perspectives of how people in Milpa Alta cook and eat informally, at home, in the street and during private or local ﬁestas. I describe the process of preparing barbacoa in detail in Chapter 3. The work is shared between husband and wife and is one demonstration of how culinary practices are a means by which actors construct their social world (cf. Munn, 1986). Weekly and daily life is structured by the rhythms of the kitchen, and the production of barbacoa as a trade also dictates the spatio-temporal forms of barbacoiero social interaction and relative status in Milpa Alta. In Chapter 4 I explore the notion of culinary agency as powerful and meaningful by looking at women’s social and physical boundaries. Women do most of the cooking in the household, and in some ways it seems that a proper woman is thought of as one who knows how to cook, especially if she cooks well. Because of this ideal of womanhood, there is a saying about marriage and cooking in Mexico which takes the form of a criticism: No saben ni cocinar y ya se quieren casar (‘They don’t even know how to cook and yet they already want to marry’). I describe society’s expectations of women to assess how food and cooking are related to marriage and to a woman’s sense of identity and morality in Milpa Alta. This chapter demonstrates how the agency that effectuates social interaction and change is a culinary agency. As any book about Mexican food should do, I also discuss mole, the famous sauce that combines chile and chocolate, which is complex in both preparation
6 • Culinary Art and Anthropology
and meanings. Chapter 5 is about feast food, the coerciveness of hospitality and the static or dynamic nature of cuisine. Although ﬁestas are releases from daily routine (Brandes, 1988, p. 1; cf. Paz, 1967) and recipes of ﬁesta dishes are more elaborate than any everyday meal, the food consumed during festivities is actually controlled and bound by a set of rules. For ﬁestas, a strict menu needs to be followed (i.e. mole, tamales, rice, beans); otherwise the meal is not properly perceived as festive. I use the example of mole to illustrate how food can have meanings which transcend time (cf. Mintz, 1979). Festive dishes can easily be thought of as culinary works of art, but if artistry is determined by action (see Chapter 2; Gell, 1998), then the greatest culinary artistry characterizes the domestic or quotidian sphere. Though much work goes into the preparation of food for ﬁestas, women cook relatively elaborately every day in Milpa Alta for their regular family meals. Daily domestic culinary activities can be thought of as preparatory sketches or training in the culinary arts, without which the production of culinary works of art would not be possible. Thus the artistic nature of cooking is embedded in domestic activity, in food preparation, and is appreciated in its consumption.9 Chapter 6 concludes this study with a discussion of the difference between snacks and home-cooked meals, the centrality of gastronomy to social life and thus the power of cooks as culinary agents.
To each broth or stew that does not contain chile. Food writing colours our perceptions of other cuisines. 1996. largely drawing from what I learned from reading food history and cookbooks and from my early ﬁeldwork in the centre of Mexico City among chefs. In their green. The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles After the usual introductions. In what follows I describe some of the ways that people think of and write about the cuisines of Mexico. ‘And does she eat tortillas?’ Complemented with beans. ‘Food and cuisine can characterize a culture. starting with the all-important chile. and it is the chile that gives the peculiar and deﬁnitive accent to –7– . chile and corn (most often in the form of tortillas) are the main ingredients of Mexican cuisine. This served as thorough preparation for the culinary life that I encountered later in Milpa Alta. The chile is the heart and soul of Mexican food. on which most of this book is focused. and ours has been and continues to be characterized by our daily and widespread consumption of chiles’ (Muñoz. The Mexican Stove (1973.–1– Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine Mexican cuisine is something like a historical novel which has a gorgeously wanton redhead on its dust jacket. I became enamoured of Mexican cooking from what I had read prior to my ﬁrst visit. The most culturally meaningful of the three is the chile. the ﬁrst thing asked about me when I was brought to anyone’s home in Mexico was invariably. It is in Mexico where the most extensive variety of chiles is used. ‘Does she eat chile?’ The second question was usually. students and researchers of Mexican gastronomy. we add some hot salsa at the table. and in my case. —Richard Condon. ripe or dried states they have different ﬂavours which are cooked or combined for different effects. chiles are used primarily for their distinct ﬂavours and not only for their heat. p. In Mexico. 13) This chapter introduces the cuisines of Mexico in general. A very complex dish begins by roasting and/or grinding chiles. my translation). foreword.
‘Indeed the chile has played such an important role in the economic and social life of the country that many Mexicans feel their national identity would be in danger of extinction without it’ (Kennedy. 460). The Range of Mexican Foods Since pre-Hispanic times. none of the three would be what it is.3 In the sixteenth century when the Spanish ﬁrst arrived. Corn is an incomplete protein. p. The image of a basic culinary triad is tempting. (1992. It also provides the vitamins they lack. The combination of the three makes a nutritionally balanced meal. but any Mexican interested in eating would place the chile above the squash in a list of priorities for the dining table. literally . and we know that even then they were prepared in a number of ways to make them palatable or even edible. especially vitamins A and C. and the proof of this is to be found in the omission of chile peppers. my translation) Some writings on Mexican cooking state that the ancient Mesoamerican victuals were based on a ‘holy triad’ of corn. the cuisines of Mexico have been based on corn. 38–9) asserts that ‘[t]his triad was invented by foreigners and imposed on the high cultures of the New World. beans. which the outsiders viewed as a mere condiment. beans and squash. 1996. It belongs to the holy trinity that has always been the basis of our diet: corn. and chile. it fails to adequately describe Mexican cuisine. emphasis added) Mexican cuisine uses many kinds of chiles in diverse ways. It has outlasted religions and governments in Mexico. but hopelessly monotonous. without which food was a penance. The Aztecs of central Mexico had . It’s magic. who enthuses that Chile is history. 218. while the original inhabitants considered them a dietary cornerstone. a New York restaurateur.2 Diana Kennedy echoes Bartolomé de las Casas. It is the ingredient that can determine the ﬂavour of a dish.. 10. Without each other.8 • Culinary Art and Anthropology many meals. pp. who wrote in the sixteenth century that without chiles Mexicans did not believe they were eating. p. and not just in their use as ﬂavouring for food. Together they would be good basic sustenance. Clearly these three crops are basic foodstuffs in the Mexican diet. beans are difﬁcult to digest. there was agricultural abundance. Food historian Sophie Coe (1994. (Muñoz. cornﬁelds. Chile makes the gastric juices run for a dinner of beans and tortillas. beans and chiles. It is part of the landscape. with beans and squash.’ The possible reason that squash was included is because of the traditional style of planting milpas. too numerous to list here.1 but even a brief perusal of Mexican cookbooks indicates that chiles are signiﬁcant in Mexican life. 1989. p. except that with the exclusion of the chile. The power of the chile in this Mexican ‘culinary triangle’ is wonderfully described by Zarela Martínez..
Soldiers. She states that ‘at ﬁrst the civilization was too highly developed and the populace too numerous for the Spaniards to ignore the native cooking. insects and a wide variety of fruits. beans and chiles. a Franciscan friar who came to Mexico in the sixteenth century. tortillas and tamales. There are various accounts of how the Spaniards were impressed with the beauty and abundance of the Valley of Mexico. imagination. Cowal’s unpublished study. further shows how the Spanish who came during the Conquest were only partially forced to adjust to the foods of Mexico (pp. which added variety and breadth to their diet with comestibles that they did not grow themselves. 90–9). Not all indigenous groups were equally afﬂuent. Sahagún recorded that along with maize and beans. As the Spanish established themselves in what they called New Spain. The Spanish friars were the ﬁrst to learn the local languages for the purposes of evangelization. p. meticulously collected material to describe the Aztec (Náhuatl) way of life. vegetables. 93). and it is through their writings that we have any knowledge of the social and culinary systems of the precolonial period. New foods and cooking techniques are incorporated. tubers. small game. wild mushrooms.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 9 sophisticated farming techniques (chinampas4 and milpas) and more sophisticated gastronomy. though there is some disagreement amongst researchers and cookbook writers. mutton. and also of the feasts that the emperor Moctezuma offered to them and ate himself. partly out of necessity and somewhat because of taste choice’ (p. The repertory of Mexican cuisine expanded with the addition of ingredients and cooking methods which were introduced during the Spanish colonial . plants and herbs that they collected or domesticated for food use. Those ﬂavours which are favourable are repeated and remembered. they also established ﬁrm roots for the Catholic church. mainly of foods. where all sorts of plants. including everything that they ate. Spanish sources of the period attest to gastronomic abundance. animals and insects were being sold for food as supplements to the basic diet of corn. Without question there was creativity. ﬁsh. but the availability of various foods impressed the conquistadors who came and saw the great markets of Tlatelolco. The settlers eventually accommodated themselves within the existing culture. so the variety of foods recorded by Sahagún was actually a result of culinary expertise. 30). bland diet of bread. Cuisines evolve as cooks experiment with ingredients and learn new ways to process and combine their raw materials for different occasions and effects. pulses. the ancient Aztecs ate turkey. Food historians assert that Aztec cooking was developed to high art. 1981. tasted and tested during meals. Food in the History of Central Mexico (1990). but Sonia Corcuera (1981) points out that the basic ingredients were still limited. They also had military and political power over other groups in the region from whom they demanded tribute. and culinary knowledge and expertise grow. seeds.5 The foods still boiled down to being variations of chiles. used to a modest. lentils and a few vegetables. adapted to the Mexican diet. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1950–82 ). and this notion is reiterated by writers until today. and culinary artistry (Corcuera.
7 Given the sophistication of both the native and foreign colonial cuisines. These popular traditions partly consist in the culinary techniques and gastronomic knowledge that have been passed down the generations through the family kitchen. the process of mestizaje is not a simple fusion of Indian and Spanish. 1998). cows. 1995. Spanish nuns had to learn to use the local products. the Germans.’9 She asserts that the indigenous cuisines of Mexico did not undergo the miscegenation that most people claim. p. What exists in Mexico is what food historian Rachel Laudan deﬁnes as a local cuisine. the Lebanese. p.10 • Culinary Art and Anthropology period. such as frying. Juárez López (2000) argues that the bases of much contemporary . garlic.. the Italians. chickens and sheep to Mexico. as much of what they were used to cooking could not all be imported from Spain. cloves and many other herbs and spices that are widely used in Mexican cookery today. At the same time. within the convents. Eight centuries of Arab inﬂuence had left their mark’ (1990. 113). and though they did inﬂuence the local cuisines.6 ‘But among the Aztec elite maize appeared in so many forms that it is hard to imagine them suffering from the monotony which we envisage when told of a culture which has a single staple food and eats it every meal of every day’ (Coe. which integrated the new ﬂavours and foodstuffs. ‘The excesses and inventiveness of convent cooking reﬂected Mexico’s diverse ﬂora and fauna. On the other hand. 62) or of ‘baroque cuisine’ comes directly from the convents.. cinnamon. The idea of an ‘emerging mestizo cuisine’ (Valle and Valle. therefore. beans and chiles. 1995. coriander. personal communication) By the nineteenth century. The Spaniards introduced pigs. Historian Cristina Barros states that contemporary Mexican cuisine is 90 per cent indigenous and 10 per cent other inﬂuences. The convents were wealthy laboratories of gastronomic experimentation where the sharing of culinary inﬂuences ﬂourished during the colonial period. milk and its products were unknown. the Mennonites. Not just the Spanish but the French. 1994. as were cooking methods using fats. the power and wealth of its religious orders’ (Valle and Valle. 90). above all. the basis of Mexican cuisine remained the same as it had always been—corn. a new and coherent cuisine . not by the gradual evolution of some original cuisine rooted in the soil (though that does happen) but by the shocks and changes of immigrants . 63).8 Cowal points out that ‘Spanish cooking was already a mixture when it got to the Americas. the omnivorous appetites of its inhabitants. There were few Spanish who arrived during the Conquest. made up of different components that have now blended together to form . ‘The most delicious cuisines [in Mexico] are those with more indigenous inﬂuence.. They also brought onions. the bases remained Mexican. That is. Before the arrival of the Spaniards. p. and. have all had much more impact than the usual indigenous/colonial story would lead one to believe. Mexican cooks sought the essence of their art in popular traditions rather than in formalized techniques (Pilcher. Yet in spite of this.. (Rachel Laudan. the later Spanish refugees from the Civil War.. p..
a look at the recently published books on Mexican cooking suggests that the contemporary popular Mexican cuisine is as complex and sophisticated as those cuisines that are better known internationally. He grew up with a passion for food because of his mother. Muñoz. Middle Eastern and French. Home Cooking by Profession Soon after I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz. states that ‘[t]he foods of regional Mexico are in a gastronomic world of their own. was when we next met and Ricardo showed me the ﬁrst draft of the Mexican gastronomic dictionary he had written (now published. Aﬁcionados travel to Mexico just to discover the richness and variety of the local cuisines. 2000). There are subtle as well as forceful ﬂavours. The project was a self-motivated labour of love. Gilliland and Ravago. who is an excellent . hunted. He was teaching a class on beans in traditional Mexican cookery. 1987. Regardless of a recipe’s origins. Ricardo was not yet 30 years old. This was because I expected there to be dozens of beans and ways to prepare them in Mexico. and collected and what they ate at home. very much. and he had already devoted seven years to travel. Bayless and Bayless. and this was only a sampling. Zaslavsky. in small eateries. Much later Ricardo told me that he was miffed that I did not seem too impressed. p. 1996. Kennedy. All of them draw this conclusion from their exposure to regional home cooking rather than to restaurant food. and Laudan (2004) makes a strong case for Persian inﬂuences. out at street stalls. techniques and customs related to food from all over the country. a fascinating and many-faceted world’ (1989. Indeed. in restaurants and on regular days or during ﬁestas. 1995). many restaurants in Mexico offer home cooking as their specialities. ranging from the simplicity of ingredients best eaten raw (like pápaloquelite or small avocados criollos. Gabilondo. many non-Mexican (e. About thirty different recipes were covered. planted. research and writing for this book. What did impress me.g. because Ricardo believed that there was so much about Mexican gastronomy that people in Mexico and abroad should be aware of. Ricardo had had a modest upbringing in southern Mexico in Tabasco and Veracruz. Kraig and Nieto. There were two thousand single-spaced pages describing what people cooked. 1986. the most well known writer on Mexican cookery. 2005. after having read so much about Mexican food before my trip.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 11 Mexican cuisine are European. encompassing all kinds of ﬂowers (like ﬂor de izote) and local vegetables (like huauzontle). as well as culinary tools. Diana Kennedy. xiii). whose edible skin tastes subtly of anise) to complex stews or preparations made of dozens of ingredients (like moles and stuffed chiles). At the time. have worked hard to dispel the idea that the foods of Mexico are anything like the food of popular Tex-Mex restaurants abroad. as well as other cookbook authors. such as the Chinese.
An example is a traditional soup from central Mexico known as squash blossom or milpa plantation soup. sometimes home cooking is reproduced in restaurants. Recording food customs and recipes (lest they fall into disuse) is an active part of cultural revival given that the books where they are recorded inﬂuence readers’ activities. discovery or rediscovery of these things. and there he took a course on international cookery. on such a small scale that they remain local and unknown even in other areas of the country. occasionally lending a hand. he asked Ricardo for advice. Dissatisﬁed with a complex green sauce that he intended to serve with duck. without the experience of growing up in a pueblo as Ricardo had done. Mexican nouvelle cuisine. he was attuned to the subtleties and diversity of Mexican regional cooking. By the time he moved to Mexico City as a young adult and began formal culinary training. and with his delicious cooking. What the cooking school taught as Mexican cuisine was nothing like the cuisines that he knew from growing up and living in different regions of Mexico. After following these suggestions.12 • Culinary Art and Anthropology cook. often shopping for their supplies. then in turn is re-reproduced in people’s homes. Despite his training as a chef that taught him the basics of French cuisine. the resulting sauce was so much better that he called up Ricardo right away to thank him and to ask him how he knew what to do. and later also his teaching and publications. To be able to afford to send her seven children to school. where one of his sisters had migrated. she set up a fonda. in his data collection and awe of the foods of Mexico. he was continually drawn back to the ﬂavours and culinary cultures of home. he has been actively inﬂuencing others to share his appreciation of Mexican gastronomy. Ricardo became recognized for his knowledge of traditional Mexican cookery. Ricardo grew up hanging out in the fonda. ‘I just told you how to make a traditional green mole!’ was Ricardo’s response. For a couple of years he lived in California. He had had a relatively afﬂuent urban upbringing. recommending other cooking tips. He recognized that many delicacies of Mexican gastronomy are wild ingredients or dishes produced only in people’s homes. This was part of what instigated him to embark on his intense research of what and how people eat and cook in all the pueblos10 of Mexico that he could visit. a small local eatery selling popular home-style dishes. redeﬁning or reﬁning the cuisine. Cooking Tradition Ricardo is one among many other researchers whose passion for traditional Mexican food inspired an investigation that to some extent is like ‘salvage ethnography’.11 To me it seems he is like a contemporary Sahagún. The soup . One friend of Ricardo’s was a chef at a sophisticated Mexico City restaurant serving nueva cocina mexicana. ultimately expanding. The latter suggested adding a bit of this and that. sopa de ﬂor de calabaza or sopa de milpa. watching his mother cook. But even without books.
Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 13 is made from the products of the milpa. However. Moreover. The number of restaurants in Mexico serving Mexican cuisine has been rising in the past twenty-ﬁve years. Traditions are the ‘habits and values [of a culture that are transmitted] from one generation to another’ (p. and it was even possible to obtain a university degree in gastronomy. In the 1990s professional cookery had become as fashionable and prestigious as it was in the USA and UK. This was set up by a group of women who were distinguished chefs or otherwise specialists in Mexican culinary culture. dough for making tortillas. some of whom had trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York. poblano chiles and sometimes nopales. Whether they were specialists of French cuisine or California cooking. As a nationalistic reaction to foreign inﬂuences on Mexican food. still under way.14 Hountondji (1983) reminds us that the root word of ‘tradition’ is the Latin word tradere. they often talked about Mexican food. traditions should not be thought of as static or frozen in the past. the food of the pueblo or of the market. 139). The soup may be thickened with masa (nixtamal ). and the remote (‘authentic’12) recipes of the provincial towns. 138). something to be proud of. of the pueblos. This soup is home cooking (comida casera). but it is now also served in posh restaurants serving nueva cocina mexicana. 113) trace the initial interest in preserving and promoting ‘traditional’ and ﬁne regional and local Mexican food to 1981 when the Mexican Culinary Circle (Círculo Mexicano de Arte Culinario).15 Etymologically. . then. courgettes. There were many more Mexican food festivals aimed at wealthy urban mestizos than ever before. culinary traditions were self-consciously being revived (p. the greatest interest amongst young student chefs was in studying traditional Mexican cookery. squash blossoms. In relation to gastronomy and ﬂavours. Long and Vargas suggest that the tendency to focus more on traditional cookery in restaurants and other gastronomic arenas arose from a recognition of traditions being lost. was formed in Mexico City. Ricardo’s work slots into this movement. The cooking schools in Mexico City were growing. and of the new and exciting Mexican cookery that was emerging. the herb epazote. green beans. ﬂavourful. and huitlacoche (corn fungus).13 Long and Vargas (2005. to transmit. of recuperating and renovating (or even reinventing) ‘traditional’ foods and practices. which implies movement. in spite of their support of experimentation and fusion. directly related to the growing interest in reclaiming a sense of what is Mexican. A great cocktail party could turn into a brilliant party if there were a few dishes of quesadillitas or taquitos (mini quesadillas or tacos) amongst the other hors d’oeuvres. and an awareness that their cuisines are unique. and more and more books were being published about ‘real’ Mexican food. which included international cooking skills and culinary history among other subjects. I had considerable contact with professional chefs in Mexico City. with fresh maize kernels. they still had great appreciation for what they sometimes called the ‘simple’ food. p. which may seem very personal and ephemeral. recovering the recipes of their grandparents. that is.
saving the blood and tripe to cook with the huevera. tomatoes. For now. She herself had never tasted or cooked it before. Doña Margarita and Primy told me how they would usually make tamales with them.). This is how culinary knowledge is often passed on— without recipes or precise measurements. when people need to do things quickly. came home one day with calostros de vaca. they improvise with the food they have at hand.d. 2006. the curds made from the colustrum of a cow. culinary knowledge and skill.14 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it is difﬁcult to pin down what precisely is transmitted. the recipe for which he described in detail. from consulting with others. noses and mouths. hearts. They were cut open down the middle and their unlain eggs were on display. social and/or professional sense. Once I mentioned to friends in Milpa Alta that in the main market of Mexico City. Rather than strictly following a recipe. Miguel proceeded to relate how his mother would slaughter the hens.16 Unlike artefacts in an ethnographic museum. . it ‘develops with the growth of the organism’ (2000. We learn gastronomic habits and values by growing up within the contexts that give rise to what we later deﬁne as ‘traditional’. in addition to gleaning what we can from books and other means or media (cf. chile and epazote. Sutton. but her friend who had given it to her told her to prepare it with onions. will affect the outcome of the dishes cooked. I will return to a discussion of culinary skill below and to the mutability of so-called traditional cooking in Chapter 5. or as Ingold describes other kinds of skill. These habits and values. cooking is something that is enacted and embodied. 128–30) that is stored in their heads. combined with creativity. if they are labelled at all. 2001. it is enough to be aware that the multiple origins of each component or technique used in a dish are easily overlooked or forgotten in everyday life. from the experience of growing up within a particular gastronomic culture. with a little imagination. quoted and discussed in Sutton. n. fellow cooks are expected to be able to draw upon a ‘stock of knowledge’ (Keller and Dixon Keller. As with any other sort of skill. hands. pp. 106). and these dishes are often thought of simply as being ‘traditional’. 361). traditions are dynamic living practices that are ‘inﬁnitely adaptable’ (Sutton. it was explained to me. My friend Yadira. Knowing how to make certain dishes or how to combine foods is learnt by repeated observation and practice. Rather. La Merced. in a physiological. These unlain eggs are called the huevera and my friends were able to tell me about different ways of preparing them.17 A surprise gift or passing comment might spark off a memory from which a cook can recreate or reproduce a dish that may be or become part of ‘tradition’. 2006. Certainly most people’s vast culinary knowledge is never written down. I had seen egg-laying hens for sale. p. and they ordered an egg-laying hen from the butcher and prepared the tamales de huevera for my next visit. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions’. in Milpa Alta. p. ‘it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. This kind of knowledge and skill required to reproduce such ‘tradition’ is something that grows with the cook as he or she matures and gains dexterity. not usually articulated.
rather than grinds. but in fact they were full of parenthetical references to other recipes or basic techniques. for people who like to cook’ (Condon and Bennet. Fonda San Miguel. and much effort and time are needed to prepare almost anything that people eat daily. the ingredients. a metal or clay griddle. Some cookbooks suggest sample menus or traditional accompaniments. these are the three ingredients of their recipe for Pescado Tikin Xik: 6 6. hoping to try out some recipes. or with chipotle mayonnaise. the raw materials and the ﬁnished dishes. it is. but this does not compare with having the experience of cooking and eating in Mexico with Mexican people to give you a feeling for the cuisine. making a choppy and more watery sauce. This is one reason that a sincere interest in cooking. in some households. Inspired by a recipe from Diana Kennedy. 16). or basalt grinding stone. then grinding them on a metate. they recommend serving the ﬁsh with arroz blanco (white rice) and frijoles negros (black beans). skinned Achiote Rub (see recipe for Cochinita Pibil) Cebollas Rojas en Escabeche (see separate recipe) (Gilliland and Ravago. Here is an example from the cookbook of a well-known restaurant in Texas that has been known for serving ‘authentic Mexican food of the interior’. in the ﬂavours. Most people I came across in Mexico would still insist that a salsa made in the molcajete tastes better than one made in a blender.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 15 Some traditional Mexican cooking techniques are complex or involve long processes. 2005. On Learning Techniques Before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico.18 Sauces had to be prepared with the stone mortar and pestle called the molcajete and tejolote. Before industrialization (and now. p. p.to 7-ounce red snapper ﬁllets. to make a soft dough before patting them out into tortillas. so it is good advice to follow. which slices. As one cookbook aptly expresses. textured salsa than an electric blender. recipes for which are found on other pages of the book. to say the least. (Thank goodness we can ask the ﬁshmonger to ﬁllet and skin the ﬁsh for us!) . The rice and beans would be the most common accompaniments for this ﬁsh in the Yucatán where the recipe originates. is necessary to cook well. I bought or read a number of Mexican cookbooks. and baking them one by one on a comal. It was intimidating. 1973. Often recipes looked deceptively simple. women had to spend several hours a day boiling dried maize kernels. which are helpful. 134) In addition. Some restaurants even serve salsas from molcajetes whether or not they actually make the sauces in them. even more so if such a thing were possible. ﬂat round cakes. The grinding action of the stones produces a more even. in spite of industrialization). ‘The pervasive fact about Mexican food is that it is not only for people who like to eat.
A recipe is merely an intellectual prototype like a blueprint of the dish that eventually is prepared by a cook according to his or her skill or mood. approximately. But home cooks surely did not think in terms of recipes. kept hot. expertise is enacted as a symbiosis between a skilled practitioner and his or her environment within a system of relations (in our case social. kept hot rajas of 1 large chile poblano (see page 471) 4 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or añejo (Kennedy. cocida (page 337). texture and smell. 1989. or were side dishes or basic preparations that ultimately constituted an ingredient for another recipe. 338) What appeared straightforward at ﬁrst glance seemed actually more like the endless subordinate clauses of a German sentence. broiled (see page 472) 2 tablespoons safﬂower oil 2 heaped tablespoons ﬁnely chopped white onion ½ teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt (Kennedy. 1989. A cook needs to make myriad decisions before ﬁnally producing not just a dish. an artefact (or . approximately. My impression was that short recipes were either composites of several others. Once in a material or physical state.16 • Culinary Art and Anthropology For another example. touched and manipulated. abstract formulae that need to be selfconsciously recorded. assessed by sight. Note that this dish must be prepared at the last moment and served immediately: safﬂower oil for frying 4 5-inch corn tortillas 4 extra large eggs 1⅓ cups salsa ranchera (page 338). which are. Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs). or 1⅓ cups salsa de tomate verde. but a full meal. it lists the following ingredients: 2 garlic cloves. and it is this type of discernment that also needs to be learnt. p. Ingredients are chosen. They were only some of the essential components of a complete or proper meal. after all. broiled (see page 450) 5 chiles serranos. gastronomic. these are the ingredients of Diana Kennedy’s recipe for one of the most well-known dishes outside of Mexico. and material). It took me several months of living in Mexico before I could look at a typical recipe such as the above and not need to take a deep breath before beginning. along with the culinary techniques. According to Ingold (2000). I recognized that I needed to reach a comfortable level of self-conﬁdence when I thought of chiles or of making a Mexican salsa. tasted and savoured. 318) Turning then to her recipe for salsa ranchera on page 338. p. peeled and roughly chopped 2 pounds (about 4 large) tomatoes.
preferably by demonstration and practice. The women of Milpa Alta and the chefs of the centre differed in social class and social context. Because of these very individual actions. and he noticed how she respected food. participate. food. but I had plenty of opportunities to observe. and that it is important to allow foods to take their own time to reach their optimum points. That is not to say that the techniques of one group were any more or less sophisticated than the other’s. . I rarely cooked on my own. p. When two cooks prepare food following the same recipe the food comes out differently.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 17 in our case. too. Toño. To prepare basic Mexican dishes some unique culinary techniques need to be learned. It took him almost forty-ﬁve minutes to fry and mash onions with the frijoles de olla. following a Mexican recipe required learning culinary skills to which I had had no prior exposure. I did not dare to put a chile directly on the gas ﬂame of the cooker to blister the skin before steaming and peeling it. I garnered knowledge of technical terminology and processes much more systematically than I did from women in Milpa Alta. They serve as reminders so that a cook can prepare a dish using previously learnt skills acquired through experience (see also Sutton. 2000. He said that he learned to cook by watching his sister cooking as he grew up. This is because ‘the artefact engages its maker in a pattern of skilled activity’ (p. he loved to watch her. In all my time in Mexico. Another friend. they used a very similar discourse. even though I comprehended the words individually. the coming-into-being of any product (artefact. 2006). The hands of the cook and other bodily sensory factors play a role in the outcome. Though she did not set out to teach him to cook. who used to cook for a fonda in Veracruz. Yadira insisted that it is better to use too much oil to fry rice well before adding water or broth. practise and articulate my questions about Mexican culinary techniques so that some of the cooking skill could grow within me. Even watching my friends cook on occasion was not enough for me to pick up the skills in a short time. I had to confess that I did not know what that meant. In my case. 345). meal) is as much a part of the creative process as its pre-conceptualisation. showed me how he makes refried beans. 343). Making raw salsas and different kinds of cooked or part-cooked salsas with fresh chiles or dried chiles requires different methods. boiled beans. When a Mexican friend told me that to make enchiladas I had to ‘pass the tortilla through hot oil’. I stopped thinking twice about it. Before going to Mexico for the ﬁrst time. rather than use too little oil and sacriﬁce the ﬂavour and texture. a dish or meal) does not actually come into being in the exact way that it was previously imagined (Ingold. After some weeks watching and helping people cook in Mexico. even if you must drain off the excess oil. Sutton (2001) notes that written recipes are ‘memory jogs’ that cannot actually teach someone how to cook. and to my understanding each group held the other in great respect for their presumed culinary mastery. Yet when it came to the way in which they talked about Mexican cuisine. Among chefs who specialized in Mexican cuisine. frijoles refritos.
It also appears that you need not be born Mexican in order to feel so strongly about their cuisine. they almost always took up this popular discourse of love and gave an emotional value to the topic. which is exempliﬁed by novels such as Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel. Friends from different backgrounds have told me their culinary secret. A young banker once tried to explain to me his relationship to food. they refer to many facets of love. 1992). good cooks from any culture might say that the reason they cook well is because of some kind of love. Knowing how to develop the ﬂavours of a food depends on an interest in understanding it and how it reacts with other foods. Richard Condon . The rhetoric of love is not something that is unique to Mexico. but when we talked about Mexican cuisine. Different kinds of culinary specialists subscribe to this popular discourse on the connection between love and cooking. But my banker friend was not the only person I met who talked of food in this manner. but oftentimes. knowing how or why certain things are used together. él que ama’ (‘Mexican cuisine is for he who feels. the spiritual. There are three types of orgasms. This love may be interpreted as an affection for the people who will be eating or as the desire to eat well. saying. he who loves’). When people talk of love (amor). At some point I wondered whether this might be a clever culturally sanctioned means of hiding culinary secrets. and sometimes said that her secret was ‘love’. It involves understanding the history of a dish or an ingredient. what ‘marries well’ or not. but after further experience I decided that attributing their success in cooking to ‘love’ was a deliberate and apt conceptualization of producing good ﬂavour in their food. This comment may sound exaggerated. including the attention and care that goes into cooking well. when I complimented people on their cooking. And of course there is the correlation between food and romance. but I believe the prevalence and variety of its expression is pertinent. the cook sometimes dictated me a recipe. of course. It may be that a good cook treats ingredients in a particular. because of a love of cooking. saying. he told me—the carnal. ‘La cocina mexicana es para él que siente. It may also be that a good cook cares about following a recipe or doing a technique properly. This was a phrase they volunteered. Wooing couples of different cultures often practise courtship or romance with private meals (out or in) as preludes to other things. and I was unable to elicit a clear explanation from him. loving way to bring out each ingredient’s best qualities. I never asked anyone directly. Relating food to love in Mexico may not be unique. The latter often added that love was the ‘secret ingredient’ that made their dishes special. Throughout my ﬁeldwork I was confronted with these statements—both from trained chefs and from home cooks.18 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Food and Love There is a rhetoric of food and love in Mexico. ‘I cook with love’ (‘Yo cocino con amor’ ). and the gastronomical—and these three are encapsulated in mole. ‘What’s your secret?’. If pressed. which I did often. Professional chefs have a technical language in which to express themselves about gastronomic matters.
Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 19
(Condon and Bennet, 1973, p. 3), possibly the most effusive writer on Mexican cuisine, described it as
the most exalted food ever to appear in the Western Hemisphere, ... it becomes evident, when the glorious plunge is taken, that to cook and eat Mexican food is to celebrate sensuality in every great chamber of this textured, perfumed, delicious, beautiful, and memorable gastronomic antiquity. Mexican food is an aphrodisiac which excites the passion for living. It courts, seduces, ravishes, then cherishes all ﬁve senses (as well as the sense of most worthy accomplishment) by treating each as if it existed alone, as if all satisfaction were dependent upon this one sense, while it orchestrates all ﬁve into complex permutations of sensation.
Some professional chefs ascribed the source of their success to things other than ‘love’. They talked of having a passion for food, in general, but they were also likely to relate their cooking skills to ‘art’ or to their being ‘professional’. Ricardo says that he cooks with love, and also with passion. Chef Abdiel Cervantes says he is a lover of Mexican cuisine (‘Soy un amante de la cocina mexicana’), and his success is because of his genuine fondness (cariño) for Mexican cuisine. Chefs like Ricardo and Abdiel, who were singled out as specialists in Mexican cuisine, each had profound childhood memories or training that inﬂuenced their cooking. They grew up cooking Mexican food, helping their mothers, who sold local food commercially or who often prepared food for large parties. In fact, Abdiel was a self-taught chef who became successful in Mexico City without any formal culinary training. Ricardo tried to explain to me his idea of love when cooking Mexican food: ‘You don’t cook just for the hell of it; there’s something to transmit through the food. It is something very very personal, so hard to explain that the only way to express your feelings is through action.’ He continued, ‘Every single thing you do in the pot, you do because it has a reason.’ When a salsa comes out very hot (muy picosa), the explanation often given is that the cook was angry or that she lacked love. When the salsa is watery, the cook was feeling lethargic, lazy or dispirited ( ﬂojera, sin ánimo, sin amor). As Ricardo always emphasized, the emotional state of mind of the cook is always revealed in the outcome of the cooking. Cooking with love was Ricardo’s favourite topic of discussion. ‘La comida es una verdadera manifestación del amor,’ he said (‘Food is a true manifestation of love).’ He explained that when you truly love someone, not necessarily in a romantic sense, with pleasure you might say, ‘Te voy a cocinar un mole para tu cumpleaños’ (‘I will make you a mole for your birthday’). It is a way to assure your friend that you will provide the best for him or her. Saying, ‘Te voy a cocinarte algo’ (‘I will cook something for you’) means ‘Te quiero mucho’ (‘I love you very much’), but not necessarily in a sexual sense. Ricardo emphasized the Mexican saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, un hombre se enamora por el estómago, or un hombre se conquista por el estómago. A cook invests many hours in preparing food for others, he added (his emphasis). It is a way of expressing how much you
20 • Culinary Art and Anthropology
love someone, because all dishes denoted as special take a very long time to prepare. This is why the time it takes to prepare food is an ‘investment’; it is an investment in the social relationship between the cook and the intended eater(s). Cooking with love combines the pleasure of cooking with the pride of culinary knowledge and the sentiments that are transmitted to the eaters. Several others stressed to me that this personal aspect is vital to understanding Mexican cuisine, both for cooking and for eating. A student of gastronomy told me that her greatest complaint about many publications on Mexican cuisine is that they are recipe books with few explanations. Descriptions of how and why the recipe came about or is used in this way for a particular occasion or in a particular place, or the feelings and choices that are involved in the preparation, or the positioning of the people who are cooking and eating, are all part of Mexican cookery and ought not to be edited out. What Mexican people eat signiﬁes much more than ﬁlling their stomachs (Fabiola Alcántara, personal communication). Aída Gabilondo (1986), a Mexican cookbook writer, wrote about the importance of love for good cooking. She recalled the teachings of her mother, who
was a loving cook: no rough stirring or pouring. She insisted that food resented being rudely handled and that ﬁnished dishes would show any mistreatment ... Years later when I started teaching cooking in my home town, I remembered her words, and when I wrote a recipe on the blackboard or dictated it to my students, I always ended the list of ingredients with the words, ‘Sal, pimienta, y amor’. Salt, pepper, and love. (p. 5)
Another student of Mexican gastronomy explained to me that Mexican cuisine could never truly be accurately or well transferred to a professional restaurant kitchen. Mexican cuisine requires an emotional investment from the cook, and casual observation reveals that careless cooks produce careless results. ‘Mexican cuisine is very personal, very human. [When cooking] you are always thinking of your family or of the person for whom you’re cooking. When you remove the personal aspect from Mexican cuisine its ﬂavour changes; it cannot be commercialized’ (Ricardo Bonilla, personal communication). One Mexican chef who herself does not specialize in Mexican cuisine says that you need to be born with it in order to cook it properly, to understand and to reproduce it. This is why there are few good Mexican restaurants in Mexico and abroad, she said, ‘because they are just chefs; they learn to reproduce the food—but not from home—without love’. Ricardo Muñoz says, ‘You have to love la tierra [the land]. You have to be involved with the culture.’ In a way, the same can be said if you wish to cook well in any cuisine. You need to care enough to ﬁnd out about proper techniques, as well as about the history and culture of the dish and the people. The most well-known US chef who specializes in Mexican cooking, Chef Rick Bayless, takes his restaurant staff to Mexico every year so that they can experience the cuisine ﬁrst-hand. Out of respect for Mexican culture and cuisine, he considers
Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 21
it necessary to stay in touch with the country to be able to better reproduce the traditional cooking back in Chicago. For him, as discussed further below, this attention is how a restaurant can compensate to approximate the love that emanates from home cooking. Bayless was invited as a keynote speaker at a festival of Mexican cuisine held at the Ambrosia cookery school in Mexico City (2 September 1997). His talk was on his ideas about Mexican cuisine and how to ‘translate’ it for use in restaurants outside of Mexico. He said that to properly cook ‘authentic’ Mexican food, it is necessary to cook with the passion, security (conﬁanza) and generous spirit of Mexican cuisine. In his speech, exalting the traditional regional cuisines of Mexico, he also mentioned the impossibility of making real Mexican food in restaurants. The ﬂavours of Mexico cannot be fully achieved unless the human factor is there, but failing that, attention to top-quality ingredients and meticulous workmanship may compensate. He said,
Home cooking must be transferred to the restaurant kitchen, and it must be part of the curriculum in cooking schools, the way it is, instead of trying to copy the European model. It must be prepared properly from the beginning, as it is done in your grandmother’s home; but in restaurants, of course, without the sazón of love. Therefore, the best ingredients must be used. To imitate other more famous cuisines will not do.19
When Bayless mentioned love, he called it a sazón, referring to the impossibility of restaurant chefs having the kind of personal connection to their customers as home cooks have to their families. The word sazón literally means seasoning or ﬂavour but is used to connote a special personal ﬂavour which individual cooks contribute to the food to make it come out well. This word is used to explain why no two cooks ever produce the same ﬂavour, although they may follow the same recipe or were taught to cook by the same person. ‘Cada persona tiene su sazón,’ every person has his own personal touch. Someone can have good sazón or none. ‘Está en la mano,’ it is in the hand, people also say. A person’s sazón is something inexplicable that cannot be learnt but must arise from within, from a person’s heart. It is a talent or knack for cooking, and this particular kind of personal touch that is necessary for good Mexican cooking is love. Both Ricardo and Primy, who makes barbacoa (see Chapter 3), have curiously noticed that when they personally get involved in the cooking, using their hands (mano, sazón), their diners/customers somehow notice the difference. Each told me that when they merely supervise the cooking but do not have direct contact with the food, diners may still think the outcome is very good, but when they are in direct contact, diners sometimes comment on just how good the food turned out that day. The central importance of sazón is examined in depth by Abarca (2006), who considers it to represent a ‘culinary epistemology’. She very accurately describes it as being ‘like a gardener’s green thumb’ (p. 51). The women she interviewed, whom she calls ‘grassroots theorists’, provide several examples where they demonstrate
Abarca writes. When cooks are singled out for their ability. I suggest. frijoles de olla. I have abridged it only a little as I translated it. It is precisely this inexplicable quality that sets some cooks apart from others. This can range from something as common as boiled beans in their broth. are poblano chiles stuffed with chopped or minced meat ( picadillo). without recipes. stuffed chiles would be served with a thin tomato sauce. When someone has sazón. Because of his training as a chef. embodied or otherwise. They are guided by their memories. Recipes Though I have just explained at length that it is difﬁcult to reproduce Mexican cooking without demonstration and practice. In other words.20 Drawing from the work of Giard (2002). that the sazón is what differentiates a good cook from a particularly ﬁnely talented one. un don. as well as by their internal embodied knowledge. it separates artists from craftspeople. or sazón. I have heard people describe sazón as something like a blessing or a gift. The picadillo ﬁlling for the chile recipes . ‘Stuffed Chiles a la Mexicana’. ‘captures the notion of saber rather than conocer’ (p. that is. but in a fonda or at home. to more challenging dishes such as pipián verde. personal histories and taste. Abarca further suggests that modern kitchen appliances such as electric blenders interfere with a cook’s sazón because they reduce the need to use all one’s senses. The recipes and cooking tips in this chapter are taken from Ricardo’s ﬁrst book. and to this I now turn in the chapter that follows. and it is possible to have sazón even when cooking with modern appliances. caldillo. instructions are meticulously written. my working title was Chiles rellenos a la mexicana. I provide recipes throughout this book to give readers an idea of Mexican home cooking (comida casera). it is not only a recognition of their culinary knowledge. I hope that Ricardo’s detailed explanations will compensate for the lack of his presence. though in sazón they are not mutually exclusive.22 • Culinary Art and Anthropology their sazón in their ability to prepare particularly delicious food. and in market stands and fondas. that someone is rarely able to pinpoint what her actual trick might be. ‘to know’ at a sensory epistemological level rather than ‘to know’ in a technical way. When I ﬁrst began my own research. In the market the chiles are sold wrapped in a tortilla like a taco. 54). or cheese. but what is most commonly found in Mexico City. Los chiles rellenos en México (1996). Sazón. Similar to what Abarca notes. Her grassroots theorists tend to cook without measuring. yet also very humble and everyday dish. For my part. She describes women who have good sazón who avoid pressure cookers and grind their moles on their metates. instead. All kinds of chiles are stuffed and are served in people’s homes. I would hesitate to connect sazón too much to ‘traditional’ kitchen equipment. From reading cookbooks I was charmed with the idea of stufﬁng chiles and on my ﬁrst visit to Mexico I was naturally most eager to taste this very special.
pp. ﬁnely chopped 300 g (11 oz) minced beef 350 g (12 oz) minced pork sea salt to taste black pepper. Formal classes of authentic Mexican cooking are never taken. . María Elena was born in Coahuila. Picadillo 3 cups potatoes. stir in the beef and pork.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 23 here can be substituted with cheese. especially the kinds that melt. 1996. freshly ground. Panela. but she came to live in the capital when she was very young. ready for stufﬁng • See ‘How to Peel chiles poblanos’. and everyone learns to cook according to the regional style. Few families have recipe collections. Chiles 15 chiles poblanos. peeled and cut into ½-cm (⅛-inch) cubes ½ cup corn or canola oil 1 cup white onions. just by watching. ﬁnely chopped 1 tablespoon garlic. Chiles rellenos de picadillo sencillo con papa Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato (Muñoz. stirring from time to time to separate the lumps and to avoid it sticking to the pan. • Heat the oil until it smokes lightly and fry the onions until soft and golden. and she soon learned to make local dishes. to taste • Blanch the potatoes in water and set them aside. Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses are commonly used. below. Add the garlic and as soon as it is fried. but a mother or mother-in-law knows that her daughter or daughter-in-law should someday inherit her culinary secrets. They should be cooked but not very soft. 51–2) Serves 15 María Elena Trujillo This is a typical home-style preparation of chiles stuffed with picadillo that is served in any house on any day of the year in Mexico City. Cook until the meat is crispy.
peeled 6 black peppercorns sea salt to taste chicken broth or water. separated sea salt to taste ﬂour. Strain the mixture and pour it over the onions. • Allow the caldillo to cook for about 15 minutes. Munoz. chopped ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds sea salt to taste black pepper to taste • Heat the oil in a pan until it smokes lightly. • Serve the chiles with this sauce. Alternative caldillo ( from picadillo especial recipe. Capeado 8 eggs at room temperature. as necessary ¼ cup corn oil sugar to taste . peeled 1 cup tomato. • In a blender. and season with salt and pepper to taste. • Leave to cool and stuff the chiles. chopped roughly 6 cloves garlic. Adjust the salt. and fry the onion until golden. sliced into thin segments 4 cloves garlic. Caldillo ¼ cup corn oil 2 cups white onions. accompanied with white rice and/or brothy beans and corn tortillas or bread. liquefy the garlic. below. as necessary corn or canola oil for frying • See ‘How to Achieve a Perfect capeado’. 1996. p.24 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add the potatoes and pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. 53) 2 kg (4½ lb) tomatoes ½ cup white onions. tomato and cumin.
• Pour it all into a blender jar and liquefy to form a smooth sauce. • This same technique may be used for other fresh chiles like the de agua of Oaxaca. Leave the chiles to rest for around 15 minutes so that they can sweat. Pour the sauce into the oil and let it cook about 10 minutes. It is at this stage when the chiles are most easily broken. How to Peel chiles poblanos (pp. almost falling apart. • Place the chiles on a chopping board. • It is unnecessary to scrape the chiles. making the chiles hotter. and the skin will slip off more easily. but this makes the chile lose some ﬂavor. Cook until the tomatoes are totally cooked. so it is good to roast and peel a few extra chiles. starting 2 centimetres (¾ inch) from the stem. add a little sugar. • Remove all the veins and seeds from the chiles. because if they are peeled too far in advance they may become too soft and lose their texture and visual appeal. Set aside to serve with stuffed chiles. because they may break. These are the most common ways. you may return them to the ﬂame to burn off any remaining skin. and chiles ixcatic. pepper. turning them with tongs from time to time until they are roasted and the skin bubbles and lightly burns (the skin will ﬁrst turn white and then dark brown). When the skin is charred well and evenly. If the cut is made from end to end it may be difﬁcult to stuff and then close the chiles. Taste and adjust the seasoning. This can also be done on a griddle (comal ). This is best done with your ﬁngers. keeping the stem facing upward. immediately transfer the chiles to a plastic bag and close it. but if you have very sensitive skin you may wish to wear rubber gloves.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 25 • Boil the tomatoes with the onion. and salt in enough broth or water to completely cover them. The inside of the chiles should be cleaned with a damp cloth. Strain it. It is necessary to dry the chiles with a dry cloth or to drain them very well. If it is a bit sour or tart. and stopping at least 1 centimetre (⅓ inch) before you reach the bottom tip. Try to peel the chiles just before stufﬁng and coating them in batter. With the tip of a knife cut a slit down the length of each chile. . • In a deep pot. • Place the chiles directly over the ﬂame on the stove. or over hot coals or a wood ﬁre. If they will be coated in capeado it is all right if some bits of skin remain. garlic. If they are not to be battered. with their respective differences. Many people ﬁnd it easier to remove the seeds under cold running water. Check that the part attached to the stem is completely clean because some veins and seeds often remain. 48–9) Almost every family has their own technique for peeling and cleaning chiles. jalapeños. heat the oil until it smokes lightly.
because these bowls retain ﬂavors and odors and often cause the egg whites to collapse. if not. use a spatula to push it back to stick to the chile so that it remains uniform and without drips. • Before placing the chiles in the oil. At this stage you may add salt.26 • Culinary Art and Anthropology How to Achieve a Perfect capeado (Muñoz. • When stufﬁng the chiles. If the eggs have been in the refrigerator it is necessary to remove them two hours before using them. This also helps the egg to adhere to the chile and not slip off when you fry it. • When placing the chile in oil. • If the batter spreads beyond the sides of the chile. • The stufﬁng should be cold or at room temperature. make sure that the oil is hot enough. it should smoke lightly. incorporate the yolks one by one with folding movements. lay it with the opening facing up. turn the chile to cook the other side. prepare the batter in small amounts. It should also be dry so that no liquid will spill out. • Beat the egg whites only until they form soft peaks ( punto de nieve. • If you need to coat large amounts of chiles. Afterward. Metal or glass bowls will also give good results. . and with a spatula. It is very difﬁcult to beat many egg whites stiff at the same time. just stiff ). • Do not stuff the chiles too far in advance since the juices of the ﬁlling may spill out. • Never beat egg whites in plastic bowls. in stages. Add one or two tablespoons of sifted ﬂour if you wish to have a thicker batter. • Roll the chiles in sifted ﬂour (make sure to shake off the excess). Do not heat it too much or the batter may burn. if the egg whites move or slip. the chiles should be totally dry inside and outside. moisture will deﬂate the stifﬂy beaten eggs. splash the oil over the top of the chile to seal it. the batter will separate. They very easily collapse or separate. 112–3) • For the egg to stick well to the chiles. though copper bowls are expensive and difﬁcult to ﬁnd. avoid overstufﬁng them. but not too much because it is easy to overbeat them. since it helps the whites to reach the required or ideal point. because they are difﬁcult to handle if they are too heavy. • Coat the chiles in the batter quickly. they are not yet ready and should be beaten some more. • The ﬂour should be sifted because lumps remain raw and give a bad taste to the capeado. • As soon as the whites have been beaten to the required point. even if it has previously been strained. pp. overturn the bowl. • The eggs must always be at room temperature because cold egg whites do not rise sufﬁciently. 1996. To determine whether they have reached this point. Pay special attention to drying the inside very well.21 A copper bowl is ideal.
though it may be better to turn them by holding the stem. it is possible! • When frying small chiles and those that do not have a heavy ﬁlling. you can hold them by the stem to turn them without using a spatula. place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. .Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 27 • With practice. • The batter should cook until it is lightly golden (never brown). You may need to change the paper towels two or more times as you continue frying. you can splash the top of the chile constantly with oil so that it will no longer be necessary to turn the chile to fry the other side. you may need two spatulas to turn the chiles without breaking the egg coating. Yes. • Once you remove the chiles from the pan. though the bottom part will always be a little darker. • If you are inexperienced.
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or to describe and discuss ﬂavours.1 This may be why there are few attempts to analyze ﬂavours anthropologically. 1997a. Yet many people. Food and Culinary Art in Anthropology Chefs and gastronomes talk passionately about food. Chefs and home cooks both perceive and appreciate the knowledge acquisition of each other. the ‘technology of enchantment’ and his notion of the ‘art nexus’. in the sensual/social relations (Howes. often ﬁnd it difﬁcult to articulate their reasons for preferring some foods over others. meaningful. there has been more focus on issues such as gender. Though the results are comparable. see Brown and Mussell.g. I then move on to examine Gell’s broadly deﬁned notion of art. I use Gell’s theory of art as a model. 1985. by taking into account the production. I propose that we can better get at the meaningfulness of food in everyday life ﬁrst by considering cooking as an artistic practice (and recipes as artworks). including culinary professionals. I develop these ideas by ﬁrst establishing how food has been treated previously. home cooks acquire skill by growing up under certain conditions considered ‘traditional’ and also by working with masters who are other home cooks known for their buen sazón. which ultimately results in their producing food (artwork/artefact) that is successful in its rendition (that is. creativity and agency. poverty. and second. Counihan – 29 – . Chefs acquire skill by professional training in schools or working with masters. 2003) of life in Milpa Alta.–2– Cooking as an Artistic Practice Recognizing the cuisines of Mexico as culinary art is in fact a recognition of the technical virtuosity entailed in their production. In this chapter I put forth the argument that we should think of food as art in order to analyze it productively anthropologically. identity or symbolic staple foods. delicious. memorable). for my approach to food differs from that of Bourdieu and Goody. Caplan. This is because of the perceived skill involved in its execution. cookery and cuisine. the means by which each of these groups acquires this skill are completely different. and often in the context of ritual occasions (e. who focused primarily on class distinction and social hierarchy. for a fruitful anthropological examination of food and ﬂavour. consumption and exchange of foods within social networks.2 Though much has been written about food in anthropology. and a point of departure.
Mintz encourages anthropologists to study food in its social context as a ‘cuisine’. 25) Strangely enough. 40). Macbeth. 1997. 3). 1999.g. especially in areas as closely tied to the whole domestic domain as that of cooking. he discusses ‘the art of cooking’. 1998) but also more generally in anthropology and sociology (see Highmore. Without the consideration of such related areas. like aesthetics. Lentz. The same could be said about ﬂavour in food. anthropologists are not used to thinking of it as art. especially from the perspective of the anthropology of art. In fact. But his interest is in comparative analysis over a broad historical. using this label without questioning its meaning. even food.30 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and Kaplan.g. p. Whilst we may subconsciously appreciate very good food as superior craft. anti-art’ (1996. Yet it cannot be denied that whether food is discussed in ritual or quotidian occasions.3 The topic of food in anthropology has historically been subsumed into these other areas and contexts. comparison and contrast within and between cuisines lacks an essential dimension. perhaps because.. 1998.4 In other words. Malinowski. arising from the fact that social anthropology is essentially. bafﬂed him. sex and sacriﬁce. or. Lupton. However. p. than if they simply pleased those who were doing the cooking and eating’ (1996. There is a growing trend to consider the everyday. The distinction between art and craft is a question of skill. as Sidney Mintz put it. which are deemed of higher theoretical relevance. and not food as a means of deﬁning what else it can be used for in the social order (e. 1935). see Sutton. 1997. stating that there is a tendency to spirit away the more concrete aspects of human life. In Goody’s (1982) analysis of hierarchy and the development of elaborate cuisines. he supports the observation and study of cooking at the domestic level. discussed further below. taste in terms of ﬂavour seems to be particularly resistant to sociological analysis. it is considered to be subjective and too personal for scrutiny. analysing cooking in its domestic quotidian context is as important as studying food in ritual contexts. food and eating ‘were more interesting [to anthropologists] if they offended the observer. (p. Yet thinking of a cook/chef as an artist. by locating their interpretation only at the ‘deeper’ level. 1996). little is written about cooking as a form of art.5 Gell observes that ‘the neglect of art in modern social anthropology is necessary and intentional. . it has ﬂavour and the taste is important to the people who eat and cook the foods. constitutionally. albeit lightly. 1996. is a connection that is so easily made in societies where most anthropologists come from. the artistic aspect of food production has often been ignored in favour of its shock value. which is largely a matter of privileging the ‘symbolic’ at the expense of the more immediately communicable dimensions of social action … a neglect of the ‘surface’ in favour of the ‘depths’. Wiessner and Schiefenhövel. Counihan and van Esterik. It is what matters most immediately to us when we eat and is difﬁcult to isolate as a subaspect of food. Instead. or were ceremonialized. 2002). not only in food studies (e.
within the complex of intentionalities that Gell talks about in his work (1998. simply did not have a clue about what I was getting at when I talked about culinary manipulations of chiles and other foodstuffs. therefore. hence power.8 an artistic approach may provide greater scope for an analysis of an elaborate cuisine. that is.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 31 political and economic framework. meaning is temporally extended and extendable. Some cookery writers. illuminating their structure may lead us no further than etiquette when it is also possible to observe complex and varied culinary techniques which inform cooks and eaters about other social meanings. The communicative aspects of cooking and eating lie in the meanings that actors (or agents. 1999b). to talk about a body of knowledge—a culinary corpus or art corpus. yet in his own work he neglected the aspect of preparation. like the Mexican. As Sidney Mintz says. that make good food meaningful and thus give cooks greater social value. describe Mexican culinary mastery as analogous to the control required to manipulate poetic language or magic. While it is true that Mexican eating habits can be placed into classiﬁcations and then encoded.6 Nevertheless. When I ﬁrst went to Mexico.7 Goody (1982) and Mintz (1979) each insist that meaning (in food) is salient beyond the immediate place and time of its production and consumption. an example from my ﬁeldwork is helpful. Furthermore. p. I was surprised to ﬁnd that real Mexican people. To illustrate this point. 1982. to this ‘enchantment’. 30). the creative activity. fully trapped under some kind of gastronomic spell. meaning can be said to effectuate behaviors of certain kinds. At least from my ﬁndings in Mexican cuisine. Although I do not contest the analytical advantages of a structural framework. 30). ‘Because people act in terms of understood meanings. p. there is no ‘language of food’ which can be learnt via a grammar of eating habits or cooking techniques. He argues for the need to contextualize social theory in ‘the total process of production. It makes more sense. within the constraints of a cook’s daily life. The active agency of art is the conveyor or mediator of social meanings. And power and meaning are always connected’ (1996. It allows women to change their social spaces and thereby expand their social network outside of the home. 2). if you wish—or a socially developed system which is employed in the preparation of foods for consumption. which are powerful enough to lead to social changes in other levels in the matrix of cultural forms. ‘[N]either social relations nor social structure “express” or “symbolise” the acts of individuals because the former are necessarily derived from and totally encompass the latter’ (Goody. both cooks and eaters) place in the food within their social context. from his topic of enquiry it seems logical to observe ‘the art of cooking’ itself in the context of its social dimensions. It is the active element in food preparation. both professional cooks and women in Milpa Alta. preparation and consumption of food’ ( p. Having succumbed. I was interested in learning the ‘language of chiles’ that I had been led to expect existed from reading Mexican cookbooks. myself. combined with the fact that raw materials need to be bought or collected from different places and then prepared and combined well. .
Instead. women’s domestic and extradomestic roles. and yearly timetables of women as well as men. essential to the reproduction of human societies’ (p. and the cuisine demands a certain discipline and lifestyle which partly structures the daily. I mainly draw upon Alfred Gell’s theory of art. p. the cultural meanings of culinary activity as part of women’s work is different from a semiotic analysis of foodstuffs. the perspective of food as art may help us understand some of the meanings that foods carry. weekly. my position with speciﬁc regard to food is to locate the source of meaning in the social relations between cooks and eaters and in culinary agency. rather than trying to explain why one foodstuff may ‘stand for’ something else. p. Another way of looking at it is Munn’s deﬁnition of meaning. The anthropological analysis of cultural meaning requires explication of cultural forms—a working through or unfolding of these culturally speciﬁc deﬁnitions and connectivities in order to disclose both the relational nature of the forms and the signiﬁcance that derives from this relationality. and therefore meaning ful. intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it’ (1998. and recognizing this puts due emphasis on the ﬂavour of food. Thus. 43. Women do the cooking. pp. then. but also acknowledge the artistic quality of the act of cooking. 6 –7) Put into context. Gell’s Theory of Art Gell (1996) suggests thinking of art as a ‘vast and often unrecognized technical system. ‘as a system of action. the social meanings or meaningfulness of foods can be better understood if we analyze cuisine as a whole. 1998) allows for using Nancy Munn’s conception of ‘meaning’ that is not static: ‘actors construct this meaningful order in the process of being constructed in its terms’ (1986. If foods are full of meaning.g. focusing on culinary practice. Thus I avoid analysis of semiotic relations such as corn with blood or chiles with penises (in the wordplay albur). my research focuses on the meanings of interrelating cultural forms—the corpus of cuisine. 1998. therefore. (1986.32 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Technical mastery is what deﬁnes the art object. I am taking cuisine as art in the way that Gell sees art. and social interaction and hospitality in ﬁesta and quotidian occasions. To help in thinking about food anthropologically. or repository of social meaning. as he developed it in several publications (e. which is the efﬁcacious aspect. 1999b). Rather than direct metonymic expressions of foodstuffs standing for other social structures. 6). and my approach attempts to respond to such a gap. These are important points which could lead to further investigation. as being the relational nexus that enters into any given sociocultural form or practice (of whatever order of complexity) and deﬁnes that practice. 6). Thinking of food as art which is based on action (Gell. What Mexican cooking actually appears to ‘mean’ is a harmonious family and socio-cosmological life. emphasis added) which . monthly. So.
43). which is seen as artistic excellence or exemplary craftsmanship. sometimes via the index/artwork. The index ‘abducts’ agency within its social milieu to mediate social interaction. Gell emphasizes action. If we transpose this terminology to the study of food. The action performed by any of the four variables in Table 2.10 David Parkin (2006. what Gell calls captivation (1998. whether from the position of producer. we may think of the artist as cook. including art-objects. gastronomic bliss. therefore. It is art as an activity.1 is also caused or put into effect by intention or the network of intentionalities in which it is enmeshed. affects the spectator in a way that may be called aesthetic. acting as the nexus of interrelating social networks. the doing of art rather than the simple observation of semiotic meaning. Gell uses the simple symbol of an arrow to indicate the direction in which agency is ‘abducted’ or the direction of the ﬂow of agency. in Gell’s terms. Although many objects may be thought of as beautiful. based on a ‘prototype’ (whatever is depicted). Some objects of art are produced with the intention of capturing the viewer’s (eater’s/recipient’s) attention. 43. the person or thing depicted in the artwork. 84) succintly glosses Gell’s theory as ‘a social anthropology of how objects. consumer. sometimes through art-objects. which thereby facilitates a perceptual change in the recipient.9 Art objects. upon which/whom agency is exerted. art objects are those that are ‘beautifully made. meal or dish. Put very simply for visual art. the index as the food. original emphasis). and viewed or consumed by a ‘recipient’ (spectator). every ‘agent’ has a corresponding ‘patient’. or both. But aesthetics is as abstract as taste and cannot easily be put into context anthropologically unless we consider the social relations of the actors who perform these judgements of taste or aesthetics. would be to take on Gell’s emphasis on agency and intention in the social milieux of works of art. They also are thought of as having higher value. The capacity of the art object to inspire the awe or admiration afforded it is a direct result of this active agency. or as a social actor. for instance. p. the artwork is an ‘index’. 7) provide an example that illustrates how a cook’s agency affects eaters abducted by .Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 33 performs an aesthetic effect by what he calls ‘the technology of enchantment’. or made beautiful’ (p. produced by an ‘artist’. become personiﬁed and persons become objectiﬁed. Likewise. sometimes directly. as products of techniques’ (p. This may be effected and experienced as aesthetic awe.1). or the mastery of the artwork itself as an entity. and how these processes are part of the larger process we call society or the network of social relations’. Each of these entities exerts agency upon others. This value is given to them by humans because of a perceived superiority. p. the prototype as recipe. The agency of the artist. The solution to this problem. and recipient as eater (see Table 2. We as art lovers are enchanted by our perception of the technical virtuosity entailed to produce these works of art. p. Foodwriters Dornenburg and Page (1996. There is another sense in which the nature of art production is active. in particular. ‘demonstrate a certain technically achieved level of excellence … as made objects. 68ff). or (eventually) the development of personhood.
its lineage). but also to inform the spectator’s relationship with the represented image (or the artist himself ) as a node of the relation between the two. and their effects. The relations directly involving the index (in our case. in the way that I use the term ‘culinary artistry’. however. It is the ﬂavour of the food. though examples can be given for the other instances of when agency is abducted via the index. p. This allows us to construct a table based on his (see Table 2. sight. Crudely put. What is important to keep . the notion of culinary artistry remains elusive. depending on which is the primary agent (with the sufﬁx ‘-A’) and which is the primary patient (with the sufﬁx ‘-P’). an art object can be thought of as equivalent to a person. It is an extension of a person whose biography can be traced via the whole body of art. Our interpretation of a food event depends on the perspective we take.11 It is helpful to use Gell’s terms to understand the active nature of bringing out the ﬂavour in food. Gell constructs a table (1998. Thinking of it in this way. encompassing taste. the artist’s technical mastery gives the object of art this social ability. which chefs/culinary artists are able to manipulate to make the eater’s experience transcend the moment. dish. Of course. In effect. By its artistic nature. smell. I am not expecting a perfect ﬁt between the terms of this table and the tangle of relations that make up Mexican cuisine or Milpaltense social life. ‘accomplished chefs’ or ‘culinary artists’. 29) of what he calls the ‘art nexus’. following Gell (1998. and Corresponding Food Terms Artist Artwork Object or person depicted by artwork Spectator. difﬁcult to describe. This is because. to produce social effects on or conduct social relations with other social beings (patients). we can think of the art nexus as a food nexus. Food prepared by a culinary artist makes diners feel that ‘Life is wonderful’ rather than ‘That was delicious. physically enhancing their experience of life. that means that the construction of an artwork is like the construction of a person. lineages and so on. They categorize cooks as ‘burger-ﬂippers’. the art corpus (its family.2). an object has the power (agency) to act. meal Recipe Eater the food consumed. a social agent. even extra-sensorially. replacing the corresponding terms that Gell uses with food-related ones.’ Therefore we recognize culinary artistry by the power of the food to perform a perceptual change in the eaters.34 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Table 2. The perception that ‘Life is wonderful’ would be something that eaters would experience through their senses. 153). which will become clearer as this book progresses. which belongs to families. An artwork has the power not only to inspire awe. patron Cook Food. hearing and that extra-special something (sazón?). and these interpretations can change with time or the position we take in relation to the social actors involved.1 Artist Index Prototype Recipient Terminology Employed by Gell. texture. For my purposes. p. wherein he demonstrates the differing relations among the previously mentioned four entities. food) are the primary transactions.
Modiﬁed/Adapted. and affected by food/ingredient.g. food is ordered in restaurant or at street stand Eater-A→Food-P Ordering food or asking cook to make particular dishes Index Food.g.Table 2. dish. . following tradition Index Food. meal ‘tamales needing special care Recipe dictates form taken by not to anger them so dish/food that they can cook’.g. makes/deﬁnes meal as special 35 Prototype Recipe Cook-A→ Recipe-P Cook ‘invents’ recipe Recipient Eater Cook-A→Eater-P Captivation by cook’s skill. By permission of Oxford University Press. making barbacoa bestows prestige Food-A→Food-P Prototype Recipe Recipe-A→Cook-P Recipe dictates what cook does. e. ‘tamal as. eats own cooking. e. dish.a made thing’. host eating food prepared on his/her behalf Source: Table 1 from Gell (1998). chile Food-A→Eater-P Eater response dictated by food’s magic power (not primarily by power of external cook) recipe-A→recipe-P Recipe as cause of food. avocado.g. eater dislikes food or does not ﬁnish what is served Eater-A→Eater-P Hiring a cook. food-A→recipe-P Recipe constrained by physical characteristics of food/ingredient.‘Life is wonderful’ effect by chef. e.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus Agent→ Patient↓ Artist Cook Artist Cook Cook-A→Cook-P Cook shares meal. meal Food-A→Cook-P Food dictates cook’s action with it. e. as witness to act of preparing food Cook-A→Food-P Basic act of cook making/preparing dishes. © Oxford University Press. controls cook’s action Recipe-A→Food-P Recipient Eater Eater-A→Cook-P Hired cook prepares food. diner in awe eater-A→recipe-P Rejection of food. barbacoa/mole as feast food Recipe-A→Eater-P Concept of mole controls eaters’ experience.
the agency of the artwork can be mobilized by another person for social relational inﬂuences. food is often the subject of conversation among all kinds of people. The practice in itself is not restricted to publicly acknowledged culinary masters. in public feasts such as weddings. Culinary knowledge or skill. although those who stand out as particularly talented are given recognition. it is offered to guests in abundance. 52). The spectator’s perception of the person whom the image represents is directly related to perception inspired by the artistic quality of the art object. hence the focus on the agent-patient relationship. In fact. Without a sufﬁciently elaborate or festive dish. and many times I found myself listening to grandmothers telling stories about other women. ‘[T]echnical virtuosity is intrinsic to the efﬁcacy of works of art in their social context’ (Gell. Mexico.12 When we as eaters perceive of food as art. Learning to cook is actually part . though within this relationship there may be several subrelationships of action. a woman hopes that some of her magic/skill will rub off on her as she observes. try to learn their craft by proximity. and being known as a good cook is socially valued in Mexico. 1996. is based on practice which can be learnt. Regardless of who actually did the physical labour. For our purposes it is sufﬁcient to focus on the simplest and most direct relations of agency and intention. p. whose renditions of classic recipes were equivalent to art. we are in a patient position in relation to the cook-agent (cook-A→eater-P). cookery is commonly spoken of in terms of artistic practice. but put simply. A similar effect occurs when a person hosts a catered dinner party gets the credit for the quality of the food. Such women gain fame in the community. and this directly affects the families of the bride and groom (food-A→eater-P). Gell details how each relationship occurs. now dead. and a particularly skilful cook is casually thought of as an artist. therefore. enhancing his or her social relations by means of the occasion and its success. So. and the hired cook is overlooked (recipient/eater-A→ artist/cook-P). ingests. to explain the mediation performed by an artwork. A Meal as an Object of Art So far I have assumed that a food or a particular dish can be taken for granted as a work of art. who were legendary cooks. This can also be observed in Milpa Alta. the celebration loses some of its meaning. Part of the requirement for a proper wedding is a proper feast. Whether the special meal is prepared at home or not. In Milpa Alta and other parts of Mexico City. and their daughters and daughters-in-law. Working with or for a ‘master’ (or culinary artist). and employs those skills on her own. and close women friends.36 • Culinary Art and Anthropology in mind is that objects and persons are connected in a nexus of intentionality. cooking is an ‘art’. he poses the example of the work of an (anonymous) artist commissioned to produce a likeness of a ruler or a religious ﬁgure. I am not assuming this only for the purposes of analysis.
between art and craft. With a change of the hand that prepares the dish. Culinary knowledge. 1999). Like any other type of skill. in addition to the satisfying of the appetite. Gow. p. art objects are produced within social. or funeral song— indicates an awareness of a social. can be developed with practice. (I will return to this idea below. But from an anthropological standpoint. via the ‘aesthetic’ that comes from meal sharing. the ﬂavour changes.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 37 of every girl’s domestic training as she develops into a grown woman. an aesthetic satisfaction is also expected from eating. substance to art. cf. It is a talent or ﬂair which is physically exhibited but not copied. When food is transformed (artistically. Although cooking can be conceived of as artistic practice from a native point of view. ‘Socialization’ of food consists of cooking it into a delicious meal enjoyed by a discerning group of . 1982). 347). but it also causes the togetherness of the social actors. and economic matrix in which the object has been produced. within an artistic dimension of their own (within an ‘art world’. In other words. such as food. or the sazón. all of which interrelate to make up the texture of social life. In trying to deﬁne what art is anthropologically. the difference between great food and good food. Thus. but also the former [the community] rather than the latter [the individual] is its [the aesthetic level’s] rightful carrier’ (p. Firth’s (1996. But the learning process is not simply a matter of imitation and reproduction of the same. Simmel describes what in his terms would be a gastronomic paradox. since he considers eating and drinking as unfortunately necessary lowly activities that ultimately culminate in ‘society’. Nevertheless. this signiﬁes a transformation of the carnal to spiritual. a sazón that works to produce spectacular ﬂavours is commonly called un sazón de amor. and later also from her mother-in-law and other women. the formal qualities of a piece of sculpture or music are signiﬁcant. She begins to learn by observing her mother. individual to society. The ‘egoistic’ and individual act of eating in fact unites people when they come together to share a meal. ‘This is because when. ritual and economic dimensions. Becker. even the simplest naming of an object—as mask.) As he puts it. 15) characterization of art can lead one to interpret food as a form of art: ‘To an anthropologist. ‘High’ qualities such as culture or society can almost only develop out of the ‘low’ ones. I might add) into the meal shared. the artistic nature of food when it is served as a meal comes about partly because of the coming together of a community of people. Another way of looking at this is by thinking of Simmel’s notion of the ‘sociology of the meal’ (1994). ritual. then. not only can a community of several afford more easily the necessary effort than the individual. thinking of food as art makes it easier to understand why it is that ﬂavour and cooking mean so much to Mexican people. good cooking is learnt by training and imitation of masters. such as the works of Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo. the ﬂavour of love. who are usually other women in the community. or anthropomorphic ﬁgure. but what is learnt is a bodily discipline like other artistic skills (cf. food is not necessarily thought of as art in the same sense as Mexicans or Milpaltenses would think of visual arts. is attributed to the hand of the cook. la mano.’ In other words.13 Not all of a master’s apprentices produce equivalent works. Also.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992). Tamales are eaten for breakfast or as a snack for supper. Without a ﬁlling. p. called a tamalera. the person who arranges the tamales in the earthenware pot or aluminium steamer may not leave the house until the tamales are cooked. potentially. ‘The nature of the art object is a function of the social-relational matrix in which it is embedded. independent of the relational context’ (Gell. onions and cheese. artworks act as traps to the viewers/victims. 1998. He or she may or may not be a member of the family. It has no “intrinsic” nature. as the hunter’s intentions and ingenuity are present in his handiwork. green salsa or mole. or with strips of roasted chile. savoury ones. Gell’s deﬁnition of an art object is perhaps easier to grasp from his essay ‘Vogel’s Net’ (1999b ). so long as it fulﬁls certain prerequisites. convictions. The meal presents a subset of the cook’s culinary knowledge. Socialization is ‘mediated’ by eating a meal together (p. at the same time. confronting a meal can also be thought of as confronting a person. but what is important is his or her presence in the house. Using folk remedies. history. In Milpa Alta I learned certain rules which must be followed so that the tamales will cook properly. If we think in terms of food. 7). beans or ﬁsh. the pot or steamer. This is the sort of play of ideas that Laura Esquivel used in her successful novel and ﬁlm. Esquivel’s novel constructs a Mexican world in which the heroine’s emotions. Gell’s anthropology of art does not focus solely on analyzing works of art as deﬁned by an art public per se. where he convincingly argues that traps can be artworks and. ﬁlled with meat. with sometimes alarming physical effects. for example. in other areas. At the same time. First. 350). There are many kinds of tamales: sweet ones. depending on her relationship to the people she cooks for. typical sayings with culinary themes. and the food as a social meal both has more ‘aesthetic worth’ and is more meaningful because of it. and many others.14 Confronting a trap is like confronting a person. hospitality. with red salsa. must also . food does not have quite the same powers. and are also made for nearly every ﬁesta. such as the mediation that a work of art performs in Gell’s terms among social beings. on any occasion. using the knowledge he possesses about his victim’s habits and sociality. the hunter constructed this particular trap for that particular animal. ﬂavoured with fruits. and unverbalized intentionalities are infused in her cooking and later are literally embodied in those who eat her food. Second.38 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members of society. though it can be personiﬁed. family warmth and. People in Milpa Alta continue to believe that ‘angry’ tamales will never cook (food-A→food-P). and there is no doubt that complex belief systems surround matters of cooking and eating. Potentially almost anything can be considered as an art object. banana leaves). In real-life Mexico. empowerment. nopales. A tamal is a steamed bun made of coarse maize meal beaten with lard and enveloped in corn husks (or. ﬂavour. and the food itself is the outcome of the cook’s intentions to provide nourishment. they are called tamalates and are a traditional accompaniment to mole. and other kinds of intentionalities. and recipes.
allusive. can be owned and exchanged. since his anthropological deﬁnition of an object of art is as follows: objects that are scrutinized as vehicles of complicated ideas. no one in the house must get angry. as well. These ideas and beliefs that inform social practice relate to what some Milpaltenses perceive as being ‘traditional’ or ‘truly Mexican’ or even coming from Milpa Alta. a meal or a special dish can be thought of as an art object.16 Some people also told me that certain foods cause stomach upsets (food-A→ eater-P). the angered person has to spank the tamalera and then dance around it to make the tamales happy again. of course. ‘Artworks can also trap eels … or grow yams. although no one could give me an explanation for them.15 I never saw an angry tamal myself. like other works of art. which is in itself a social system within a matrix of other interrelated social systems. (Gell. that means that artworks can also satisfy hunger or fulﬁl gastronomic desires. An angry tamal opens up or the lard drips out of the wrapping. demanding of attention and perhaps difﬁcult to reconstruct fully. and Exchange One of the main differences between food and visual art is. difﬁcult. a social nexus embedded within a culinary system. Third. In a similar way. salsa) in order to fully enjoy eating (also food-A→eater-P). For the purposes of this analysis. p.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 39 have its bow. 1999b. This is a piece of corn husk which needs to be tied on the handle of the tamalera. If anyone in the house loses his or her temper the tamales will not set because they will be angry. it is a physical thing which. Another option would be to throw dried chiles into the ﬁre so that their seeds burn. Without it the tamales will not cook. p. as the smoke emitted removes anger. and so on.17 For this reason. intended to achieve or mean something interesting. or that they need their chilito (chile. such as too much rice or the soft centres (migajón) of crusty bread rolls (bolillos. To remedy this. 211). many said that they are never full unless they have eaten tortillas. The ﬂavour aspect is analogous to artistic decoration. hard to bring off. I would deﬁne as a candidate artwork any object or performance that potentially rewards such scrutiny because it embodies intentionalities that are complex. teleras). People swore that these methods were true. Hospitality. 211)18 He also wrote. Gell’s insight into decoration is pertinent at . because I witnessed these rules followed whenever we made tamales in Milpa Alta. A food. Food that is considered as artwork happens to have two fundamental qualities—it has (superior) ﬂavour (as opposed to bland or mediocre). On Edibility. and. The “interpretation” of such “practically” embedded artworks is intrinsically conjoined to their characteristics as instruments fulﬁlling purposes other than the embodiment of autonomous “meaning” ’ (1999b. which seems to lie in the realm of aesthetic pleasure. I think Gell would agree that his theory could be applied to Mexican food. like other art objects in theory. that food is eaten.
for the family or for non-family members who are guests. 113. but the ownership needs further explanation. original emphasis). although Mauss argues that they are all homologous. Eaters remember who prepares superior ﬂavours in certain dishes and return to those cooks. then we can think of ingesting food as equivalent to the consumption/acceptance/possession of a work of art. This is its (the food’s) necessity of having a good ﬂavour and being made with culinary technical mastery. and also sometimes socially. which will be reciprocated in some unspeciﬁed way at an unspeciﬁed time in the other direction (that is. This aspect of food giving and receiving implies an element of exchange. from eater to artist). It must also be remembered that when it comes to food and eating. So the captivation described above that an eater experiences when confronted with spectacular food (food-A→eater-P) manifests the expertise of a talented cook/chef (cook-A→eater-P). to be owned. and in the case of food. it is precisely the communal ingestion of food that ‘releases a tremendous socializing power’ (1994. p. food is cooked for more than one person. Display and food presentation (how it appears on the plate) can be seen as equivalent. reveals to us. which the eater recognizes (as art) by experiencing its ﬂavour. then. Food has particular physical and sensual qualities which differ from other types of objects which are exchanged.40 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this point: ‘[Decorated objects] are not self-sufﬁcient sources of delight. Abstracting the process of food hospitality ignores another fundamental aspect of food that is offered to others. . It is rather as if they were the agents of their own circulation’ (2003. there are always at least two people involved in the transaction—a donor (the cook/artist) and a recipient (the eater)—and the object being offered or transacted is the food. but vehicles of personhood. Recognizing the sensory aspect of food. This is not to say that the decorations are not important. which is what makes it analogous to a work of art. it contains his or her ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’ by nature of being the product of a cook’s invested and creative labour. the functional and ‘decorative’ aspect is its ﬂavour. and the temporary possession of the ‘spirit’ which must be reciprocated is not enough to explain the kind of social contexts in which food is shared. p. They depend on them sometimes gastronomically. This product is then materially ingested by the recipient. although there is a different quality to commensality that seems not to ﬁt with art ownership and display. as David Howes explains for kula shells. In hospitality. that ‘they are no mere “objects” of exchange. then it is an extension of a person.20 If it is an object of exchange in a Maussian sense. these decorations perform an important function. exchanged and displayed’ (1998. in fact. resulting in a literal communion of persons. and tying this with its artistic nature. a crucial element of sharing is involved. 81). Following Simmel.19 Generally.21 What. does this mean? The eating of the food implies that the ‘spirit of the gift’ that Mauss describes is ingested as well. p. 346) from which its aesthetic and meaning arise. But I think that food is not merely an object of exchange in the same sense. If we account for that.
whereas eating is socially static and self-collapsing. and thus also ensures community viability. they are material repositories of that person and that person’s intentions. So cooking is an inherently social act. this infers that corresponding to the agent (donor) there must be a patient (recipient). Munn. As in food hospitality. is the opposite of sharing food with others (cook-A→cook-P). 346). and as mentioned previously. ‘[T]he exchange of comestibles in hospitality is the dynamic base. Mauss’s time lag). eating what one cooks oneself is antisocial.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 41 What the eater also recognizes is the socially meaningful network of intentionalities surrounding the meal. the act of eating) can be thought of as a negative act (cf. As Nancy Munn describes for kula exchange in Gawa. and condition which underlies kula shell exchange between partners’ (1986. If we further accept that these things are extensions of the agent’s personhood. This is food which follows the logic that it should be prepared for an other. If sharing is a positive act. 56. original emphasis). The . just as neglecting to offer food when hospitality is pertinent is considered to be selﬁsh and greedy (envidioso/a). In this case. therefore. a meal at a restaurant. This notion of cooking and eating also explains why a lone person in Mexico almost never cooks for oneself to eat alone. Food sharing is dynamic and self-extending. some of which is the same as home cooking. Munn explains that in Gawa. For example. The skill that the cook reveals through the food likewise reveals other things of social salience.22 Within the corpus of Mexican culinary culture exists a vast subset of street food and market food. shared and distributed to others. unless one is sharing the food. how to make tortillas and salsas. customer). since food transactions are inherently social activities. p. then not sharing (that is. there is an immediate exchange between the social actors. dishes) that a person makes as the products of her agency. and so. with the expectation of future reciprocity of a similar or different kind (e. ensuring an ongoing relationship which may be based on exchange at another level of social interaction. or the warmth of home cooking. though. The offering of a meal is a spatiotemporal event transacted by the host to the guest with an underlying intention of reciprocity at another level within the nexus of transactions that make up social life. Eating food on one’s own. knowing how to cook.’ which transforms the patient’s relationship with the agent. a girl is said to be ready for marriage when she demonstrates culinary mastery. If we think of the things (artworks. Food is shared with speciﬁc others as a means of exhibiting respect for an existing or future relationship of reciprocity. the act of sharing is a value-enhancing. 1986.g. 1994. which are given. vendor) and a patient (eater. whether it is a special ﬁesta. Simmel perceives of eating as negative and ‘low’). Food is exchanged for money. p. prepared by vendors (señoras) to serve commercially. conversely. ‘[T]he shared meal lifts an event of physiological primitivity and inescapable commonality into the sphere of social interaction and thereby suprapersonal meaning’ (Simmel. there is an agent (cook. positive extension of the agent’s ‘spacetime. In this vein I must emphasize that food giving is a basic form of generosity in Milpa Alta.
even temporarily. an index of . but it may not necessarily be reproducible in exactly the same way or in the same context. yet it can be reproduced ad inﬁnitum. It also is inapplicable to the anonymous cook who cooks ‘traditional’ foods. and therefore it can never be truly owned. 1990. with his name labelling the cuisine he produces. Not only this. and who solely produces these dishes within the family sphere (cook-A→food-P). or at least to know where to go in order to reproduce it (to know how or where or with whom to eat). food hospitality consists of ‘unﬁnished business’ which is the essence of the endurance of social relations (Gell. remains the owner of that dish (cook-A→recipe-P). a cook or chef. so the agency actually lies with the customer. As the outcome of a recipe. once the dish is produced. as Gell has described (1996).42 • Culinary Art and Anthropology transaction begins and ends there. for example. and this can in turn affect the kind of product that the cook produces (eater-A→cook-P). does not really make an eater the ‘owner’ of that dish. we can think of food as both a work of art as well as an object of exchange. Having eaten something once or twice. it can never truly be completely consumed. Possession of food-as-art is not anything like the possession of an object which sits on the mantelpiece for personal admiration. opening an exchange relationship by offering food to a guest or family member likewise opens the possibility for reciprocity in some form (Mauss. Food selling is a social activity. which provides the cook with an agency that contains the powerful potential to demand social reciprocity. Perhaps it is also possible to say that the ‘inventor’ of a dish. its true possession can be thought of as possession of the know-how to be able to reproduce it (to know how to cook). The fact that most women in the community know how to prepare similar dishes following similar recipes (with the same ‘index’). Now the ﬁnal problematic issue to explain is its possession. pp. But this is only a perspective among many possible ways of interpreting this situation. and perhaps also having the possibility (or controlling this possibility) of eating it again. the cook prepares food to the taste of the eater/customer. 80–1). Munn. With this perspective. and having enjoyed it very much. neither does the memory of the ﬂavours of a particular gastronomic occasion which was somehow touching or marked in the eater’s life experience (food-A→eater-P).23 Also. but it does not carry the fundamental persuasiveness of food giving. On two levels. rather than self-consciously ‘invents’. 1986). or its reproduction may depend on the actions of a speciﬁc cook. the eating of it makes it disappear. Parallel to this. 1998. makes it seem ludicrous to try to pinpoint any ‘owner’ of a dish. or within the same transactive nexus. We remember once more that as soon as the supply of the food is depleted it can be constantly renewed. The possession of food-as-art seems to take the form of having eaten it. Possession is a more complex issue because the dish can be reproduced. In one sense. A heightened awareness of artistic or culinary expertise does not in itself constitute possession or ownership of the work. therefore. either. nor is it like the intellectual possession of a famous painting beyond a consumer’s (ﬁnancial) capacity to take it home and own it.
its social value is derived from its social use. Recall that the artistic quality of an object is not inherent in the thing. making tortillas. This means. 81). 6). which in Milpa Alta translates as girls learning to cook from their mothers and other women. should be thought of primarily as a technical system. possession of food-as-art is a dynamic of eating that is dependent upon the social relational matrix in which it is embedded. but is always in the process of becoming possessed’ (p. ‘[A]rt and cultural consumption are predisposed consciously and deliberately or not. Taste is a subconscious kind of knowledge. Cooking techniques are learned by apprenticeships to masters. whether a purposely made work of art or not. so by his choices of what deserves value. education and upbringing. Taste is a sociological phenomenon rather than a question of a person’s passion or individual discernment. Flavour and Value This brings us back to ﬂavour. he can be distinguished among others of different classes who would value other things. and technical mastery appears to be more objective or scientiﬁc. Although judgement of ﬂavour seems to be an aesthetic judgement. to fulﬁl a social function of legitimating social differences’ (p. I mentioned that art. that a preference for red wine rather than beer is really a matter of class (and education) and ultimately is not an issue of personal taste. since food is eaten and virtually disappears. A person’s taste becomes the mark of distinction between social classes and is revealed by an individual’s possession of an ‘aesthetic disposition’. What we learn to discern as valuable is due to our accumulating ‘economic capital’ and ‘cultural capital’ which is learnt via social class. 7). here cuisine. it ‘is never fully possessed at all. a person learns the kind of taste that he needs for social belonging. The starting point of Bourdieu’s argument is that our perceptions of taste have little to do with the inherent qualities of the things on which we place value. In other words. As Bourdieu puts it. Along with this cultural capital. At the beginning of my discussion of Gell. ‘[T]aste classiﬁes. However. and it classiﬁes the classiﬁer’ (p. I would like to explain how the two can in fact be thought of as one and the same. ‘history turned into nature’. This would explain why an element of prestige and (class) distinction is involved in the choices of serving. This is the capacity to recognize artistic characteristics in anything. or wrapping tamales does not necessarily mean that the results are always uniform from cook to cook. for example. I turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of taste judgements. Knowing the proper techniques for peeling chiles. What distinguishes an extraordinary cook from an ordinary one is perceived as technical skill which can be judged by its ﬂavour. To begin. cooking and eating certain foodstuffs.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 43 the dish/work of art. . and yet it can be cooked again and regenerated. a part of habitus. food is an object of exchange.
that is. But the cooking is crucial to the achievement of its artistic status. and then considering the audience and how this informs an artist to modify an artwork. In an analysis of taste and aesthetics. it also has limitations. choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates. Bourdieu approaches artworks by arguing that value is allocated through the ‘stylization of life’ or ‘the primacy of forms over functions’ (p. (p. how it comes about that a society places value on an object and judges one thing to be in better taste. as he approaches art from another perspective. a class culture turned into nature. Perhaps this is better explained with Gell’s method of analyzing art. So although Bourdieu’s perspective can be applied convincingly to the context in Milpa Alta. and as Goody has argued. and ‘life’ with function (and necessity). which it manifests in several ways. in fact. 190) Thus.25 He separates form from function by associating ‘art’ with form (and luxury). class and hierarchy. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste.44 • Culinary Art and Anthropology To some extent this perspective helps to explain why barbacoa began to be accepted as feast food in Milpa Alta (recipe-A→recipe-P). that is embodied. Because of his deﬁned concern with judgement. Following Gell. I suggest focusing primarily on the art world (cuisine) and the artists.24 Although I cannot determine exactly where or when it began to be served during ﬁestas. Focusing exclusively on classiﬁcations. In a sense. then ﬂavour is socially functional. In contrast. cooking). if form is constituted by ﬂavour. and not just the isolated dishes (see Chapter 5). Taste. than another. judgement of something cannot be separated from an understanding of the process of its production (for food. and if the topic is an ‘art world’. form and function are merged when externally exhibited in bodily action via the ‘aesthetic’. This can be explained more fully after an examination of the social dynamics surrounding the cuisine. at least in Milpa Alta (food-A→cook-P). in other words. the link between form and function can also be concluded from Bourdieu’s own concept of habitus and self-presentation. helps to shape the class body. therefore. having observed its widespread use I found that its acceptance is related to the prestige attached to barbacoieros. He explains. which he describes as a dimension of habitus and systematic choices produced in practice. this should also be observed. rather than beginning with social classiﬁcations. 5). So in the case of food. then some constituting artworks should be discussed as well. he is. aware that he deliberately ignores the cooking aspect of cuisine. physiologically and psychologically. or to taste better. he does not analyze particular ‘works of art’ in relation to their own ‘art world’. I argue that form is necessarily related to function. It is an incorporated principle of classiﬁcation which governs all forms of incorporation. The skill required in culinary labour is the kind of technical mastery which Gell refers to as necessary for the production of an artwork. and also for the homologous .
reveals the Anga belief that the eel is so powerful that its trap must be particularly clever. The social efﬁcacy of an elaborately prepared meal performs a similar function. often glossed as machismo. there are marked dishes. which has been suggested to be a means of containing and curbing women’s power over men (Melhuus and Stølen. a complex-ﬂavoured sauce made of up to two dozen or more ingredients. This is . her children and. then a cook has the creative freedom to make decisions at this level. Serving an elaborate dish commemorates an occasion as special by transferring its value (recipe-A→recipe-P). however. Invariably. With regard to Mexico. but at least she has the intention to provide good food somehow. A good wife would then strive to cook well for the sake of her husband. 1996). and at the same time is the source of the eel’s power.28 Mole may be considered one of the culinary treasures or works of art of Mexican cuisine. her own satisfaction. tying women to home when they would rather be out (also cf. 2006. It thus appears as if the motivations for producing good ﬂavours are as simple as personal satisfaction combined with the desire to satisfy others (family. but the principle of applying the highest standards of technical mastery and excellence of ﬂavour is in practice when a person interested in good cooking prepares any food. and they are deﬁned by the sauce rather than by the meat or vegetable which is in it. friends). such as a birthday. Mintz. her in-laws. at ﬁrst glance. which are served when there is a special occasion.27 Skilful cooking does not lead to social empowerment so directly. Thus. Related to this. the trap is a repository of eel-power.26 This is illustrated by his example of the Anga eel traps (1999b). Preparing what is considered a proper meal is analogous to proper nurturing. Women as well as men value ﬂavourful food and what they consider to be ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ methods of preparing it. In Chapter 4 I discuss how women talk of their skill in cooking in social situations where their power and value are questioned. These traps are constructed to be far more sturdy and complicated than is actually necessary to trap an eel. ultimately. She does not have to cook herself. culinary artistry or agency may be a source of women’s power over men (see Abarca.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 45 technical systems which bring about the (re)production of society. different from the daily fare. Strict regulations of women’s movements. therefore. The correlation between a woman’s desire to cook food with good ﬂavour and her love for her family is not such a simple thing. spouse. André. As I will discuss further in chapters 4 and 6. If cooking is artistic practice. which may have wider signiﬁcance at other social levels. many everyday dishes are complex to prepare. wedding or funeral. the requirements to cook dishes from an elaborate cuisine may appear oppressive. for example. which is also complex to prepare. and this is empowering in the sense that family ties are tightened when food is shared. Control over feeding the family becomes the nexus of meaning regarding women’s social and moral values. 2001). this is very much like what is considered to be men’s restrictions on women. this used to be mole. The trap. In fact. actually reveal the high value placed on women’s chastity. 1996). In Mexico.
Mexicans do not believe that they are eating’. one is eating a meal prepared by someone caring or is eating a meal with particular social signiﬁcance. highly valued. or ingredients which are grown or bred on local land. the ideal food is a meal cooked by a woman (wife and mother) for her husband and children. which is also equivalent to mole (see Chapter 5).’ This appears to contradict the value placed on home cooking. Also. and also the family sphere which is based on love (discussed further in chapters 4. and in many ways this depends on women (good cooks) who make good sauces. This. good food ﬁxes the eater’s mind to the cook (or host). The preceding discussion should help as a guideline for thinking about the social processes which revolve around food preparation and food sharing.29 A famous quote is: ‘Without chile. the efforts of her labours (her cooking) are also highly valued. and one of my informants also spontaneously told me the same: ‘Sin chile no come uno. It is also expressed in the importance and the forcefulness of hospitality in Mexico (or in Milpa Alta.’ Good food means good ﬂavours. 5 and 6). Rather than being fed. that is. Since women’s virtue and moral value are also attached to her ability to suffer for her loved ones.30 This is why a special occasion meal is served with a ﬂavourful. 1992). I was told. 1986). meat). there are no cinemas. the power of the cook is highlighted by chefs or non-professional individuals who become known for their cooking and who make a living or make a social life (respectively) out of this fame (cf. In Mexico. which results directly from the culinary mastery that a skilful cook possesses. these dishes are considered to have the best ﬂavour. both men and her children (Melhuus. For all meals in general.32 In a way. because it lies within another social dimension of family eating (see Chapter 6). food that is thought of as ‘very Mexican’ are usually dishes which use autochthonous utensils or ingredients. elaborate sauce (mole) rather than a regular salsa. If it has superior ﬂavour. makes eating tacos in the market a major source of fun: ‘La mayor diversión es ir a comer tacos en el mercado. vegetables. and its nutritive beneﬁts are secondary. but in fact. by extension. It is also important for it to be palatable. Chile is equivalent to salsa. There must be a salsa or at least some chile on the table for people to enjoy their food (tortillas. ﬂavour. Munn.46 • Culinary Art and Anthropology why salsas are the most important part of a Mexican meal. theatres or any other public venue of entertainment other than the market. I describe in Chapter 4 how in Mexico the ideal relationship between a man and a woman is that between husband and wife. it is not enough for the food to provide nutrition and to be edible. Mexican street food is another highly valued part of Mexican cuisine and is also considered to be ﬂavourful. We can say that the ﬂavour performs a sensory trick which makes the eater believe that he is attached to the maker of the food. What I hope to have conveyed here now is the idea that ﬂavour is actually the most functional aspect of food. In Milpa Alta. for there to be salsa.31 In particular. the culinary matrix of intentionalities involves the planes of social organizations such as the mayordomía and compadrazgo. the logic of love and lovers symbolically makes street food an illicit delight. in . beans.
hovering in the background. original emphasis). foods prepared with the highest technical skill possible. and what is served at home also is prepared with technical mastery and love. the cook continues to aim for the ideals of ﬂavour. indicating that the food had poor or no ﬂavour and was therefore inedible (eater-A→ cook-P). The relevance of ﬂavour is evident because whether or not a cook is successful. that is. prestige is allocated to a cook and her family when she is known to be an extraordinary cook. a cook tries to serve only foods of superior ﬂavour to a guest. however. and with the food literally ‘merging’ with these persons as they eat it. This suggests that ﬂavour is irrelevant to proper social behaviour. An eater’s appreciation of a masterfully prepared dish can be summed up once more with a quote from Gell (1996) which describes how the ultimate meanings of a work of art may be embedded deeper in social processes than the initial aesthetic effects: ‘In reconstructing the processes which brought the work of art into existence. 51–2). p.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 47 particular). if a guest comes without warning. a host/cook serves what there is at home. and foodstuffs can be social or cultural symbols. is so important in Milpa Alta that many people attend parties with a plastic bag or piece of Tupperware hidden in their handbags. making social relations between persons via the meal. For this reason. the power of the collectivity on whose behalf the artist exercised his technical mastery’ (pp. p. the emotional outcome of keeping culinary tricks or recipes secret is that a cook would be considered to be ‘greedy’ (envidiosa). Food and eating constitute such a domain wherein social settings exist for people to eat together. If a guest leaves food. neither the artwork and the ideas and meanings surrounding . I follow Gell’s theory ‘to explore a domain in which “objects” merge with “people” by virtue of the existence of social relations between persons and things. 347) of the meal manifest in ﬂavour is part of the social nature of food transactions. Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Food carries meaning. but in fact it is most relevant. Failing that. Accepting food offered to you. In turn. it is an insult to the host. if it must be received regardless of personal taste. a concept which is taken to be the opposite of loving in Milpa Alta (see Chapter 6). so that they can take home whatever is served to them that they are unable to eat. In this book I aim to illuminate some of the deeply symbolic meanings of food by focusing on cooking and cuisine rather than on direct metaphorical connections between foodstuffs standing for other things. This actually recalls Simmel’s gastronomic paradox mentioned earlier. whether you like it or not. [the spectator] is obliged to posit a creative agency which transcends his own and. Furthermore. 12. and persons and persons via things’ (1998. that is. The food transaction takes precedence over the particular food served. By thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. that the ‘aesthetic stylization’ (1994. some good cooks hide their culinary secrets viciously.
In pursuit of this goal. herself. 4). Easier or cheaper alternatives seem to be unacceptable when superior ﬂavours are the goal and this goal is attainable. society. Thus. but of the mobilization of aesthetic principles (or something like them) in the course of social interaction’ (p. By nature of being artistic. cooking is creative. . Or it may seem to be too much effort for a woman to spend two days preparing maize and ﬁllings to make a few hundred tamales for the family when it is also possible to buy the dough for tamales already prepared. With this in mind. Mexican. It is controlled. actively mediating between social members to make (proper) social interaction possible. or the cook. and they have the autonomy to make important decisions for their family’s social life. women also have license to move beyond their restricted spaces. This means that it is not a predetermined. including barbacoieros) are willing to make sacriﬁces which others may not understand. A work of culinary art can act as a trap. through the technical processes of cooking as well as the technical processes of social life and social reproduction. with the perspective of cooking as an artistic practice. It may seem irrational for a family to hold large-scale ﬁestas when there is not enough money to ﬁnish building the house. are ignored. in this case. with their (proper) cooking. but the one in control is the artist. we can effectively investigate the social relational matrix surrounding the achievement of ﬂavour and the development of cuisine. and this liberty extends beyond the walls of the kitchen. ‘[T]he anthropology of art cannot be the study of the aesthetic principles of this or that culture. externally controlled activity. their communities. their families. women (and culinary professionals. cooking is an activity which depends upon creative liberty.48 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. In pursuit of culinary ideals. women exert power over their men. attracting others to the food and to the cook. nor the social relations that are generated. it is possible to explore a cuisine. Thus. In short. securing a husband.
a ﬂavourful broth consisting of the meat drippings which have amalgamated with herbs and spices – 49 – . There is usually space for at least 400 diners. I wish to portray the daily pursuit of gastronomic quality in ordinary life by describing how a typical week might pass in the lives of barbacoa makers in Milpa Alta. but the corresponding cooking methods used all over Mexico are based on the Mayan pib or earth oven. Customers can order traditional snacks such as gorditas or chalupitas as their starters.or 2-year-old sheep). The meat typically used is lamb (borrego. it is considered to be festive food. Barbacoa refers to a preparation of pit-roast meat which has been used in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. Since the whole animal is used. It is a method of slow cooking whole animals by burying them for several hours or overnight in a pit lined with aromatic leaves and ﬁlled with hot coals. The word barbacoa is of Caribbean origin. there also are restaurants in Mexico City which exclusively serve barbacoa with its traditional accompaniments. Urban families who avoid eating in the marketplace frequent these restaurants for family celebrations such as birthdays or anniversaries. herbs and spices. Ordering them would be indulgent. reserved for special celebrations or weekends. restaurants offer them because a large part of their clientele rarely eat street food.–3– Barbacoa in Milpa Alta In this chapter. chicken. turkey. pork or goat (kid). Although these are antojitos. Depending on the region and tradition. These barbacoa restaurants offer a complete celebration with the meal. and because of its long. pit-barbecued in a cylindrical clay. although smaller parties are welcome. beef. because barbacoa is tasty and complete enough the way it is normally served and requires little more to be satisfying. usually 1. labour-intensive preparation and cooking process (described below). Eating barbacoa Whilst it is more commonly prepared as a cottage industry by families called barbacoieros. A cultural show with dancing and singing of ranchera music gives the place the festive air of a cantina or countryside ﬁesta. In the central states the meat is ﬂavoured with the ﬂeshy leaves of the maguey. however. there are also barbacoas of other meats such as rabbit. It is common to start with a bowl of the consomé de barbacoa. including the head.or brick-lined oven. typically eaten in the streets.
Stalls typically offer bowls of both red and green salsas (but not the black salsa borracha). chopped onions and coriander. usually a red and a green one (often either a typical guacamole or one made with avocado and green tomatoes. many families prepare barbacoa de borrego for a living. p. In Milpa Alta. For eating barbacoa in the market. The soup is followed or accompanied by tacos or ﬂautas of the succulent meat. Around three thousand sheep are slaughtered and prepared in Milpa Alta each week. although the livestock are raised elsewhere (Departamento de Distrito Federal. but the methods are basically the same. a mildly fermented drink made of maguey sap. Some customers order their favourite cuts of barbacoa by the kilo instead of by the taco and are given a stack of warm corn tortillas on the side. coriander leaves and salsa to mitigate the richness of this intense soup. Barbacoieros can be commissioned to slaughter and cook the lambs that another family has bought or reared. salt and vinegar or lime juice.50 • Culinary Art and Anthropology during the long cooking process in the pit. usually served with a drizzle of green salsa. 1997. The salsa is served in a bowl decorated with crumbled fresh white cheese and green olives. meaning ‘drunken sauce’. or sliced avocado may be served). as I have already mentioned. the particular trades in Barrio San Mateo. cooked prickly pear cactus paddles dressed with onions. and salsa borracha made especially for barbacoa. Villa Milpa Alta. The meal is served with warm corn tortillas and can be eaten as a late breakfast (almuerzo). The salsa borracha. but the vast majority of residents are still somehow involved in the family trade. Flautas are long tacos that are rolled closed and fried. tomatoes. the busiest time of day is the late morning. and a sprinkling of grated white cheese. Customers ﬁnd a space in front of the stalls and order consomé de barbacoa and tacos or ﬂautas. For the Federal District of Mexico. and sometimes dried oregano. Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta Many Milpaltenses have middle-class professional jobs or higher education. is a black sauce whose colour comes from pasilla chiles. 22). are nopal . as the main meal at lunchtime or as dinner. This is served with boiled rice and chickpeas stirred in. Other areas in the region famous for making barbacoa are Texcoco in the state of Mexico and parts of the state of Hidalgo. and the eater has the option of squeezing in a little lime juice and adding chopped onions. the main provider of barbacoa (as served in the markets) is Milpa Alta. which are ordered by the piece. Sometimes there is also a side dish of nopales compuestos. crema espesa. and it is drunken because it is traditionally made with pulque. As already mentioned. Salsas are offered on the side. Others order the meat to take home with a small plastic bag of the accompaniments. Cooking styles and ﬂavourings vary regionally. sliced limes. but they regularly prepare several animals to sell in markets every weekend. oregano or coriander leaves.
Since most of the houses are surrounded by walls. not only because of the value of the product. sometimes quite large. Now that few people cultivated maize and fewer still reared their own sheep. Economically. it is impossible to see what is going on behind the gates. but most people looked up to barbacoieros. and at every corner and in areas where maize was grown there were taps so that water could be collected for home or agricultural use. this practice has died out. pp.) Barbacoa became the trade of highest honour (above butchery and nopal farming). The barbacoieros built corrals around these watering taps so that their sheep could graze there and leave their droppings. a barbacoiera with whom I lived. Milpa Alta began to blossom and its residents began to send their children to school to become professionals in other careers rather than stay home to help with the family business. In Milpa Alta over the decades the barbacoa business boomed. In those days there was no running water in the houses. carnitas and barbacoa grew in popularity as typical ﬁesta favourites. as running water has become normal in most homes. the dung could be easily collected for use as fertilizer. She had memories from the 1940s of how the Jurados brought their ﬂock down from the mountains once a week. The modern stoves were used more for heating up food and tortillas. Because of this. told me that they raised their own sheep which they would leave to graze in the mountainous pastures of Milpa Alta. 46–9]. pork butchery (tocinería) and especially the cooking and selling of barbacoa de borrego. where they did most of the actual cooking. As mole became more and more expensive to prepare for large ﬁestas. [1996. Almost all nopal growers now use cow dung to fertilize their ﬁelds. On Friday nights the streets of the barrio are infused with the aromas of the meat and spices which manage to escape from the sealed pit ovens in the backyards of barbacoiero families. (This is an example of Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’. to accommodate an extended family.1 Doña Margarita. The smell begins to fade as the sun rises and the barbacoa is transported to markets in all reaches of Mexico City. This way. They had modern kitchen appliances but often had an extra outdoor kitchen with simple industrial gas hobs. when water was needed for the ﬁelds. . barbacoiero families could afford to build their own houses. The barrio appears almost deserted as most people are busiest during the weekend. the greater the difﬁculty of access to an object [of art].2 Preparing barbacoa is more laborious and also has more ﬂavourings. and those who remain behind are at home preparing for the sales of the following day. Pork butchers (sometimes referred to using the derogatory word chiteros) continued to earn a good living both selling raw meat and chicharrón (crisp fried pork crackling) and making carnitas. The ﬁrst family in Milpa Alta to produce barbacoa for a living in the 1930s was the Jurado family. and thus is valued higher. the higher its value. but also because of the ﬁnancial prosperity associated with its sales. and barbacoa ranked higher in prestige than carnitas.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 51 farming. although locals know which families live in which houses and what their trades are. They scattered the whole street with salt from one end to the other and fed the animals with salt and water.
She met her husband. Mario. she was expected to help her husband in his line of work: ‘Siendo profesionista.4 Families remain close nonetheless and visit often. as the generations passed the pieces of land inherited became smaller and smaller. but rather that they must try their best to assimilate to and prioritize their husbands’. women were expected to loosen their ties with their natal families.3 Some built their houses adjacent to the husband’s parents’.’ This is not exactly true. although they might resettle in a different barrio or town. the business was his main inheritance. la mujer tiene que ayudar a su esposo.’ Elena was a similar case in point. when she was 18. Though there used to be a lot of land in the family. it is acceptable and even expected.52 • Culinary Art and Anthropology It was still common in Milpa Alta for three generations to live in one household. Mario was left to take over the business. studying to be a teacher. It was not that they no longer belonged to their natal households. Doña Margarita said. at least to the husband’s family. By this time Mario’s older brothers had married and set up their own households in land that their father had given to them. they usually moved to their husbands’ house and lived there until they could afford to build their own. some men learn the trade of their wife’s family if it is more lucrative. although many young couples aspired to build their own houses separately from their parents or in-laws. for a woman to give up her job and dedicate herself to housework and children or to change her profession to match her husband’s. An elderly lady told me. for example. He tried to supplement the family earnings by getting a part-time job in accounting but had to give this up. It was rare for Milpaltenses to buy land outside of Milpa Alta. Also. whilst others bought a new plot of land in another area of Milpa Alta. he did. he was occupied from Friday to Monday. such as barbacoa. Despite having her own profession. at times. and they eventually married when she was 22. When women married. After Mario’s father died.5 Doña Margarita’s compadre was a barbacoiero and his wife was a primary school teacher. but she had no regrets. She added. but oh! surprise—I was pregnant!’ She never ﬁnished her degree because of the baby. but on Saturdays she sold the barbacoa in the market because he had to stay home to prepare the meat to sell on Sundays. ‘I don’t know if it was because I did not take care or if I don’t know much about these things. but his priority was his barbacoa. He told me that he earned more working in barbacoa than by being an accountant. Wednesday and Thursday (see detailed description of barbacoa work below). Whatever the precise statistics may be. ‘A woman always changes her profession or trade (oﬁcio) to that of her husband. Since he chose to dedicate himself to the barbacoa. Elena got a job in a primary school and Mario continued studying accounting. but he had time for other work on Tuesday. as some women are already working in a similar sort of business as their husband’s before they marry. Upon marriage. Mario’s father decided to divide his share of . Although she had not wanted to get married until she ﬁnished her studies. but when his father took ill he decided to help with the family barbacoa business. The ofﬁce often wanted him to come in on Fridays.
Typically. To reach this goal. children learn the process of preparing barbacoa from their parents. On Sunday she helped to sell because it was the busiest day in the market and they had a second stand on this day of the week. children are taken to the market to help in the sales. when she did housework and laundry (although I suspect that she hired help for this as well). thus beginning the tradition in their family. Elena worked doubly hard so that they could save up enough money to invest in land. she told me. Alejandro’s grandfather’s brother ﬁrst learned to make barbacoa. though not unheard of. so they become knowledgeable specialists early on. but Elena and Mario truly desired a plot of land of their own. The trade has been described to me as ‘a tradition that one passes down to the new generations’. although I know that she could do the same work and sometimes helped Mario with the oven when necessary. a woman might sit with her future mother-in-law as she . these women never get involved. but few men start out in a new business like this at an older age. and so he taught his younger brothers the process. the business (or technical skill) is left to one’s children as an ‘inheritance’. She had most of her free time on Saturdays. but they usually go to university or might take on another job elsewhere. buying more tortillas when they have run out or helping to wash up the plates and cookware at the end of the workday. Already as children.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 53 land among the older siblings when they married.7 After marriage. Alejandro told me that he taught his compadre how to prepare barbacoa when he was 39. This arrangement worked reasonably well. the youngest. As soon as they reach puberty (from around 12 years of age) they begin to help with the preparation work as part of their family chores. From the age of about 5 or 6. he left the house. but they also wanted land so Mario could work on it during his free days midweek. She rarely had anything to do with the meat or with stacking or unloading the oven. Until they marry into the family. and a few years later they learn to kill. Their skills are built from a young age. and to Mario. She taught two shifts at the primary school and also helped with the barbacoa when she was at home. however. as in the case of Mario. Their new wives then begin apprenticing themselves to their mothers-in-law. for men to learn the trade from non-family members. it is not uncommon for young men to set up their own barbacoa business apart from their parents’. barbacoa market stall and business. Until they marry. Single men do not make barbacoa for a living. boys are trained to help their fathers with the meat and girls are trained to help their mothers with the vegetables and salsas. but with his business he maintained a comfortable lifestyle. He was illiterate. In his own family. Not only was land of high value in Milpa Alta. Apart from inheriting the barbacoa profession. As the girlfriend of the son of a barbacoiero.6 In other words. Until then she did not want more children. Boys learn by helping their fathers to remove and clean the entrails (despanzar). however. and she chopped vegetables for the business. young men might help their parents with the family business. At 15 or 16 they begin to cut the raw meat. it is rare. This was men’s work. but not to slaughter.
As soon as she is married. She described different forms of service. as always. There are men who dedicate themselves solely to slaughtering animals. ‘What would you like to know?’ she asked me. elicited a positive response. but many barbacoieros prefer to do the slaughtering at home where they can control how the meat is cut and how well it is cleaned. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live with a family who took pride in the ﬂavour of their product. though. the traditional means of food preparation are generally preferred over modern shortcuts in spite of modern conveniences and new regulations. This is the same work that is done in the ofﬁcial slaughterhouse. Should a barbacoiero wife become widowed or abandoned. The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. The description that follows is based on the ﬁrst time that I witnessed the entire process. different dishes that can be made with barbacoa meat. as well as for many other culinary techniques. Milpa Alta Primy and Alejandro used to farm nopales. In barbacoa preparation. playfully called matadores or otherwise referred to as trabajadores (workers).54 • Culinary Art and Anthropology is busy cleaning or chopping vegetables. She continued explaining the cooking process before she interrupted herself and said that no. This. Yadira introduced me to them as a foreigner who had come to Mexico to study chiles and who was fascinated with Mexican food in general. ‘¡Este es como empezar con el postre y terminar con la sopa!’ (‘This is like starting with the dessert and ﬁnishing with the . but nothing is expected of her. this was all wrong. It illustrates some of the compromises that might be made for the sake of the business. the slaughter. ‘¿la comercial o la buena?’ (‘the commercial sauce or the good one?’). The matador-workers are in charge of the matanza. the rastro. she must take over as much of her mother-in-law’s work as she can. and Primy embarked on a detailed description of the salsas that she made to serve with barbacoa. they began to help with the barbacoa to carry on the family business. and she might lend a hand. I learned to prepare barbacoa in what they considered the traditional manner. but they tended to always return to the traditional. she can still carry on with the business. even if she has no sons. The following section is a rundown of how barbacoa is prepared at home by professionals in the trade. but also how daily meals can still be rather elaborate. but it is representative of how families make barbacoa at home. They are also responsible for washing the entrails and chopping them. and then invited me to watch her remove the meat from the oven the next morning. depending on availability and price of ingredients. but a few years before the death of Alejandro’s father in the early 1990s. These men may also be hired if a barbacoiero has little space in his backyard or if he routinely prepares large amounts and has no sons to help him. They sometimes varied their methods of preparation. With Primy and Alejandro.
Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 55 soup!’) she exclaimed. They were prepared for a physically demanding and dirty job. Alejandro led a young sheep to the centre of the covered concrete and brick slaughter yard behind the house. From the ceiling hung eight large hooks fastened to a wooden beam with thick twine. For about ﬁve minutes he squatted by the lamb. It must have been around 10 degrees Celsius outside but they knew they would not feel cold. allowing all the remaining blood and whatever may be left in the oesophagus to drip out onto the ground. she insisted. its head resting on the stool. He sharpened his knife once more and after feeling for a soft spot in the neck joint. Then she cut . He then proceeded to saw off one lower hind leg. She stood by the decapitated animal and felt for the soft cartilage in the joint of the other hind leg. short-sleeved shirts and long rubber boots. and the process was repeated. He then sharpened his knife with his sharpening steel and lay the lamb on its side. I must come. he deftly punctured its throat with the tip of his knife. since most people are up and working by 5 a. scraping away the fur to reveal the bone with its characteristic hole. Apart from the slaughter. She cut off the other three feet and tossed them toward the drain. in one corner there was a water tap with a long hose attached. and then he hung the body by the leg bone on one of the ceiling hooks. Primy took the steel and sharpened her own knife. work which is shared between husband and wife. Alejandro placed a large aluminium basin in the centre of the space. she continued. It bucked its hind legs once in a while in silent protest. The ground was paved in concrete. Hanging the carcass this way makes it easier to clean the whole animal. Beside this he positioned a rough-hewn wooden stool. One cannot learn about barbacoa without seeing everything from beginning to end. the workweek begins at seven o’clock every Thursday morning. Thursday: La matanza (The Slaughter) For the family whose trade is to make and sell barbacoa. Alejandro then went to get another lamb among the group huddled at the far end of the slaughter area. She scraped away the fur of the other hind legs so that the carcasses could be hooked through and hung by both legs. and along one wall there was a low concrete-lined drain. Holding its muzzle shut. While Alejandro continued to slaughter the rest of the livestock. he sawed off its head and set it aside. Only after I have seen it all can we talk about salsas and chiles. and stay with them to observe the whole process. The space was about 3 by 6 metres in area. so Alejandro held its body still until it stopped bleeding and lay limp.m. Alejandro and Primy dressed in old jeans. This is almost considered a late start by Milpa Alta standards. allowing it to bleed into the basin. starting from la matanza. la matanza could also be interpreted to refer to all the proceedings of the day. The slaughter area was separated from the rest of the patio by a low wall reaching halfway up toward its roof. it consisted of taking apart and cleaning the animals. Although the actual killing was ﬁnished.
He slung each hide on the low wall and carried on with the slaughtering. la panza. el pescuezo. It is cleaned and later stuffed with the tripe and other innards mixed with herbs and spices. The odour was rancid and repulsive as the contents of the panza splashed onto the ground. The panza was much bigger than I expected it to be. A soft popping noise was made as the body separated from its skin at the neck. el redaño. This can ruin the meat. the blood and bile that may remain in the throat attract large ﬂies which enter the pescuezo and may become embedded there. There she emptied the stomach.56 • Culinary Art and Anthropology more of the fur and peeled it down so that it hung in a thick fold just below the hip. First Primy pulled out the stomach. and she pulled them out as if she were measuring yarn. Primy warned me to get out of the way. keeping grip of the other end. so she stood aside and waited for her husband. Having clariﬁed this. despanzar. She knotted them together at the centre. swaying from side to side. This is the start of the real cleaning process. covering the hole and tying it well. It is tied closed and cooked in the pit oven along with the meat to be later served in tacos. but in any case the pescuezo must be protected with gauze. When Alejandro was ready he tugged the coat off each animal. The hide is heavy and toughly attached to the ﬂesh. the caul. about half a metre long and 20 centimetres wide. Primy hosed the panza inside and out and tossed it into another aluminium tub before returning to the carcass. I offered to help. and it was a grey-green colour. She explained how important this was because when the meat is still fresh. From the pail she pulled out a rectangle of gauze and wrung out the excess water. Primy proceeded to unravel the small intestines. These were at least 12 metres long. la tripa delgada. she proceeded to slice a long vertical hole through the centre of the skinned carcass. ‘como una telita de grasa’. pulling it inside out with all his strength and using his body weight for the ﬁnal yank. The panza is one of the most important parts of the sheep. squeezing out the part-digested fodder and gastric juices. securing them to keep them under control lest they slip away and get tangled and lost amongst the rest of the innards. Then she squeezed out any waste that may have remained before tossing them into the aluminium tub with the panzas. As soon as she had all the tripe looped in her hands she cut one end. giving it a bitter ﬂavour. but Primy and Alejandro told me that this job was not for me and recommended I keep my distance to protect my clothes. thus holding the centre of several separate lengths of intestine. She could not explain why they tended to enter the small neck hole rather than the large opening she made through the abdominal area when she gutted them. catching each arms’ length in either hand. and she began to pull out the entrails. She tore off about a half metre’s length and carefully wrapped the pescuezo with the gauze. and in fact it looked like a square of pale pink lace8 and could be peeled off the stomach in one piece. and she carried the panza to the far corner of the slaughter area where there was a large metal rubbish bin. which Primy described as being like a cloth. . It was covered with a layer of fat. Primy brought a small plastic pail of water toward each animal and washed the blood from the neck.
. The uterus was quite small. business). This is extremely important because when blood is cooked it becomes a dark. telling me that she used to collect them in jars of alcohol whenever she came across them because a friend of hers used them for the science class she taught at a local school. corazón. cleaning must be done with bare hands. unappetizing colour and although this does not affect the ﬂavour of the meat. and one stuffed with a developed uterus tastes much better than one with an undeveloped uterus (each of the entrails is chopped up and used to stuff the panza). dirt. then it was time for breakfast. the gall bladder. They are attached to its inner lining and make the stuffed panza tastier and juicier. Primy then cut it off and dropped it into the pail with the rest of the offal. The heads are left to soak and the panzas must be blanched so that the bitter stomach lining can be removed. Alejandro placed the hose in the anal passage at the top of the animal and sprayed a strong stream of water. to an airing room. Primy rinsed everything quickly. The meat needed hanging so that it matures a little and can be cut cleanly. Such a ﬁnd is considered lucky. Any dirt that remains gives an unpleasant bitter ﬂavour to the meat and panza when cooked. Later each offal meat was cleaned thoroughly with cold water to remove all traces of dirt.e. Pregnant sheep are particularly special because usually when the stockbreeder knows that a sheep is pregnant. Alejandro carried the cleaned carcasses. While Primy was completing this process. it may put customers off. Primy stressed to me that each section must be well cleaned individually. Furthermore. it is not sold for slaughter as it will eventually provide young (i.. Cold water must be used even if the weather is freezing because using warm water risks spoilage. because pregnancy causes the uterus to develop. la vejiga. where he hung each by one leg to dry the meat overnight. Primy slit open the uterus to show me the foetus. but when we got to the last lamb slaughtered I witnessed the discovery of a pregnant one. la tripa gorda. heart. The developed uterus forms nutritious pink bolitas (these ‘little balls’ actually look like tiny pink donuts). which went straight through the intestine and ﬂushed out most of the suciedad. the bladder. la matriz. Without this gush of running water it is more difﬁcult to extract the waste products from the intestine. Each part of the animal was systematically removed in its turn—the uterus. After saving the foetus Primy rinsed the uterus inside and out and then threw it into the tub of entrails. el hígado. Primy positioned the pail in front of the animal and pointed the large intestine toward the pail. about the size of the palm of my hand. now referred to as being en canal. and so must be expunged. la vesícula billar. the liver. The ﬁnal step was to slice open the hearts and lungs to remove all traces of blood from the veins and arteries. Only then were we free to sit in front of the television to watch the football. The foetus was fully formed and ﬂoated in its amniotic gel which could be removed like a little ball and preserved in alcohol or formalin. otherwise it is impossible to reach the inner folds of the meat. pulmones.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 57 Next to remove was the large intestine. lungs.
that the women had cleaned so thoroughly the day before. She brought out three little painted wooden chairs with wicker seats for me. There we bought a kilo of masa. The cooker was like those found in food stalls in the market. a small shop selling machine-made tortillas. When this was done it was time to pick up the children from school. chopping onions and carrots. We all sat outside in the patio with the tomatoes and three plastic strainers and set to peeling off the husks as we rinsed them. After breakfasting on the chilaquiles with teleras (a type of bread roll) and hot milk with coffee or chocolate stirred in.m. as usual. Primy and her mother-in-law began to prepare lunch. and almost all of this work was done by Primy.) Primy rinsed out the coriander and epazote and left the herbs to soak in water. Doña Margarita made a green salsa with the chiles and green husk tomatoes (tomates or tomates verdes) that are also used for the barbacoa. We roasted green poblano chiles over coals to peel and slice them for rajas con crema (strips of roasted chiles with crème fraîche and onions). Her mother-in-law helped as well. but Primy was in charge. I arrived at their house before 7 a. We were having chilaquiles verdes for breakfast that day. chiles and herbs for the cooking process and also to make the salsas that would accompany the meat. one for the panzas. green tomatoes. Primy went to the market to buy vegetables. At the same time. We carried on preparing the vegetables. we made thick tortillas. Primy kneaded the dough and with the help of a tortilla press and her two small sons. Alejandro was at his butcher block chopping all the menudencias. Primy returned from her shopping with sacks of white onions. coriander and various other foods. Primy put all the tomatoes to soak in a plastic basin to soften the husks for easier removal. the innards. I stayed and helped make breakfast in the airing room. removing stems from the fresh and dried chiles and just chatting away. that supports two large gas rings that can accommodate very large pots and pans. (I do not think he did much else that day. made of a metal frame. carrots. These gorditas (also called sopes) are a type of snack food that is often eaten in the street. we got back to work. the maize dough used to make tortillas. about waist height. Indeed it is the most labour-intensive because all the preparations for the cooking and serving of the meat are done on Fridays. where a simple industrial gas cooker was set up. Alejandro asked Primy to prepare them for me so that I could taste as much typical Mexican food as time allowed. and Primy was already away at the market while her mother-in-law was at home preparing breakfast. chiles.58 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Friday: Mise en Place (Preparations). her mother-in-law and herself. The day began early. Meanwhile. For green chilaquiles. the other two for the green and red salsas that she would make. As we walked home from the school we passed by a tortillería. so that we could make gorditas pellizcadas when we got home. Primy separated them into the three containers. After baking them on . sancochando la carne (Pre-cooking the Meat) Alejandro told me that Friday is the heaviest day for women in the barbacoa trade.
as are chopping and cleaning vegetables and herbs. she said. we pinched them several times on one side ( pellizcar means to pinch). as well as ﬁlling and unloading the oven. we took the pail to a salsa mill. onions. She told me that for small tasks. like making the panza ﬁlling and the salsas. I asked her if she always used the metate. We returned to the vegetables we had been cleaning and divided the tomatoes and chiles for the salsas. unless there was a power failure. The meal was washed down with an agua fresca de limón. there was a lot of work to be done after eating. Although I would have the tendency to linger over such exquisite food. For the green salsa we peeled avocados. She then proceeded to make the red salsa in which she used three types of dried chiles—chile morita. Otherwise. Women look after the softer and more complex cooking. she preferred the effect of crushed crackers to that of breadcrumbs. a tool that dates to pre-Hispanic times. She also had procured some pork fat to add to the ﬁlling mixture so that the panza would not get too dry during . although it was standard fare for them. Preparing the panza is always the women’s responsibility. As always. She toasted these on a hot comal and warned me to keep clear of the smoke since the chiles always made her cough and sneeze. This was our starter for lunch on that day. water ﬂavoured with a variety of sweet lime that they picked off the tree in the garden. but nowadays. Men in the barbacoa trade are responsible for the slaughter and preparing the meat. in a busy barbacoiero household such as this one. garlic and salt. there were tortillas and a lovely tomato-chile-based salsa to accompany. chopped coriander and combined them with the green tomatoes. and topped them with refried beans. and pulla or guajillo angosto. especially in cities. I had heard that some people still used it. chiles serranos. few people did so because of the effort and physical force that was required. such as grinding these crackers. When we returned home Primy had to prepare the stufﬁng for the panzas.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 59 a hot comal. Lunch was a feast for me. crisply cooked crumbled longaniza (a type of sausage). She ﬁlled the pail with the tomatoes and chiles along with salt and other ingredients. molino de salsas. She boiled green tomatoes and put the toasted chiles to soak in the cooking water.9 The red salsa was more popular than the green in the stand where they sold barbacoa. then breaded chicken with boiled carrots with cream. Primy approached the now-dried carcasses (canales) and cut off the udders and kidneys to chop up and add to the rest of the menudencias. so Primy had a 30-litre pail for this. and beans in their broth at the end. and rajas con crema. a short walk away. they used an electric blender for making sauces and for larger tasks. she would use it. Since she needed to make a larger amount. She used saltine crackers instead of bread because. Alejandro pounded chicken breasts to make milanesas and his mother hauled out the heavy stone metate to make breadcrumbs for the chicken. árbol seco. rubbed them with melted lard. far beyond the capacity of a domestic blender. She knelt on the ground behind the grinding stone and in a matter of seconds reduced the crackers to ﬁne crumbs. We had gorditas to start. green salsa and crumbled white cheese. Primy processed them in the blender in stages because she was making large amounts for the business.
Whilst Primy was doing all of this detailed work. mixing the grains. The pieces of meat must be arranged in a speciﬁc order so that they cook properly. since these all take longest to cook and need to be nearest to the heat source. so water is added to the basin at the bottom. espinazo or lomo. a method developed because of the shortage of ﬁrewood in recent years. Alejandro pulled out his chainsaw and cut the lamb into pieces—the leg. On Saturdays they sold barbacoa de perol. however. and the neck.60 • Culinary Art and Anthropology the cooking. to parboil the meat). the shoulder. She checked that there was sufﬁcient consomé and that . ribs. a notable difference in ﬂavour between the barbacoa de perol and barbacoa de horno. one for Saturday’s sales and another for Sunday’s. Into the mixture she threw chopped green tomatoes. The panzas were now ready to be stuffed.5 metres tall. espaldilla. Then an iron grille is positioned above the tub with some special cooking ﬁlm to prevent bits of meat from falling through. then the heads and necks. There is. The perol is a large aluminium bin. Next. She drained and separated them into two containers. most people these days ﬁnish cooking the barbacoa in the perol rather than use the traditional pit in the ground or brick oven (horno). This is used to steam the meat over a gas ﬂame. costilla. Mondays and special occasions they prepared the barbacoa de horno. He lay these out on the work table in the middle of the room and decided which pieces would be cooked for Saturday. She also prepared the herbs and spices that go in the tub for the consomé. At the same time she had been boiling rice and chickpeas. around 75 centimetres in diameter and 1. The rest of the parts are stacked in accordingly. and which for Monday. which are traditionally served with the consomé de barbacoa. and the perol is closed and left over a strong gas ﬁre for about twelve hours. Primy marked them with string which she tied around small bones so that she would be able to distinguish amongst them when the meat was already cooked. epazote and onions. Primy and Alejandro part-cooked the meat in the perol and then ﬁnished the process in the oven so that the meat obtained the smoky ﬂavour of the coals. the backbone or loin. First the tub for the consomé is placed at the bottom so that the juices drip down into the herbs and spices. When these were well incorporated she added powdered chile guajillo and salt and beat it some more. the panzas are set down. and she beat all of these together with her forearm (in the same way that one beats lard for making tamales). sancochar la carne (literally. but on Sundays. pescuezo. Saturday: Prendiendo y llenando el horno (Lighting and Stacking the Oven) At four o’clock on Saturday mornings it was very important for Primy to get up and check the meat in the perol. and she commented to me as she ﬁlled them that to her each one looks like a human foetus since it is shaped like a head and body. which for Sunday. In the perol the meat is steamed. For the sake of ease. To save ﬁrewood. Then she stacked the perol. pierna.
She removed what would be sold by her husband in the town that morning and put in more meat to pre-cook for the barbacoa de horno to be sold on Sunday and Monday. coffee boiled with abundant water and ﬂavoured with cinnamon and. all parts of different varieties of maguey plants. however. as well as add ﬂavour and help to seal in moisture. and different varieties are used for tequila and mezcal ). For women in the barbacoa trade. They are essential in the preparation of this type of barbacoa as they both protect the meat from burning. By the time I got up at seven o’clock. y además come ¡con gusto!’). Each of these leaves. While waiting for Primy and the boys to return home. and there were beans to follow if anyone wanted some. Primy came home and prepared the comida quickly. In fact. the succulent leaves of the maguey plant. Alejandro had long gone to the centre of Mexico City to sell and Primy had gone with her two sons to watch their football match in their playing ﬁeld nearby. Doña Margarita lit the coals that had remained in the pit with scraps of cardboard and burnt pencas. The pencas must ﬁrst be shaved at the base so that they are evenly thick and pliable. can reach up to 2 metres in length and about 30 centimetres wide at the base. a (red) tomato-based stew with chicken. I helped Doña Margarita wash the dishes from Friday and we went to buy food with which to prepare lunch. a typical homestyle soup with short noodles in (red) tomato broth. Then she asked me to accompany her to do her errands. By ﬁve o’clock the meat should be ready. or pencas. if available. This time it was less elaborate than on the Friday before. Saturday morning may be spent doing any sort of tasks and chores. both pencas and sap.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 61 it had not overﬂowed and the meat was cooking nicely. avocado and pickled jalapeño chiles. Before all this. To follow was a guisado de jitomate. tapering to a ﬁne point like a needle. for preparing food. All of this was served with warm corn tortillas. So we proceeded to light the oven by the side of the house. Alejandro’s mother gave me a sandwich for breakfast and a pint of hot milk in which I stirred some café de olla. we attended to the oven. We had sopa casera de tallarines con crema. and even making alcoholic drinks (like pulque. have been used extensively and have been exploited all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. This last point seemed particularly impressive to them. She accompanied me with a sandwich of her own. and meanwhile we carried on with other household chores. They are thick and spiny at the edges. When a bright ﬁre was smoking in the oven we laid the fresh pencas across the top. Alejandro had brought home pencas de maguey. crude sugar. turning them and even hanging them halfway into the oven so that they roasted evenly. weaving cloth. This step took a good hour or so. Then they must be toasted to mellow their ﬂavour and bitterness. served with a swirl of cream. piloncillo. courgettes and strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles. Primy and Doña Margarita were not the ﬁrst to comment that it was so nice to feed me because I ate everything without trouble and I obviously truly enjoyed the food (‘Come de todo. which she made of sliced bread ( pan bimbo) spread with cream and ﬁlled with ham. because Mexican food was thought to be notoriously difﬁcult for foreigners .
and with old newspaper she grabbed a ﬁstful of tallow that she collected every week from the meat. separating the meat into plastic crates lined with wax paper and the toasted maguey pencas from the oven. la pura brasa. but he told me that he was dying to go.10 Already they took their 7-year-old son with them to sell. Alejandro sold meat. It was time to stack the oven. She picked the meat from between the neck bones . The two women pulled out a square of canvas ﬁlled with sand to shroud the cover. Then we checked the oven. now full of consomé. They loaded everything into the back of their truck and by 5. The sides are folded inward and the lot is tied with string with the edges turned in so that none of the panza is exposed. an old cover and empty basins were arranged on the edges to secure it and weigh it down. made me seem less foreign to them and more easily assimilated. and then they slid the heavy steel cover over the opening. With this she ignited the wood and left it to burn while we ate. When all the meat was properly arranged.m. She ﬁlled the cavity with dry logs. and he and his wife expected. they were on their way to their barbacoa stall in a market near the centre of Mexico City. Primy showed me how to wrap the panzas in pencas of maguey to protect them from burning as they cook. Afterward. On a Sunday the children considered this to be a special treat. we unloaded the meat. more toasted pencas were lain.30 a. heads and panzas by the kilo. and by now the logs were reduced to red-hot embers. Both Alejandro and Primy would go to the market together as it was always their busiest day. only this time the sides of the oven were lined with pencas. Primy was already unloading everything. Last. Primy and Doña Margarita did this in the same order as in stacking the perol. la carne sancochada. Alejandro’s stall had been in the family for three generations. Then we left the barbacoa to stew in its own juices all night. Sunday: Sacando la carne (Taking Out the Meat) At ﬁve in the morning I was awakened for the ﬁnal stage of preparing barbacoa. which had been pre-cooking in the perol for a few hours. Just before lunch. that both of their sons would maintain it when they came of age. Primy lay the caul on top to cover all the meat so the fat could drip down as it melted and keep the meat moist. It was 5. no cooking ﬁlm was necessary and no water was added for the consomé. while Primy made and sold tacos and consomé and also usually acted as cashier. Each panza is placed individually in the centre of a toasted penca. Their second son was still too young to accompany them. she waited for Alejandro to come and reach into the oven for the tub of drippings.m. otherwise the meat would fail to cook properly. and therefore understand the ﬂavours. Primy lit the pit-oven with ﬁrewood. Finally.30 p. She placed the heads and pescuezos into separate pails and when she ﬁnished pulling out the panzas.62 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to eat. My ability to enjoy their food. They spread the sand evenly to block any cracks so that absolutely no steam escaped the oven. or at least hoped.
another opportunity to sell or eat barbacoa midweek is to go to a nearby tianguis (roving market) on the day when it is designated in a certain area. Preparing it every day would be too much work to be worth the earnings. but rather it decreased the frequency of their visits. all the barbacoa stalls open. like other wives of barbacoieros. If a holiday such as Christmas or Easter happened to fall on a weekday. though. taking into account the rising prices of their raw materials. but several barbacoieros sell nevertheless. economic constraints weigh heavily. or if they ordered to take away. Discussing the vendor-client relationship with me. She would recognize them and know what they usually ordered or consumed at one sitting.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 63 and used any other loose meat to ﬁll tacos. Whilst the supply of barbacoa might remain the same. however. This depends on her mood and other commitments. however. Primy explained that certain people become regular clients and thus are given special treatment. the price of livestock multiplied. When they did come. Otherwise. she would give them a pint of salsa without charge. she noticed that some of her regular clients no longer came every week as they used to. To improve the quality of their product. the demand would decrease considerably in that fewer would be able to afford . The increasing price of her product did not make customers buy or consume a smaller amount of barbacoa each time they came to eat at her stall. To increase their sales. These are the days when most people decide not to cook at home. and there is good business for barbacoieros. After the economic crash in 1994. In the mid-1990s. The market price of barbacoa. Sometimes she gave them slightly larger tacos. The best days for selling barbacoa are Saturday and Sunday. they retained the same consumption pattern as before. their selling price would be beyond the reach of their customers’ spending power. Saturday. as the value of the Mexican peso fell to a fraction of its worth against the US dollar. They stayed in the market all day until all their products were sold and sometimes returned home only at seven or eight o’clock at night. could not increase at similar speed because wages failed to keep up with the falling peso. particularly since much of it is imported live from Australia and New Zealand or from the US.11 In this way. few people eat it in the market midweek. Primy. barbacoieros ﬁnd themselves in a competition of ﬂavour. the price increase affected sales. however. So if barbacoieros charged a fair price for their product. Sunday and Monday: A vender (to sell)—How Lucrative is barbacoa? Monday is usually a fairly light day for selling in the market. might or might not accompany her husband on these lighter sales days. Since barbacoa is a heavy dish and is expensive. Thus customer spending reduced and luxury goods such as special foods became less frequent expenses. because of the unstable Mexican economy (la crisis).
the ranch where the livestock is sold. Barbacoieros will not stop making their product. there are many big houses in San Mateo. On the other hand. making it less commercial. as did many others. Doña Margarita told me that her husband used to make barbacoa in the perol. thus reducing the proﬁt margin for producers and forcing them to tighten their belts. In the 1950s most families lived in simple one. This is why. Though using the perol would greatly increase their proﬁt margin. Primy and Alejandro stopped using the perol altogether and tended to buy slightly younger sheep so that they could cook exclusively in the oven. Tuesday: La limpieza (Cleaning) and a marcar el ganado (Marking Livestock) Tuesday is when women do the major cleaning of the oven ( perol ) and all containers. she pointed out. Most of the money they needed to build their houses came from high barbacoa profits. They might lose some of their regular clients who were accustomed to a superior product. This attitude. they were not willing to compromise anymore and go back to making barbacoa de perol. Until the eighties. Tuesday is dedicated to cleaning and returning everything to normal. Primy explained to me her perception of how household spending had changed since the crisis of December 1994. but by the 1980s many families began to build larger houses as they became more prosperous from selling nopales and barbacoa. Few raise their own livestock since land and labour have become more scarce in recent . Their greater investment of work and money increased the quality of their product. but it was Alejandro who insisted that they switch to the pit oven because the resulting ﬂavour is so much better. Still. the husbands go to the ganadería. as that would be lowering their standards. hired another woman to help.64 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. During my last visit to Milpa Alta. naturally. Some later found themselves unable to buy all the materials necessary to complete building because of the economic crisis which upset their ﬁnancial planning and expected earnings. several houses were left unﬁnished. although it was likely that newer clients would not mind the difference. as it is their trade and means of livelihood. as well as all the work areas and utensils used. This has forced the price of barbacoa to remain low despite higher production costs. more of a luxury good and of course more expensive. to choose and mark the sheep that they will later buy for slaughter. they were unwilling to produce an inferior product. 1960). Sometimes Primy.or two-room dwellings (Madsen. They did so despite the increased physical labour and expense required when using ﬁrewood rather than gas. to sell barbacoa was very lucrative and many men in Milpa Alta and especially in San Mateo learned the trade in order to better support their families. In the meantime. did not make the most sense ﬁnancially.
This is spent like a typical Sunday for anyone else. The local sheep are smaller and leaner than foreign livestock and also have better ﬂavour because of how they are raised. This is indisputably the tastiest and best-quality barbacoa that can be made. splinters of bone or irregular cuts. all barbacoieros prefer pit-roast borregos criollos. most barbacoieros ﬁnd goats more difﬁcult to work with. resulting in less kilos of meat to sell. however. and later scrubbing down the work areas and the regular weekly cleaning indicate how essential this step is. as Doña Margarita described it) even after cooking in the perol. some compromises are necessary to increase the proﬁt margin. the meat does not come out well after cooking. It becomes too dry and does not look good. Whilst both male and female goats and sheep may be used. They are more difﬁcult to prepare because of their size and expense. Other women married to barbacoieros emphasized this to me as well. For the sake of ﬂavour. although it disappears when it is cooked in the oven. Wednesday: Rest Wednesday is the day of rest for barbacoiero families. and they must be neither too fat nor too thin. Also. unless there is a major holiday midweek. Otherwise they are free . with a similar preparation process. many families in San Mateo slaughtered their own livestock themselves in a walled area in their yards rather than at the rastro (slaughterhouse). locally reared sheep. To uphold this value and control quality. For personal consumption. meaning ﬁve kilos less proﬁt. When I talked with Primy about the desirable qualities of barbacoa. some barbacoieros are willing to pay a little more to buy borregos criollos. If they are too fat there will be a huge lump of fat behind the kidney or distributed throughout the meat. She also insisted on absolute cleanliness. without unappetizing dark spots. she always stressed how the meat must be physically appealing. they need to be treated more gently. Up to ﬁve kilos of fat can be extracted. sometimes male goats retain their odour (‘the smell of a man’. It is also cheaper to buy the animals that are brought over live from the US or Australia. but all barbacoieros agree that they are worth it. The quality of the meat depends on the quality and cleanliness of the ingredients. which remains if the meat is steamed in the perol. During the cooking much of it melts away. But if the lambs are too thin. in which case they would prepare more barbacoa to sell on these special days. They also have a singular odour. Although goat meat can be used as successfully as lamb. Since they are much smaller. clients prefer meat to be less fatty.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 65 years. The meticulous elimination of all the suciedad from the entrails of the animals. For the sake of business. and they render less cooked meat per kilo of raw. vendors prefer sheep. Thus. These graze freely and eat what they wish instead of enriched industrial feed.
There was a distinct division of labour between men and women. nor do they share with each other unless there is a particular ﬁesta. the bones are sold to make detergents. This proximity to one another also encourages competition. that only married couples prepare barbacoa for a living. they commit themselves to working excessively hard during weekends and having free time in the middle of the week. This behaviour is attributed to wealth. It is uncommon to borrow ingredients from the neighbours as they are expected to pay for whatever foodstuff they require. The fact that they are concentrated in Barrio San Mateo gives the barrio a reputation of being excessively proud and stingy. whilst single men and women only helped their parents but had separate careers. Nothing is wasted. Families carefully protect their belongings and social standing. barbacoieros seem to be both more attractive as well as more cautious when dealing with others. Conclusion From the ﬁrst time that I observed and participated in the preparation of barbacoa I was fascinated with the process. When a couple decides to dedicate themselves to barbacoa. as mentioned earlier. Women who married into San Mateo often commented to me that they had not been used to how people in San Mateo rarely greet one another in the streets. As indicated in this chapter. and the tallow is sold to make soap. it was evident that this was an industry that had signiﬁcant social effects. issues of trust and envy are highly relevant in the community of all those who are involved in the same business. so unsurprisingly. all parts of the animal are used either in the cooking or for other purposes. disciplined hours to continue to earn a living and not disappoint their customers. they have to work long. even if it is only a bit of sugar or a few tortillas. Since Milpa Alta is ofﬁcially an area of Mexico City of relative poverty.66 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to relax and hold their own or attend other ﬁestas which mark life cycle events in the family. when most people are very busy working. . The recent prosperity associated with barbacoa has made the wealth of barbacoieros a new value to protect. discipline. with the main responsibility lying with the marital couple. After slaughtering. cleanliness and frugality are necessary to perform the culinary technique. and wealth in the area is attached to barbacoa. All other parts of the animal are eaten. Whatever the weather. But I had not realized how much the preparation of the dish affected the way that barbacoieros interacted socially with others. Having the opportunity to socialize at the same times. particularly the wife. Their work rhythm dictates some of their values as well as their timetables. When I later learned. Those from San Mateo are said to be much less friendly than those of other barrios. The sheepskins are sold to make into jackets and rugs. it makes sense that people of similar occupation should group together. order.
although consumers themselves are unable to determine the cause of the difference in taste. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (1996. although it is by no means the highest.13 Even so. and therefore creates a social relation between them. The actual ﬂavouring and . As with any work of art. it can be said that the purpose of eating food is not simply for nourishment. to analyze the preparation of barbacoa as if it illustrates a process of social conversion and acculturation. ‘The work of art. 52). barbacoa can be thought of as an artwork within the corpus of Mexican cuisine. the resulting dish is greater than the sum of its parts. It was precisely the complexity of the ﬂavours and the preparation which made it more than just meat. p. This is why it is a dish typically eaten at special occasions or weekends. the decoration is just as functional as the object itself (1998. which is decorated or considered more special or beautiful than other objects/dishes. Since barbacoa is an elaborately prepared dish. The technical activity of. So it is tempting. though. On small scale. however. The goal is to achieve the best possible taste in the most pragmatic way for commercial and gastronomic success. There is a problem with thinking of it in this way. motherhood is a well-known value in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 67 The production of the dish encompasses all aspects of their lives. economic constraints and technical capabilities. As Gell has argued in differentiating between decorated objects and non-decorated objects. it can be thought of as a work of art. or at least socially interpreted. it is exemplary of how social behaviour is affected for the sake of concerns over taste and economy. Barbacoieros feel little or no attachment to the animals they slaughter. edible object. at ﬁrst. and vice versa. the occasion in which it is eaten. and that it had complex ﬂavours. For example. For barbacoa. Barbacoa ranks high in the hierarchy of dishes in Mexican cuisine. The function of the elaboration is to mark the dish. references to motherhood seem related to the achievement of better ﬂavours. p.12 A living animal changes from a natural state to a controlled. Likewise. Making barbacoa is both a source of livelihood and a pursuit of culinary excellence. a craft whose product depends on physical labour. as special. ‘is inherently social in a way in which the merely beautiful or mysterious object is not: it is a physical entity which mediates between two beings.’ Gell states. as in using the developed uterus for the panza. it is a culinary technique. because preparing barbacoa is not a ritual. Because of the technical mastery necessary for its production and the acknowledgement of this virtuosity in its consumption. The animals are simply a source of meat. in this case. Meat preparation can be socialized. the food preparation is a sensual experience. both for men and for women. Social values and behaviour seem encapsulated in the process of cooking or making barbacoa. it seems the beginning of this social transformation. The matanza seems more than a slaughter. Before I met Primy for the ﬁrst time I had known that barbacoa was difﬁcult and laborious to prepare. 74). Food requires ‘decoration’—ﬂavourings or elaborate preparation—just as much as it requires nutrients. another ingredient. that is. cookery is both a source of prestige from an object (dish) and a source of efﬁcacy in social relations. socially malleable.
San Mateo became special because of a special dish (or a special ﬂavour). invest measured amounts of time. or cooks. The success of their cooking affects their relations with the people they are feeding. both with themselves and with one another. women’s labour. but I could not help being struck by the organized cooperation that I observed during my ﬁrst few weeks there. More customers will buy the product for their own consumption as well as to share with others. since they generally are the ones in charge of the panza and the all-important salsas. In the chapter that follows. If the appropriate pleasurable ﬂavour is achieved in the many parts of the dish. stemmed garlic avocados . Before the concentration of barbacoieros and their technical and ﬁnancial success. which could later lead to greater social success. Recipes Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa Ma.68 • Culinary Art and Anthropology elaboration is often the responsibility of women. and the technical skills they must acquire. Women. In particular. raw green chile de árbol. On large scale. Daily food similarly inﬂuences adjustments in behaviour. women put in much effort and creativity in daily cooking. If we accept that the nature of the art object is deﬁned by its social use (Gell. which could be thought of as minor works of art or craft. San Mateo was like any other barrio of maize farmers among many. either in small groups or in large ﬁestas. effort and money in the everyday production of meals. This higher status then has had ramiﬁcations on the social relations of its residents with one another as well as with residents of other barrios and towns (the perceived rise in greed and protectiveness. I will describe their roles as wives and cooks. As shown in the earlier description of a typical week for barbacoieros. barbacoa has affected the community of San Mateo in Milpa Alta. Worth noting now is that I did not arrive in Milpa Alta with the intentions of observing gender relations. then in this way barbacoa is an art object whose preparation both deﬁnes and is deﬁned by the social relations between the different people who prepare it (together or in competition) and the projected consumers. but also in celebration and large-scale sharing). Primitiva Bermejo Martínez green husk tomatoes. affect the way they socialize with others. even though there is little time to relax and savour the ﬂavours of their meals. 1998). and how the activities prescribed as appropriate for them. a barbacoiero will have greater economic success. ideals and relations with men will be explored further.
Primitiva Bermejo Martínez 6 kg green husk tomatoes. chile de árbol. then drain. Decorate with crumbled cheese. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa Ma. In the same oil. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’—for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home Ma. stemmed. stems and veins removed oil for frying garlic. salt and a drizzle of olive oil to taste. Mix well. peeled orange juice. soaked 3 medium onions 10 small cloves garlic salt to taste Blend all ingredients together. Then one day I decided to try making it and was . freshly squeezed green olives salt olive oil queso canasto (a fresh white cheese) Heat oil in a frying pan. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez chile pasilla. boiled ¼ kg each of dried chiles: chile mora. Add olives. Blend together chiles. Pour into a serving bowl. cleaned. toasted on comal. Pass the chiles through the hot oil once. Barbacoa I used to think it inconceivable to prepare barbacoa at home unless I dug a pit in the garden and grew my own magueyes. and chile guajillo angosto ( pulla).Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 69 onion salt Grind all together in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. fry the garlic cloves until golden. garlic and orange juice.
and place it in the oven for about 2 hours. which I do grow on my windowsill. . where the piece of meat will ﬁt. wash the banana leaves and then pass them over a ﬂame or dry griddle to soften them. sliced 1 leek. although there was little consomé. Use them to line a heavy casserole with a lid. Serves 3– 4 1 metre banana leaves 1 kg lamb shoulder (or leg) 3 bay leaves large handful of epazote handful of coriander. Banana leaves may substitute maguey leaves. chopped roughly • Preheat oven to 180ºC (gas mark 5/375ºF) for about 1 hour. • Sprinkle with salt after cooking is complete. The following recipe was the result of my culinary experiment. and serve with hot corn tortillas. chopped coriander. sliced 3 cloves garlic. They will change colour slightly and become more pliable. Meanwhile. limes. if desired. • Combine the rest of the ingredients and place in the casserole.70 • Culinary Art and Anthropology pleasantly surprised that the ﬂavour I achieved approximated the real thing. Rub the meat with the garlic. The meat may or may not be raised on a wire rack. avocados and salsas. or until the meat is very tender. herbs and chiles. guajillo) 1 onion. but there is no real substitute for epazote. morita. chopped onions. preferably green (tomatillos). and pour a little water into the pot so the meat does not dry out when cooking. sliced 2–3 tomatoes. • Wrap the meat with the banana leaves before securing the lid. ancho. since some forms of barbacoa are prepared with them. chopped 6 –8 dried red chiles (de árbol.
Murcott. The root of the problem. I hesitate to separate the act and skill of cooking from the cook. home cooking is considered women’s work. and go on to develop my argument in relation to how women and—or via—their cooking are valued in Milpa Alta.3 The Value of Cooking and Other Work Some feminist sociological studies argue that when cooking is regarded as women’s work. and just as their agency is mobilized by the family during ﬁestas in community-wide sociality1 (see Chapter 5). which include cooking and other domestic tasks. as wives. they can also mobilize the agency of others. ‘The underlying principles of housework must be made visible. they argue. their husbands. 1997. DeVault writes. instead of in the traditional way as an expression of love and personality’ (1991. Separating the act of cooking or providing a meal for the family from the ‘love and personality’ of the one who provides it (usually the wife/mother) is in contradiction – 71 – . are devalued ‘or not regarded as skills at all’ (Charles and Kerr. 1988. such as when they hire domestic helpers. p.2 I begin by describing local social relations and different kinds of women’s work in Milpa Alta. 1991. 1979. different from other kinds of housework because of the creative component involved. McIntosh and Zey.4 By focusing on meal production as a household chore. 1998. Though I agree that feeding a family is a skill and responsibility easily taken for granted in Mexico and elsewhere. Women are the key actors in the culinary system. these studies take food production to be directly symbolic of the reproduction of a social order where women. it can lead to women’s subordination (e. The work must be seen as separable from the one who does it.g. I would differentiate cooking from other forms of housework. inevitably play a subordinate role to men. Cooking is a complex and artistic practice. p. Crucially. 142). Beardsworth and Keil. 47). Delphy.–4– Women as Culinary Agents Although many men in Milpa Alta are involved in food industries. Maintaining the leitmotif of cooking as an artistic practice. we can think of women’s agency as a culinary agency. referring to the sazón de amor that is responsible for good ﬂavour. 1983). In her insightful and critical discussion of how ‘feeding a family’ is a complex. This chapter focuses on the role of women in the network of Milpa Alta society. is how women’s skills. Ekström. often ‘invisible’ skill that women take upon as ‘natural’.
This was one of the parts of the day that she enjoyed most. therefore. ‘The Latin American family. In Milpa Alta. or when women work away from home. 108). In fact. Doña Delﬁna told me that before she married she used to take lunch to the peons who worked on her family’s land. p. although women serve food to their husbands or bring them meals in the ﬁelds. and this is not to downplay or ignore ongoing social change in terms of gender relations. Women. women take pride in their cooking. several recent studies document how family and gender ideologies are more dynamic than static. as I explained in Chapter 1. I suggest that accepting cooking as a way of expressing love and personality can explain why many women take on roles that to outsiders may appear as subordinate to their husbands but in fact may not be so. marital-compadrazgo alliances. knowing how to cook Mexican food is actually thought of as a skill worth learning. I would emphasize further that there is also nothing wrong with having deﬁned gendered roles in the family. Many have told me that they enjoy it. Servile status was held by the labourers who worked the ﬁeld. mother and cook whether or not they enjoy it. prestige. but they can ﬁnd other ways to provide a delicious meal whether they cook it themselves or not. In such cases. and the like. ‘[T]he people see nothing servile in this’. Some women in Milpa Alta say they cook to satisfy their own cravings or desires. Ann Pescatello (1973. cooking is a chore. in-laws and comadres. 2006. p. xiv) claimed.’ Pescatello questions the applicability of ‘Western-style women’s liberation’ with research showing that women in Latin America have more movement and autonomy built into their social organization than their US counterparts. this does not necessarily imply a master-servant relationship. It cannot be denied that many women assume the role of wife. of course. In one of the earlier collections of essays published on gender. are not always forced to prepare elaborate meals for their husbands. leaving the house and socializing a little. although they may hardly cook at all. 101) write about Colombia. and whether or not they cook regularly. relatives. if not a talent. In Milpa Alta cooking is indeed embedded in the domestic realm. The extended family. On the .5 Rather. since power need not be publicly displayed in order to be enforced. when DeVault states that ‘women learn to think of service as a proper form of relation to men. For others. and learn a discipline that deﬁnes “appropriate” service for men’ (1991. p. Though this might be taken as indicative of women’s subordination to men. subsumed as women’s work or women’s unpaid labour. As Gudeman and Rivera (1990. p. integral to the historical schema … provides much latitude and legitimization of behavior in terms of social status. applied to Latin America. they meet the challenge of providing good food to their families by depending on cooperation with co-resident women. at least. I found several women to have such an attitude. and not by the wives or daughters of the landowners who prepared food and served it to those men. 143). Thus. still widespread and potent in countryside and city. affords the female an extensive amount of inﬂuence on the members of her family.72 • Culinary Art and Anthropology with the existing ideology of Mexican cooking (see also Abarca.
As I discuss further below. 2005. They are the ones who maintain the economic control in the family.. Williams.6 they speak with pride of how able and productive their women are. 260 –1). Milpa Alta works’ (‘Mientras México duerme. By four or ﬁve in the morning the market is alive. the cooking and providing of meals is not (cf. checking the barbacoa in their pit-ovens. 1985. que crea el comercio’). Abarca’s (2006) recent study also argues that Mexican and Chicana women use the kitchen as a space of agency and empowerment in creative ways. They admirably sacriﬁce sleep and other comforts for the sake of their work. Stephen. It was as natural for them to portray themselves as mothers and cooks (‘Me dedico al hogar’) as it was to call themselves barbacoieras. sometimes deﬁning themselves against this notion of submissiveness. a journalist. The reasons for these competing discourses of power and submission are multiple and complex. Even when domestic work may appear to be devalued. This must be why several women described themselves as ‘housewives’ although if asked again. they also go to sell and create business (‘La mujer es la que genera el sustento … La mujer es la que se va a vender. Juanita and other women repeatedly told me that Milpa Alta women never rest. market vendors (vendedoras) or businesswomen (comerciantes).Women as Culinary Agents • 73 contrary. and get up again the next morning before dawn.m. and both paid and unpaid domestic and extradomestic work is acknowledged and valued. they are very hardworking (‘La mujer milpaltense no descansa … es muy trabajadora’).7 but that is only how it appears on the surface. Supposedly. told me that if I were to walk around Milpa Alta at 3 or 4 a. Both are also valued as work. including domestic tasks. People commonly say. on Tejanos). They are not simple housewives but are the drive of the family businesses. Milpaltense women present themselves as having various opportunities for release from oppression. Juanita told me. Indeed. they would say that they were barbacoieras. Her sensitive discussion of feminist kitchen politics is a . I would ﬁnd many women awake. ‘While Mexico sleeps. Women remain at work for twelve hours or more. The example of a barbacoa household (Chapter 3) illustrates how women assume the domestic household duties along with helping in the family trade. returning home well after dusk. proper provision of tasty food reﬂects good motherhood. women in Milpa Alta are ‘submissive’. pp. good womanhood. teeming with women setting up their stalls and peeling nopales. Hard work seems to be deﬁned as commerce and extradomestic labour. Juanita. Milpa Alta trabaja’). Women in Milpa Alta have a reputation in Mexico City for being hardworking. involving changing gender relations resulting from women’s entrance into the labour force. said that women generate sustenance. and likewise. among other issues. a single woman in her mid-twenties still living in her natal household. Lulú.8 Yadira told me that most women around her work hard at home but also invest time in labour that could be better described as extradomestic. they take on extradomestic work and still ﬁnd a way to feed their families (cf. often by means of their cooking. Rather than talk of a doble jornada.
g. they are not imprisoned in their kitchens or completely engulfed in household chores (cf. I offered to go instead of Primy or one of the children. their everyday lives are not necessarily limited. 2006. 2001). Roseman.. Abarca. By stressing complementarity between the sexes.74 • Culinary Art and Anthropology convincing critique of the kitchen as a site of female oppression (see also André. Trips to the market are as much a social event for exchanging news and gossip as for stocking up the larder. women are not quite as conﬁned to the domestic sphere as it might appear. 1996. this is a time when they can linger and meet illicitly with their lovers under cover of nightfall and the excuse of a culinary errand. Sometimes we would detour for an ice cream. In Milpa Alta it is normal to make frequent. 2004. Rogers. Melhuus and Stølen. among others). I observed that for women who are interested in cooking well. Since unmarried daughters in the family are often asked to buy fresh bread in the evenings for supper. women do not need to be accompanied. because Doña Margarita told me not to take too long. Even in cases where women appear to be subservient to their husbands (‘Es él que manda’). 1994. Fowler-Salamini and Vaughan. licuado or other snack bought on the street or in the market. . I was surprised at her surprise at how quickly I had been. 1985). she needed someone to go to the tortillería to buy some prepared masa so that we would not have to soak. Williams. Once when Doña Margarita was making tamales and her dough came out a little too thin. When I accompanied one or another friend or acquaintance on a visit to the market. but I suspect that it was more unusual not to spend more time chatting with passersby on every outing. Working hard in the pursuit of ﬂavour encourages a malleable boundary between domestic and extradomestic spaces. much work in Latin America and elsewhere dismantles the notion of women being in a rigid oppressive condition (e. In Milpa Alta. Only then did I understand the joke (evidently based on truth) that men ask (usually single young) women at what time they are supposed to go out to buy bread every day. Though they live with some social restrictions. one way that they stretch their boundaries is in pursuit of culinary ideals. For culinary errands. taco. and I set off without stopping. but expected. Johnsson. Primy mentioned that it was because I walk very fast. whereas they are usually chaperoned for social outings. Suárez and Bonﬁl.10 Thus. Many women go to great lengths to collect the right foods for the dishes they wish to prepare. One of the secrets of Mexican (and any good) cooking is having top-quality ingredients at hand.9 This is not only acceptable. because I had done exactly as I was told—go to the tortillería and come back. 1986. it was often a journey with frequent stops to chat with others passing on the street or those working in their perspective stalls or shops. which would take too long. or between staying home and being out in the streets. They go to particular vendors or even other towns. 1975. 1999. boil and grind more maize (nixtamal ). almost daily trips to the market or to different shops for fresh ingredients. women’s independence and the dynamism of relationships between individuals of both or either gender. When I returned to the house.
they usually help their husbands in their businesses by providing the necessary culinary labour (making salsas. which I discuss further below. In other words. do so largely because of the high value placed on motherhood and family life in Mexico (cf.Women as Culinary Agents • 75 Marriage and Cooking When a girl knows how to cook. some women begin to dress conservatively and stop wearing makeup. and their husbands are expected to eat what they serve them. Some women quit their extradomestic jobs after marriage. love and sex. With skilful cooking. Deciding to stay at home and raise a family is a choice that many (though not all) women make. if a woman appeals to a man’s oral/gastronomical desires (taste). At the time. her mother-in-law or other female friends and relatives. prepared with a sazón de amor. by extension. Yet far from being housewives who solely cook. for not knowing how to cook. either from her mother. García and Oliveira. She was able to keep this secret from her husband because she used to collect prepared food from her mother’s or sister’s kitchen before her husband arrived home to eat. she will always have him in the palm of her hand. clean and raise their children. as I discussed in Chapter 2. If they used to dress seductively when they were single. the correlations amongst cooking. In other words. Alejandro sometimes . Men could depend on women to provide them their meals and could expect to be well-fed once married. she is considered to be ready for marriage and. she can entice him to her to fulﬁl his sexual desires. she learns as soon as she gets married. and proper women prepare food at home from scratch. We can also extend this to say that attaining culinary expertise is equivalent to attaining complete womanhood. out of ‘respect’ for their husbands. she acquired a similar ﬂavour or sazón in her cooking so that there was not too drastic a difference when she eventually took charge of her own kitchen. Conversely. culinary knowledge is not expected of men. although. Guille told me conspiratorially that she only learned to cook several years after she got married. she said. and those who do.). 1997). Yadira told me that a woman can win a man through his mouth (‘Un hombre se conquista por la boca’). Perhaps it is for good reason that married women spend so much time preparing proper meals. This is just like how Ricardo told me (in Chapter 1) that a man falls in love with his stomach (rather than his heart). If a man is satisﬁed with the way a woman cooks. she had been ambitious about her academic and later professional career and had little patience for the kitchen. homemaking and extradomestic work are not mutually exclusive. Married women are expected to know how to cook. She should have been ashamed of herself. etc. as I explained previously. motherhood. food with good ﬂavour. and then enter into small commercial ventures on the side. Since her mother and sister taught her to cook little by little. but she managed to keep her husband from ﬁnding out. If a single woman does not know how to cook. This hints at the connections between food. motherhood and family life correspond to ideals of womanhood. a woman can trap a man. It is also not unlike Gell’s notion of artworks as traps.
Finding child minders during their working hours was not usually a problem because of the proximity of relatives or links of compadrazgo in a woman’s kin network. pa’ qué te casaste?’ (‘So what did you get married for?’) Coty taunted him. In fact. García and Oliveira demonstrate. Work. and a man needs a woman to bear children. neither the desire for a professional extradomestic career nor the desire to remain home to raise children (and cook and clean) are ‘natural’ for women. motherhood has been suggested to be another cause of women’s subordination. as we drove to the market where they sell their barbacoa. Working-class women taking on jobs outside the home do not think of this freedom to work as any sort of liberating agency. it is often necessary for working-class women to work extradomestically to supplement the family income. Yet. Miguel said that he knew how to cook as well as how to clean and wash clothes. they talked lightly about their skills and roles as husband and wife. although some women also feel ambivalent about their roles as mothers. Many women consider extradomestic work to be detrimental . married men depend on their wives. Several Milpaltense women mentioned to me that they engaged in commercial or professional activities to earn money so that they could ﬁnish building their houses. Cooking knowledge (and practice) is almost meaningless without a family. especially their daughters. Early one morning. Economic considerations play a signiﬁcant role in women’s activities. At this most basic level. Their study shows how motherhood is considered to be a source of fulﬁlment for women regardless of social class. Motherhood and Virtue Based on their investigation of motherhood and extradomestic work. he replied. ‘Para mis niñas’ (‘For my daughters’). Miguel and Coty provide another example of the social signiﬁcance of cooking within marriage. For women who feel that their duties as mothers are a burden or hindrance. and unmarried men depend on their mothers.76 • Culinary Art and Anthropology teased his cousin Kiko that he could do nothing without his wife: ‘¡Ni sabe calentar tortillas!’ (‘He doesn’t even know how to heat up tortillas!’). Levine (1993) also notes that urban Mexican women in the 1990s were more likely to encourage their children. to pursue more education so that they would have better chances of ﬁnding work should they be deserted by their husbands in future and be left to look after children on their own. ‘¿Entonces. tying women to their homes and children when they would rather join the labour force. and my ﬁndings in Milpa Alta agree. but rather seem to consider it as an unfortunate necessity. that motherhood does not actually stop women from taking on extradomestic work. García and Oliveira (1997) found that motherhood is still the main deﬁning characteristic or source of identity for women in urban Mexico. boasting that he could look after himself on his own. buy a plot of land or provide things for their children.
values and ideals of motherhood and domestic work. because they and/or their husbands thought it best for them to dedicate their time to child rearing. such as motherhood and being good homemakers (which includes cooking). Eventually the women were able to circumvent and even subvert some of the powerful images of being good women and good wives (or women vis-à-vis men). therefore.11 Eventually land was grudgingly given to the women beekeepers. largely because of the governmental support of the project. but Petra. Although some did talk of professional fulﬁlment. For the sake of their children. often boasted about her cooking skills and was proud of the way she had reared her children. researchers tend to assume that ideas pertaining to those in hierarchical positions are oppressing passive victims. The dominant discourse of male power and female weakness is used often in reference to Latin America. and Villareal (p. the president of the group. illustrates how attempts to restrict women’s social spaces may draw on gender imagery that plays upon male ideals and women’s morality. henpecked and in effect. she describes that the government encouraged peasant women’s participation in an entrepreneurial scheme which required the allocation of ejido land. 184) argues against this assumption: ‘In overemphasizing “dominant” imagery. these women were attacked in an indirect expression of community dissatisfaction over giving up this land. can also be demonstrated by the following example. The virtues. Sara (another member of the group) spoke with satisfaction about how good her sons were.’ In Jalisco. Women who wish to pursue extradomestic activities can use a discourse of homemaking and cooking to subvert moral and social criticism. or in particular after having their ﬁrst child. a scarce resource for the community. free) or their husbands as mandilón (tied to the apron strings. who wanted her to spend more time in the house. The boundaries of women’s accepted movements were threatened by gossip that labelled them as libertina (loose. Yet women can also use these notions to their advantage. with wives who are loose and free). This can lead to black-and-white pictures which portray the notion of a discourse which is almost solely responsible for the exercise of power and subordination. the way they went to church on Sundays. It is helpful to quote at length here to illustrate this point: None [of the women beekeepers] claimed explicitly to be a model housewife.Women as Culinary Agents • 77 to the development of their families despite their capitalist productivity. then. a larger percentage of both women and men in Milpa Alta neglected to practise their professional careers in favour of ‘traditional’ Milpaltense occupations. women may stop working outside the home or engage in work that can largely be done from home. In the community’s reaction against this. Villareal’s (1996) analysis of women beekeepers in Jalisco. and how she walked kilometres across the . but also about her kind and faithful husband. They did so by emphasizing their exemplary behaviour with respect to other images of womanhood. Other women told me without any indication of shame that they stopped working after marriage. including good cooking. despite problems with her husband. Mexico.
at the time of ﬁeldwork. They write. por conocer que una como mujer sufre. even if he never has given her reason to believe he really will). con esos estoy contenta’). She proudly showed her sewing and embroidery to her visitors. ‘No. Socorro bragged quietly about how she cooked for her family. he only hit me once or twice. she never felt the desire to have a daughter. since the girls had married out. and since her sons always helped her at home. ‘Neither the fact that women often comply with practices that subordinate them nor the fact that they resist the exercise of such practices can be understood in terms of the exclusively repressive view of power common in women’s studies’ (p. ya no.78 • Culinary Art and Anthropology ﬁelds to take him a hot lunch. The greatest form of suffering for a married . with them I am happy’ (‘Ni. she explained. God gave me two sons. there were few divorces and separations in Milpa Alta (though there were other reasons for this as well. yet it continues to organize and perform functions in society. which was now composed of only boys. Women’s suffering came up in conversation in a surprisingly casual manner. she cried because the child was a girl. Then she added. When I asked Doña Delﬁna. I was also told that if a woman fails to cook or clean. knowing how a woman suffers. Villareal’s case study clearly demonstrates that women are not passive. as did the topic of physical abuse. 1996. but actively use the ideals of cooking and motherhood to avoid forcing direct confrontation. Melhuus and Stølen (1996) argue that gender ideology is in constant ﬂux. if she had wanted a daughter. 195) A similar kind of dynamic exists in Milpa Alta. who had two sons. and probably in other parts of Mexico as well. Dios me ha dado dos hijos. then stayed a bit to help out with his chores. though I have no hard facts to prove it. If he does beat her. In fact. that women have the tendency to attach virtue to suffering. ‘It was better. Domestic violence rarely results in separation. Mexico. (Villareal. mejor. which undermines the power of the accepted gender imagery. The idea of keeping their household in ‘good order’ was often conveyed. as I mention below). but it was because I had done something to deserve it. y gracias a Dios. They can take an active role in modifying their social spaces. and thanks to God. Some cases cited in their volume indicate a certain complicity among women. An elderly lady told me that her husband was a womanizer and a drunk. She then added. better not [to have a daughter]. They do not necessarily succumb submissively to the dominant discourse. 20). her husband may beat her (or at least she fears that he might. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal When Yadira’s ﬁrst child was born. Melhuus (1992) suggests in her study of Toluca. she replied that at ﬁrst she had not thought about it. Girls grow up to have difﬁcult lives. but apart from those occasions. but he never hit her. she suffers through it. she told me. he never hit me!’ Some people spoke so openly about wife-beating that I was led to believe it was commonplace. Suffering. as well as resistance. p.
pero como mamás. They allowed their husbands to play the macho role. Women were tempting when they dressed up. and that this is the source of women’s power. Some people would even say that a man who has no lover is not a real man (‘Él que no tiene una amante no es hombre’) and also that if he does not beat his wife. Both single and married men found this attractive. With amusement Kiko told me his reaction to a man who showed off his affair in the following manner: Toward the end of a ﬁesta. es porque se deja’). las quieren. or for not dressing ‘appropriately’. si se vuelve sumisa. or at least on the surface. But what it also indicates is the centrality of women in the judgement of both men and women. supposedly to ask for advice. But my friends. also said that women who are beaten by their husbands for not fulﬁlling domestic tasks (with or without hired help). women could protect their morality. were partly responsible for those consequences. ‘It depends on the woman. The discussion so far suggests that men might have the upper hand over women when it comes to power and permissiveness. and he had fallen in love with a 25-year-old beauty. Motherhood being the centre of domestic life kept men with their wives even if they were tempted by others. With their appearance. After hearing of this incident. and not the other way around. As Lulú put it. about men who have affairs and why they stay with their wives. and cut their hair or left it loose in the modern fashionable hairstyles. They loved them as mothers. What Yadira interpreted as a sign of women’s subjugation to men’s ideas or tastes Doña Delﬁna saw as a moral issue. though she could not say for sure that Milpa Alta had many machos. y esclavas para sus hijos’). and as ‘slaves’ to their children (‘Sí. such as Yadira and Lulú. a husband is thought likely to be unfaithful to his wife. but this is the expected image. wore makeup.12 At some point in marriage. and likewise that of their husbands. Yadira said that men who had affairs surely did love their wives. Doña Delﬁna used to say that only women of the streets wear makeup (‘Sólo las pirujas. He did not know what to do. he is henpecked (‘Él que no pega a su mujer es su mandilón’). especially if she is young and pretty. married with children. Alfonso approached Kiko. ‘El mexicano toma mucho y le gusta divertirse con varias chamacas’ (‘Mexican men drink a lot and like to have fun with lots of girls’). Decent women plaited their long hair and did not use makeup. He offered to seduce Alfonso’s mistress so that she would lose interest in him. Kiko mischievously decided not to respond in the way expected of him. it’s because she allows it’ (‘Depende en la mujer. so this was why many men forbade their wives to cut their hair or wear makeup—to prevent them from attracting other men. thus relieving Alfonso of his guilt and his ‘problem’.Women as Culinary Agents • 79 woman is if her husband is having an extramarital affair. A married man may be envied or admired among his peers if he is known to have a lover on the side. high heels and short skirts. I began to enquire about men’s and women’s love relationships. if she becomes submissive. las mujeres de la calle. . se pintan’). He said that he was 50 years old. Alejandro once said to me very bluntly. Not all men are like this.
He arranged a ﬂat for them to rent and only needed Doña Delﬁna’s signature. 80) and men are the ‘guardians of women’s virtue’ (p. She pretends that either she does not know or that she does not care so much. The labels puta (whore) and hijo de puta (son of a whore) are insults which highlight this paradox of honour and value in Latin American societies. his wife gives him horns (se pone los cuernos). whereas calling a woman the daughter of a whore (hija de puta) is ambiguous and virtually meaningless. When someone is called pendejo/a. porque se hace tonto’). a man who moves into his wife’s house after marriage or who is henpecked . Women are a threat to men as ‘bearers (if not keepers) of their honour’ (p. It is one of the biggest insults for a man. when you describe a man by saying. Melhuus (1992) discusses how women’s actual power over men is subtly hidden by a moral discourse linked to the merit of ‘suffering [as] a way of life’ (p. She refused to sign the tenancy agreement. A woman described as pendeja is one whose husband has one or more lovers. and she accepts it. When you say. since bulls have horns. Furthermore. complementary to the labels of puta and hijo de puta. although it is also used among close friends to profess admiration. This is why calling a man hijo de puta is a very powerful insult. Early in their marriage her husband wanted to move to another municipality of Mexico City so that both of them could avoid their long commutes to work. and to the cuckolded husband of the woman who sleeps around. to act stupidly. the greatest value in society is placed on women. 160) or suffering as a female virtue. because he is acting stupid (‘porque parece que no se da cuenta. ‘Es un buey’ (‘He is a bull’). she ultimately had the last word when it came to family decisions. The word güey is derived from the word buey. it is because it seems that he takes no notice. Years later. he may be described as being pendejo. ‘Se hace güey’ (‘He is acting güey’). Don Felipe was grateful for Doña Delﬁna’s decision in that the family was happy to have remained in Milpa Alta. it is because his wife is deceiving him (‘porque su esposa le engaña’). 159). it usually means hacerse tonto/a. as swear words are used in English as well. Her morality is better insulted directly by calling her puta. While men appear to hold honour and represent their families as the household head. Of central importance is women’s role as mothers in relation to men. In Milpa Alta. pendejo/a and güey. which means bull (toro). They are related to the victimized wife of the macho man who has other lovers or more than one family. but though she appeared to defer to her husband on the surface. are more commonly used in Milpa Alta for insulting men and women. But two other terms. preferring for her children to grow up on their land. it was explained to me. and it is women’s behaviour and morality (their shame) which reﬂects upon men. this did not imply a lack of authority.80 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Doña Delﬁna herself wore her hair in two plaits only after marriage. So by cheating on him with another man. These express two key concepts of moral judgement. but he is more likely to be called güey. When a man’s wife has a lover. So although Doña Delﬁna talked generally of women’s suffering. a man who is called a güey has horns. More speciﬁcally.
She had already suspected it when he would repeatedly come home after midnight without letting her know of his plans to stay out late. he had to fulﬁll his duties as a husband by eating what she had so lovingly cooked. Inversely. so that people will not speak ill of her. since it is the norm for the wife to move to the husband’s house. The explanation was phrased to me in this way: ‘Generally a man who acts tonto does so because of the depth of his love for his wife. she would take advantage of her right to demand her husband’s ‘respect’ and full sexual attention. by enforcing his gastronomical obligations to eat her home-cooked meals. as in the following anecdote: Doña Marta told me of her jealousy when she discovered that her husband had a lover. it frustrated her. the man appears to be acting güey.’13 The implication of the preceding explanation is that a man acts ‘stupidly’ and allows his wife to ‘give him horns’ because he refuses to acknowledge that her behaviour is making a fool of him. since he had already eaten a full meal with his lover. A woman who acts tonta does so because she is pendeja. When he failed to return home to eat. she either couched the story in terms of woman’s suffering or told me of her little revenge. I hinted at the coerciveness of Milpaltense hospitality in Chapter 2 and discuss it further in the next chapter. A woman who acts ‘stupidly’ is just ‘stupid’ because she allows her husband to do as he pleases and does not complain so that her marriage appears intact. he was unable to refuse the meal. Men and women are conceived of as having differing motivations for lenience over the sexual behaviour of their spouses. in effect. or a second family. Since she had fulﬁlled her duties as a wife by cooking for him. real or imagined. Although he would have been very full and quite tired. Doña Marta would not allow him to leave the table until he cleaned his plate. Most people with whom I spoke made jokes and ‘naughty’ innuendos when they talked of sexual opportunities.Women as Culinary Agents • 81 may be teased by others as a ciguamoncli or ciguamoncle. and she would insist that he have his comida. she would wait until he got home. As a dutiful wife. Although it may not necessarily be the case that his wife dominates over him or that she has an extramarital lover. she prepared proper meals for him every day. It was also Doña Marta’s subtle way of insisting that her husband recognize his sexual obligations to her. As one . if she was not stupid ( pendeja) and was overly concerned with others’ opinions. both extramarital or premarital. whatever the time. He allows her to dominate. but her relatives and neighbours told her she simply had to accept that he was a man and that is how men were. saying that he must be hungry since he was home so late. On the much rarer occasion of a woman telling me that her husband had had an affair. often cooking his favourites or requests for his comida. to keep up appearances. She would rush to the kitchen to warm up the food and would purposely give him large servings. Doña Marta’s culinary revenge was effective against her philandering husband partly because of the Milpaltense imperative to eat everything served on one’s plate. In retaliation. as he ought to do since it was served to him. regardless of the eater’s true hunger.
they would even leave their lovers. from the venerated role they play in the family. she may still be respected in her own way. to be in love means submission to men or society’s rules (at least in appearance). Culinary Agency The material I have presented thus far suggests that women can gain empowerment through cooking or can draw it from their culinary agency (cf. children and culinary ideals. and by extension the greater social sphere. Otherwise.82 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Mexican saying goes. Yadira said that they prefer to leave their lovers before they are found out. in order to protect their virtuous image in the eyes of their children. Although a single woman having an affair with a married man ought to be looked down upon. Being able to blame themselves for some unpleasant aspects of domestic life indicates that women can be powerful and autonomous agents. This is .14 Good women suffer for love of their husbands. The same does not apply for men. who suffer for the sake of husbands. in sum. She generalized that for men. they support as well as beneﬁt and depend upon their family and children. ‘A la mesa y a la cama. in multiple ways. Women’s power is drawn from the domestic realm. in Milpa Alta. though interpretations may vary. and they also cook for love. to be in love means sex. On the other hand. Home cooking is not only the ideal food. For this reason they are willing to suffer and to work twice as hard as their husbands. divorce and single motherhood is worse than having or being an extramarital lover. Home cooking is always concerned with quality. are portrayed as the ideal providers of sex and food. ‘Metaphorically. As Wilk describes it. a married woman having an affair is usually scolded by her female friends and relatives. women are the hub of the family. They are ready to make great sacriﬁces for the sake of their children. As Lulú and Yadira often said. Well-prepared and delicious food is food cooked ‘with love’. with the sazón de amor of a talented cook who loves her husband and her children. and for women. you must come when you are bid’). They can provide for family needs through nurture as well as by wage-earning work. una sola vez se llama’ (‘To the table or to bed. Women. Abarca. Although not common. p. Therefore. or with love magic cooked in to ensnare a man or keep him at home. 2006). 202. home cooking means a cuisine grounded in familiar shared history and in common knowledge of places and people. original emphasis). They run the family. epitomized in the mother-child bond. it is ideally also the most ﬂavourful. another form of ‘revenge’ that a woman may undertake if she ﬁnds out her husband has a lover is for her to take a lover of her own. the most important point to note is that many women do feel that they are responsible for themselves as well as for their families. The intimacy of these social relationships makes home cooking the best—somehow construed to be the highest in prestige. if her married lover acknowledges her (and their children) and thus demands her respect. Among those women who have extramarital lovers. because people you care about will eat the meal’ (2006.
it is associated with economic success (economic capital). cooking is a creative activity which requires a basic freedom to perform. to develop comparisons. and they provide good food for their families however much or little they cook. 1999. Furthermore. they were able to exercise the human potentiality to taste. although Mintz does not speciﬁcally engage himself with Bourdieu. This emphasizes the importance of cooking in family life. depending on the social or local political situation in which they ﬁnd themselves. Women’s culinary agency is not limited to cooking but may also extend to creative methods of meal provision. or have other incomegenerating activities that keep them busy away from home. Bourdieu deﬁnes the ‘taste of luxury’ as the ‘taste of liberty’ or a distance from necessity (1984. to compare. often. she may take the credit for providing a meal (abducting the culinary agency of the food/cook). In contrast. see also Moore. Not only this. Chapter 3) describes how freedom from slavery may have been partly achieved by the development of a local cuisine. Roseman.Women as Culinary Agents • 83 given further credence by other related studies in Latin America and elsewhere that demonstrate that gender roles are not necessarily constitutive of power relationships and identity. 1997. Mintz describes how something judged to be of good taste can emanate from the necessity and poverty of the slaves of the American South. but that gender is in ﬂux and power is not intrinsic to its constitution (González Montes and Tuñon. By constructing a cuisine of their own. In fact. whether or not they consider it the main source of their public esteem in general. who were low in class hierarchy. as I have described previously. 2000). Melhuus and Stølen. they did so under terrible constraints. the existing ideal of gastronomy makes culinary artistry a possible goal that women may strive to achieve. Yet the ability to render judgements of food. 1994. by focusing on food. In Tasting Food. Whether a woman cooks for her family or has someone else do the cooking. Mintz suggests. That is. barbacoieras. to elaborate their preferences. some may choose to emphasize cooking as part of their gender identity. Rather than good taste (at least in food) being deﬁned according to the habitus of the dominant class. whether or not they actually do so regularly because they are food vendors. To be sure. to calibrate differences in taste—and to be prevented from doing so—help to suggest that something of the taste of freedom was . McCallum. women may choose to deﬁne themselves as loving individuals who cook for their husbands or other family members. Sidney Mintz (1996. just staying alive was the sole challenge. By virtue of its artistic nature. 1996. the pursuit of ﬂavour and culinary mastery allowed some slaves to be elevated from being treated like beasts in the ﬁelds to exercising their creative agency through their cooking. women in Milpa Alta are proud to be known as hardworking. In these differing tasks (and in eating). Mintz’s ‘taste of freedom’ is in direct contrast with Bourdieu’s. Tasting Freedom. 177). they ultimately attained freedom. Ortner. Nevertheless. 2001. Sanders. p. elaborate cuisines may in fact be a means of escaping the varied existing restrictions that are already embedded in social life. 1996.
Before wide industrialization and the spread of mechanical tortillerías. 80–1). pp. gives women the legitimacy to expand their social and physical boundaries. The elaborate cuisine was not the restrictive factor of their lives per se. 106–10). an elaborate cuisine is not simply a creative escape valve for otherwise restricted women. 31–2) also notes that in some ways the factory-made tortillas were more of a burden than a blessing to rural women because of their need to earn money to buy them. therefore. but could not themselves duplicate’ (47–8). by recognizing that cooking is active and creative. or a devotion to culinary works of art.15 With the tortillas sorted out. an idea also formulated by Mintz: ‘[W]orking in the emergence of cuisine legitimized status distinctions within slavery. A woman should be able to satisfy her husband both sexually and gastronomically. and because the cooks actually invented a cuisine that the masters could vaunt. Then. Ideally food is cooked at home. morality and domestic power and may even help them to trap a husband. as works of art (Gell. In effect. 1996. (Mintz. and it can even be thought of as a means toward women’s liberation. with technological advances and political changes as women entered the extradomestic labour force. p. culinary or otherwise. the dependence on ﬂavour. pp. pp. Abarca (2006. by a wife or a mother. While it is arguable that women’s subordination was exacerbated by the demands of the kitchen. Both sex and food lead to the continuance (and reproduction) of individuals as well as of society. To summarize.84 • Culinary Art and Anthropology around before freedom itself was. she is in control over these two fundamental . She also describes how her mother’s skill in making tortillas by hand was a source of pride and self-assurance in confrontation with her in-laws (Abarca. Gradually. both because the master class became dependent on its cooks. in the case of Mexico. Looking more closely at cuisine and the social relations surrounding its production can be illuminating. dishes. or as being social actors in their own right. or. It is a license for social action in the pursuit of technical or culinary artistry. 37) As I describe for Milpa Alta. women were left with more time and energy to devote to other activities. put another way. forms of autonomy. The tasting of freedom was linked to the tasting of food. Although women’s socially acceptable spaces may have appeared limited. 1998. Mexican women used to spend up to a third of their waking hours making tortillas (pp. recipes) should be thought of as having social agency. cooking was one signiﬁcant way around it. 1998). there was resistance to machine-made tortillas. it is as a provider of sex and food that women’s power becomes evident. At the same time. 1994). 100–6). 1998. 99–121). machine-made tortillas gained acceptance (Pilcher. pp. this was speciﬁcally the demands of making fresh tortillas (see Pilcher. because machines produced inferior ﬂavours and quality in comparison to handmade tortillas (Marroni de Velázquez. then. which eventually led to the development of an elaborate cuisine. in the way taught by generations of women who nourished their families as wives and mothers. its outcome (food.
Gregor. p. ﬁnely chopped 1 green chile. skill. Women are arguably the most highly valued half of society (Melhuus. And fulﬁllment of these desires requires imagination. Whilst I cannot claim to have a formula or list of criteria for determining who is a culinary artist or who is an ordinary cook. Furthermore. a woman can have actual power over her husband. oil ½ onion. ﬁnely chopped 1 large tomato. pp. If she is a skilful cook or can mobilize her culinary agency. for food and for sex (see Gow. Recipes Huevos a la mexicana A typical recipe for almuerzo. by extension. 1989. I believe that such a thing as culinary agency. Stephen (2005. creativity—in a word. Gow. and many more examples can be given to corroborate this. is accessible to anyone who cooks (see Chapter 2). In fact. say that no one cooks better than their mothers. artistry. the greater social realm. Women’s agency. In fulﬁllment of these desires social relations are made or unmade. the only men for whom women prepare food are their husbands. in Náhuatl. 80–1) also describes a link between hunger for food and desire for sex among the Sierra Nahaut of Central Mexico. or in the nature of the two most important desires. pp. Vázquez García. as wives and mothers. and they use this status in imaginative and subtle ways to assert their power (over men). 1992. Taggart (1992. This perception hinges on the connection between the value of good cooking—of good ﬂavour—and the value allocated to women. 80–1. Women use their culinary agency in the cycle of festivity (described in the chapter that follows). the domestic sphere and. or potential to culinary artistry. 1985). when. it is precisely women’s cooking that is most highly valued. can be both culinary and reproductive. therefore. among other Náhuatl-speaking groups. ﬁnely chopped 4 eggs salt . Chapter 9) argues. It is important to remember now that a proper meal prepared at home according to traditional techniques is considered to taste better than anything commercially produced. 182).Women as Culinary Agents • 85 desires (cf. Many people. the word for ‘to eat’ has the double meaning of eating food and having sex (Taggart. 1997. 1992).16 The preceding discussion has indicated how home cooking is highly valued in Mexico. 1989). in Mexico and elsewhere.
This is a combination of foods that can be bought in the market or tianguis and eaten right there in the plaza as ﬁllings for tacos. and hot tortillas or bread. When just ﬁrm. heat oil in frying pan and sauté onions and chiles until soft. Serve with beans ( frijoles de olla). Break the eggs into the pan. with the essential ingredients marked with an asterisk (*): *tortillas *queso fresco *avocado *chicharrón *pápaloquelite *pickled chiles salsa cebollas desﬂemadas nopales compuestos tamal de sesos tamal de charales pascle salpicón barbacoa carnitas cecina lime spring onions beans Batter for Coating Fish (pescado capeado) Yadira Arenas Berrocal 1 egg 1 clove garlic salt and pepper . hence its name.86 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Over a medium ﬂame. add salt. Add tomatoes. and stir until all are well blended. pickled chiles or salsa. Some or all of the following foods are offered for taco placero. remove from the heat. some women buy various foods in the market to serve taco placero or tacos de plaza. raise the heat and cook until well-done and almost dry. Some people buy food and combine it with what they have at home for making any kind of tacos. Eggs should still be soft. Taco placero When there is little time to make a proper meal.
Women as Culinary Agents • 87
Blend all ingredients together or crush garlic and scramble with eggs, salt and pepper. Dredge ﬁsh ﬁllets in ﬂour. Dip in egg mixture. Fry in hot oil.
José Arenas Berrocal Yadira’s brother, José, learned to make carnitas by watching others. The ﬁrst time he prepared carnitas was for a ﬁesta that I attended. The food turned out so well that his sisters congratulated him as if he were a young girl, saying, ‘Now you are ready to marry!’ (José was divorced and had two adolescent sons.) One whole pig (about 20 kg) serves around 140 people. For this recipe José used two medium-sized pigs. • The pig must be cut into large pieces—legs, loin, shoulders, ribs, skin—and marinated in vinegar for several hours to overnight. • In a large cauldron, heat abundant lard until boiling. Add meat in this order: ﬁrst legs, then shoulders, loin, ribs, with skin on top, covering all the meat. • When the lard comes to a boil once more, add around 5 large cans of evaporated milk, the juice from around 40 oranges, and the peels of 5 oranges. You may add garlic, but this is optional. • Allow the meat to boil until it is very soft. Add saltpetre to redden and ﬂavour the meat. • Serve with hot tortillas and red or green salsa.
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Mole and Fiestas
This chapter analyzes the social meanings of the food served during ﬁestas in Milpa Alta—that is, mole, barbacoa, carnitas and mixiotes. Fiesta food, like daily food, is also prepared or organized by women, although we have seen that barbacoa is a product of men’s and women’s complementary labour, and carnitas is a similar dish. Whichever ﬁesta food is chosen, it is prepared in large amounts, usually to serve at least around ﬁve hundred guests, and thus also requires more than one cook to prepare it. These celebratory dishes are repositories of the value of social actors as groups rather than as individuals. As described in the previous chapter, the high value of culinary elaboration is interwoven with the social value placed upon women’s (sexual and gastronomic) virtue as wives and mothers within the domestic sphere. Women are also valued in the community speciﬁcally for their role in rituals, that is, ﬁestas (cf. Stephen, 2005, Chapter 9). One of Stephen’s Zapotec informants is quoted to have said, ‘The men respect our work and say that we work hard. They know the food is the most important thing about a ﬁesta, and we do that. So our work is most important, but it’s hard’ (p. 261). This is similar to Milpa Alta, where food preparation is recognized and appreciated as work in family as well as in community contexts. What I found striking about ﬁestas was the predictability of the menu; in Mexican cuisine, feast food is mole, and likewise having mole makes eaters feel that they are celebrating something. This is signiﬁcant, but not just as an indication of the symbolic power or value of foods. Special occasions require elaborate dishes so that they can be marked as special,1 but there are other features of a ﬁesta apart from the food that together characterize celebration. The ﬁesta incorporates local social systems (the mayordomía and compadrazgo), including music, ritual and convention, which will be explained in this chapter. The mayordomía organizes the town ﬁesta (la ﬁesta del pueblo), one of the most important public festivities. During this time the community cooperates with the local mayordomía to hold a large-scale celebration where all are welcome. Similarly, compadrazgo (the system of ritual kinship or co-parenthood) helps families cooperate to organize and celebrate their private life cycle rituals. Fiestas of varying scales require greater or lesser individual involvement, depending on family and community demands and whether they are personal celebrations of life cycle events or local or national holidays. In the following pages I describe some aspects of the ﬁesta of
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other family members on both sides call one another compadre/comadre or padrino/madrina.4 . Compadrazgo Compadrazgo3 is the system of ritual kinship. house blessings and almost any kind of inaugural or life cycle event. They are ritual kin. are couples married in church with whom they wish to maintain a lifelong relationship. she said that compadres (and friends) are ‘inherited’ in Milpa Alta. and these also extend throughout the families of the compadres.2 As already mentioned. the most important aspects of which are the food and the music. each family thereafter maintains this bond between them. mutual admiration and also social distance. therefore. especially baptismal compadres. which at its most basic is the relationship between a couple and the godparents ( padrinos) of their child. both systems function around feasts and hospitality at the levels of the family and the barrio. though much has already been written by others on these systems of reciprocal exchange. respectively. Mayordomos also arrange the salvas/promesas (gifts) that their barrio takes to others’ town/barrio ﬁestas. and the families maintain commitments as of kinship into future generations. envidia (greed) and initial distrust. there are other kinds of compadres for marriage. 1977). is natural under these circumstances. Compadrazgo and the mayordomía It is helpful to have a basic understanding of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. as ‘comadrita’. The ties bound by shared responsibility over the ahijado (godchild) provide a social assurance which may be necessary in future. sometimes singly. and one would begin to address the mother of one’s comadre.90 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Barrio San Mateo and the systems of reciprocal exchange in hospitality. When a couple chooses their compadres. for example. Lomnitz. By extension. Apart from baptism. Their main responsibility is to organize ﬁestas. friends who become compadres may change the form of address that they use with one another and begin to use Usted when they used to call each other tú (cf. the quintessence of Mexican culinary artistry. the actual relationship between compadres may be characterized by competition. Both husbands and wives choose their compadres. concluding with a discussion of mole. To speak with respect. Indeed. sometimes jointly. Thus. although not necessarily for economic assistance. Compadrazgo ritualizes these close social relationships between families based on their mutual respect. Accompanying heightened respect. The way Yadira explained it. it is because they hold them in high esteem and would thus be honoured if they would accept the role of godparent for their child. Compadres. The respect that characterizes compadrazgo relationships implies personal affection.
and for this reason. barrios and pueblos celebrate their saint’s day with a ﬁesta. For the ﬁesta del pueblo. as large sums of money are needed (cf.) Likewise. when they leave a ﬁesta compadres are given extra food to take away with them. 1988). even if it is not always easy. (Most people are now no longer named after the calendar name. In San Mateo the amounts that each contributed are announced one week after the ﬁesta. material or physical aid that is asked of them. The mayordomos go to everyone’s houses collecting donations. thereby continuing to nourish the social relationship despite their absence.Mole and Fiestas • 91 In the realm of the family ﬁesta cycle. the cargo system. most families in Milpa Alta regularly give whatever economic. Mayordomos are like human go-betweens amongst the patron saints of the barrios and pueblos. Throughout Mexico. performances and religious ritual. his or her feast day. compadres are expected to visit one another on occasions of special family events and can expect to be welcomed with a mole de ﬁesta. to avoid offense they must let their hosts know in advance. If compadres cannot attend. The mayordomos. but nearby pueblos have double names like San Pablo Oztotepec or San Salvador Cuauhtenco. installing a church in honour of that saint in the centre. although most pueblos have both Catholic and Náhuatl names. one or more couples (who have married in church) from the barrio/pueblo. According to the Catholic calendar introduced by the Spanish. are responsible for caring for the church. local families are expected to help. and it is not unheard of to celebrate both one’s birthday and saint’s day. although this is not the norm. The names of those who . As will be discussed in greater detail in this chapter. called an itacate. Since San Mateo is a barrio of the pueblo Villa Milpa Alta. but they almost always have a Catholic saint’s name as well. These parcels of food are also given to compadres when they cannot attend a ﬁesta. We can say that the Spaniards ‘baptized’ each town with a new Catholic name. deserving special treatment. Town or barrio ﬁestas are a combination of feasts. each saint corresponds to a certain day in the year. taking charge of the ritual visits to other pueblos on their feast day celebrations. People used to be named after the saints on whose day they were born. On the whole. They are organized by the socio-political institution called the mayordomía or ‘el sistema de cargos’. Like the images of saints who ritually visit one another during town ﬁestas. it is only called San Mateo. The ﬁesta del pueblo and the mayordomía In Milpa Alta every barrio and pueblo is named after a Catholic saint. Brandes. compadres assist in preparing the ﬁestas and are also the most honoured guests. They take on this charge for a determined length of time before passing on the role to other members (married couples) of the community. towns may be referred to solely by their indigenous names. one’s birthday is also referred to as one’s saint’s day (el día de su santo). either ﬁnancially or with their labour.
bringing their promesas of ﬂowers and music. and thus their obligation to provide a wedding feast. Both compadrazgo and the mayordomía are systems that structure social relations. life cycle rituals are sometimes combined and celebrated together. When they ﬁnally do have a church wedding. offering the expected ﬁesta foods in abundance. Though mayordomos typically ‘reign’ for one to ﬁve years in Milpa Alta. because they are the ones who prepare the food. barbacoa. .’ Yadira said. amongst Zapotecs in Oaxaca. buys a pig every year which she tends and fattens so that when it is time for the ﬁesta she can have it slaughtered to prepare carnitas for at least a hundred guests. live bands. [we do]’). some couples delay their church weddings. but for the ﬁesta . Stephen. For example. indeﬁnite bonds of reciprocity that last a lifetime and beyond. However. and nearby Morelos. a single mother who washes clothes and does general cleaning for a living. especially weddings.’ (‘We don’t have enough [money] to buy underwear. with the usual accompaniments. and they are often ridiculed. until they have children. and into the night there is dancing. As Chelita once said to me. especially in the role of mayordomos. the most important aspect of any ﬁesta. apart from funerals. 2005). who help in cash or kind. Cata.5 Family events are celebrated in the same way. . and also for the sake of comfortable relations and status within the social network (Brandes. planning and saving money months in advance. the form and content of community-level celebration has been appropriated into life cycle celebrations. . begin to arrive with statues of their patron saints. Some host their own private banquets during the barrio ﬁesta. standing in for the communities represented by the patron saints. it is to one’s personal beneﬁt to give to the community. closeness and distance in the community among families or pueblos. My observations in Milpa Alta are comparable. individuals representing family groups engage in long-term. Salles and Valenzuela. they are continually replaced by future mayordomos who maintain the ongoing reciprocal exchange relationships amongst other barrios.92 • Culinary Art and Anthropology did not contribute are also made public.6 Stephen (2005) explains how. a Mexican birthday song. The mayordomía engages in similar long-term contractual exchange relationships with the corresponding mayordomías of neighbouring barrios and pueblos. and ﬁreworks. ‘No tenemos para el calzón. it can be held jointly with a baptism (when a baby turns 1 year . 1977. In compadrazgo. After singing the mañanitas. . carnitas or mixiotes. She also argues that women are critical players in ritual life. The ﬁesta ofﬁcially starts on the eve of the feast day when several other barrios and pueblos of Milpa Alta. 1988. ‘But you have to contribute to continue with the traditions. Lomnitz. the visiting barrios are hosted by local mayordomos to share in a feast of mole. 1997. Many families eagerly look forward to the ﬁesta del pueblo. without the ﬁreworks. Weddings are also the largest and most important family life cycle celebrations. though they are organized amongst compadres. Mariachis play throughout the day while people eat. Sometimes people give more money than they really can afford. pero para la ﬁesta . In fact.
from around noon to about six it is lunchtime. or perhaps enchiladas or thinly sliced beef steaks with a salsa and potatoes sautéed with onions. or it may be something rather more complex such as mole verde con pollo (green mole with chicken). and there is an abundance of food. It may be as simple as breaded chicken breasts accompanied by cooked vegetables. peas and/or potatoes may be added. Whatever is for breakfast is served along with beans. however infrequent. a complaint expressed with derision toward the subject of conversation. What is served depends on the time of arrival. however long overdue the wedding may be. sometimes refried. sweetened diluted fruit juice. there are forceful fundamental rules of food hospitality in Milpa Alta. as well as agua de frutas. What would be unacceptable is to have a wedding or baptism without the mole de ﬁesta to offer to guests. which are crucial to social interaction. In the mornings a guest may also be served leftovers from the day before. It starts with a soup or sopa aguada. ‘¡Adelante! ¡adelante! ¿Qué les ofrezco?’ (‘Come in! Come in! What can I offer you?’). which is either pasta or rice ﬂavoured with onions and garlic and sometimes tomatoes to which carrots. The main course is often meat served in a sauce or with some other hot salsa on the side. in both ﬁestas and everyday settings. Hospitality and Food When guests arrive at the house. Since each ﬁesta should have the same kind of feast food. If they have run out of milk the hosts apologize and ask if coffee would be all right. it is acceptable to celebrate them together with a single feast. or chicharrón en chile verde (pork crackling in green sauce). or may be held on the day of the barrio ﬁesta. la comida. live music and dancing. Hospitable and well-mannered people offer their guests a full meal if it is available or if they themselves are in the middle of a meal. In the evenings a guest may be served leftovers from the main meal or perhaps some sweet rolls accompanied by café de olla or hot milk into which one is invited to stir instant coffee or chocolate and sugar.Mole and Fiestas • 93 old) or presentation (when a child is 3). All occasions require the same menu for the banquet to accommodate hundreds of people. As I explain in the section that follows. even if it is only a piece of fruit or agua fresca. often chicken broth with pasta. People take it seriously and remember hosts who do not offer a soft drink or a glass of water (‘¡Ni siquiera te ofrecen un refresco o un vaso con agua!’). Before noon a guest is offered breakfast. and after six is suppertime. young corn kernels. is usually served between two and ﬁve in the afternoon. such as a bowl of pancita accompanied by tacos of broad beans or nopales compuestos. This would be followed by beans and all accompanied by tortillas. because this is all . and/ or sopa seca (dry soup). something to eat or drink must always be available. teleras and hot milk. The main meal of the day. the ﬁrst thing that a host says is. Since someone might arrive for whatever reason at any time.
and she heated some barbacoa in the same sauce and served it to him with some beans. which by this time were simply impossible to force in. we were each given a plate full of milanesas with a simple cucumber and avocado salad and fried plantains with cream. and then were pushed to have more. but our hosts insisted. she and Kiko needed to pay their contribution to the local mayordomía. we returned to the compadres’ house and helped them cook nopales. Just as we started to eat. So with difﬁculty we cleaned our plates. which they sell in the market already prepared with onions. Since we arrived just in time. The host must share whatever food is at hand. where we just had breakfast. We were breakfasting on chilaquiles served with two fried eggs each and teleras. but Primy. she passed one of them to Yadira’s plate. she had only one egg. Yadira protested that she had already had breakfast and that Doña Margarita should eat. cebollas desﬂemadas con rajas de chile jalapeño (sliced onions tamed with lime juice and salt and mixed with strips of jalapeño chiles). After this. ¡nada más uno!’ (‘One little taco. and they had several left. just one!’). and I was staying in Primy’s house. It was four o’clock and they had just served their comida. Doña Margarita immediately passed her plate to Yadira and said that she was not very hungry. We told them that we had just that moment come from Primy’s house. This was a very informal and impromptu meal and Chelita. as the following anecdote illustrates: It was the feast day of Saint Francis. Since Doña Margarita had served herself last and there was an odd number of eggs. then we were offered apples and bananas. To prepare the chilaquiles Doña Margarita had used the green sauce from the carne de res con nopalitos en chile verde (beef with nopales in green sauce) that we had eaten for lunch the day before. one uses whatever one has at hand. at around 9. Since Primy had not yet touched her eggs. fresh sprigs of coriander and slices of avocado. . but Doña Margarita insisted. tomatoes and herbs. accompanied by a tomato and pasta soup. Yadira and Kiko then took me back to Primy’s house. After visiting San Francisco and walking around the fair. We were invited to have a few tacos of nopales with cheese.94 • Culinary Art and Anthropology that they have left. So we each had one. saying that she really did not feel like having two eggs that day. They were taking me to visit the town ﬁesta of nearby San Francisco Tecoxpa. This was what they had eaten for lunch the day before. She would normally prepare a new sauce to make chilaquiles. and the guest must accept the food offered. heated tortillas one by one and gave them to each of us straight from the comal rather than wrapping a stack in a napkin inserted into a chiquihuite. There we were offered tacos dorados de pollo. He accepted the offer. She then asked Kiko if he would like some barbacoa en chile verde because they had run out of tortillas and could not make more chilaquiles. After eating. we were served some sweet rolls and coffee. We explained that we had just come from eating and that we were very full.30. whose son was ill. but. Yadira and Kiko came to pick me up for the day. and then Yadira and Kiko left. Since their nopalera was in that area of Milpa Alta. ‘Un taquito. so Yadira should have her share. beans and tortillas. she said. we went to visit Yadira’s compadres. so they gave us the fruit to take away with us. Alejandro and Doña Margarita would not accept this and again insisted we eat. their compadre’s sister.
258). both for the hosts and for the guests. For this reason the social pressure to eat everything placed in front of a guest is high. ‘No desprecias a la comida’ (‘Don’t undervalue food’) or ‘No desperdicias la comida’ (‘Don’t waste food’). Attendance to a party is a social commitment. gift) of the host in a material form. Food offered in hospitality appears to be treated as an extension of the host and/or cook (if they are the same person). ‘[A]s part of this behavioral model. gifts require counter-gifts. although if family members live physically far apart. If. such as the town ﬁesta or a birthday. uttered in an offended tone of voice. physical and economic proximity. they must expect not to receive an invitation. which allows for the continuance of social relations. In this way food embodies the agency (of welcome. 85). As soon as his plate is near empty. While people are sometimes too busy to attend public ﬁestas organized by the mayordomía. 1988. Stephen (2005) describes a similar coerciveness in ﬁesta hospitality amongst compadres in Teotitlán. This same basic system of food giving and receiving is also in action when families are invited to large-scale ﬁestas. however. and if they fail to show up on a special day. in appreciation of the superior ﬂavours of the food. It is a trusting relation between two individuals in social. People would talk and say that the offenders . it is like being part of the same family. The concept still applied in Milpa Alta in the 1990s. ‘[I]nvitations to life cycle rituals cannot be turned down’ (p. when there is conﬁanza between two families. the host offers the guest a reﬁll. eats it all with relish and possibly asks for more. what she calls ‘psychosocial distance’. Thus. Especially when there is a certain closeness between host and guest. Rejecting food is tantamount to rejecting the host. When one family is particularly close to another family. and lending a hand at work obligates the recipient of the favor to reciprocate in kind at some later date’ (Brandes. Lomnitz (1977) deﬁnes the Latin American concept of conﬁanza as more than just ‘trust’ or ‘conﬁdence’. they have spoken to the hosts to let them know they cannot make it. a guest should not be surprised if his refusal is answered with. An invitation to a ﬁesta must be honoured with its acceptance and also requires reciprocity in the form of future invitations to family ﬁestas. ‘Es que no te gustó’ (‘It’s because you didn’t like it’). Also inherent is Mauss’s notion of ‘the gift’. Refusing an invitation without good reason may be taken as an insult or a break in the ties of trust (conﬁanza) which keep families together. If a guest leaves food on the plate a host may say disapprovingly. it can be interpreted as a breach of trust. The perfect guest accepts everything offered to him gratefully. and a food parcel (itacate) will be sent to their home after the ﬁesta is over. Lomnitz shows that psychosocial distance is a more important factor in reciprocal exchange networks than blood ties. She states that the obligation is so great that one risks being disowned by one’s compadres if one skips a private ﬁesta. invitations to meals beget counter-invitations. p. this is ﬁne.Mole and Fiestas • 95 The preceding description demonstrates that hospitality is a coercive system. This implies a willingness to engage in reciprocal exchange because of perceived parity in an ‘equality of wants’. They know that they are always invited to any family celebrations.
profession. All the ﬁestas could be thought of as a sort of diversion from the monotony of daily labours at a social or community level. can become tiresome (llega a aburir).8 One’s energies are easily depleted. very hardworking because nature gave them few resources. Personal ﬁestas are taken so seriously that it is not unusual for some Milpaltenses to take a day off of work on their birthdays to properly attend to their celebration. 1991). Since her wedding day. So it is a luxury to be able to stay home to eat. And it is because of this that the community is so festive—to show others that yes. If a guest cannot eat it. ﬁestas are important social commitments that need to be honoured with family participation: ‘Son tradiciones pero imposiciones muy fuertes por parte de la comunidad’ (‘They are traditions but at the same time very strong impositions from the community’). compadres and community come together to socialize and exchange news at greater leisure. as shown by the case of Barrio San Mateo in Villa Milpa Alta. she respected the importance of the festivities. This was mainly because she then moved to Milpa Alta. ﬁestas are the primary occasions when kin. More importantly. There are private parties every week. are pressured food events. Holding large parties. serving mole. she can surreptitiously take it away to eat at home later. I observed a similar sense of this in Milpa Alta. Yadira said.9 Her statement is telling in that she mentions eating well at home as a ‘luxury’. making ﬁestas a source of social cohesion (Perez-Castro and Ochoa. It is necessary to work from dawn until late at night in order to progress [ﬁnancially]. Amongst the seven barrios and eleven pueblos of Milpa Alta. and explained: The people of Milpa Alta are very. education and traditional industry. They are still as hardworking as other Milpaltenses and are up before six o’clock every morning to tend to their cactus ﬁelds or other occupations. As I . and to do it well. or carnitas. surrounded by loved ones (close family members). she need not go through the effort of making it because she knows there will always be another party soon and her craving will be satisﬁed. of highest value. is eating a meal at home. Nevertheless. they do have money to celebrate. is socially enjoyable and beneﬁcial. As Yadira explained. In Milpa Alta there are so many ﬁestas that Doña Margarita told me that sometimes when she has a craving for mole. To go from one party to the next. Fiestas. because there is no time. therefore. barbacoa. especially when one tries to juggle family. Yadira told me. Yadira told me. where parties are taken so seriously and where hospitality requires a guest to eat everything she is offered. Every month there is at least one ﬁesta at barrio level. but the deepest pleasure. she had gained quite a lot of weight.96 • Culinary Art and Anthropology think they are too important to attend or that they think they do not need others in the community. Barrio San Mateo is the most ﬁestero.7 but this does not mean that the people of this barrio are idle. Parties and festivals in San Mateo are more than simple seasonal markers partly because of their frequency and also because of their obligatory force.
Mole and mole poblano Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. such as paintings. Some also use the plastic cups on the table which are there for serving drinks. thick sauce which incorporates up to thirty ingredients. the Pueblan mole. seeds and starches (like bread and tortillas). The majority say that its most characteristic difference is that Pueblan mole includes a lot of sesame seeds and typically is strewn with more as a garnish. Some cooks say that the mole poblano is distinguishable by the chiles used— mulato. photographs. 1987 p. The most important thing is never to leave anything on the plate. then diluted with broth and cooked. a culinary work of art) which allows for ongoing social relations. Leaving food is a great insult. it is a richly ﬂavoured. but it is more complex. molli. catalyzed by the food. formerly called mole de olor. spices. The popular Mexican saying above. Others believe it is particular in its incorporation of chocolate. fruits. it is eaten primarily for celebrations. Even in artistic images. Each ingredient requires individual preparation before all are ground together into a paste.) —Mexican saying The most famous dish in Mexico is the mole poblano. ancho and pasilla. the mole poblano is recognized as the thick dark brown sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top just before serving. herbs. the festive life ultimately sustains community life. crucial to these ﬁestas is a proper feast. both native and non-native to Mexico. ‘Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. In other words. mole of fragrance (Bayless and Bayless. and chocolate is not an essential ingredient. There is some disagreement about what makes a mole poblano distinct from other moles. (You are the sesame seed of all moles. but generally speaking. some people attend parties with a plastic bag or Tupperware in their handbag so that they can unobtrusively take home the food they are unable to eat. The name for this dish is a Hispanicization of the Náhuatl word for sauce. Since . It is often misrepresented as a combination of chiles and chocolate. although it is commonly included.’ draws upon this common knowledge about festive food in Mexico. nuts.Mole and Fiestas • 97 mentioned in Chapter 2. Since during the ﬁesta cycle people regularly reunite over special meals. although many other moles may contain chocolate. Mole is the dish that usually deﬁnes a feast. or they wrap food in tortillas and tie it into a napkin to take home. There are several different kinds of regional recipes for mole. 196). it is a breach of the spirit of the gift (of food. Considered to be the ultimate Mexican dish. or the sculptural sweets made for the Days of the Dead called alfeñiques. The word now connotes a combination of dried chiles. which I will discuss in the remainder of this chapter.
98 • Culinary Art and Anthropology
parties are considered incomplete without mole, and mole (poblano) is incomplete without its sprinkling of sesame seeds, to say that someone is like the sesame seeds of all moles implies that that someone is highly social and attends all parties. The mole poblano is considered the Mexican national dish, although it is popular and well-known only throughout the central area. There has been much speculation about its origin. It is often portrayed as a mestizo dish, with strong indigenous Mexican roots. The most popular story is that mole poblano was invented at the end of the seventeenth century by Spanish nuns, although it is improbable that a Spanish nun would kneel on the ground in front of a heavy stone metate to grind out a thick sauce. Given the difﬁculty of obtaining Spanish ingredients in New Spain, what the Spanish could not make the native Mexicans grow, they had to import. The scarcity of these ingredients led to the Spanish Creoles adopting and adapting to the local foods available. Thus they would necessarily have had to hire native women to help them and to teach them how to use these ingredients which were so different from anything with which they were familiar. The only ones who could have taught the nuns or any non-natives to make such a sauce, or a molli, using the metate, would have had to be the local women. These local women therefore had the easiest access to the newly introduced foodstuffs that the Spanish brought with them to the New World. Thus, the culinary learning was a mutually enriching education for the Spanish and the locals. It is known that there were native Mexicans helping in the convent kitchens, so it is more likely that they did the most strenuous manual labour, especially if they were already experienced and indeed expert at the exercise of grinding a sauce on a metate. So, while it may be more poetic to think of mole poblano as an invention of inspired religiosity, surely the development of the recipe was a slower process of culinary incorporation and experimentation rather than a Catholic miracle. Laudan and Pilcher (1999) argue that the mole poblano is actually the New World version of Creole interpretations of eighteenth-century European cooking, and Laudan (2004) further convincingly argues that at the base of many Mexican dishes there is a Persian element. Furthermore, as Wilk discusses, creolization in cooking cannot be a simple process of ‘effortless mixing’ (2006, p. 109), as the crafting of ‘tradition’ is as dynamic as the manufacture of ‘modernity’ (Wilk, 2006, esp. chapters 6, 8). Whatever the case may be, in Milpa Alta the debate on the recipe’s origin or authenticity is not considered relevant. For Milpaltenses in the late 1990s, mole was thought of as a celebratory dish of family tradition. The quintessential festive dish is mole, whether it is in Pueblan style or a family recipe.
Mole and Celebration
It goes without saying that mole is quite a difﬁcult dish to prepare, and its presence at a meal usually indicates that some sort of occasion is being celebrated, such as
Mole and Fiestas • 99
someone’s birthday or saint’s day. All over Mexico, mole is served every Christmas, Easter, and Days of the Dead and at birthdays, baptisms, weddings and funerals. The classic accompaniments for mole are turkey (mole de guajolote, deliberately referred to using the Náhuatl-derived word guajolote and not the Spanish word pavo), rice (usually red, especially for dark moles), beans, and tortillas. For most families, chicken is now more commonly used instead of turkey, because chicken is cheaper and more readily available. Sometimes as a ﬁrst course, consomé, or the broth of the chicken or turkey, is served with rice, chopped onions, chopped coriander, fresh green chile and limes. In Milpa Alta, they also serve tamalates (plain tamales) or tamales de frijol or alberjón, tamales with beans or yellow peas. To drink there might be pulque, though it is no longer widely available despite Milpa Alta being in a zona pulquera. Since not everyone develops a taste for this sour, viscous alcoholic drink, it is also common to have a glass of tequila with mole, or beer. Friends from outside of Milpa Alta told me that it is important to accompany mole with tequila or a ﬁzzy soft drink; otherwise it causes an upset stomach. But in Milpa Alta and in professional kitchens, I was told that this happens only if it is a badly prepared mole. Properly prepared, as at home, mole would not have any ill effects. The commercial moles, which are prepared in bulk with less attention to detail, are those which may be dangerous. This was because the chiles used in commercial moles were not cleaned well, and the bad chiles and stems were not discarded, as would be normal practice at home. Apart from Puebla, where mole poblano is from, famous regions for mole are the southern province of Oaxaca and the municipality of Milpa Alta in Mexico City, speciﬁcally the town of San Pedro Atocpan. Every year they hold a weeklong mole fair, La feria del mole, and I have been told that San Pedro moles are exported as far as Israel. Mole is everyone’s family business in San Pedro, and not only do they sell prepared pastes or powders to later be diluted with chicken broth or water, they also sell the necessary spices, dried fruits and chiles so that women can make their own moles at home. In the roving markets (tianguis) that are set up in the streets every day in all reaches of Mexico City, there is always a stand supplying mole and dried groceries set up by a resident of San Pedro. While Mexicans from all over go to San Pedro to shop for ingredients, there is hardly a clientele of people from Milpa Alta for moles prepared in San Pedro. All over Milpa Alta, as well as Xochimilco, it is more common for mole to be homemade, although in other parts of Mexico City it is almost unthinkable to attempt it. Relatively few urban dwellers have the time or the skill to make their own moles for birthdays or other celebrations, and so it is easier to buy a good-quality paste from the market than spend several days toasting, frying, drying, grinding, stirring, cooking and recooking the sauce. It is precisely this elaborate effort and the number of ingredients required that make mole an expensive dish reserved for special occasions. Not only this, leftover mole is sometimes made into enchiladas10 or mixed with shredded chicken to ﬁll bread rolls (tortas or hojaldras de mole), or even used
100 • Culinary Art and Anthropology
to make tamales at home. Some people prefer the varied preparations made with leftover ﬁesta food to the feast itself, and these variations are easily available in inexpensive eateries throughout Mexico City, like cafes and fondas. So, although it is possible to eat mole every day without spending too much money, it is not always easy to ﬁnd a well-made mole, and it remains a dish highly imbued with celebratory meanings. It is not a symbol of celebration in a semiotic sense, though its presence at a meal indicates that there is a signiﬁcant event which has caused the host (cook/ wife/mother/artist) to prepare (or even buy) and serve it as an action of respect for the occasion. Mole never appears on the table by accident, because it happened to be in season and available in the market. It appears because its presence carries the collective intentions of the community to commemorate a life cycle or ﬁesta cycle event with kin and non-kin. Some people deliberately stain their shirts with mole so that their neighbours or colleagues see the mark and think to themselves, ‘Hmm, he must be rich or lucky because he obviously ate mole today’ (Luis Arturo Jiménez, personal communication). Different kinds of moles and other dishes typically are served during the different ﬁestas of the year. These are listed in Table 5.1.
Feast Food in Milpa Alta, Arranged According to Type of Celebration Speciﬁc ﬁesta Birthdays, weddings, quinceaños, town ﬁestas, Christmas, Easter Sunday, ninth day after funeral Holy Week, Christmas Eve, funerals Typical food served Mole con pollo o guajolote Tamales de alberjón or de frijol or tamalates Arroz rojo Barbacoa, mixiote or carnitas Revoltijo (meatless mole with shrimp fritters) Tamales con queso or tamalates Tortitas de papa Pescado capeado Mole con pollo or guajolote Tamales verdes, de rajas Atole Arroz rojo Dulce de calabaza, local sweets, candied fruits Pescado a la vizcaina Chiles rellenos de queso o atún Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo’ Capirotada or torrejas Buñuelos, calabaza en tacha
Type of ﬁesta/practice Life cycle celebrations, Catholic, anniversaries, rebirth of dead souls (quintessential Mexican feast food) Very Catholic practices
Festival with clear pre-Hispanic origins (dishes with pre-Hispanic origins, or those considered very Mexican) Catholic seasons (most dishes with clear Spanish origins, all meatless)
Days of the Dead
and that she had some of the chiles sent over from Puebla. 44) succinctly writes about art in general is true for mole in particular: ‘The power of art objects stems from the technical processes they objectively embody: the technology of enchantment is founded on the enchantment of technology.11 and these extra little attentions made quite a difference to the outcome of the dish. and a sprinkling of this added a sheen and extra ﬂavour to properly garnish the dish. is a complex and socially powerful dish. mole was also described as a ‘gastronomical orgasm’. What is interesting is that Spanish or Catholic customs of avoiding meat during Lent and Advent are adhered to. The value attributed to mole is related to an awareness that it requires a certain technical mastery to prepare well. The changing or loss of such tradition may seem to indicate a decreasing signiﬁcance of mole. fruits may be underripe. whether they are festivals of Spanish or indigenous origin. No doubt mole deserved its status as quintessential ﬁesta food. had prepared mole for us as a special welcome. but Doña Delﬁna proudly told us that she had made the mole herself. she said it was important to take a little of the oil rendered on top of the mole. Doña Delﬁna. but for personal ritual events and the Days of the Dead. p. and. Mole is never made in small amounts. it was better than moles from San Pedro. the food served is what is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ or ‘traditional’. its replacement as ﬁesta food emphasizes and even reinforces its social meanings. which have their roots in pre-Hispanic customs. Yet my observations in Milpa Alta showed that it was more common for ﬁesta food to be barbacoa. Guille told me that to make a good mole she would toast her chiles in the sun for a week rather than use a ﬂame and comal. the eaters are succumbing to an enchantment grounded in their knowledge of what it takes to make a mole. I understood that since this mole was not commercial. On another occasion. It was the time of the Feria del Mole in San Pedro Atocpan. It is a good example of an object of art within the art corpus of cuisine (following Gell. When it is so delicious that it impresses the eaters as a gastronomic climax. so cooks need skill and practice to prepare it well. 1999b). Mole. after pouring a generous amount of mole over the piece of chicken. So what Gell (1996.Mole and Fiestas • 101 Mole and tamales of different kinds are associated with speciﬁc ﬁestas and seasons. But as I will explain below. rather than detract from its meaningfulness. spices may be old and ﬂavourless and nuts may go rancid if the weather is warm. Chiles and seeds are easily burnt.’ The ﬁrst time I went to Milpa Alta and met Yadira and her family. 1998. This way the chiles would toast gently and were in no danger of burning and therefore becoming bitter. Several women gave me culinary tips. her mother-in-law. This change in the traditional menu for feasts had probably begun to occur only since the 1980s. as I mentioned in Chapter 1.12 Almost everyone I met had a commentary or opinion about mole. carnitas or mixiotes. . She also showed me another detail which indicated her special care in producing a good mole. When serving. in short.
At its most complex. Carne en chile verde refers to meat in green salsa (which usually includes green husk tomatoes. At other times. such as tamales. which I ﬁnd entirely convincing. it is necessary to understand something about the role of social memory in how a cuisine or any other traditional art develops. the words salsa and chile are often used interchangeably. A prototypical salsa (chilmolli in Náhuatl) is one made of chiles ground into a sauce. therefore. . There are also some women who are well-known in the community for their cooking. Yet I also wish to offer a way of thinking about how a traditional cuisine may develop if we maintain our engagement with the notion of food as art.102 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Like mole. carnitas and mixiotes are usually made at home. These methods are blending. were still almost always present during any sort of celebration in Milpa Alta. in Milpa Alta. let us consider salsas in Mexican cuisine. and they can be hired to prepare certain dishes for the ﬁesta. many families still prepare a small amount of mole to serve as a second main course after guests have ﬁlled themselves with barbacoa. onion. Even when mole is not the main course of the ﬁesta meal. and perhaps other chiles as well). or by relatives or compadres who know how to make it. Examples of dishes that developed into what we now recognize as Belizean food resulted from culinary methods that have made local things global and global things local (Wilk. pp. submersion (absorbing a foreign/global ingredient into a local dish). how what is now considered ‘traditional’ came about through the complexity of culture contact that existed. Wilk explains how a ‘Belizian’ style of cooking emerged from the particular history of Belize. substitution of ingredients with local or available ones. At its most basic. In Milpa Alta. lumping together categories with emblematic dishes) and alternation and promotion. but the meal remains sufﬁciently festive. We can begin by thinking of a cuisine developing in a linear progression from simple to complex. salsa is conceptualized as a whole green chile (in Milpa Alta. compression (a simpliﬁed classiﬁcation of foods. wrapping and stufﬁng. The Development of a Tradition Richard Wilk (2006) provides a general model of how ‘traditional cuisine’ develops as a result of the kinds of ‘shocks and changes’ of different inﬂuences mentioned by Laudan in Chapter 1. 2006. Mole and its accompaniments. pickled chiles. There may or may not be mole. to be bitten into whenever desired. It is not meat in green chile only. usually de árbol or sometimes serrano) which accompanies a meal. barbacoa. mole is not served. Examples from current conceptions of the ‘traditional’ cuisines of Mexico can easily be found that ﬁt into Wilk’s categories of culinary methods. but a small portion is given to special guests (family and compadres) as an itacate. salsas and vegetables. They offer it for their guests to eat with tamales and beans. To explain why this is so. a salsa can be a mole. as I have been promoting it in this book. As an example. and spices. 113–21).
or a lineage of guacamoles. there are extensive families of recipes (different types of guacamoles. or different types of barbacoas). onions and salt. Adding avocado to this mixture makes the salsa into guacamole. of course. In Figure 5. and adding more ingredients makes varieties of guacamole of increasing complexity (see Figure 5. Some of these are related to each other. red tomatoes. This would be too simplistic and does not illuminate how quite different recipes green chile | pico de gallo (green chile + tomato + onion + salt) | guacamole 1 (green chile + tomato + onion + salt + avocado) ┌──────────┴───────────┐ guacamole 2. such as salsa mexicana cruda (pico de gallo). for example. an artwork (or salsa.2 (green chile + tomato + onion (green chile + tomato + salt + avocado + lime juice) + onion + salt + avocado + pipicha + guajes) | guacamole 3 (green chile + tomato + onion + salt + avocado + lime juice + coriander leaves) | guacamole 4 (green chile + tomato + onion + salt + avocado + lime juice + coriander leaves + garlic + olive oil) Figure 5.1 guacamole 2. I illustrate a simpliﬁed plan of this in Figure 5.2. This is not accidental. which is a mixture of roughly chopped green chiles.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole . others seem to have nothing to do with one another as they are completely different and do not mix. that a linear progression or family tree is an inadequate means of mapping out all the recipes in a cuisine. it can ‘marry’ and ‘have offspring’.1). it can still be seen as a precursor to the development of the recipe. Conceived of in this way.1. Following Gell’s theory of art. in this case) should be thought of as just like a person. It has relations with other persons (salsas). but what of other dishes with different ingredients? It is not surprising. the arrangement of recipes may look very much like a family tree. Reasoning that one recipe develops into another makes sense. and thus forms a lineage. Although chile is no longer the main ingredient of the salsa called guacamole.Mole and Fiestas • 103 A green chile can be elaborated on to develop it into a simple salsa.
beans + lard (+ onion) maize + lime (CaOH) chile ┌───────┴───────┐ lard + masa tortillas + salsa 1 salsa 2 … salsa x │ ┌────┴────┐ refried beans + masa preparada + salsa x ┌─────┼─────┐ │ chilaquiles enchiladas pastel azteca mole – 104 – tlacoyos huaraches tamales tamales de frijol de chile Figure 5.2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes. Shown as Families .
its history (or ‘biography’) can be understood as having come into being by the work of many persons (mostly women) simultaneously in separate households. 1998. in essence. although this quality may not be easily deﬁneable. and who are in turn . The recipes are drawn from their memories. leading to further innovation and growth. spread out over space and time (see Gell.14 who may have greater skill in using the ‘traditional’ knowledge of the culinary arts. A cuisine is actually an ideal example of a ‘distributed object’ as deﬁned by Gell. It continues to be modiﬁed and improved as each cook prepares each meal every day. made with chiles and other ingredients). it is a set made up of many parts. This. or even in different households in the same community. ‘The Artist’s Oeuvre as a Distributed Object’). What is considered to be ‘traditional’ cooking has emerged and continues to emerge out of the domestic sphere and as a part of local social life. Each part can be very different from the others. for example. and other members of the same category of artworks. Cooking is activity in two ways. from the perspective of the present looking back toward all past developments. As far as Mexican cuisine is part of Mexican tradition. each of the varied recipes which make up a cuisine may develop in its own way. 235. [A]rtworks are never just singular entities. This quality is what Gell calls ‘style’ (1998. and from this. and the relationships that exist between this category and other categories of artworks within a stylistic whole—a culturally or historically speciﬁc art-production system. p.13 What is necessary is to accept the logic that there is something called ‘style’ which allows certain recipes to be grouped within the corpus of Mexican cuisine. 166). as individuals. but put together the parts make sense as a whole. Thus. and somewhat like Levi-Strauss’s culinary triangle/tetrahedron).4/1. Figure 9. they are members of categories of artworks. 153) Pinpointing exactly what it is that makes barbacoa like mole.Mole and Fiestas • 105 develop at the same time or how similar recipes may develop in different regions. The recipes are separately reﬁned by a collection of individuals who interact with and inﬂuence one another. is not as obvious as the similarity between a basic salsa and a mole (that is. or they learn them from other individuals in the community. both are salsas. as a physical activity and as a creative activity of continuous innovation. we can observe the interrelations of this level of meaning (culinary) with other levels of meaning in social life (much like Munn’s value transformations. Traditional cuisines appear to develop as spatio-temporal wholes that change and move forward historically. constructed by the efforts of individuals who prepare dishes based on recipes. As a single unit. is how all traditional arts develop. As a distributed object. Each part has some quality which deﬁnes it as belonging to the whole. a cuisine is a collective work. But my purpose here is not to examine the deﬁning style of what makes one dish Mexican and another not Mexican. one body of cuisine made up of many recipes. and their signiﬁcance is crucially affected by the relations which exist between them. p. (p.
carnitas or mixiote. Eventually this particular combination of ingredients may become widespread and embedded in local/regional cooking and thought of as ‘traditional’. it is always served with salsas and tortillas. The relative costs of preparing these dishes are also relevant. green chile and salt. or add garlic. Fiesta Food To return to the question of how barbacoa. Also. Barbacoa is made by roasting a whole lamb in a pit lined with maguey leaves and left to cook overnight over hot coals and aromatics. in a way similar to Becker’s ‘art worlds’ (1982) or Gell’s notion of ‘style’.15 Within the limits of the style of cooking that one learns by imitation of masters/mothers. The dish is the result of the agency of a cook who prepares it with speciﬁc intentions for a particular reason and for particular other persons. and it is always made as a special effort for . like barbacoa. One kilo of mole costs more than one kilo of barbacoa. Carnitas is made by stewing a whole pig in its own fat. to make another salsa that still tastes as Mexican as the salsa that I ﬁrst learned to make. and then tomorrow try out using dried chiles. may be planned or can happen by accident. If the salsa is successful. nuts and spices) are expensive. Meal structure is another area which requires analysis and incorporation. At the same time they incorporate new inﬂuences. The high-quality ingredients for mole (chiles. It is ﬂavoured with oranges and garlic. it is ﬁrst interesting to note some of the similarities amongst these dishes. and eventually this may become a regular part of my recipe repertoire. then is wrapped in a mixiote. In Gell’s terms. Innovation.16 yet as much as there is innovation and change. there is also repetition and constancy. and. If others like my salsa. individuals maintain their own creative input. or herself. We may also think of recipes developing into the dishes that make up a cuisine as ‘variations on a theme’. It is always served with particular salsas accompanying it.106 • Culinary Art and Anthropology drawing from their own memories or inﬂuences. to produce similar but different dishes. ideas and ingredients as well as experiment and improvise. pork and/or chicken) which is rubbed with an adobo (a mole-like) paste. carnitas and mixiote came to be accepted as ﬁesta food. modiﬁed or discarded. I may take note and repeat what I have done on another occasion. onions. into which they introduce variations on what they have learnt.17 Dishes have a recognizable quality that can be thought of in relation to the cuisine. Mixiote is made of meat (rabbit. 2006). a recipe is the prototype of a dish that is prepared. Historical and social factors play a role in how and when ingredients and techniques are incorporated. they may try making a similar salsa. implementing for themselves the changes I made. I am aware that the development of cuisine cannot be fully explained by focusing solely on recipes (see Wilk. mole is prepared at home even though it is available commercially. the skin of the leaves of the maguey (the same plant used to line the pit for making barbacoa). therefore. I may learn to make salsa with tomatoes. or a combination of chiles.
in that it bestows value on the occasion being celebrated. It appears that the substitution of mole with these three other dishes occurred only since the 1980s. and because to a large extent. Recalling that honour and value are sometimes related to Simmel’s notion of resistance as a source of value. it would seem more logical to serve mole during a ﬁesta. and Mx$20. p. 91). It is therefore deﬁned as appropriate. Since mole is feast food par excellence. 54). many people delay holding their weddings until they have enough money to hold a proper feast. The aesthetic disposition is associated with economic capital (Bourdieu. So in money and in labour mole is more expensive. the more an object resists our possession (because.000 (approximately £700) to make mole for ﬁve hundred people. serving barbacoa became prestigious for ﬁestas because of the prestige (or ‘distinction’) associated with being a barbacoiero in Milpa Alta. Not only because of the costs. But barbacoa or carnitas can be bought already made. technically difﬁcult and valuable. the greater its social value. the acceptance of barbacoa as feast food can partly be explained by Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘aesthetic disposition’. In short. For this reason. it can be considered to be in good taste. i. Mx$15. but also because of the social values. to prepare mole for ﬁve hundred people costs less than it would to prepare barbacoa. 29). Before then. He continues that ‘[I]n fact.e. ‘only because choices always owe part of their value to the value of the chooser.000 (£1. Barbacoa is a luxury food. The aesthetic point of view or aesthetic intention is ‘what makes the work of art’ (p. In 2000. 29). it cost around Mx$10. carnitas or mixiote for ﬁve hundred people. p. it is very expensive). But if the prices of all the accompaniments are added up and put in relation to cost of food per head. a dish like barbacoa becomes more desirable as festive food. The adoption of these other dishes as suitable festive foods must have been gradual. if they decide to serve barbacoa during their ﬁestas.400) for barbacoa. as far as I know. within the region.000 (£1. In addition. In effect. which is the time of great economic crisis in Mexico. . and can replace mole in value as a tasteful alternative. 1991.Mole and Fiestas • 107 a special occasion. although it has a different ‘taste of luxury’ from how Bourdieu deﬁnes it. In spite of its status as an appreciated artwork in the cuisine. it would then make more sense to serve mole rather than barbacoa at a wedding banquet. for example. 1984. or it may be the family business to prepare these dishes anyway. this value makes itself known and recognized through the manner of choosing’ (p. one kilo of mole is enough for more people than one kilo of the meat dishes.’ (p. and on one’s guests.050) for carnitas.. 687). when the value of the peso dropped phenomenally in relation to the US dollar (see graph on the exchange rate in Meyer and Sherman. as mentioned previously.. So if barbacoieros in Milpa Alta have the greatest economic capital locally and constitute the dominant class. this “intention” is itself the product of the social norms and conventions which combine to deﬁne the always uncertain and historically changing frontier between simple technical objects and objets d’art . the menu of a feast had been more or less consistent over time and space. Since the costs of hosting a ﬁesta are high. the fact that mole is made as a paste and then diluted.
Though mole is the quintessence of Mexican cuisine. Yet because of the notions of style (Gell). My analysis of mole indicates its social salience as a nexus of the interrelating social. resistance (Simmel) and the aesthetic disposition (Bourdieu). To reiterate. that is. compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpaltense society. that is. I have examined mole as an artwork within the context of the art world to which it belongs. there is still a relation between two dishes which allows them to represent or replace one another if they both maintain ‘the relative capacity . mixiotes) have become socially salient as acceptable substitutes for mole in Milpaltense ﬁestas. cuisine must be thought of as a distributed object. Although not all the parts of the whole cuisine are similar (a salsa has nothing in common with a tortilla. They are art objects within the culinary system that are circulated as gifts/offerings of food in the cycle of festivity that maintains social ties amongst family or community groups. Still others may have been born of improvisation.. as is the case in Milpa Alta.. to create potentialities for . Mexican cuisine. Then. To understand this. which are different dishes of varying kinds and complexity. synecdoche. they are of the same style (Mexican).108 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this is not enough to explain why mole is still served during ﬁestas. So while a simple part-for-whole synecdoche does not exist. which. as described previously. as a conceptual whole. how can barbacoa be served at a feast in its stead? The Presence or Absence of Mole in Fiestas I described previously how certain dishes—mole. barbacoa—as culinary works of art are imbued with meaning as they form the nexus of the social networks of normal food hospitality. In this chapter I have attempted to demonstrate how thinking of these particular dishes as works of art can help us to understand their social meaningfulness. produce another dish or innovation. especially to the hosts’ compadres. using a cook’s knowledge of recipes she has followed in the past or learnt from others while applying her skill to the limited ingredients or situation that she has at her disposal. mole continues to be described as having the ultimate ﬂavour. If. ritual and economic systems within the matrix of Milpa Alta social life. in the cases when mole is not served. as modiﬁcations of previously successful (ﬂavourful and pleasurable) dishes. as being the ‘mole de ﬁesta’. there is an apparent contradiction in mole being necessary for ﬁestas and yet not being present. cuisine is an ‘object’ which can be divided into its constituent parts. there is no denying that they are equally valid parts belonging to the same whole. Others can be offshoots of preparatory recipes. when combined with other recipes or other techniques. there is perfect sense in barbacoa (or carnitas or mixiote) acting as its replacement at feasts. other speciﬁc dishes (barbacoa. in either preparation or ingredients). Some recipes can be shown to have developed directly from others. carnitas. There must be another reason why barbacoa has become acceptable feast food in Milpa Alta. whether or not there is mole for the rest of the guests.
therefore. This makes them legitimately pertain to the style of a Mexican ﬁesta because of their recent relation to mole and the omnipresence of salsa/chile. barbacoa is a luxury to be indulged in with the family. or special enough to commemorate a special occasion. and the family as a unit hosts ﬁestas on grand scale. 11). it requires labour and skill to prepare. In effect. each of which requires a relatively high level of technical skill for its preparation. In effect. barbacoa is made able to effectively carry similar meanings to those of mole. Steam.18 Provided that a dish is conceived of as needing a certain amount of technical mastery in order to prepare it. 1986. Its actual presence or absence does not indicate its conceptual absence. Mix chiles with nopales and queso oaxaca. mole is still omnipresent in ﬁestas. provided that there is a little bit of ‘mole de ﬁesta’ offered as a second main course to complete the social transaction of value. placing a stick of double cream cheese in the centre as if it were a piece of meat. because of its deep social signiﬁcance. Since any recipe can be representative of the whole cuisine (synecdoche). p. although it may not rank as high as mole. Thus it makes sense that barbacoa could be served at a ﬁesta. The menu gradually shifts from a festive meal being deﬁned as ‘mole’ to ‘mole after barbacoa’ to ‘mole as itacate for compadres only. Toast chile de árbol in lard and crush roughly. whether or not it is actually served to them on their plates. Eventually. the meal structure could be modiﬁed by the preparation of a smaller amount of mole and accompaniments for a ﬁesta. Add chopped nopales. only to give as an itacate to the hosts’ compadres. Barbacoa is special enough to be a Sunday treat for the family. after barbacoa’ to only ‘barbacoa’. when served as the meal of a ﬁesta. The menu transformation reveals a transfer of value from mole to these three speciﬁed dishes. Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta Doña Margarita Salazar Fry chopped onions in butter. With time. the meat used is expensive.Mole and Fiestas • 109 constructing a present that is experienced as pointing forward to later desired acts or material returns’ (Munn. mole is present at the ﬁesta in people’s memories. and it is somewhere in the range of special dishes. Fill prepared corn husks as if they were tamales but without masa. what occurs is Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’ (1996) so that the dish can be designated as special. close friends and family. barbacoa can be taken as a representative of Mexican cuisine (as a distributed object) and can be demonstrated to have some equivalence to mole. In fact. .
a pinch of aniseed. freshly squeezed 2 ﬁstfuls of lard 3 cups of sugar abundant oil for frying • Combine all the ingredients. adding enough orange juice to make an elastic dough. . Place the circle of dough on the rounded surface and very gently pull the dough from the edges in small increments. occasionally throwing the dough forcefully onto a metate. They are served at Christmas parties or during posadas and are said to represent the diapers of the Baby Jesus Christ. as the dough is strong. melted zest of 2 oranges. Turn to brown the other side. dribbled with a light ﬂavoured syrup or honey. ﬂour a work surface and pull off walnut-sized balls. Do this several times and make sure that you hear a loud slapping noise with each throw. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez In Mexico buñuelos are broad. (Primy said that sometimes she would ask Alejandro or any available man to do the kneading for her because it is physically quite difﬁcult. cover your knee with a clean tea towel. Knead it well to develop the glutens. ﬁnely grated orange juice. like most home cooks. except for the oil. Sitting down. Easter or Carnival. turning it constantly and sustaining it on your knee. Flatten or roll each ball into a rough circle. Makes 50 to 60 buñuelos. crispy fritters served in stacks. and do not worry about it breaking. The dough can be stretched to a very thin disk about 25 cm in diameter. To Serve Drizzle with a light syrup made of crude sugar ( piloncillo) and water (this may be ﬂavoured with aniseed or guava). This is how Primy always makes buñuelos. I began calling them her ‘luxury buñuelos’ or ‘buñuelos de lujo’ because they were so different from the kind that you ﬁnd being sold at fairs all over Mexico during Christmas. If the dough breaks easily it is not elastic enough and may lack kneading. Drain on absorbent paper and allow to harden. Primy just throws in whatever amounts ‘feel’ right to her. in a large bowl. boiled in a little water 2 kg plain ﬂour 9–10 eggs ¼ kg butter.) • When the dough is elastic. making sure to press the centre into the oil so that it cooks evenly. The measurements are approximate because. • Fry each circle in hot oil.110 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Buñuelos de lujo Ma.
• Add ﬁsh and almonds.Mole and Fiestas • 111 Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo’ Yadira Arenas Berrocal ‘Sangre de Cristo’ means the blood of Christ. Serve in bowls with abundant broth. adding the bananas half an hour before serving. When cooked. cut into thick sticks 200–250 g peanuts. 1 kg beetroot. sauté onions until golden. or baguettes) • In abundant olive oil. until the oil surfaces. ﬁnely chopped 1½ –2 kg tomatoes. shredded ½ –1 L extra virgin olive oil ½ kg (about 3 cups) onions. about 20 minutes. Serves 8–10. with their peels ¼ –½ iceberg lettuce. Allow to cool. about 3 minutes. drained. blanched. ﬁnely chopped 300 g almonds. ﬁnely chopped 1½ cups parsley. ﬁnely chopped 2–2½ cups (about 4 large heads) garlic. cut into cubes and reserve the cooking water. Cook 5–10 minutes. It is important to keep the orange and banana peels on the fruit so that the bananas do not fall apart and the beet water is infused with their ﬂavours. . peeled 5 oranges. soaked several hours. combine the rest of the ingredients with the cubed beets and cooking water. Add garlic and let brown. shredded sugar to taste The beetroot must be very clean and boiled in abundant water with the skins. represented by the water in which the beetroot is boiled. with peels 3 ripe bananas. peeled. This is a very refreshing dish that people prepare only during Lent and Advent. In a large bowl. Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela Chef Abdiel Cervantes ¾ kg salt cod (bacalao). ﬁnely chopped To serve: 1 jar green olives 1 tin chiles güeros (or any pickled yellow chiles) crusty bread (teleras or bolillos. sliced in ½-cm rounds. peel them and discard the skins. Add tomatoes and cook over high heat. leaves removed and well-scrubbed 500 g (1 large) jícama. in 1. stirring frequently.25-cm slices.
. warm the fried bread pieces in the syrup to impregnate them with the ﬂavours and to heat them through. Spiced Syrup 1 cone of piloncillo (crude sugar) or 1 cup ﬁrmly packed dark brown sugar 8 cm of Ceylon cinnamon (not tough Cassia) 5 whole cloves 5 whole allspice berries around 750 mL of water Boil all the ingredients in enough water to make a light syrup. she liked them so much that she had seconds. and it probably would not matter if the bread used was very fresh. Primy’s version contains no milk.112 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add parsley and mix well. Doña Margarita. or use an aged white cow’s milk cheese like Romano or Sardo 3 eggs. cooking until ﬁsh completely falls apart into small bits. Fill each space with cheese and proceed with the capeado as for stuffed chiles. cut into 6-centimetre slices 250 g queso cotija. To serve. Serve with crusty bread. or 1 baguette. like French toast. each cut into 3 pieces. Torrejas Ma. This is the way Primy makes them. separated vegetable oil for frying Hollow out each piece of bread by removing some of the central crumbs. which is a bit unusual in that they are coated in the egg batter called a capeado. Serve in low bowls with lots of syrup. Serves 12. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez Torrejas are a Lenten dessert typical of the state of Michoaca ΄n. 4 slightly stale teleras. Most recipes for torrejas are reminiscent of Spanish torrijas. like the capeado for chiles rellenos. This is something that she rarely prepared because her mother-in-law. When Doña Margarita was persuaded to try these torrejas. leaving an open pocket. • Let rest until cool and decorate with olives and chiles. did not like the idea of a sweet made with spices.
and in other ways throughout this book. is thought of as an artwork. but ﬂavour. The Function of Flavour There are many physiological. via cooking. Rather than as an aid to help humans ingest nutrients. are interlinked. 1986). active element of food. In the following sections I will explain these conclusions. This means that we can understand different social levels (family-compadrazgo-mayordomía) by analyzing food in terms of cooking. If food. effectively creates social relations. Given that any kind of cooking – 113 – . and social organization can be understood as a social-relational matrix with food as indexes within the active art nexus (following Gell. 2001) and women are able to use cooking to exert power and enact their social value (Abarca. In other words. surface and depth. that ﬂavour is the most important and functional. the presence of ﬂavour. it is decorative. situating this in the context of Milpa Alta. original italics) In this book I have approached Mexican cuisine by thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. I argued in Chapter 2. and the mobilization of different ﬂavours in a cuisine. McCallum. form and function. from everyday hospitality to ﬁesta hospitality. I offer an interpretation based on the point of view of food as a form of art to argue the following points: ﬂavour is functional in an active sense. 1998). and this decoration is precisely what makes food powerful or meaningful. 1996). 336. physical characteristic which carries semiotic meaning. 2006. ﬂavour is achieved via love (the sazón de amor necessary for good cooking). cultural and social reasons that people eat and drink certain foods. p. or a dish. It is not a superﬁcial. its artistic nature. whose normal function is to mediatize the conjunction of the raw product and the human consumer.–6– The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life The conjunction of a member of the social group with nature must be mediated through the intervention of cooking ﬁre. and whose operation thus has the effect of making sure that a natural creature is at one and the same time cooked and socialized. gender is not intrinsically hierarchical (cf. the ﬂavour is not simply the decorative aspect—or rather. is always a concern. —Lévi-Strauss (1994. observing cooking shows how actors are acted upon by their actions (following Munn. Melhuus and Stølen.
gorditas and sincronizadas. Even fresh fruit. Otherwise foreigners are expected to like it right away. tlacoyos. Mole epitomizes some of the best qualities of Mexican cuisine. women’s morality is circumscribed by their knowledge of cookery and their domestic and extradomestic labour. like mangoes. white and green). moles. but when combined with chile or some sort of sauce. there are also many Mexican dishes that are inconceivable to eat without an accompanying sauce. or a pickled chile or fresh green chile to chew on at the side. sweet tamales). pipiánes. compadres and the wider community). food/artwork is ‘the crystallisation of activity within a relational ﬁeld’ (2000. who are highly valued in Milpaltense society as wives and mothers. bananas. Many dishes are deﬁned by their sauces or chiles rather than the accompanying meat or vegetable that is eaten with the sauce. p. family. In Milpa Alta. as it is. or they may never learn to like it. and by extension. is the ultimate recipe. The varieties of pozoles (hominy soups made with pork. or it is an example of excellence amongst other salsas. in some ways it can be thought of as representing the whole cuisine in the way that one person represents his or her family (part-for-whole synecdoche). as well as by their sexual behaviour. The same can be applied to most tamales which are differentiated by the salsa used in the ﬁlling (such as tamales verdes. so much so that sometimes foreigners are warned that they may not like it when they try it for the ﬁrst time. and chile is salsa. enchiladas. The cooks are speciﬁcally women. barbacoa. thought of as representing the best of Mexican cuisine. and street foods like sopes. When women prepare mole from scratch. de rajas or de mole). 345). entomatados. and to fully appreciate the honour bestowed upon them if they are served mole in someone’s home. as producers and reproducers. It also carries other meanings when it is served or eaten. It is one of the most laborious and technically difﬁcult dishes to prepare. In the case of Mexican cuisine. borrowing Tim Ingold’s deﬁnition of an artefact. are sold with a sprinkling of powdered chile piquín and lime juice. chilaquiles. Mole. the deeper social meanings inherent in the serving and eating of mole are related to ideas of this dish being historical and passed down from generation to generation via cooks in the family and community. ﬂavour is chile. Examples of this are chicharrón en chile verde. Or. It is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ and ‘very traditional’. and for family ﬁestas. jícamas. and the variations are prepared by the addition or omission of a red or green salsa in the cooking process. and not only in terms of ﬂavour. This includes all sorts of tacos. ﬂavour is added. using family recipes. adobos or adobados. Otherwise. and also soups (including rice and pasta dishes). When mole is served to guests. and hence value is added. As I described in greater detail in chapter 4. combining more ingredients and culinary techniques than most others. A foodstuff can be eaten on its own. ﬂavour constitutes the surrounding social relations of the actors (cooks and eaters. mole acts as the . for instance. especially a whole hog’s head) are differentiated by colour (red. or by the salsa’s absence (tamalates. and chiles rellenos.114 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and eating are food transactions. and pineapples. rojos.
Everyone knows how to make mole.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 115 quintessence of women’s hard work. Together chapters 3. when and why. to some extent the taste judgements or values placed on certain ﬂavours within the cuisine (or certain dishes) are determined by the social values of the dominant actors (Bourdieu. in their social interaction. the ideal relationship between a man and a woman. I showed that the production of this culinary work of art is an all-encompassing social activity. It also requires cooperation within the primary social unit. 1984). ﬂavour is a central and active element. The barbacoieros of San Mateo enjoy a social position and value related to their economic capital in comparison to the other barrios or towns of Milpa Alta. This value was achieved only by means of skilfull production of a socially desired ﬂavour that ultimately produced successful business and sociality. and therefore more culinary agency and freedom in daily life. though some moles are better than others. Not everyone is considered a good cook or has the same range of culinary expertise which is fully explored only in the familiar sphere. Gell. we can make sense of the culinary system of Milpa Alta only in relation to other local social systems. Discussing barbacoa in Milpa Alta. the nuclear family. and how Milpaltenses use their cuisine. more speciﬁcally. the production of particular ﬂavours is the primary concern in food preparation. By preparing particular dishes for personal or commercial reasons. The traditional methods to prepare barbacoa involve a commitment to a way of life that is ordered by the demands of the market economy and the elaborate recipe. the technical knowledge necessary to produce quotidian dishes or daily family food is in some ways more complex than what is necessary for large ﬁestas. 4 and 5 addressed this topic. cooks deliberately produce certain ﬂavours (chile/salsa/mole) for their own social ends. That is. The manipulation or mobilization of ﬂavours in cooking is as much a social activity as human agents interacting (cf. that of husband and . barbacoa to sell in the market or family favourites for loved ones. They might prepare mole for a ﬁesta. Depending on who cooks what. Rather than an incidental characteristic of food. 1998). it is in a deeply meaningful way because there is a sophisticated gastronomic technology that actors learn and can mobilize via their cooking. This discussion indicates that there is greater creativity involved in domestic cooking. The Importance of Cooking in Social Life So if chiles appear to be symbolic ingredients in Mexican cuisine. but in an area like Milpa Alta its preparation is common knowledge. cooked in for speciﬁc reasons and for speciﬁc others/eaters. Yet in spite of this. Particular ﬂavours are not just the guiding principles of social events and their organization. Conversely. or the moral notions surrounding cooking. or. Of course there is no denying that mole is a complex and sophisticated dish. as well as the most ﬂavourful dish in a woman’s culinary repertoire.
In this way. cooking is not an activity of performative gender roles per se. and on women as lovers and mothers. The cuisine is a material embodiment of a woman’s role in the family. pp.116 • Culinary Art and Anthropology wife. as well as extradomestic labour (such as selling . by hiring men to perform the slaughter and disembowelling for her (the ‘matador’ already mentioned). The production of barbacoa provides a good example of what Munn refers to as ‘intersubjectivity’. women are related as much to men as wives (or lovers) and mothers as they are related to the preparation of food.1 The preceding and my discussion in Chapter 4 indicate that cooking is not part of housework as invisible labour. As my material on Milpa Alta shows. ‘[A]gents. These are the most culinary activities of the whole process. This occurs unless he remarries. but it is a creative task based on culinary agency and skill. It is said that only then does his business regain similar success as with his late wife. but which also allow them to achieve social and material ends through complementary action. good cooking can lead to the development of a ‘traditional’ cuisine as much as the production of social relations. 2001). which is more likely than it would be for a barbacoiera widow to do. as individuals or groups. They are not necessarily causally linked. Perhaps he needs the support of a wife’s loving touch to produce salsas for a successfully ﬂavourful barbacoa. For men this includes working in the ﬁelds. as pork or lamb butchers and/ or in another professional job (such as teaching). But though cooking is embodied and gender is embodied (McCallum. Women and men have roles and expectations which seem to dictate the limits of their behaviour. Culinary creativity can therefore be seen as the outcome of quotidian domesticity and the social dynamics of men and women. it is not accidental that women are expected to perform these tasks. It must be reiterated that the wife’s basic role in preparing barbacoa is to prepare the salsas and the panza. For women it includes cooking. If a woman’s husband dies or abandons her. Since one of women’s domestic roles is to be a cook. as providers. which is represented by the preparation of salsas/chile/ﬂavour. on the value placed upon the home.’ Practices form types of social relations and also form the actors who engage in them (1986. she may continue to rely on barbacoa as her means of livelihood. housework and caring for children. A ﬁnal observation is that only married men prepare barbacoa. When widowers do continue with their businesses. ‘not only engage in action but are also “acted upon” by the action. 2000). although food is used as the nexus of social meaning by which cooks (women as individuals or as representatives of their families) construct their social world. as a loving dimension of women’s (house)work. as a sexual partner for her husband and as a mother and nurturer for the next generation. Ingold. I was told that generally a barbacoiero widower’s business does not ﬂourish the way it did when his wife was alive. 14 –15. What is less common is for a man to continue to prepare barbacoa without his wife.’ she writes. but (previously married) women without husbands are also able to prepare barbacoa. some hire women to help them with the salsas and anything else that their wives would have normally done. cf.
that is. Hence. and to the fulﬁllment of the mayordomos’ role for the community. Rather than searching for a chemical or physical explication of why something caused another thing to occur. Although the way that they prepare some dishes may be nuanced by their own taste and pleasure. this unit is also thought to be at the core of business success. women cook with particular eaters in mind. although it may have been prepared with the same culinary principles as always.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 117 in the market). Food set out on the family altar. It is not because of inherent biochemical properties in the foodstuffs themselves. the food loses its ﬂavour because of the presence of the dead who come to eat its essence. 150). Mole with chicken is always present. 1991. p. the dead. ‘[I]ntentions cause events to happen in the vicinity of agents’ (1998. they still are cooking with the intention of feeding (or offering food to) someone else (a recipient). Whilst the unit of wife and husband is crucial to the establishment of links of compadrazgo. Although not everyone says that they believe it. and this is how it has been reported to me by people in Milpa Alta (see also Lok. In other words. So this is why food has ﬂavour. the ofrenda. The dead are believed to eat the essence of the food when they come. Simmel. tamales. in Milpa Alta. Long and Vargas. The explanation for this is no more mystical than the relationship between the cook (culinary agent) and the expected recipient of the food. it is thought to occur in this way. and other (usually unmarried) members of the household. In this case of food for the dead. ‘[T]he explanation of any given event (especially if socially salient) is that it is caused intentionally’ (p. as well as yellow fruits. Although other living . in the example of the Days of the Dead. 2005. 1994) as much as for making food edible or tastier. it no longer has any ﬂavour. They also cook particular dishes during ﬁestas for compadres and the wider community. p. rather it is in the deliberately induced reaction of foodstuffs when cooked or combined in a particular way. Gell’s conception of intentionality is based on deﬁning the nature of causation. 101). The idea of a cook/artist’s intentions can be better understood when applied to feast food. and afterward. The technical mastery required to cook is also socially learnt and socially salient. Food served to be eaten has ﬂavour because a cook intends to bring out or produce these ﬂavours in the meals that she prepares for other people with whom she has speciﬁc social relations. Married women cook for their husbands and children. What they prepare is dependent upon their relationship with the eaters. sweets and some favourite foods of the dead. why ﬂavour is a social (and also cultural) aspect of food. 101). when the living eat the food that had been set out. they use their culinary agency according to the network of intentionalities in which they are entangled as social beings. is offered to the dead relatives of the family. Agency and Intention Thus cooking is an activity performed for the sake of social interaction (cf.
but only in relation to how they compare with other dishes in the cuisine. Rather. though competition and one-upmanship exist as well. These gifts of food are offered by obligation and their acceptance is obligatory as well. and with the social relationships of the cooks and eaters. related to the cook. This means that special foods are signiﬁcant. In effect. During ﬁestas. so much so that even those who do not attend are given food in their absence. and not to feed the living. the same gift. all assume that they will be. the same kind of food—effectively. Competitively bigger and better versions of the same meal are circulated endlessly amongst compadres. Anything that comes from a person. Mole. social distance and hospitality amongst the relevant actors. The entire art corpus of a single artist or a collective style of art can therefore be looked at as if it were pieces of one body distributed over time and space. Therefore the ﬂavour was cooked in for the dead to take away. mayordomos or other guests. relatives and neighbours and thereby maintain community viability. mayordomos. including visual appearance and things he or she produced. towns) to maintain the circulation of value (food/virtue) in the indeﬁnitely enduring cycle of festivity. this means that food is involved in interrelating social networks amongst individuals or groups. Food giving and receiving occurs in different directions amongst individual actors who perform the roles of hosts or guests on speciﬁed days during the year. and they expect elaborate food and entertainment at these events. no one need demand to be fed upon arrival at a ﬁesta. neighbours. is coercively given and received. the same personhood—is awaited on each occasion. is detachable from that person and can be physically touched as well as seen. the food was cooked with the intention of feeding the dead. individuals act on behalf of social groups (families. Not only this. individual and group. Whether compadres. and can link social beings in the way that Mauss’s hau or Munn’s kula valuables transform value from one person to the next. With respect to Mexican cuisine. and actors expect an ultimate balance of give and take. The ﬁesta cycle revolves around the religious timetable and notions of respect.118 • Culinary Art and Anthropology people. but they accept the food nonetheless. a ‘distributed person’. which are detachable and also exchangeable. Fiesta Food in the Culinary Art Corpus It is appropriate now to recall the theoretical basis of food as art as I have been using it. or a socially approved substitute.3 Hospitality begets further hospitality. Guests may even be reluctant recipients. and the acceptance of this offering within this network of intentionalities is conﬁrmed when the food is eaten by the living the next day and they can verify that the food has lost its ﬂavour.4 . are divisible and indivisible.2 Gell’s theory of art uses a conception of a body of artworks as if it were a body of a person. Part and whole. eventually may eat the food. in a sort of Maussian social contract. art objects are exuviae.
In the same way children and unmarried adults are not responsible for food provision. Munn. 1998. family honour can be distributed and properly enacted only with ﬁesta commensality. becomes representative of the whole distributed object of Mexican cuisine. 1986). In short. The individual actors who take responsibility as ofﬁcial representatives are highly respected church-married couples. though they may help married women who are. except for the occasional unmarried woman who is asked to be a comadre (cf. vis-à-vis the wider public. When people in Milpa Alta talk of ‘el mole de ﬁesta’. even after many years of cohabitation and the birth of several children. produced through daily cooking. the luxury of barbacoa. although women are thought of as the family cooks. the mole of the feast. So in other words. fetching or delivering things. the value of mole can be understood as effectively equivalent to the value of women in Milpaltense society. As an example. The whole cuisine. In fact. which all effectively . on whom they depend for their food and on whose behalf they are expected to perform minor duties such as shopping. the dish that they speak of is a nexus of interacting social relations within the cuisine as well as among the human social actors who perform value transactions via food hospitality. ﬁesta hospitality and the corresponding food are products of gender complementarity and family cooperation. or ‘el lujo de barbacoa’. 1984. in fact. Finally. As should be clear by this point in this book. similar to how Simmel (1994) allocates value to daily meals. But while women are in charge of cooking for feasts. Indeed. while at the same time it allows the hosts to mobilize the value of the dish (or vice versa) because of the social prestige connected with the preparation of the dish (Bourdieu. Gell. In the wider social context. 1982). this effect is encapsulated in Gell’s notion of the ‘technology of enchantment’(1996). As the relational node of a culinary matrix of interrelating social spheres. In the ﬁesta cycle. in the ﬁesta sphere. the power and value of women (or cooks) are transformed into ongoing social relations. or its substitutes. or the everyday and the ritual. who can imagine the complexity of the production of the dish from his or her informed culinary knowledge.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 119 Children and unmarried adults do not formally participate in these systems of reciprocity. the hosts’ decision to serve these dishes to others in formal hospitality bestows value on their guests. The dish can be judged as delicious or ﬂavourful because it is accepted with gastronomic awe from the perspective of the eater. they are treated as extensions of their families. current popularly served dishes like barbacoa are prepared jointly by women and men. including gifts of food. Goody. 1985). mole. A particular recipe is placed in a hierarchical relation to the indexes of other dishes in the corpus of its cuisine (cf. women’s culinary agency is distributed and shared amongst her family. mediates the domestic realm with the public sphere. the desire to participate in the mayordomía or to engage in relations of compadrazgo is sometimes an instigation for couples to hold a church wedding. morally recognized as capable of cooking the mole de ﬁesta and able to legitimately reproduce the next generation. then. Sault. serving mole.
although men may be the public or ofﬁcial representatives. land. and especially ﬂavour. the fulﬁllment of gastronomical ideals or desires is central to social life in Milpa Alta. Chiles and albur In different ways throughout this book I have discussed the interconnections between notions of love and food in Milpa Alta. In the remainder of this book I would like to make a few ﬁnal comments on cooking and love and our perceptions of food and ﬂavour. women are representing the family. Mole as a special dish indicates celebration. In one recipe the interrelating value systems and complex of intentionalities that exist in Milpa Alta are found: ‘tradition’. via women’s culinary agency. Urban students were encouraged to go back to the pueblos to search for unwritten recipes and culinary tips from anonymous mayoras and señoras who were unrecognized culinary artists. In effect.120 • Culinary Art and Anthropology represent the whole cuisine. women in Milpa Alta have two kinds of responsibilities: housework and cooking (production) and family (reproduction). If the preceding are the ingredients necessary to successfully prepare mole (or any other recipe). According to them. Therefore social interaction circulates around women and women’s culinary labours. To recapitulate. who are ultimately governed by an honour code of giving and respect to their children. Equivalently. we can take sex into account as part of the socialization of women as members of the community as well as in their relations . a sazón de amor (a sprinkling of love). loved ones.5 The teaching of cultural events and Mexican history were included in the curricula of some cookery schools. Its complex history involves the invasion of foreigners who brought ingredients and technical knowledge to Mexico. sexual. which revolve around women and their roles in the family. which represents women. religious and maternal love. women. as a ﬁnal garnish. In this way. top-quality ingredients. and who inﬂuenced the religious and domestic realms. cooked with culinary artistry (or technical mastery). there are two kinds of human desires: for food and for sex. This means that social interaction is effective when food is offered. partners. an understanding of traditions and Mexican culture and. Recognizing the deeply symbolic value of cooking as a part of women’s work. compadrazgo. Mole differs from other dishes within the cuisine because its preparation epitomizes the wide variety of culinary techniques and ingredients that women have adopted and adapted into ‘traditional’ Mexican cuisine. superior ﬂavour could be achieved by technical culinary skill. altering social interaction while simultaneously altering women’s relationship with food and cooking. Other dishes in Mexican cuisine are difﬁcult to make. Mole represents salsa. then how do professional chefs achieve culinary mastery in Mexican cuisine? In Chapter 1 I described some of the ways that chefs thought of proper Mexican cooking. but it is special not only because it is difﬁcult to make. which represents ﬂavour. Food and Love.
Albur and derivative word games can be used in mild to increasingly aggressive ways. Home cooking is highly valued because of the moral value of women.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 121 with men. As long as a man is the one penetrating. He continues. put another way. Thus an individual would be prone to prefer his mother’s cooking over others’. 1996). pp. he would still be performing within what is considered normal male behaviour. rather than the one penetrated. people use other food metaphors in joking conversation to refer to male and female sexual organs. Chiles are central to Mexican gastronomy and are arguably the basic unit of the cuisine. However. As I explained in Chapter 1. and yet also are considered funny. and depends on speed and wit. A man using albur plays upon these sensibilities. In Gow’s (1989) article on the Piro. Men are able to speak with their friends (cuates. ‘[R]elationships are predicated on the satisfaction of particular desires experienced by the partners in the relationship’ (p. perhaps even more than his mother’s. ‘systematically related to certain types of social relations’ (p. At the same time. they are ready for marriage. If they do. Once girls are able to cook. 20–6). 568. Albur is a kind of wordplay used almost exclusively amongst men (see Jiménez. For the vagina there are words such as . most used in albur. food that is thought of as particularly delicious is food cooked with love. This is because there are overt sexual connotations in the speech games in albur. Usually it is obvious why they are chosen. He can continue to consider himself to be heterosexual. Lomelí. though sometimes the analogy is more obscure. In Chapter 4 I discussed the kind of sexual/gastronomical reciprocity that exists between husbands and wives. They are also central to a variety of jokes in which the chile is spoken of metaphorically as a man’s penis. or. 568). there is ample opportunity for innuendo. The marital relationship is both moral and imbued with social obligations. 1991. The food sharing inherent in hospitality and family eating is considered to be moral and ethical and in a wider sense can lead to community viability. even if there is only a small proportion of chile in the recipe for the salsa. who are the producers of this food. Since chiles come in so many different shapes and sizes. 1991. One of the central metaphors used is the chile. It is very rare for women to speak using albur. he argues that the desires for food are linked to speciﬁc food providers. even macho (see Gutmann. which stands for the penis. it is amongst other women (not in mixed company) and is of a milder sort. Yet one other dynamic of food and love is worth describing for a more nuanced picture of how ﬂavour and morality are intertwined. in Milpa Alta people use the words salsa and chile interchangeably. italics added). In this way women are understood to be powerful agents within their local social spheres. they have acquired the skills necessary to participate in the community-wide systems of food giving as well as the skills necessary to demand and offer food and sex to a husband. as well as on linguistic twists. as a husband should also value and prefer his wife’s cooking. those en conﬁanza) in terms of sexually penetrating them without being considered homosexual.
continuously draws attention to the metaphoric relationship between oral and sexual desire. If these metaphors appear unsystematic. Having established that the values and virtues of women are materialized in home cooking. The relationships among food and cooking and love and sex can be understood through albur to have ramiﬁcations in the assessment of ﬂavour and morality in terms of eating a meal cooked at home or enjoying snacks in the streets. mamey (a type of fruit). Local Milpaltenses go home for their meals. The use of food metaphors in joking. I was told that eating out in the street indicates that the women of the house are lazy (‘son fodongas’ ). I would agree. p. The signiﬁcance of albur is that food. we can extrapolate from this that it can reﬂect badly on a woman if she fails to prepare a home-cooked meal and instead decides to buy ready-made food in the streets like tortas. Jiménez. A few Milpaltenses told me. non-euphemistic. tacos or tamales. names for the genitalia. rather than that between food objects and genitals as objects. and they cater mainly to outsiders (from Mexico City) who work in the municipality rather than to locals. (1989. These restaurants serve comida casera. too lazy to prepare a meal at home. they travel to the centre of Mexico City. especially the chile. camote (sweet potato). 575) Sexual food metaphors may therefore reveal notions about oral and sexual desire— or I would rather say ‘appetite’—and not so much about the relations between speciﬁc fruits or vegetables. The use of foods as metaphors for the genitals occurs only in joking. Eating out in Milpa Alta is uncommon. 202). homestyle food. 1991. but at the level of desire. as Gow argues. Home Cooking and Street Food I have already explained at length that food prepared at home (i.122 • Culinary Art and Anthropology papaya. whether foods or genital organs. Daily Meals. with some pride. Some other food metaphors for the penis are longaniza (a type of sausage). is subject to linguistic and conceptual manipulation by men. 201).. that is because they are not used in an alternate discourse to encode another arbitrary symbolic structure. … these metaphors are not structured simply by direct reference to the objects themselves. pp. for native people have standard. with love) has connotations of being tastier and better for you (nutritionally and socially) than food prepared commercially. or. explicitly relating it to sex. p. 82. and is explicitly related to eating and ﬂavour. partly because of the belief that food prepared at home is better. or mondongo (a dish made of tripe. pescado (ﬁsh). even random. Though not speciﬁcally . On the other hand. Those usually found eating in market stalls are youths having a snack after school or people who do not live in Milpa Alta and thus have no family nearby to go home to for their meals. ejote (young corn on the cob) and zanahoria (carrot. Rather. more generally and among women. that there are only two restaurants in Villa Milpa Alta. the chile is manipulated in another. culinary way.e. if they really wish to eat out. panocha (crude sugar).
In Milpa Alta there is a speciﬁc verb for this idea of eating out that is used only in the region: chinaquear. She also notes that some street foods take longer to make than some typical daily meals. or even womanly. Tinker (1987) observes that ‘[i]n most countries the traditional foods eaten at home take a long time to make. because we could have or should have prepared food for ourselves. The words envidia and envidioso are used to describe a range of characteristics from envy to greed to being overprotective over family . most women know how to make many of the foods that can be bought in the streets. Abarca (p. In Milpa Alta. Another eater makes a cook more willing to go through the trouble of preparing the several parts that make up a meal (cf. Another instance when Milpaltenses might eat in the streets is when they eat alone or with only one other person. She can then take it home to eat in privacy so that no one will see her and her family eating in public and later be able to accuse her of chinaqueando.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 123 investigating Mexico. At the stand she chatted guiltily with the food vendors as if they shared a naughty secret. she tries to be discreet about it. 93) also emphasizes this point. such as barbacoa. like different kinds of tacos. The food sold by the vendor might be particularly delicious. So although there may be times when a woman is too tired. nor would this be normal behaviour in Milpa Alta. too busy or indeed too lazy to cook for her family. for instance. A social activity by nature. Abarca. she most likely will buy it to take away. 2006. too cumbersome for the domestic kitchen or for daily cooking. pambazos. food preparation entails an emotional commitment from cooks and eaters. 92–3). If she decides to buy ready-made food in the market. however. if a woman forgets to place salsa on the table. perhaps could not be the same if made at home. keeping all the ﬂavour to herself. she may be teased as being envidiosa. ‘Vamos a chinaquear’. or was more work to prepare than we wished to do.’ In other words. Cooking is almost never done for the sake of the cook alone. part of the social signiﬁcance of a meal prepared at home stems from the caring involved in cooking food with ﬂavour for speciﬁc eaters. Perhaps there is also an element of taste involved in the decision to buy food in the street. referring to Silva. pp. huaraches. one of her ‘critical thinkers’/informants: ‘The desire to have her family surround her table gives her the impetus to create laborious meals … The merit of culinary creation for Silva is inseparable from the participation of her audience. Some things are not easily made at home. A complete Mexican meal requires much time and effort and is difﬁcult to prepare in single servings. Mexican street food is one of the broadest-ranging parts of the cuisine. In Milpa Alta. Sometimes when Doña Margarita and I were on our own. She would have a mischievous glint in her eye as she said. effectively failing to fulﬁll her obligation to feed her family or guests. she would suggest to me that we eat in the market. quesadillas. Chinaquear means to eat snacks in the street and it encapsulates shirking one’s household. duties. 55). so that busy housewives or working women will avoid this effort by feeding their families street foods’ (p. tamales. garnachas and various other snacks.
While community relationships are characterized by respect and social expectations. Morality and Taste In a perhaps simpliﬁed way. This is partly because of the asymmetrical relationship between parent and child or married woman and her in-laws (see Gell. women’s culinary agency becomes directed to their husbands and their new households. family relationships are characterized by love.6 A person who is envidioso/a refuses to share or lend food or other material belongings. as I mentioned earlier. not because of some deep-seated subordination of women to men. However. a cook’s . in daily meals food is not circulated. Women’s culinary activity is a source of social agency that gives deeper meaning to the home-cooked meal or the food prepared for family and relations of conﬁanza. on a daily basis. though of course. It also then follows that when the relationship between cook and eater is very close. He or she lacks conﬁanza. moral obligation and gender role expectations. children are considered as extensions of their parents in the community-wide systems of (food) reciprocity and exchange that do exist in ﬁestas. women prepare food for their husbands and children and other members of the household. enticing the family and ritual kin to maintain their ties to the cook. love and hospitality of home. I have used the word love to explain how culinary technical mastery is achieved. it is only within the domestic realm. I think that that is far too long-term to establish an exchange relationship via food. Gow. and I have also described how love is the instigation for culinary activity. and then all of it is eaten. all different kinds of food are demanded and supplied.7 Unlike in the ﬁesta cycle. food in this case is not actually exchanged between culinary agents and recipients. husbands and in-laws. given and received. 1989). For daily meals. the eater is more likely to judge the food as tastier and better because of the social relationship that exists between them. 1999a. Ideally. I have already described how the full artistry of Mexican cuisine is explored daily in the family kitchen. but because of the centrality of the marital bond as the source of social (and sexual and gastronomical) fulﬁllment. In Milpa Alta. someone who somehow displeased another was often described as being envidioso. a woman supplies it. and in this way good cooking works like a well-designed trap. Once they marry. Flavour and variety are sought after for everyday meals. food is demanded by children. like family. Raising children is more simply a moral obligation and. Envidia is conceptually opposed to the notions of generosity. Failure to feed their husbands can be judged as shirking marital as well as womanly duties. and it is not exchanged for an expected return of food reciprocity on another occasion. Appetite. but if they do. Daughters rarely take full responsibility for meal provision.124 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members. Parents do not expect anything from children in exchange for feeding and raising them. at least not until many years later in old age. Within the family.
but men depend on women for the tortilla. among family and friends. We can think of food-giving as generating positive social meaning (community viability) and eating as correspondingly negative (cf. Since giving food is as much an obligation as receiving it. Among other writers. home cooking generates positive social ends. somehow. This implies that in the case of home cooking. this extends to the gastronomical and sexual loyalty of potentially unfaithful husbands. In other words. Conversely. socially sanctioned sexual desires. Understanding this. A cook’s culinary agency and artistry can be seasoned by a sazón de amor that emanates from her feelings toward the intended eaters of her food. She notes that men inherit land and women receive kitchen equipment upon marriage. Vázquez García (1997) describes the marital relationship as reciprocal in a Nahua community in southern Veracruz. Vázquez discusses the domestic economy of ﬁrst and second wives in both monogamous and polygamous unions. and not for a return of yet undetermined food hospitality in future. instrumentalized for the production of legitimate members of society. How can an anonymous food vendor prepare food with the ﬂavour of love that competes with the nourishment of home and the socially sanctioned marital bond? I will continue exploring the notions of exchange and reciprocity to explain how this can be so. the food given is not a ‘pure gift’ in the way that we would like to think of the freely offered love that stems from the intimacy of home. this food may seem to taste better in the streets. As I described in Chapter 4. I dare say that home cooking is offered in a most complex bounded way. This reciprocity has material manifestations in access to land or other resources as well as in cooking: ‘[T]he activities of men and women are complementary in the sense of women depending on men for the corn. commercially viable and delicious. She also observes that many women who sell home-cooked food in the streets are unwed . A home-cooked meal should then taste better and should also be better than snacks bought in the street. This being the case. Rather. 1986). the ﬁnal product’ (p. as a sophisticated culinary trap couched in the ideology of generosity and the virtue of women’s suffering and sacriﬁce. the food is exchanged for the love. there is a moral obligatory force involved in giving and receiving food. whereas commercial cooking would then generate antisocial (individual) ends. Applying the same logic to cooking. 171.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 125 talent must also be considered. presumably prepared for selﬁsh. as socially controlled. other cooking. my translation). Yet street foods are known to be desirable. it makes more sense that the appeal of home cooking is based upon its intrinsic meaningfulness. hence the importance of a home-cooked meal. marketable. I now return to the question I posed in the introduction of this book: if mother’s home cooking is the best and tastiest food. is meaningful in a different way. loyalty and appreciation of family members. Munn. then why is it that street food is considered to taste so good? Though any woman who cooks may know how to make the same antojitos. economic ends. Mexico.
This immediate-return exchange is instant gratiﬁcation. This intention would be no different from the desire of a food vendor to entice customers with a certain taste to her own delicious food. What is given over is a thing that the giver values less than what is received. is how Gell (1999a) dismantles the idea that commercial activities should be less moral than non-commercial/gift-giving and gift-receiving.126 • Culinary Art and Anthropology mothers or ‘second wives’ of men whose legitimate wives exert domestic (marital and gastronomical) rights. as the vendor-client relationship can blur over time to approximate friendship. There is quantitative equivalence. or her intended food consumers. Yet more pertinent to this point than Gell’s discussion of artworks as traps. Both the vendor and the home cook wish to attract and appease the appetite of the same consumer. with respect to her agency. then. however. without any moral obligation on the part of the buyer or the seller. . with the intention of constructing bait in a particular way to ensnare the loyalty of kin and ritual kin. rather than being an unethical commercial venture in opposition to the ethical food-giving at home. Things are exchanged for things. In fact. In Chapter 3 I also mentioned how Primy would proffer special treatment to regular customers.9 It is as delicious and clandestine as an illicit love affair. Indeed. Abarca’s (2007) recent article on Mexican food entrepreneurs argues that some successful women recreate the spirit of home and cultural heritage when they prepare and sell their food. and the value of food sharing. the food is transacted in a mercifully simple. To conclude. and neither I nor the vendor I choose engage in any realm wherein either of us can be judged to be generous or envidiosa. So the culinary agency involved in preparing food for sale or for loved ones is actually one and the same. There will always be differences in a cook’s activities depending on her speciﬁc intentions. especially if one eats alone at a street stand. then. nor is it obligatory. completed on the spot. If we follow Gell’s (1999a) logic about commodity exchange. though each leaves the transaction happier with his or her newly acquired money or food than before. Street food is commoditized cooking. A customer hands over money and the vendor hands over ﬂavourful food. satisfying way. there are no social relations involved to complicate one’s enjoyment of the ﬂavours. and so the vendor directs her agency to this competition. there are two ways of experiencing food as delicious. Brieﬂy put. akin to the pleasures of sex without the entanglements of love (amongst social relations). food in the street provides the ﬂavour of Mexican cuisine without the effort or social investment.8 Recall now that cooking is an activity like building a trap-as-artwork. Both the customer and the vendor indeed ‘sacriﬁce’ something of value (money/food) in exchange for something that they value more (food/money). and its appeal lies in the link between eating and sex. What is given is not a gift. I can choose to buy food from this or that vendor. Home cooking has the status of the highly moral marital bond. wherein each actor values the other thing more than the thing he or she gives up. The goal of this and other kinds of commodity exchange is a simple transaction. buying and selling street food would constitute a food transaction of supreme reciprocity.
but of course. and some things do taste better when prepared at home. 1994. Though different vendors produce different qualities of ﬂavours. to snack in the streets is considered a pastime. almost sinful sense. married women prepare food for their husbands and the rest of the household as part of their domestic role. The appeal of one is analogous to that of the other—the temptations of an extramarital affair are similar to those of the appetizing snacks sold on the street. given that I have been arguing throughout this book that we do not eat solely for the sake of nutrition. . Chinaqueando is an occasional delight. primarily for their husbands). she is chinaqueando. 1985). 1997). Descola. it would be naive to suggest that sex is solely for the sake of procreation. as Ricardo says. I invite readers to experiment with some variations on the theme of basic dishes in Mexican cuisine.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 127 even if under a coercive system. Gow. if a woman does not cook at home for her family. and if she chooses to eat in the streets. rather than there being a power struggle between genders (Gregor. A man should ﬁnd the greatest pleasures with his wife. To summarize. Likewise. 2001. the meal is heavily emotionally laden. Eating in the streets is thus an illicit pleasure. Furthermore. Vázquez García. In contrast. she can be criticized. without the social signiﬁcance attached to eating in someone’s home. as has been shown to exist in other Latin American societies (e. there are deviances from the norm. Because of the meanings attached to home cooking (food prepared by women. Because of the many rules of greed and generosity surrounding home cooking. not one’s wife. Please note that this is just a sampling of recipes. and quantities can vary with every cook’s taste. 1991. to join in the activity. or to cook tradition. there is no contradiction if it is accepted that we have preferences and opinions about food. an individual practice more commonly engaged in than openly admitted. and men and women are known to have extramarital affairs. it is an act of freedom. After all. food that is not cooked at home is also considered to be delicious in a different. just as we have preferences for and opinions about people with whom we socialize. being seen in the streets invites digression and the potential for extramarital love affairs. More speciﬁcally. Recipes: Variations on a Theme Despite the apparent impossibility of learning to cook Mexican food with only recipes. but they both provide temporary satisfactions of desires fulﬁlled for the sake of pure pleasure. Milpa Alta society is characterised by gender complementarity. eating to satisfy appetite without emotional entanglements. McCallum.g. Neither are necessarily offered for the purpose of nourishment or the propagation of society. to eat in the street is equivalent to having an illicit love affair—equally or arguably more delicious food prepared by others. naughtily enjoying someone else’s cooking as she shirks her own duties to cook. in Milpa Alta. interrelated with the social systems of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. Likewise.
ﬁnely chopped 1 small green chile (serrano or jalapeño). This is a perfect accompaniment for guacamole and tortilla chips as well as for eggs. • Mash in a mortar with a pestle or put all in a blender with a little water if necessary.1 Salsa roja cruda (Raw Red Salsa) 2 large ripe red tomatoes. chopped salt to taste • Chop all ingredients and mix well. as with raw red salsa 1.2 Guacamole Raw red salsa with mashed avocado added.1 Guacamole 2 large ripe avocados 1 small tomato. ﬁnely chopped (optional) lime juice (optional) . this is a table salsa.128 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1 Variations on Salsa 1. which is often used to accompany grilled ﬁsh or meat or eggs. Variations or optional ingredients. this is the classic salsa mexicana. grilled meats or ﬁsh. roughly chopped 2 small green chiles. • Fresh.2. • The ingredients can be more mashed or liqueﬁed and other ingredients added. In any case. ﬁnely chopped ¼ white onion. Blend to desired consistency. or anything. raw salsas are nice left chunky. cut into pieces ½ medium onion. 1. ﬁnely chopped (optional) salt to taste coriander (cilantro). Variations to Add or Substitute chopped coriander olive oil lime juice garlic fresh red or other chiles or a combination of different chiles green husk tomatoes (tomates verdes or tomatillos)—in which case it becomes green salsa. If left chunky.
1. Variations are endless. Heat oil or lard in a saucepan.4 Cooked Salsa Blend salsa ingredients until fairly smooth. You may need to add a little water. • Add herbs (use one): dried oregano. chiles. soak them in hot water for a few minutes after roasting. • Serve as a dip with tortilla chips (totopos) or alongside grilled or fried meat or ﬁsh. • Before blending. cumin.3 Salsa Verde (Green Salsa) Substitute green husk tomatoes (tomates verdes or tomatillos) for red tomatoes. epazote. not cassia). fresh chiles. marjoram. comal or frying pan. • Boil tomatoes (peel husks off green tomatoes ﬁrst) and fresh chiles before liquidizing. using some of the boiling broth in the blender. roast tomatoes. • If using dried chiles. and when the oil begins to smoke. It is not necessary to peel tomatoes or chiles after roasting them. onions. with soft thin bark. smooth cooked salsas or caldillos. Examples follow. pour in the liqueﬁed salsa. Use some of the soaking liquid in the blender. Cook until it changes colour and the ﬂavour changes. omelettes or vegetable or ﬁsh tortitas (croquettes) are cooked into or served heated in thin. onions and garlic should be roasted unpeeled until the skin blackens (green tomatoes should have papery husk removed). garlic and spices on a dry griddle. to soften them.5 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Other Ingredients Often meat. 1. • With dried chiles and spices. black pepper. allspice. stuffed chiles. and proceed as for raw red salsa. as the charred skin contributes a nice smoky ﬂavour. about 10 to 15 minutes. Variations for Cooked Salsa • Add spices (use all): cloves. 1. cinnamon (‘true’ or Ceylon cinnamon sticks. • Tomatoes.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 129 • Mash all together with fork. be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter. • Serve with avocado pits in the sauce to prevent blackening—but a surer way to prevent blackening is to peel and pit the avocados and leave them in ﬁzzy water or iced water for 30 minutes before using. fresh coriander. vegetables. . to roll into tacos or use in sandwiches.
a front and a back.1 Chicharrón en chile verde (Fried Pork Rinds in Green Salsa) This is very common in Milpa Alta. Break fried pork rinds into pieces. Tostadas are also eaten on their own.2 Calabacitas con queso (Courgettes with Cheese) Cook cubed courgettes and panela cheese in red tomato caldillo with fresh epazote. Some other optional toppings that can be combined as you wish are as follows: refried beans shredded lettuce shredded boiled chicken or pork salpicón avocado sliced onions crema espesa crumbled. keeping them ﬂat—these are now called tostadas.5. onions and cream.130 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1. or putting masa through an industrial tortillería machine. avocados. They are served alongside pozole (hominy soup) with crema espesa. pressing out with a tortilla press. large or small. lime. long or short. and patting out by hand. always with some kind of salsa or chile on the side.1 Gorditas or Tortillas Pellizcadas These are fat tortillas which have been pinched on the thin side to make a rough surface. then topped with refried beans and things like crisply fried crumbled longaniza. 2 Tortillas Tortillas can be made by boiling corn with lime (CaOH). Heat in cooked salsa verde until soft. 1. beans and corn tortillas. salsa. Tortillas can be thick or thin. This is usually served with white rice. topped with a variety of different things. sliced radish. onions. masa. shredded lettuce and chopped coriander. Well-made tortillas puff up as they bake and have two different sides. grated or shredded cheese .2 Tostadas Fry whole day-old tortillas until crisp. pinched side is smeared with melted lard. 2. grinding it to a soft dough. The rough.5. Serve with boiled beans and warm corn tortillas. 2.
Drizzle the fried tacos with green salsa. Prepare masa for tortillas and refried beans. They are usually bought in the market or in a street stall. Serve drizzled with salsa and cream and with chopped onions. 2.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 131 chopped coriander crumbled. 8 cm wide. The beans should be encased in masa. They can be up to 40 cm long and 25 cm wide and are served with the same toppings as tlacoyos. coriander and grated white cheese (all optional). grated cheese. oblong tortillas from fresh masa so that the ﬂautas will be long like ﬂutes. about 10–15 cm long. crisply fried longaniza or chorizo (sausage) 2. dry frying pan or griddle. Bake on both sides on a hot comal. cream and grated white cheese.1 Huaraches Huaraches are like tlacoyos but are much wider. chopped onions.3 Tacos dorados Roll shredded chicken in corn tortillas.3. . extra-long. Señoras sell them on street corners and outside metro stations in Mexico City. You may use chicken broth or water to thin it out further. 3 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Tortillas 3. Make sure to liquefy it long enough to get it very smooth. Many people make thin. thinner and crisper. Top with cooked salsa. place a length of beans in the centre of a ball of masa and press it out into an oblong shape. Before pressing out the tortillas. 2. cut leftover corn tortillas into 8 triangles each.4 Tlacoyos This is typical street food in Mexico City. Secure each roll with a toothpick and deep-fry. Flautas de barbacoa are sometimes served alongside a bowl of consomé de barbacoa.4.1 Variation: Flautas Make tacos dorados using shredded barbacoa de borrego as ﬁlling. • Make thin red or green salsa in any way you wish. fry them in hot oil till crisp. Leave them out to dry overnight. 2.1 Chilaquiles • The night before. and 1 cm thick. The next morning. chopped coriander and cream.
as for chilaquiles shredded boiled chicken. Arrange in ovenproof dish and bake till heated through and cheese has melted. dip each tortilla in the pan of hot salsa and pass it through to quickly coat it. lay tortillas on a plate or ovenproof serving dish. mild feta) crema espesa/de rancho/crème fraîche chopped coriander/cilantro Variations: optional side dishes to place on or beside chilaquiles • • • • • • fried egg fried or breaded thinly pounded chicken breast. Then pass it through the hot oil to soften it a bit and make it pliable. place about a tablespoon of ﬁlling in the centre and roll into a cylinder. shredded chicken and yellow melting cheese and drizzle over crema espesa or sour cream. place on plates. fry and cook the salsa with epazote. Typical Toppings white onion.132 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Strain into hot oil. pork or beef or boiled potatoes chopped white onions grated cheese • Heat 1 cm oil in a frying pan beside the pan where the salsa is cooking.1 For Enchiladas suizas Use green salsa.2. and put on toppings and side dishes before serving. rings or half-rings shredded or crumbled white cheese (queso oaxaqueño. queso fresco. • One by one. see below) bolillos or teleras (crusty white bread roll) 3. • Sprinkle with chopped onions and grated cheese. • Toss the tortilla chips in the hot salsa. 3.2 Enchiladas corn tortillas thin cooked salsa. . Arrange rolls side by side. sliced into very thin wedges. When they are well coated. • One by one. pork or beef ﬁlet (milanesa) fried crumbled Mexican longaniza (sausage) shredded boiled chicken frijoles refritos (refried beans.
crumbled white cheese and crema espesa. They also taste better after they have settled. the beans will never soften.3 Enfrijoladas Use thin. 3.2. They are also served together with the main course or with rice as well. If you add salt too soon.2 Enmoladas or Enchiladas de mole For salsa. ham and/or cheese. use shredded chicken as ﬁlling. very smoothly liqueﬁed beans ( frijoles de olla or frijoles refritos) instead of salsa. and after at least 2 hours the beans should be soft. • Beans are best prepared in advance since you cannot be sure how long they will cook (this depends on how old they are). Stir occasionally. • Put beans in a pot with about triple the amount of water. • The beans—black turtle or Veracruz beans. • Beans are often eaten after the main course. The other layers: shredded boiled chicken.4 Pastel azteca Arrange tortillas in layers in an ovenproof dish like lasagna. Only after they are very soft may you add salt. the water in the small olla is at the same temperature as the cooking beans. 4 Frijoles de olla (Brothy Beans Cooked in an olla) • An olla is a traditional pot used in Mexico for cooking beans or preparing coffee. crema espesa. • If you need to add water. cover and simmer over medium heat with some onion and lard or vegetable oil. a small clay olla with water is placed on top of the big clay olla where the beans are cooking. and top with sliced onions. .2. the ﬁlling can be shredded chicken. add hot water. 3. use leftover mole that has been thinned down with water or chicken broth. thin refried beans.2. If water needs to be added. They do not need to be soaked. pinto or any other beans—should be rinsed and all stones and empty beans removed. and either corn or wheat ﬂour tortillas (ﬂour tortillas need not be passed through hot oil). place grated melting cheese on top and bake in oven till cheese melts and all is heated through. Adding cold water will temporarily halt the cooking process. Traditionally.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 133 3. or with any sauce that remains on the plate after the meat or ﬁsh of the main course is ﬁnished.
or you can scramble them into eggs. Chopped coriander also goes well with any beans. • You can serve these with scrambled eggs and salsa. before or after blending to a smooth soup: dark or crispy fried onions garlic oregano or epazote roasted or raw tomatoes or cook them into the soup green. Stir these and cook them until they are dark brown and almost burnt.2 Sopa de frijol (Bean Soup) Prepare beans with a lot of water or add chicken or other stock before liquefying them. heat lard or oil in a frying pan. • Beans cooked like this go well with any dish with a sauce and are also used to spread into sandwiches made with crusty bread. When it begins to smoke.134 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • For black beans. • Only then add the beans with some of their broth. red. or substitute feta or white Lancashire). Mash them continually in the lard and incorporate the onions until a smooth paste is formed. They are also often served with crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or queso añejo.1 Frijoles refritos (Refried Beans) • Over a medium ﬂame. add some sliced white onions. 4. fresh or dried chiles Optional ingredients for serving: tortilla chips (totopos) or crispy fried strips of corn tortillas crumbled or grated cheese pickled chiles strips of roasted chiles crème fraîche (crema espesa) or sour cream chopped (skinned) tomatoes avocado chopped coriander chopped onions . most people add a sprig of epazote to the pot toward the end of the cooking time. 4. some pickled chile and cheese and/or cured or roasted meat to make tortas. a slice of avocado. Optional ingredients to add.
• Add coriander. • Cover the lid of the pot with a tea towel before placing it over the pot to absorb excess moisture. with separate grains. cubed potatoes (soaked in hot water) (all optional) 2½ cups water or chicken broth salt sprig of coriander or epazote (optional) 1 whole green chile (optional) • Heat the oil until it begins to smoke. 5 Sopa seca (Dry Soup) This is rice or pasta without broth. epazote or chile to the top of the rice toward the end of the cooking time. Sometimes. corn kernels. chopped 1 clove garlic.3 Enfrijoladas See 3. chopped ½ cup each carrots (soaked in hot water). soaked in hot water. rather it should be more like pilau.2. usually served as a ﬁrst or second course. Fry the rice (and carrots) until it is lightly golden. if you wish. Keep the heat high for a few minutes so that the veggies cook. Note: This rice should be dry. • Blend onions and garlic with a bit of water until smooth. then lower the heat to a very low ﬂame.3 above. Add vegetables and salt and top up with enough water or broth to cook the rice well. peas. cover and let simmer until the rice is cooked.1 Arroz blanco (White Mexican Rice) 1½ cups long-grain rice. Add to rice. It should not be soft and milky like risotto. • Stir well and allow to cook. salsa. rice is stirred into the broth or eaten with the main course or with the beans after the main course. It is served after a vegetable soup or meat or chicken broth with hot corn tortillas. drained well ¼ cup oil ½ white onion. and sometimes avocado and lime. often eaten on its own with salsa on the side. Add salt to taste.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 135 4. . 5.
Serve cold. You might want to add a bit of lime juice so that it is not too sweet.3 Sopa de ﬁdeos/Macarrones Substitute vermicelli or pasta elbows (macaroni) for the rice and prepare as for arroz rojo.136 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 5.2 Arroz rojo (Red Rice) Prepare arroz blanco (see preceding recipe). tejocotes. frying the dry pasta in oil until it browns a little. when it is done.g. Variations combine 2 or more types of fruit stir in chopped mint before serving serve with crema espesa/de rancho (crème fraîche) . Strain this into the hot oil and fried rice. put peeled prepared fruits in to poach for about 10 minutes or until they are cooked. guavas. Sometimes dry pasta ‘soups’ are served with cream (crème fraîche) drizzled over. This is good for pears. 5. salt and water or chicken broth. Allow the fruit to cool in the syrup and then refrigerate. add 1 or 2 tomatoes to the garlic and onion mixture and blend well. When the syrup is ready. without a sauce. before stirring in the salsa and water to cook. 6 Frutas en almíbar (Poached Fruits in Syrup) Make a light syrup by boiling and simmering sugar in abundant water with some grated lime rind and a stick of Ceylon cinnamon. like a smooth red salsa. pineapples). and other fruits that do not disintegrate (e. The pasta should remain dry. peaches. Fry a bit before adding the optional vegetables. To make red rice.
She grew up with the creative artistry of Mexican cooking as part of her normal daily life. 2. ‘Where . p. Most of this land was put to agricultural use. Abarca draws from literary.5 per cent was inhabited. The people of Milpa Alta rarely – 137 – . the population was only about 1 per cent of the Federal District (81. 318). of course. The mixing of cuisines and culinary culture is far from a simple matter. 5. and 1 per cent was used for urban buildings and other purposes (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografía e Informática 1997. Abarca (2006) takes a political and feminist standpoint to analyze the same topics of food in Mexico that had also struck me as most important—namely. The regional cuisines of the Middle East.2 per cent of its area. 4. Any researcher of Mexican food would ﬁnd them to be part of the reality of Mexican culinary culture. the productive forces appear as the embodied qualities of human subjects—as their technical skills’ (Ingold. food as art. given our different disciplinary training and personal backgrounds. in fact her approach is necessarily different. 3. . Sutton (2006) also discusses how acquiring cooking skill is a matter of learning bodily habit memory and not simply following a simple set of rules. I approached Mexican cuisine with the curiosity. and indeed of one’s own person. there are certain things which non-natives notice that natives may not immediately see or may take for granted. though it occupied 19. gender and cultural studies and is herself a native Mexican. and cooking as a source of women’s agency and empowerment. sense of adventure and discovery of an outsider or tourist. India and China are comparable in their complexity of everyday cooking. pp. As can be expected. food production depends on the skilled handling of tools. and indeed of an anthropologist. . So for her. This is very well explained by Wilk (2006. sazón. 21–2). 2000. 3.Notes Introduction 1. In my case.007 for the whole city).489. Chapter 6) in his discussion of the creolization of Belizean food.102 for Milpa Alta and 8. Our different perspectives can only further enrich our understanding of food and cooking and Mexican gastronomy. and vice versa. her experience was intellectualized before she revalued and reevaluated her appreciation of the Mexican kitchen. At the time of my research in the nineties. Yet while her treatment of these subjects appeared to overlap with mine.
Muñoz. pp. (1996). and Muñoz (2000). Villa Milpa Alta. 33– 49. my work does provide particular attention to the one aspect of cuisine that Goody was unable to discuss at length in his own work: food preparation. esp. 8. even neighbouring. 459 –84). America’s First Cuisines (1994). and van Rhijn (1993). His own work focuses on production and consumption. 38). or another community of central Mexico with Náhuatl roots. ‘the arts of cooking and the cuisine’ (p. Pulque used to be a common drink in this region. A comparative study of another group in a different. preparation and consumption. Chapter 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine 1. allocation). distribution (political factors. and on a comparative perspective of cuisines since cultures must be situated within the world system. a mildly fermented viscous drink made of the maguey sap. 96. would surely provide a broader perspective than my limited research allowed. 9. . so my data here is reliant upon personal communication with Enrique Nápoles of Barrio San Mateo. 2. 1997. Kennedy (1989. See Sophie Coe’s brilliant book. and also Coe (1994). See Long-Solís (1986). 3. Andrews (1984). community of Mexico City. among others. for the barrio level there are no demographic ﬁgures in print. 328–38). These are production (economic factors). 205). market. esp. and it had religious signiﬁcance during Aztec times. p. Lynn Stephen describes similar differences between how women describe their occupations as recorded in the national census and what they actually do (2005. (1991). 6.7 per cent of the population were natives of Milpa Alta and had never changed their place of residence as of the census of 1990 (Departamento de Distrito Federal. and acknowledging that there is insufﬁcient space for me to include a comparative analysis with other cuisines or other cultures. Unfortunately. The maguey is the source of pulque. to name a few. Martínez (1992).138 • Notes emigrated. it is called aguamiel. Lomelí. based on household and class. see Muñoz (2000). Also. Goody (1982) highlights four main areas of investigation for studying food. I draw my main conclusions from my data of the local system of Barrio San Mateo in relation to the rest of Milpa Alta. as Milpa Alta has. while I have been unable to treat the topics of food production and distribution at a level beyond the barrio. or honey water. 15). p. pp. For an idea of the variety of uses of chiles in Mexican cuisine. Bayless and Bayless (1987. When unfermented. 7.
p. A chinampa is a very fertile type of artiﬁcial island. 7. 8. 14. . Coming from a pueblo implies a connection with a community of people who share a common hometown. Pilcher (1998). See Pilcher (1998). See Wilk (2006). Public talk in Universum. Appadurai (1988). Diana Kennedy’s work would fall into this category. 1989. p. 29 September 1997. my trans. 3). and that the foods we think of as traditional and authentic actually depend upon the modern. analyzing the texts carefully.Notes • 139 4. 29. For a comprehensive compilation of papers on different aspects of the cultural/culinary inﬂuences between the Old and New Worlds. I am grateful to Kai Kresse for pointing this out to me. The word pueblo refers to a small town or village. culture contact and creolization. see Wilk (2006). inaccurately referred to as a ‘ﬂoating garden’ (Long and Vargas. usually in a non-urban context. 12. Most people from the more central colonias of Mexico City are not quite as engaged with their neighbours and co-inhabitants in the way that those from the pueblos of Mexico City and other parts of the country are involved in one another’s lives. See also Wilk (2006) and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). In a thought-provoking article. see Sokolov (1991). For an excellent discussion of culinary blending. 5. and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). ‘The cooking of corn in Mexico with all its elaborations and ramiﬁcations is. See also Long and Vargas (2005) for an excellent overview of food in Mexico. See also Cruz Díaz (2000) and the regional ‘family cooking’ series published in 1988 by Banco Nacional de Credito Rural (Banrural). within the realm of the highest culinary art. 6. p. 11. more urbanized areas. 15. 9. 2005. and on the edges of the city the divisions of the municipalities are called pueblos (which may be further subdivided into barrios). Using the word pueblo to describe the residential area where you live actually has other connotations that living in a colonia does not. Mexico City. She argues that depictions of traditional recipes as rural and natural is romantic nostalgia. and always has been. these are called colonias in the central. 1981. in spite of work-related movement and interaction with other parts of the city. which is made up of several residential districts. 4). National pride and identity are qualities which a people’s cuisine can sometimes help determine. In Mexico City. ‘The culinary merit is perhaps more if one considers. 10. that the variety [of foods] was not as great as it ﬁrst appears at ﬁrst sight’ (Corcuera. See also Long and Vargas (2005). 13.). beyond that of any other country’ (Kennedy. For a lighter account. Furthermore. Rachel Laudan (2001) questions the meaning of ‘authentic’ cuisine. one’s life can easily be contained within the boundaries of one’s pueblo. and Brown and Mussell (1985). industrial global economy that supporters of the ‘authentic’ criticize. see Long (1996).
18. debe utilizar los ingredientes mejores. Khare. ‘Hay que trasladar la cocina casera a la cocina restaurantera. and Richard Wilk (1999. who questions the linear transmission of cooking skill.d.g. tal y como es. Deben prepararlos bien de principio.g. For a critical discussion of how culinary knowledge is transmitted. pero en restaurante. livelihood. In Milpa Alta I have seen women beat their egg whites in plastic bowls and the capeado still worked. For a discussion of cooking without written recipes. Mennell et al. 1976). For a detailed overview of the treatment of food in anthropology and sociology. Babb. 4. como en la casa de la abuela. But see Sutton (2006). As I explain in Chapter 2. 10 –39). Chapter 2 Cooking as an Artistic Practice 1. Jonaitis provides an excellent discussion of how the sense of taste has been neglected in ethnographic writing.). 21. see Sutton (n. Beardsworth and Keil (1997. globalization and local identity in Belize. 162). Food-related ethnographies often privilege development issues (e. She suggests. which she also describes as a ‘discourse of empowerment’ (2006. Abarca emphasizes what she calls the ‘sensory logic’ or ‘sensual. 1993) or are more about economic issues and gender than cuisine itself (e.’ 20. 2006) examines food for understanding cultural change. For a description of how impoverished our language is to describe our experience of ﬂavour. sin el sazón del amor. Alicia María González (1986) does not write . p. Lenten. ‘Approaching food without considering taste is like studying a mask without referring to its dance. There are some exceptions. pp. which I am unfortunately unable to develop fully here. See Vizcarra (2002). see Goody (1982. p. y debe ser un currículo en las escuelas de cocina. of course. or analyzing a drum without hearing the music it plays’ (Jonaitis. My friend Primy also overturned her bowl to check if the whites were ready. especially chapter two on sazón. see Fine (1996. (1992.140 • Notes 16. 1966. There is much to say about Ingold’s theories of habitus. semiotic. Some also base analysis on religious taboo or hierarchy and classiﬁcation (such as Douglas. Entonces. 51). Chapter 7. 2. claro. Peter Gow (1989) analyzes the desires for food and sex in the construction of social relations in Amazonian Peru. 47–70). see also Warde (1997).. 17. 1–19). corporeal knowledge’ of sazón. textual or language-based models to food and cooking. Imitar las cocinas famosas no sirve. en vez de tratar de copiar el modelo europeo. 2006. 19. which focus interest on cuisine or on eating particular foods for (gastronomical or other) pleasure. knowledge and skill in relation to the topic of culinary knowledge and skill. I rather prefer to avoid applying metaphorical. In some communities this is still the case. ‘The Aesthetics of Kitchen Discourse’). pp. Caplan (1997b). pp. 3. see Abarca (2006). 1989).
for a particularly effective and convincing ethnographic analysis. see Weismantel (1988). nor was he the ﬁrst. As Andrew Martin describes Latour. Gell was also neither the ﬁrst nor the only one to ascribe agency to objects or artworks (see Latour. She emphasizes the artistic nature of foods and personal adornment. because the aesthetic cannot be isolated from (Islamic) social or cultural values. E. 1973. 52). the hunter. For them. for example. 12. It is a received notion that one cannot assess art without looking at techniques (see Bateson. aesthetics and body rituals among women. 2003). ‘Objects are really the end result of a long process of negotiation between the material world. 10. Gell was not the only one to emphasize the technical aspect of art. see Hugh-Jones (1979). 1981. Dornenburg and Page (1996). 8. 1994). Douglas (1975). focusing on the panadero. Bayless and Bayless. This is possibly because the two cultures in which he did ﬁeldwork. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (Gell. is a transformed representation of its maker. 1987). although not on cooks as artists. the main difference between feast food and daily fare was abundance rather than special preparations of dishes. ‘[A]nimal traps … might be presented to an art public as artworks. ‘The work of art is inherently social in a way in which the merely beautiful or mysterious object is not: it is a physical entity which mediates between two beings. 14. and therefore creates a social relation between them.Notes • 141 about art. 6. See. 7. 1996. and for a successful use of semiotics in analyzing cuisine. because a trap. but at least there is an attempt to understand the artistic notions attached to cooking tasty food. 285). Kanafani’s (1983) ethnography of women in the United Arab Emirates focuses on the culinary arts. convey meanings. See Sutton (2006). 11. Chapter 3). Firth. by its very nature. These devices embody ideas. the LoDagaa and the Gonja. 1996. This conclusion may seem unsatisfying. describing the interconnections among sensory experience. Chapter 3). and beauty is pleasing to Allah. both had ‘simple’ cuisines. 9. It is also interesting to note that one of the chefs represented as culinary artists in this book is Chef Rick Bayless. 2000). who specializes in so-called traditional or authentic Mexican cooking (see Bayless. Layton. p. . 1993. p. Her analysis locates the source of aesthetic meaning on the recommendations of the Prophet Muhammad. including perfumes. Lévi-Strauss (1966. See also Abarca (2006. See Chapter 4. historical associations and people—who give things names and relationships’ (2005. and Mintz (1996. baker. and his craftsmanship in making bread with particular names and shapes. its 5. but her thesis analyzes the symbolic meanings of Mexican wheat bread.. and the prey animal. 13.g. 1996. and is also used to avoid pollution and to restore oneself to a state of purity. Ingold. She argues that aesthetic satisfaction enhances the experience of the senses.
In fact. Not to share it with others is “to kill its essence”. The case of the cook as eater is discussed below. hospitality can be thought of as a form of sacriﬁce. 57). via material forms and mechanisms’ (Gell. 16. among hunting people. See Lok (1991) for a discussion of sacriﬁce and exchange. In a talk at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana on 3 June 1996. and of their mutual relationship. Wilk (2006) discusses the construction and recuperation of ‘traditional’ cooking and other practices in Belize. 1999b. is a complex. questioning the dichotomy between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. which. Diana Kennedy said that she herself believes in these culinary methods. quintessentially social one. . she explained. it is to destroy it both for oneself and for others’ (Mauss. given meaning in human terms by comparative associations. The reason. 1994). Abarca (2006. can one properly speak of art’ (1996. 92–3). 21. The ancient Aztecs used chile smoke as a punishment for naughty children (Coe. 17. is because ‘the ancestors’ had more contact with food and so their wisdom must be respected. 22. Raymond Firth recognizes art in a comparable way. p. p. 20. She said that you must sing to moles in the same way that you must talk to your plants. these traps communicate the idea of a nexus of intentionalities between hunters and prey animals. Her love of the art of Mexican cookery eventually led to her greater understanding of and care for environmental issues. For the general theme of invention of tradition. as having human involvement with the material: ‘Art is a product of human commitment. 18. 18). 53).142 • Notes victim. That is to say. when put into practice. see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). render superior culinary results. 203). determined by man’s social existence. but only when the form is mobilized for human purposes. Kennedy’s outlook and attitude toward cuisine is more holistic than many other cookbook writers or culinary investigators. ‘It is in the nature of food to be shared out. 1990. with speciﬁc regard to the Days of the Dead. maize. These practices must have come about because the ancestors had a deeper and more personal understanding of and relationship with their foodstuffs and therefore were able to work out the best ways to achieve optimal ﬂavours. p. It is essentially form. There she raises bees for honey and grows her own wheat. 23. 1991. In this case there is a blurring of the boundary between commercial and non-commercial social reciprocity which is acted out in terms of generosity 15. the transaction may continue if a customer becomes a regular and then becomes recognized by the vendor as deserving of occasional special favours. 19. In a way. Cf. mushrooms and all types of plants from the whole country. which. pp. They made them breathe it to remove their anger as well (Clendinnen. in that she has built up an ecologically friendly oasis in her home in Michoacán. p.
oftentimes people serve a small amount of mole with tamales after the main course so that guests do not leave without their ‘mole de ﬁesta’ (see Chapter 5). i. Cf. These dishes are also technically difﬁcult to prepare. instead of mole. mixiote or barbacoa. 32. borregos criollos. ‘Es una tradición que le va dejando a la nueva generación. pp. Gell (1996. p. since mole is to ﬁesta as ﬁesta is to mole. 6. Also adobo. Recall that going to university is a luxury only recently acquired with the increased economic prosperity in Milpa Alta.Notes • 143 with food portions. Cf. 24. 289). As mentioned previously in Chapter 2. Aztec children were disciplined by being made to inhale chile smoke as punishment (Coe. 63 – 4). where he writes of the social meanings behind serving a bad sauce among the Songhay in Niger. He is met not with disapproval. 3. See Chapter 5 for an examination of ﬁesta food. which is used to make mixiote. For a clearer understanding of attachment to land. 30. 29. . See Miller (2002) on expressing love through food shopping. The food product transacted remains the same. Stoller (1989. and the menu rarely varies beyond these three choices. E. Very little material is published on the history of barbacoa in Milpa Alta or elsewhere. locally reared sheep. for art.e. 28. In other parts of Mexico the caul is also called encaje. 7. so the ‘sociality’ produced is of the kind that McCallum (2001) describes. but perhaps with some ridicule at times. 9. Chapter 3 Barbacoa in Milpa Alta 1. 31. 26. which literally means lace. she often is also expected to change her cooking style in order to suit her parents-in-law and the rest of her husband’s family.g. 27. 8. 1994. see Gomezcésar (1992). they mutually imply one another (mole ↔ ﬁesta). as ‘links in chains of personal rather than mechanical causation’ (2000. If a husband moves into his wife’s house. for barbacoa. Chapter 1).’ Use of this phrase to describe something seemed to indicate its importance in Milpa Alta society. many families who hold large celebration banquets serve carnitas. Ingold also considers practical knowledge to be embedded in a social matrix of relations. he is often teased for being mandilón (tied to the apron strings) or called ciguamoncli (cf. Chapter 4). In a way this seems to echo Simmel. Nowadays (within the last 20 years). Discussed further in Chapter 5. However. As explained in Chapter 4. 4. 25. 1999b). though Bourdieu argues a different point. 5. 2.
but had to do another full day’s work at home for their families or husbands. González Montes and Tuñón (1997). is a term used in Latin America to refer to the labour of women who have paid full-time jobs and yet also do all the housework and cooking at home. but only cases where a woman was hired for a few hours a week or on an occasional basis. Note that most of their ﬁndings were based on white middle-class Americans or Europeans. 4. but also by food quality. I did not know anyone who had live-in domestic help. Alejandro hoped that one of his sons would become a trafﬁc policeman and Primy hoped they would study medicine. This does not necessarily mean. Mole probably ranks as the highest. that is.144 • Notes 10. Chapter 4 Women as Culinary Agents 1. For example. 3. arguably. but migrants from the poorer states of Oaxaca. . This is an indication that people tend not to make gastronomic compromises. 13. Melhuus and Stølen (1996). hierarchical relationships may be useful for effectively pursuing these ideals. McCallum deﬁnes sociality as ‘a temporary product of morally correct engagement in social relationships’ (1989. Note that she describes how men believe that the only responsibility of women to their husbands is ‘dar de comer’. 11) which is characterized by generosity with food as a central virtue among the Cashinaua of western Amazonia. González Montes (1997). 12. This term has been used to criticize women’s entry into the capitalist labour force. culinary technical superiority or culinary artistry. Likewise. See Vizcarra (2002) for a comparable account of women and food in an impoverished community in the State of Mexico. McCallum (2001). Puebla and Veracruz. where they were not only underpaid. I recognize that I tread on the tenuous border between portraying culinary life as simply rosy and lovely and the dire reality of others. There are (immoral) actions that can lead to anti-sociality. Most women who worked as domestic help in Milpa Alta were not natives. 2. It may not be the existence of domestic labour (or the existence of hierarchy) as such that leads to the development of cuisine (pace Goody. those social relations that lead to sociality may be not only characterized by food generosity. 5. The doble jornada. and not all social relations lead to sociality. 1982). Alternatively. The works of Ohnuki-Tierney (1993) and Rutter (1993) are examples of studies that deal with more symbolism and the power of speciﬁc foodstuffs to incorporate individuals into society. or ‘double workday’. p. But because of the demands of culinary ideals. however. (‘to feed them’). Gutmann (1996). 6. that they are supposed to stop making barbacoa! 11. although they do lead to social organization.
. Roseman (1999) describes a similar ambiguity in rural Galicia. Una mujer se hace tonta por pendeja. ¿Quién es él que manda? (‘Who is in charge?’) is a rhetorical question the answer to which is supposed to be ‘the husband’. Ejido land is distributed by the government in accordance with the law on agrarian reform. which is conducted in Spanish and requires mathematical skills. the response is not so clear. 1990). 13. There was apparently also a compromise on taste. Women had restrictions on their movements outside the house as any errand could be construed as an excuse for an illicit rendezvous. 1996). 1992. para que la gente no habla mal de ella. ‘special’ and ‘extra-ordinary’ (cf. Yet in practice. el timón de la familia. it is not privately owned and it cannot be sold. Chapter 7) describes for women in Teotitlán. Almost everyone I met still maintained that handmade tortillas taste better than factory made. Mummert (1994). 9. Si no sufren. Stephen (2005. a los hijos. A comparative case is what Stephen (2005. wherein planning the food is foremost. 16.’ (See also Melhuus. This is a large topic that goes beyond the scope of this discussion. para guardar las apariencias. For a vivid comparative account. 11.Notes • 145 7. chapters 2 and 3) for more on courtship and marriage. no son buenas personas. 10. The power of human artistry hinges upon the crucial aspect of making something artistic. Dissanayake (1995) argues that human artistic behaviour is a necessary. but see. p. Zapotec women play a strong role in ritual decision making. Like communal land. In other words. Debe a su familia. J. In an article called ‘¿Quién manda? … ’. 12. ‘La mujer es el eje conductor. Martin. practice which aided the survival of the species. In some cases. for example. 8. Chapter 3). Lulú’s words were. Chapter 5 Mole and Fiestas 1. See Levine (1993. this relative freedom can be seen as problematic in regard to relations between jealous husbands and wives. where there is a discourse of gender hierarchy and women’s submissiveness but also of egalitarianism. Chapter 9) explains that unlike in business. In Milpa Alta the stereotype of self-sacriﬁcing women exists: la mujer abnegada is a woman whose husband controls family decisions. 15.’ 14. conducted in Zapotec. Son persinadas. decorated. naturally selected. women’s culinary agency gives them their ritual power. and I also agree. esp. ‘Regularmente cuando un hombre se hace tonto es por tanto amor que le tiene para su mujer. see Levine (1993. Gell. Mujeres trabajan el doble de sus maridos. y tiene que sufrir.
’ 10. Hay que trabajar desde la madrugada hasta la noche para salir adelante. This is comparable to what Stephen (2005) describes occurring in Teotitlán. 5. The dictionary deﬁnition of this word. fond of parties. 7. p. this is commonly done at home for breakfast the day after a ﬁesta as part of the recalentado. 3. especially the excesses of food given to compadres to take home. In Milpa Alta. For thorough analyses of compadrazgo as a principle for networking and reciprocal exchange. Sault (1985. Because of how guests are fed during ﬁestas. For a town or barrio ﬁesta in Milpa Alta the unmarried youths are organized to get involved in preparing for the ﬁesta. ﬁestero. The señoritas are also expected to provide typical breakfast foods. see Lomnitz (1977). hot tamales verdes and atole champurrado. Particularly the single young ladies (señoritas) of the barrio hire mariachis or other musical groups (conjuntos) to sing the mañanitas in front of the altar of the church. ‘La gente de Milpa Alta es muy trabajadora porque la naturaleza no les dió tanto. They begin at around half past four in the morning of the feast day (21 September for San Mateo). 1987). For more on compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpa Alta. This idea of homemade products being better than their commercial counterparts is prevalent and put into practice more by suburban. For example. (1987). see Martinez R. see Greenberg (1981. 4. and Stephen (2005). early hour. rural or lower-middle-class people than central urban or upper-middle-class to upper-class people. Y es por eso que es un pueblo tan ﬁestero—para mostrar a los demás que sí tiene dinero para festejar y hacerlos bien. San Mateo and Santa Martha are rivalling barrios from within which there is much intermarriage as well as competition. porque no hay tiempo. juggle their ritual responsibilities with quotidian needs. furthers social mobility and economic advancement. also see Adapon (2001). In urban .146 • Notes 2. Chapter 9) also describes how relationships of compadrazgo are ‘inherited’. and affords a magic symbolic protection against latent personal aggression’ (1977. is pleasure-seeking. For a theoretical analysis. Stephen (2005. Their ﬁestas are occasions when they can socialize freely when the residents of the barrios ritually visit one another bearing salvas. 160). ties amongst barrios are strengthened and aggression can be averted when mayordomías bring promesas to other town or barrio ﬁestas. where some women spend their money on their compadrazgo gifts and obligations rather than on their daily meals. and elsewhere in Mexico. women. as central ﬁgures in ritual community life. 6. entonces es un lujo quedarte a comer en la casa. 8. 9. for members of the public who attend the singing event at this cold. For a thorough history and description of the cargo systems in Milpa Alta. 11. Just as Lomnitz argues that ‘compadrazgo strengthens social ties between equals. Chapter 1).
17. and which I consider to be useful. 2. the whole family was unanimous in their opinion. persons. made for wealthy customers who did not eat it regularly and who were detached from it. I once went to a barbacoa restaurant in the city. These messages. This is what Munn calls the ‘relative extension of spacetime’.Notes • 147 centres this is starting to change. Michoacán (Mexico). arguing that ‘reciprocal favors are critical to survival. which was double the price per kilo that they charged in their market stall. See Wilk (2006. but it just was not as good as what they made themselves at home. The barbacoa was ﬁne. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions. When we warmed it up and ate it. 13. 12.) for a thought-provoking article on how culinary knowledge and apprenticeship are not necessarily passed from mother to daughter. ‘[T]o write about art … is … to write about either religion. If she were making mole poblano she would also sprinkle sesame seeds on top. 3. more ﬂavourful and of higher quality. 15. She was one other person who conﬁded in me that her culinary secret was that she ‘cooks with love’. it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ Mexican cuisine is growing in popularity. p. though as a means to another end.d. when I was told. or the substitute for religion which those who have abandoned the outward forms of received religions content themselves with’ (Gell. This relates to an anecdote I mentioned in Chapter 1. Chapter 6) for a convincing attempt to deﬁne the style of Belizean food. Apart from this. p. I brought the leftovers to Milpa Alta for my friends to try it and compare. 4. strengthen one another. Chapter 6 The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life 1. interest and disinterest are all merged. 1998. Primy’s young son said that they must have used goat meat instead of lamb. Stanley Brandes analyzed the ﬁesta cycle in Tzintzuntzan. although the restaurant barbacoa was quite good. and … in the long or short term these favors should somehow be balanced. See Sutton (n. 97). whether in the public ﬁesta domain or the private daily domain. where the spirit of the town ﬁesta is reproduced for tourists or urban dwellers. they were also appalled at the price charged at the restaurant. As Parry (1986) explains it. things. The meal concluded with the opinion that this was a commercial barbacoa. This is a notion that Mary Douglas (1983) and David Sutton (2001) have both explored in different ways. 14. They . 122). 16. 18. In my opinion the barbacoa that Primy and Alejandro made was much better. Wilk also notes that consistency is just as difﬁcult to maintain as innovation (2006.
Where vendors were mostly men. 81. they reduce the price considerably (see Flores Aguilar. They discourage non-Milpaltenses from buying property in the municipality by keeping the prices high. Women vendors were often in polygamous unions or unmarried and were the primary earners in the family. 8. Tinker (1987) shows that in four countries street food vendors were usually middle-aged women (32 to 41 years old). 6. See Woodburn (1998) for a view which refutes the idea of (food) sharing as exchange. because of the links between Nahuat conceptions of eating and sex. 5. persuade villagers to live according to prevailing contractual norms’ (1988. Taggart (1992) also describes a link between eating and sex in his analysis of the Sierra Nahuat. there were religious or customary reasons for this. . His data on Mexico emphasize cooking as part of women’s role and link cooking and eating with the relationship between husband and wife. or at least did not share their income with their husbands. His study is a comparative analysis of gender segregation in Mexico and Spain. Here I would also classify cookbook writers. 87). ‘The public separation of women from men on family ceremonial occasions is understandable if one considers that all rituals involve eating and that the Sierra Nahuat connect eating with sex. A woman and a man eating together in public would make a Sierra Nahuat uncomfortable because it would suggest the unleashing of powerful and potentially destructive human emotions’ (p. women still often contributed their labour from home. In a study of seven countries in Africa and Asia. 1992). 7. p. Their income was mainly used for their children and school fees. 9. emphasis added). through frequent repetition. but if a Milpaltense is interested in the land.148 • Notes pervade all of social life and. preparing the food for their husbands to sell. In these cases. which he bases on early childhood relationships with parents. As mentioned in Chapter 4. Self-critical members of Milpa Alta society pointed out that their attitude to land is also envidioso. who are involved in a wider discourse of taste than local Milpaltenses.
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42. 22–7 nueva cocina mexicana. 45. 29. 125. 100–2. 34. 122–3. 32– 6. 81. 100. 41. 7– 8. 98. 71. 11–12. 45. Wilk. 67. 127 guacamole. 87. 120 see also agency Kennedy. 41. 1–2. 113. 90. 37 fusion. 120. 10 compadrazgo. 123. 120 chilaquiles. 84. 40 Ingold. 16 culinary. 46. 82. 106. 10 see also mestizaje. 2. 113. 7. 19–21 recipes. 8. 89. 40. Nancy. 31–3. 46. 29. 122. 108 –9. 106. 31 Corcuera. 117 love. 2. 42. 124. 114. Ricardo. 13. Alfred. David. 58. 76. 121–2 lovers and. 124–7 value of. 113 agency. 75. 9. 95. 47. 79. 18 –22 passim. 49–70. 3. 117–20 motherhood. 127 Melhuus. 39– 42. 127 Goody. 38–9 mole and. 3. 121. Meredith. 46. 104. 21. fusion. 18–21. 7–11 passim. 126 women and. 95. Cecilia. 32. 131–2 chinaquear. 119 as ﬁesta food. 11. 121. 1–2. 92. 9 Cowal. 107. 67 distributed object. 11. Peter. 113 artworks as traps. 41–2. Sophie. 118 mayordomía. 9. 96. 29– 48. 46. 123–7 Coe. 85. 90. 118. 32. 8. 32. 82 Munn. 47. 36. 113 envidia. 2. Diana. 116 Mauss. See love art nexus. 101. 124 intention and. 71. 116 on sharing. 5. 115–16. 116 intention. 95. 16. 125 Muñoz. Victoria. 30. 97 Brandes. Jack. 45. 75. 89. 12. 1. 2. 29. 41. 3. 40. 89–92. 123. 51. 10 culinary agency. 72–4. 71–6 passim. 115 see also technical mastery Firth. Janet.Index Abarca. Raymond. 15. 4–5. miscegenation Gell. 20 –1. 29. 128 home cooking. 117 style. 45. 3. Claude. 108. 103. 20. 108 technology of enchantment. 46. 106 –8 chefs. 108. 78 – 82 sex and. 95 Long-Solís. Larissa Adler. 119. 47. 101–5 passim. 41. 13. 44. 106. fusion mole. 95 cargo system. 119 concept of meaning. 119–25 passim as coercive. 46. 92. 39– 40. 34. 108. 113. 119 theory of art. 109. 113. 33. 90. 29. 15. 17. 113 Lomnitz. 35. 46. 105 intentionality. 10 see also mestizaje. 31. 21 street food and. 76 – 8. Stanley. 92. 50. 38 expertise. 51. 6. 10. 11–13. 45. 82. 22. 46. 102 Lévi-Strauss. Richard miscegenation. 89–92. 90. 92. 127 conﬁanza. 71–2. 18. 106 –9 Bayless. 12–21 passim. 114 –15. 31. 16 Laudan. 125 restaurants and. 73. 95. Rick. 113 mestizaje. Rachel. 127 greed. 14. 67. 101. 41. 126 on decoration. See mayordomía carnitas. 124. 83. 121. 124–7 albur and. 93–7. 118 generosity. 94. 3. 3. 3. 82–5. 11. 80 –5 passim. 13 – 159 – . 117–20 passim. 126 intentionality and. 75. 105. 126 on commodity exchange. 78. 125 hospitality. 42. 103. 30. 85. 3. 122 see also sazón McCallum. 124 cookbook(s). 123. 124 see also greed Esquivel. 44 Gow. Marit. 21–2 on women’s empowerment. 117–8 albur. 89 –109. 115–26 passim see also agency decoration. 118 Howes. 113. 41. 106. 113 barbacoa. 68. 126 on sazón. Marcel. 105 intersubjectivity. 75. Laura. 91. Tim. 37. 5. 121. 114. Sonia. 10 see also miscegenation.
38–9 as feast food. 99–104 passim. 71. 14. Fray Bernardino de. 122. 9. 37. 89. 82–3. 43 see also skill tradition. 71–2. 84. 2. 4. 14. 21. 85. 121 Stephen. 109 barbacoa. 98 Sahagún. 34. 67 culinary. 116 value of. 80. 71. 36. 101. 85. 37. 122–7 Sutton. 75. 126 food as. 67. 40. 12 sazón. 33. 79. 106. 41–7 passim. David. 107. 98. 124–7 Mintz. 5. 74. 106 womanhood. 119–22 work. Georg. Lynn. 9. 3. 45. 47. 17. 29. 46. 33. 113. 116 . 4 expectations of. 83 technical mastery. 75. 77 as cooks. 6. 54. 41. 43–7 passim. 120 development of. 115 ﬂavour and. 124. 14–17. 117 angry. artworks as. 122 economic activity of. 89. Luis. 124 power of. 101. 53. 42 Bourdieu. 75. 99. 120 women’s. 36–7. Jeffrey 10. 124 technique(s). 73. 89. 83. 71–8. 89. 119 sistema de cargos. 77 see also motherhood women. 85. 34 judgement of. 75 love and. 15–17. 46. 117 Wilk. 107. 84. 32. See mayordomía skill. 53. 13–14. 75. 114. 113–14. 9. 48. 71–85 barbacoa and. 95 street food. 119 boundaries and restrictions on. 125 Simmel. 48. 77–85. 72–3. 71–2. 58–60. 71. 73. 82. 47. 45. 102. 76. 22. 75. 43–4. 120. 46. 85 cooking and.160 • Index Pilcher. 98. 48. 44. 82. 96. 108 on learning. Richard. 80. 21–2. 74. 3. 109 street food. 45. 123 agency and. 102–6 traditional cookery. 14. 117. 38–9. 123 taste. 3. 120. 121 roles. 21. 120 traps. 92. 92. 40–1. 98. 116. 52. 5. 30. 116. 116. 34. 17. 29–30. 82–3. 12–15 and restaurants. 125 Vargas. 30 tamal(es). 13. 102.
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