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Culinary Art and Anthropology
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Culinary Art and Anthropology Joy Adapon Oxford • New York .
Food habits—Mexico—Milpa Alta. 4. I. Joy. UK 175 Fifth Avenue.M4A35 2008 394.com . Cookery—Social aspects—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Culinary art and anthropology / Joy Adapon.First published in 2008 by Berg Editorial ofﬁces: 1st Floor. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of Berg. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Adapon. Berg is the imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd. Includes bibliographical references and index. OX4 1AW. 2. TX716. New York. Mexican. p.bergpublishers. USA Printed in the United Kingdom by Biddles Ltd. Cookery—Mexico—Milpa Alta.1'20972—dc22 2008017019 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) Typeset by Apex CoVantage. NY 10010. Madison. King’s Lynn www. Title. 81 St Clements Street. cm. 3. WI. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) 1. Cookery. Angel Court. USA © Joy Adapon 2008 All rights reserved. Oxford.
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. 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.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– . 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. How to Peel chiles poblanos.
Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’— for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home. 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. Buñuelos de lujo. 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.’ Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela.vi • Contents Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa. Motherhood and Virtue Suffering. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal Culinary Agency Recipes Huevos a la mexicana. Batter for Coating Fish. Taco placero. 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 . Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa. Home Cooking and Street Food Appetite. Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo. Barbacoa 4 Women as Culinary Agents The Value of Cooking and Other Work Marriage and Cooking Work. Chiles and albur Daily Meals.
and Corresponding Food Terms 2.1 Terminology Employed by Gell.2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes.1 Feast Food in Milpa Alta.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole 5. Shown as Families 103 104 34 35 100 – vii – .Illustrations Tables 2.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus 5. Arranged According to Type of Celebration Figures 5.
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then Mexico was the place to go to. particularly important to me before my ﬁeldwork. kindness and academic rigour. This book is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Gell. especially for taking me seriously whenever I came up with odd ideas. ‘Go to Mexico. So I had to learn to cook. most of all. if I can focus it on peppers. He was my inspiration. Fenella Cannell was especially helpful in grounding me during the period immediately following Alfred Gell’s death. Back in London.’ he said. His advice to enjoy ﬁeldwork and take note of any ‘interesting trivia’ kept me going and looking forward. thorough and frank. Even just thinking of her is always encouraging and reminds me time and again to live in the present. Peter Gow always provided timely encouragement and helped me to learn how to see.’ ‘Of course you can. She shares her and Alfred’s love for life with all those who are fortunate to know her. several more people helped me to bring this project to completion with incomparable patience.Preface I love to eat. Sally Engle Merry ﬁrst introduced me to anthropology and instilled in me an immediate devotion to the subject during my undergraduate years. who taught me that there are ‘tram-line’ people and ‘zigzag’ people. She gave me my ﬁrst opportunity for ﬁeldwork and supported my initial shaky steps into anthropology. I wish I could thank him personally for all his understanding and encouragement. Looking back. thoughtful. I visited Alfred Gell in his ofﬁce and told him. Without him I would never have begun this investigation. supervisor and. Their sensitive comments and insight were invaluable as I waded through the process of writing my dissertation on which this book is based. In Alfred’s absence. I was fortunate to be one of his last students before his untimely death in 1997. Charles Stafford was consistently most reliable. friend. – ix – . During a period of culinary experimentation when I was into peppers of all colours and types. that they all eventually arrive at their destination and that the different routes are equally valid. Maurice Bloch was always inspiring and warm. I am grateful to Peter Loizos. he repeated that if I was interested in chile peppers. ‘I’m thinking of maybe doing a PhD. nor would I have even thought of going to Mexico. Through her patience and understanding I discovered a new ﬁeld of study as well as a different direction for my academic life. So I went off to read up on Mexico and Mexican food before deciding for myself. guide.’ Despite my hesitation. I am grateful for the continued friendship and support of Simeran Gell.
especially Yadira Arenas and Luis Enrique Nápoles. She introduced me to José Luis Curiel in the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. Iván Gomezcésar shared with me thoughtful insight about Milpa Alta as well as several texts. Alejandro Enriquez and Guille Arenas. Fabiola Alcántara. Leticia Méndez was the second person I met in the UNAM who understood me both academically and emotionally. Primitiva Bermejo. constant moral support and generous interest in me and my work. Juan Manuel Horta and the rest of the staff of the Executive Dining Room in the UNAM—opened their hearts and homes to me. It was he who introduced me to Luz del Valle. Even before my tiny ﬂat in Coyoacán became ﬂooded and unliveable. he was eager to share with someone his favourite eateries and his love for the cuisines of Mexico. homes and food with me. which I would have not found on my own. Abdiel Cervántes.x • Preface In Mexico I owe a great debt to many whose generosity and presence made my stay both pleasant and stimulating. Doña Margarita Salazar. Berlin or wherever I may be. Antonio Rivera. Ma. Juan Carlos López. The people with whom I lived in Milpa Alta. Ricardo was my ‘Muchona the Hornet’ of Mexican food. Her premature death in 1996 was one of the great shocks that I encountered in Mexico. He in turn allowed me to sit in some classes of the gastronomy program and get to know the students and faculty. Janet Long-Solís generously shared her books and her contacts with me. I wish for the time when they can come stay with me.’ he said. he helped me to eventually ﬁnd my way during ﬁeldwork. who offered me valuable friendship and a link into Milpa Alta. He was the ﬁrst person to really understand what I was getting at when I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time. and I have missed her ever since. Andrés Medina welcomed me to the Institute of Anthropological Research (IIA) in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a sense of humour. Other friends in Mexico—Patricia Salero and her family. Other friends of his who were also chefs repeatedly told me that with my interest in traditional Mexican food. I was eager to learn all I could about Mexican cooking and to taste everything. . Ileana Bonilla. Ricardo Bonilla. I was in Mexico City for 24 months from 1995 to 1998 and within a few weeks of my arrival. Gabriel Gutierrez. 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. With his warmth. He is now internationally acknowledged as an authority on Mexican cookery and has published ﬁve books of renown. It was through him that I met other scholars of Mexican cuisine who inﬂuenced my understanding of Mexican gastronomy. including José Luis Juárez and Ricardo Muñoz. ‘Now I guess you have to move in with me. in Manila. we had become inseparable friends. Conmigo siempre tienen su casa. Their friendship and thoughtful conversations constantly provided me with security and fruitful ideas. I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have met him. took a strange foreigner into their homes and shared much more than their lives.
like Liese Hoffmann. My survival and sanity depended on their constant presence and love. helped me to reach bibliographic sources that I had difﬁculty accessing. . Most importantly. 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. And ﬁnally. for all the reasons mentioned above and more. David Sutton was endlessly patient. And of course many thanks to Hannah Shakespeare at Berg. even when they did not understand what I was doing. much love and gratitude to Kai Kresse. keeping up my interest in Mexican food when I was distracted by other things. Anonymous readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript gave me something to chew on. and the Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 2001. I would also like to thank Tom Jaine at Prospect Books for his always quick and witty responses to queries. have supported me in all possible ways. His openness and offers to help encouraged me in the academic path that he himself chose not to take. and for permission to reuse my material published previously in Petits Propos Culinaires 67. especially my parents and sister. Saskia ﬁlled my days with such happiness that working at night seemed a fair enough exchange. Good friends and peers. Thank you! Uta Raina read through a chapter at a critical time and. Michael Schutz provided valuable technical support at short notice. commented on drafts of this manuscript at various stages and were immeasurably helpful and intellectually stimulating. as well as willing eaters of all my culinary experiments.Preface • xi My occasional meetings with Chef Rick Bayless were always inspiring. Yuehping was the ﬁrst and staunchest supporter of my using Alfred’s theory of art in my analysis. enthusiastic and supportive. and for his astounding commitment to my work and to me. Without his belief in my work this book would not have been published. who showed humanity and equanimity at every blip along the way. My family. critical when necessary. Marilya and Scott Reese supplied me with timely stocks of Mexican ingredients and new cookbooks. especially Yuehping Yen and Anja Timm. Anja’s editorial eagle eye never failed to impress and amuse me.
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topping them with thin slices of white onion. –1– .1 I will discuss Abarca’s work elsewhere. The day before he had cut up leftover tortillas into eight wedges each and left them to dry overnight. tomatillos). experimenting. When I began this research. One dish that was personally meaningful for me during my time in Mexico was chilaquiles. exploring. ignoring the fact that food had ﬂavour and was enjoyed and relished by those who ate and prepared it. and that individual dishes could be as meaningful as symbolic ingredients. where she begins metaphorically with her mother’s chilaquiles. ‘I like to keep them crispy. (Some readers may be aware of Meredith Abarca’s (2006) recent book on Mexican and Mexican American women and cooking. He poured this into a blender with some of the cooking liquid.’ he told me. a bit of onion and garlic. for I have my own story to tell . I had never tasted or cooked anything like it. Chilaquiles is typical Mexican breakfast food. white cheese and onions. and it also looked beautiful. That morning he deep-fried them till crisp to make totopos and set them aside for the excess oil to drain. and then he lowered the heat for it to simmer with some salt.Introduction As a once aspiring chef. not just preparing or eating it. So for me. he tossed in the totopos. Chef Ricardo Muñoz. tasting. that spices were as important as staples. like crème fraîche). I had always believed that anthropological studies of food were overly concerned with staple crops. When the salsa was ready. reading. serrano chiles and epazote. ‘This is a typical Mexican breakfast. but I am still compelled to begin with chilaquiles. . In a pot Ricardo had boiled green tomatoes (tomates verdes.) One morning I arrived early at the kitchen of my friend. even artistic process. I was struck by the fact that many ethnographies of food failed to take into account that cooking was a creative. With or without. crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or de canasto) and a dollop of thick cream (crema de rancho. It is made of fried pieces of day-old tortillas bathed in a chile-tomato sauce and garnished with mildly soured cream. My interest in and knowledge of cooking came mostly from my own research. The salsa sizzled for some moments. quickly coating them evenly and warming them up. .’ he said. was a key ethnographic moment. it was delicious. He arranged a mound of chilaquiles onto each plate. liqueﬁed the mixture thoroughly and strained it into hot oil. Before going to Mexico. He told me that he sometimes liked to put a bit of fresh coriander on top but that it was not really necessary. experiencing chilaquiles.
among professional chefs in the centre as well as among barbacoieros in Milpa Alta at the outskirts. They were only cooking the kind of food that they always ate. 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. 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. the food that women prepare for their families on any given day. 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. This was Mexican home cooking. p. Abarca’s mother is quoted referring to it as the food of the poor (‘la comida de uno de pobre’. even if there was little time to linger over them. This event reﬂected my worries—would I ever be able to acquire any true knowledge of or expertise in Mexican cookery. and I had not had it or practised enough times to really know what to do. from my perspective. Many families had their chilaquiles with extra side dishes as well—beans. I began to absorb culinary and gastronomic knowledge.’ he said (‘The Chinese girl [as he affectionately called me] doesn’t believe me’). Since I did not have the beneﬁt of growing up in a Mexican home. I found it hard to believe that something so complex and laborious could be typical for breakfast. and his entire kitchen staff laughed with him. the more I got to know Mexico and the more I understood about the culture and cuisine. my ﬁrst attempt at making chilaquiles at home was barely edible. Variations of chilaquiles were normal everyday fare.2 • Culinary Art and Anthropology My immediate reaction was to say. Conversely. in my body as well as in my mind. meat. ‘La china no me cree. Perhaps. Though it looked easy. even if done to the letter. 2006. and it looked like a sorry heap of nicely garnished mush. letting the totopos go soggy. this was food for restaurants or for special occasions. high gastronomic standards. Eventually. and it certainly seemed easier. learning the culinary techniques needed to make Mexican food did not work as simply as following a recipe. I realized that it was true. eggs. Ricardo was a well-known chef who specialized in traditional Mexican cooking. I thought. 71). I learned to feel the . chicken. Clearly I lacked the skill and knowledge to prepare chilaquiles properly. and I worked too slowly.2 I felt that my cooking improved. and even insisted on. ‘No way!’ and this set him off laughing. Busy families made it a point to have delectable dishes for daily meals. The salsa was too thick and not smooth enough. to use up leftover tortillas or simply for the pleasure of eating. and no one thought twice about it or found it particularly difﬁcult to make. Even those who were not culinary professionals delighted in. bread. However. My introduction to Mexican cuisine was inevitably by way of recipes and cookbooks. Living in Mexico City. 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 textures and ﬂavours were wrong.
As he deﬁnes it. rather than ‘taste’. a ‘differentiated’ or ‘high’ cuisine (1982. The people we study care about the ﬂavour of the food that they eat. pp. we recognize the creative skill needed to produce good food. or. so I speciﬁcally use the word ‘ﬂavour’. Chiles could not be examined without the context of the whole cuisine. 1–2). and that this art was to be found in everyday home cooking rather than in restaurants. Since then. Approaching cooking as artistic activity is most salient when what is under scrutiny can be deﬁned as an elaborate cuisine. Even before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. Flavour has more sensual than sociological connotations. Such a situation is what has existed in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived (see Coe. Rather. Goody counts Mexican cuisine among other ‘haute cuisines’ such as those found in China. 1990. Korsmeyer. Corcuera. What can be inferred from this is that any good cook is a ‘specialist’. but what might it mean to take this idea seriously analytically? This study focuses on cooking as a deeply meaningful social activity. Cowal. France.4 Food in Mexico is a richly satisfying topic. there has been continuous adjustment. Culinary tradition here is really peasant food raised to the level of high and sophisticated art’ (Cowal. 97–9). on food as a form of art. Sahagún. development and innovation of culinary techniques. 1997). 1981. 514). Turkey and India (Goody. 510. If we think of cookery as art. 2006. in the ﬁrst instance. My discussion of the art of Mexican cooking is based on the gastronomic . enriching the cuisine through the sharing of culinary and cultural knowledge. 1950–1982). ‘The imagination at work in the use of local ingredients means that eating is not the domain of the rich in Mexico. Though my analysis is based on ethnographic practice. from the national standpoint. which I prefer to emphasize (see Howes.3 Food-as-art easily rolls off the tongue. this is not intended as ethnography of Mexican foodways. Mexican cuisine was also considered a particularly ﬁne art in relation to other cuisines. But by no means entirely. pp. reading cookbooks convinced me that Mexican cooking could be thought of as a form of art. in Jack Goody’s terms. Alfred Gell’s theory of the art nexus is the theoretical basis of this book. pp. pp. 1994.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’. I had come to Mexico interested primarily in chiles but found that there was so much more to consider. Stoller. 2005. 2003. Using Gell’s notion of art as a technical practice highlights the social as well as gastronomic virtuosity that is embodied in skilful cooking. my aim is to explore how we can use a theory of art to analyze food anthropologically. more often throughout this book. From what I read. For the higher cuisine also incorporates and transforms what. for thinking as well as for cooking and eating. throughout Mexico’s history. 104–5). new foodstuffs have been introduced and incorporated. a ‘high’ cuisine depends on ‘a variety of dishes which are largely the inventions of specialists. is the regional food of peasants and the cooking of exotic foreigners’ (1982. In fact. Italy. My concern with Mexico is secondary to this consideration of a cuisine as an art form. 1990.
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.
13) This chapter introduces the cuisines of Mexico in general. A very complex dish begins by roasting and/or grinding chiles. and it is the chile that gives the peculiar and deﬁnitive accent to –7– . In Mexico. chile and corn (most often in the form of tortillas) are the main ingredients of Mexican cuisine. The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles After the usual introductions. In their green. starting with the all-important chile. The chile is the heart and soul of Mexican food. The Mexican Stove (1973. I became enamoured of Mexican cooking from what I had read prior to my ﬁrst visit. we add some hot salsa at the table. ‘Does she eat chile?’ The second question was usually. and ours has been and continues to be characterized by our daily and widespread consumption of chiles’ (Muñoz. ‘And does she eat tortillas?’ Complemented with beans. on which most of this book is focused. p. 1996. and in my case. chiles are used primarily for their distinct ﬂavours and not only for their heat.–1– Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine Mexican cuisine is something like a historical novel which has a gorgeously wanton redhead on its dust jacket. This served as thorough preparation for the culinary life that I encountered later in Milpa Alta. It is in Mexico where the most extensive variety of chiles is used. The most culturally meaningful of the three is the chile. ripe or dried states they have different ﬂavours which are cooked or combined for different effects. foreword. Food writing colours our perceptions of other cuisines. —Richard Condon. 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. students and researchers of Mexican gastronomy. ‘Food and cuisine can characterize a culture. To each broth or stew that does not contain chile. In what follows I describe some of the ways that people think of and write about the cuisines of Mexico. my translation). the ﬁrst thing asked about me when I was brought to anyone’s home in Mexico was invariably.
It is part of the landscape. with beans and squash. p. Food historian Sophie Coe (1994. beans. who enthuses that Chile is history. It also provides the vitamins they lack. cornﬁelds. 38–9) asserts that ‘[t]his triad was invented by foreigners and imposed on the high cultures of the New World. and the proof of this is to be found in the omission of chile peppers. Together they would be good basic sustenance. a New York restaurateur. the cuisines of Mexico have been based on corn.. except that with the exclusion of the chile. especially vitamins A and C. Clearly these three crops are basic foodstuffs in the Mexican diet. Corn is an incomplete protein. It has outlasted religions and governments in Mexico. literally . ‘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. it fails to adequately describe Mexican cuisine. Chile makes the gastric juices run for a dinner of beans and tortillas.3 In the sixteenth century when the Spanish ﬁrst arrived. 218. beans and squash. but any Mexican interested in eating would place the chile above the squash in a list of priorities for the dining table. The image of a basic culinary triad is tempting. The power of the chile in this Mexican ‘culinary triangle’ is wonderfully described by Zarela Martínez. The Range of Mexican Foods Since pre-Hispanic times. The Aztecs of central Mexico had . none of the three would be what it is. 10. without which food was a penance. and chile.. beans are difﬁcult to digest. The combination of the three makes a nutritionally balanced meal. pp. who wrote in the sixteenth century that without chiles Mexicans did not believe they were eating. p.’ The possible reason that squash was included is because of the traditional style of planting milpas. It is the ingredient that can determine the ﬂavour of a dish. and not just in their use as ﬂavouring for food. beans and chiles.8 • Culinary Art and Anthropology many meals.1 but even a brief perusal of Mexican cookbooks indicates that chiles are signiﬁcant in Mexican life. It’s magic.2 Diana Kennedy echoes Bartolomé de las Casas. which the outsiders viewed as a mere condiment. 1996. my translation) Some writings on Mexican cooking state that the ancient Mesoamerican victuals were based on a ‘holy triad’ of corn. (Muñoz. there was agricultural abundance. and we know that even then they were prepared in a number of ways to make them palatable or even edible. emphasis added) Mexican cuisine uses many kinds of chiles in diverse ways. It belongs to the holy trinity that has always been the basis of our diet: corn. p. 460). too numerous to list here. 1989. (1992. while the original inhabitants considered them a dietary cornerstone. Without each other. but hopelessly monotonous.
She states that ‘at ﬁrst the civilization was too highly developed and the populace too numerous for the Spaniards to ignore the native cooking. tasted and tested during meals. vegetables. adapted to the Mexican diet. Food historians assert that Aztec cooking was developed to high art. Soldiers. ﬁsh. Sahagún recorded that along with maize and beans. further shows how the Spanish who came during the Conquest were only partially forced to adjust to the foods of Mexico (pp. insects and a wide variety of fruits. wild mushrooms. they also established ﬁrm roots for the Catholic church. Those ﬂavours which are favourable are repeated and remembered. meticulously collected material to describe the Aztec (Náhuatl) way of life. used to a modest. tortillas and tamales. Without question there was creativity. p. animals and insects were being sold for food as supplements to the basic diet of corn. The Spanish friars were the ﬁrst to learn the local languages for the purposes of evangelization. a Franciscan friar who came to Mexico in the sixteenth century. 30). Food in the History of Central Mexico (1990). 90–9). There are various accounts of how the Spaniards were impressed with the beauty and abundance of the Valley of Mexico. Not all indigenous groups were equally afﬂuent. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1950–82 ). small game. mutton. 1981.5 The foods still boiled down to being variations of chiles.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 9 sophisticated farming techniques (chinampas4 and milpas) and more sophisticated gastronomy. and this notion is reiterated by writers until today. mainly of foods. where all sorts of plants. seeds. bland diet of bread. tubers. and culinary knowledge and expertise grow. The settlers eventually accommodated themselves within the existing culture. beans and chiles. Spanish sources of the period attest to gastronomic abundance. 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. and culinary artistry (Corcuera. New foods and cooking techniques are incorporated. lentils and a few vegetables. Cuisines evolve as cooks experiment with ingredients and learn new ways to process and combine their raw materials for different occasions and effects. 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. 93). pulses. which added variety and breadth to their diet with comestibles that they did not grow themselves. Cowal’s unpublished study. As the Spanish established themselves in what they called New Spain. and it is through their writings that we have any knowledge of the social and culinary systems of the precolonial period. the ancient Aztecs ate turkey. imagination. so the variety of foods recorded by Sahagún was actually a result of culinary expertise. 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. though there is some disagreement amongst researchers and cookbook writers. including everything that they ate. but the availability of various foods impressed the conquistadors who came and saw the great markets of Tlatelolco.
. Historian Cristina Barros states that contemporary Mexican cuisine is 90 per cent indigenous and 10 per cent other inﬂuences. Yet in spite of this. At the same time.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. 1995. What exists in Mexico is what food historian Rachel Laudan deﬁnes as a local cuisine. cloves and many other herbs and spices that are widely used in Mexican cookery today. Before the arrival of the Spaniards. Mexican cooks sought the essence of their art in popular traditions rather than in formalized techniques (Pilcher. which integrated the new ﬂavours and foodstuffs. the Germans. the later Spanish refugees from the Civil War. They also brought onions. 62) or of ‘baroque cuisine’ comes directly from the convents. The Spaniards introduced pigs.10 • Culinary Art and Anthropology period. cinnamon. That is.... There were few Spanish who arrived during the Conquest. made up of different components that have now blended together to form . the Italians.. These popular traditions partly consist in the culinary techniques and gastronomic knowledge that have been passed down the generations through the family kitchen. ‘The excesses and inventiveness of convent cooking reﬂected Mexico’s diverse ﬂora and fauna.’9 She asserts that the indigenous cuisines of Mexico did not undergo the miscegenation that most people claim. as much of what they were used to cooking could not all be imported from Spain. 90). (Rachel Laudan.. a new and coherent cuisine . 1995.7 Given the sophistication of both the native and foreign colonial cuisines. the bases remained Mexican.8 Cowal points out that ‘Spanish cooking was already a mixture when it got to the Americas. 1994. the omnivorous appetites of its inhabitants. Eight centuries of Arab inﬂuence had left their mark’ (1990. Not just the Spanish but the French. within the convents. the basis of Mexican cuisine remained the same as it had always been—corn. 63). above all. p. Spanish nuns had to learn to use the local products. coriander. such as frying. personal communication) By the nineteenth century. the power and wealth of its religious orders’ (Valle and Valle. p. The idea of an ‘emerging mestizo cuisine’ (Valle and Valle. beans and chiles. 1998). cows. p. 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 . The convents were wealthy laboratories of gastronomic experimentation where the sharing of culinary inﬂuences ﬂourished during the colonial period. therefore. ‘The most delicious cuisines [in Mexico] are those with more indigenous inﬂuence. as were cooking methods using fats. garlic. chickens and sheep to Mexico. the process of mestizaje is not a simple fusion of Indian and Spanish. the Lebanese. On the other hand. p. and. Juárez López (2000) argues that the bases of much contemporary . the Mennonites. 113). and though they did inﬂuence the local cuisines. milk and its products were unknown. have all had much more impact than the usual indigenous/colonial story would lead one to believe.
very much. Gabilondo. He was teaching a class on beans in traditional Mexican cookery. There were two thousand single-spaced pages describing what people cooked. Aﬁcionados travel to Mexico just to discover the richness and variety of the local cuisines. What did impress me. This was because I expected there to be dozens of beans and ways to prepare them in Mexico. as well as other cookbook authors. in small eateries. xiii). Kennedy. Kraig and Nieto. many restaurants in Mexico offer home cooking as their specialities. a fascinating and many-faceted world’ (1989. encompassing all kinds of ﬂowers (like ﬂor de izote) and local vegetables (like huauzontle). 2000). Gilliland and Ravago. have worked hard to dispel the idea that the foods of Mexico are anything like the food of popular Tex-Mex restaurants abroad. About thirty different recipes were covered. and collected and what they ate at home. Indeed. He grew up with a passion for food because of his mother. Ricardo was not yet 30 years old.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 11 Mexican cuisine are European. ranging from the simplicity of ingredients best eaten raw (like pápaloquelite or small avocados criollos. 1996. Bayless and Bayless. after having read so much about Mexican food before my trip. and this was only a sampling. 1986. and he had already devoted seven years to travel. There are subtle as well as forceful ﬂavours. 1987. states that ‘[t]he foods of regional Mexico are in a gastronomic world of their own. techniques and customs related to food from all over the country. in restaurants and on regular days or during ﬁestas. Home Cooking by Profession Soon after I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz. many non-Mexican (e. as well as culinary tools. research and writing for this book. 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. 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. Diana Kennedy. and Laudan (2004) makes a strong case for Persian inﬂuences. 2005. hunted.g. Middle Eastern and French. the most well known writer on Mexican cookery. was when we next met and Ricardo showed me the ﬁrst draft of the Mexican gastronomic dictionary he had written (now published. All of them draw this conclusion from their exposure to regional home cooking rather than to restaurant food. Regardless of a recipe’s origins. 1995). p. such as the Chinese. Much later Ricardo told me that he was miffed that I did not seem too impressed. Muñoz. Ricardo had had a modest upbringing in southern Mexico in Tabasco and Veracruz. planted. who is an excellent . because Ricardo believed that there was so much about Mexican gastronomy that people in Mexico and abroad should be aware of. out at street stalls. Zaslavsky. The project was a self-motivated labour of love.
Ricardo grew up hanging out in the fonda. 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. He recognized that many delicacies of Mexican gastronomy are wild ingredients or dishes produced only in people’s homes. For a couple of years he lived in California. 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. sometimes home cooking is reproduced in restaurants. Ricardo became recognized for his knowledge of traditional Mexican cookery. occasionally lending a hand. recommending other cooking tips. in his data collection and awe of the foods of Mexico. redeﬁning or reﬁning the cuisine. Despite his training as a chef that taught him the basics of French cuisine. he asked Ricardo for advice. By the time he moved to Mexico City as a young adult and began formal culinary training. watching his mother cook. 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. often shopping for their supplies. He had had a relatively afﬂuent urban upbringing. and with his delicious cooking. The latter suggested adding a bit of this and that. 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’. where one of his sisters had migrated. But even without books. After following these suggestions. she set up a fonda. and there he took a course on international cookery. and later also his teaching and publications. without the experience of growing up in a pueblo as Ricardo had done.12 • Culinary Art and Anthropology cook. a small local eatery selling popular home-style dishes. ultimately expanding. Dissatisﬁed with a complex green sauce that he intended to serve with duck. discovery or rediscovery of these things. ‘I just told you how to make a traditional green mole!’ was Ricardo’s response. sopa de ﬂor de calabaza or sopa de milpa. One friend of Ricardo’s was a chef at a sophisticated Mexico City restaurant serving nueva cocina mexicana. on such a small scale that they remain local and unknown even in other areas of the country.11 To me it seems he is like a contemporary Sahagún. 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. Mexican nouvelle cuisine. An example is a traditional soup from central Mexico known as squash blossom or milpa plantation soup. he was attuned to the subtleties and diversity of Mexican regional cooking. then in turn is re-reproduced in people’s homes. The soup . 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. To be able to afford to send her seven children to school.
However. that is.13 Long and Vargas (2005. and huitlacoche (corn fungus). 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. they still had great appreciation for what they sometimes called the ‘simple’ food. p. of the pueblos. which may seem very personal and ephemeral. the herb epazote. Ricardo’s work slots into this movement. they often talked about Mexican food. dough for making tortillas. 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. . The number of restaurants in Mexico serving Mexican cuisine has been rising in the past twenty-ﬁve years. traditions should not be thought of as static or frozen in the past. 138). 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). I had considerable contact with professional chefs in Mexico City. to transmit.15 Etymologically. In relation to gastronomy and ﬂavours.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 13 is made from the products of the milpa. some of whom had trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York. with fresh maize kernels. the food of the pueblo or of the market. something to be proud of. and an awareness that their cuisines are unique. squash blossoms. which implies movement. There were many more Mexican food festivals aimed at wealthy urban mestizos than ever before. This soup is home cooking (comida casera). Moreover. culinary traditions were self-consciously being revived (p. and the remote (‘authentic’12) recipes of the provincial towns. recovering the recipes of their grandparents. and of the new and exciting Mexican cookery that was emerging. poblano chiles and sometimes nopales. ﬂavourful. and more and more books were being published about ‘real’ Mexican food. directly related to the growing interest in reclaiming a sense of what is Mexican. In the 1990s professional cookery had become as fashionable and prestigious as it was in the USA and UK.14 Hountondji (1983) reminds us that the root word of ‘tradition’ is the Latin word tradere. then. the greatest interest amongst young student chefs was in studying traditional Mexican cookery. which included international cooking skills and culinary history among other subjects. but it is now also served in posh restaurants serving nueva cocina mexicana. was formed in Mexico City. and it was even possible to obtain a university degree in gastronomy. still under way. 139). green beans. The cooking schools in Mexico City were growing. Traditions are the ‘habits and values [of a culture that are transmitted] from one generation to another’ (p. in spite of their support of experimentation and fusion. This was set up by a group of women who were distinguished chefs or otherwise specialists in Mexican culinary culture. courgettes. As a nationalistic reaction to foreign inﬂuences on Mexican food. of recuperating and renovating (or even reinventing) ‘traditional’ foods and practices. Whether they were specialists of French cuisine or California cooking. The soup may be thickened with masa (nixtamal ).
14 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it is difﬁcult to pin down what precisely is transmitted. For now. it was explained to me. They were cut open down the middle and their unlain eggs were on display. 2006. combined with creativity. These unlain eggs are called the huevera and my friends were able to tell me about different ways of preparing them. Rather than strictly following a recipe. culinary knowledge and skill. in a physiological. I will return to a discussion of culinary skill below and to the mutability of so-called traditional cooking in Chapter 5. Certainly most people’s vast culinary knowledge is never written down. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions’. . Miguel proceeded to relate how his mother would slaughter the hens. saving the blood and tripe to cook with the huevera. the recipe for which he described in detail. quoted and discussed in Sutton. As with any other sort of skill. We learn gastronomic habits and values by growing up within the contexts that give rise to what we later deﬁne as ‘traditional’. Rather. p. This is how culinary knowledge is often passed on— without recipes or precise measurements. n. hearts.d.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’. the curds made from the colustrum of a cow. 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. tomatoes. not usually articulated.).16 Unlike artefacts in an ethnographic museum. in addition to gleaning what we can from books and other means or media (cf. 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. from the experience of growing up within a particular gastronomic culture. and these dishes are often thought of simply as being ‘traditional’. will affect the outcome of the dishes cooked. Knowing how to make certain dishes or how to combine foods is learnt by repeated observation and practice. cooking is something that is enacted and embodied. Sutton. but her friend who had given it to her told her to prepare it with onions. when people need to do things quickly. they improvise with the food they have at hand. hands. with a little imagination. 128–30) that is stored in their heads. p. Once I mentioned to friends in Milpa Alta that in the main market of Mexico City. in Milpa Alta. chile and epazote. 361). La Merced. traditions are dynamic living practices that are ‘inﬁnitely adaptable’ (Sutton. fellow cooks are expected to be able to draw upon a ‘stock of knowledge’ (Keller and Dixon Keller. and they ordered an egg-laying hen from the butcher and prepared the tamales de huevera for my next visit. ‘it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. noses and mouths. I had seen egg-laying hens for sale. My friend Yadira. 106). Doña Margarita and Primy told me how they would usually make tamales with them. it ‘develops with the growth of the organism’ (2000. or as Ingold describes other kinds of skill. She herself had never tasted or cooked it before. from consulting with others. came home one day with calostros de vaca. 2006. These habits and values. pp. if they are labelled at all. social and/or professional sense. 2001.
Some restaurants even serve salsas from molcajetes whether or not they actually make the sauces in them. skinned Achiote Rub (see recipe for Cochinita Pibil) Cebollas Rojas en Escabeche (see separate recipe) (Gilliland and Ravago. the ingredients. 134) In addition. and much effort and time are needed to prepare almost anything that people eat daily. and baking them one by one on a comal.18 Sauces had to be prepared with the stone mortar and pestle called the molcajete and tejolote. As one cookbook aptly expresses. (Thank goodness we can ask the ﬁshmonger to ﬁllet and skin the ﬁsh for us!) . to say the least. making a choppy and more watery sauce. The rice and beans would be the most common accompaniments for this ﬁsh in the Yucatán where the recipe originates. ﬂat round cakes. On Learning Techniques Before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. women had to spend several hours a day boiling dried maize kernels. 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. in some households. rather than grinds. Before industrialization (and now. but in fact they were full of parenthetical references to other recipes or basic techniques. in spite of industrialization). 2005. or basalt grinding stone. textured salsa than an electric blender. recipes for which are found on other pages of the book. the raw materials and the ﬁnished dishes. so it is good advice to follow. then grinding them on a metate. they recommend serving the ﬁsh with arroz blanco (white rice) and frijoles negros (black beans). Often recipes looked deceptively simple. p. The grinding action of the stones produces a more even. Inspired by a recipe from Diana Kennedy. Fonda San Miguel. hoping to try out some recipes. 16). or with chipotle mayonnaise. 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. p. Some cookbooks suggest sample menus or traditional accompaniments. This is one reason that a sincere interest in cooking. in the ﬂavours. for people who like to cook’ (Condon and Bennet. which are helpful.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 15 Some traditional Mexican cooking techniques are complex or involve long processes. these are the three ingredients of their recipe for Pescado Tikin Xik: 6 6. 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’. to make a soft dough before patting them out into tortillas. ‘The pervasive fact about Mexican food is that it is not only for people who like to eat. even more so if such a thing were possible.to 7-ounce red snapper ﬁllets. it is. is necessary to cook well. I bought or read a number of Mexican cookbooks. It was intimidating. a metal or clay griddle. which slices. 1973.
it lists the following ingredients: 2 garlic cloves. Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs). broiled (see page 472) 2 tablespoons safﬂower oil 2 heaped tablespoons ﬁnely chopped white onion ½ teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt (Kennedy. gastronomic. kept hot. A cook needs to make myriad decisions before ﬁnally producing not just a dish. 318) Turning then to her recipe for salsa ranchera on page 338. these are the ingredients of Diana Kennedy’s recipe for one of the most well-known dishes outside of Mexico. kept hot rajas of 1 large chile poblano (see page 471) 4 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or añejo (Kennedy. 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. Ingredients are chosen. which are. cocida (page 337). or were side dishes or basic preparations that ultimately constituted an ingredient for another recipe. assessed by sight. 1989. touched and manipulated. 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. I recognized that I needed to reach a comfortable level of self-conﬁdence when I thought of chiles or of making a Mexican salsa. and it is this type of discernment that also needs to be learnt. But home cooks surely did not think in terms of recipes. They were only some of the essential components of a complete or proper meal. According to Ingold (2000). or 1⅓ cups salsa de tomate verde. along with the culinary techniques. My impression was that short recipes were either composites of several others. 338) What appeared straightforward at ﬁrst glance seemed actually more like the endless subordinate clauses of a German sentence. p. peeled and roughly chopped 2 pounds (about 4 large) tomatoes. but a full meal. p. broiled (see page 450) 5 chiles serranos. approximately. texture and smell. after all. an artefact (or . 1989.16 • Culinary Art and Anthropology For another example. approximately. Once in a material or physical state. 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). tasted and savoured. abstract formulae that need to be selfconsciously recorded. expertise is enacted as a symbiosis between a skilled practitioner and his or her environment within a system of relations (in our case social.
Yet when it came to the way in which they talked about Mexican cuisine. Before going to Mexico for the ﬁrst time. . practise and articulate my questions about Mexican culinary techniques so that some of the cooking skill could grow within me. Because of these very individual actions. When a Mexican friend told me that to make enchiladas I had to ‘pass the tortilla through hot oil’. p. The hands of the cook and other bodily sensory factors play a role in the outcome. who used to cook for a fonda in Veracruz. meal) is as much a part of the creative process as its pre-conceptualisation. This is because ‘the artefact engages its maker in a pattern of skilled activity’ (p. The women of Milpa Alta and the chefs of the centre differed in social class and social context. 2006). Even watching my friends cook on occasion was not enough for me to pick up the skills in a short time. He said that he learned to cook by watching his sister cooking as he grew up. even if you must drain off the excess oil. he loved to watch her.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 17 in our case. Another friend. and that it is important to allow foods to take their own time to reach their optimum points. but I had plenty of opportunities to observe. Toño. They serve as reminders so that a cook can prepare a dish using previously learnt skills acquired through experience (see also Sutton. Among chefs who specialized in Mexican cuisine. Though she did not set out to teach him to cook. and to my understanding each group held the other in great respect for their presumed culinary mastery. To prepare basic Mexican dishes some unique culinary techniques need to be learned. too. Making raw salsas and different kinds of cooked or part-cooked salsas with fresh chiles or dried chiles requires different methods. rather than use too little oil and sacriﬁce the ﬂavour and texture. boiled beans. preferably by demonstration and practice. following a Mexican recipe required learning culinary skills to which I had had no prior exposure. 2000. participate. frijoles refritos. When two cooks prepare food following the same recipe the food comes out differently. I had to confess that I did not know what that meant. I garnered knowledge of technical terminology and processes much more systematically than I did from women in Milpa Alta. It took him almost forty-ﬁve minutes to fry and mash onions with the frijoles de olla. showed me how he makes refried beans. a dish or meal) does not actually come into being in the exact way that it was previously imagined (Ingold. In all my time in Mexico. Sutton (2001) notes that written recipes are ‘memory jogs’ that cannot actually teach someone how to cook. That is not to say that the techniques of one group were any more or less sophisticated than the other’s. 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. Yadira insisted that it is better to use too much oil to fry rice well before adding water or broth. I rarely cooked on my own. In my case. and he noticed how she respected food. the coming-into-being of any product (artefact. After some weeks watching and helping people cook in Mexico. 343). food. they used a very similar discourse. even though I comprehended the words individually. I stopped thinking twice about it. 345).
This love may be interpreted as an affection for the people who will be eating or as the desire to eat well. saying. And of course there is the correlation between food and romance. él que ama’ (‘Mexican cuisine is for he who feels. If pressed. and I was unable to elicit a clear explanation from him. because of a love of cooking. Richard Condon . At some point I wondered whether this might be a clever culturally sanctioned means of hiding culinary secrets. Knowing how to develop the ﬂavours of a food depends on an interest in understanding it and how it reacts with other foods. The rhetoric of love is not something that is unique to Mexico. Relating food to love in Mexico may not be unique. This comment may sound exaggerated. they almost always took up this popular discourse of love and gave an emotional value to the topic. This was a phrase they volunteered. The latter often added that love was the ‘secret ingredient’ that made their dishes special. Friends from different backgrounds have told me their culinary secret. they refer to many facets of love. but oftentimes. A young banker once tried to explain to me his relationship to food.18 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Food and Love There is a rhetoric of food and love in Mexico. It involves understanding the history of a dish or an ingredient. he who loves’). when I complimented people on their cooking. It also appears that you need not be born Mexican in order to feel so strongly about their cuisine. Throughout my ﬁeldwork I was confronted with these statements—both from trained chefs and from home cooks. 1992). but when we talked about Mexican cuisine. 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. Different kinds of culinary specialists subscribe to this popular discourse on the connection between love and cooking. There are three types of orgasms. good cooks from any culture might say that the reason they cook well is because of some kind of love. It may also be that a good cook cares about following a recipe or doing a technique properly. the cook sometimes dictated me a recipe. what ‘marries well’ or not. ‘La cocina mexicana es para él que siente. of course. ‘What’s your secret?’. but I believe the prevalence and variety of its expression is pertinent. he told me—the carnal. It may be that a good cook treats ingredients in a particular. Professional chefs have a technical language in which to express themselves about gastronomic matters. Wooing couples of different cultures often practise courtship or romance with private meals (out or in) as preludes to other things. the spiritual. loving way to bring out each ingredient’s best qualities. When people talk of love (amor). which is exempliﬁed by novels such as Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel. which I did often. including the attention and care that goes into cooking well. But my banker friend was not the only person I met who talked of food in this manner. ‘I cook with love’ (‘Yo cocino con amor’ ). and sometimes said that her secret was ‘love’. I never asked anyone directly. saying. knowing how or why certain things are used together. and the gastronomical—and these three are encapsulated in mole.
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
personal histories and taste. Her grassroots theorists tend to cook without measuring. In the market the chiles are sold wrapped in a tortilla like a taco. Similar to what Abarca notes. that someone is rarely able to pinpoint what her actual trick might be. 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. and to this I now turn in the chapter that follows. to more challenging dishes such as pipián verde. Recipes Though I have just explained at length that it is difﬁcult to reproduce Mexican cooking without demonstration and practice. All kinds of chiles are stuffed and are served in people’s homes. it is not only a recognition of their culinary knowledge. are poblano chiles stuffed with chopped or minced meat ( picadillo). frijoles de olla. I would hesitate to connect sazón too much to ‘traditional’ kitchen equipment. though in sazón they are not mutually exclusive. or cheese. instead. without recipes. and it is possible to have sazón even when cooking with modern appliances. 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. They are guided by their memories. I suggest. or sazón. The picadillo ﬁlling for the chile recipes . When cooks are singled out for their ability. as well as by their internal embodied knowledge. For my part. caldillo. my working title was Chiles rellenos a la mexicana. I have abridged it only a little as I translated it. yet also very humble and everyday dish. I provide recipes throughout this book to give readers an idea of Mexican home cooking (comida casera). it separates artists from craftspeople.22 • Culinary Art and Anthropology their sazón in their ability to prepare particularly delicious food. Los chiles rellenos en México (1996). Abarca writes. that the sazón is what differentiates a good cook from a particularly ﬁnely talented one. This can range from something as common as boiled beans in their broth. It is precisely this inexplicable quality that sets some cooks apart from others. ‘Stuffed Chiles a la Mexicana’. un don. stuffed chiles would be served with a thin tomato sauce. that is. but what is most commonly found in Mexico City. In other words. She describes women who have good sazón who avoid pressure cookers and grind their moles on their metates. embodied or otherwise. ‘captures the notion of saber rather than conocer’ (p. instructions are meticulously written.20 Drawing from the work of Giard (2002). ‘to know’ at a sensory epistemological level rather than ‘to know’ in a technical way. 54). I have heard people describe sazón as something like a blessing or a gift. Because of his training as a chef. When someone has sazón. When I ﬁrst began my own research. and in market stands and fondas. The recipes and cooking tips in this chapter are taken from Ricardo’s ﬁrst book. Sazón. I hope that Ricardo’s detailed explanations will compensate for the lack of his presence. but in a fonda or at home.
. Formal classes of authentic Mexican cooking are never taken. Panela. Chiles rellenos de picadillo sencillo con papa Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato (Muñoz. and everyone learns to cook according to the regional style. pp. Chiles 15 chiles poblanos. Cook until the meat is crispy. 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. ﬁnely chopped 1 tablespoon garlic. but a mother or mother-in-law knows that her daughter or daughter-in-law should someday inherit her culinary secrets. • Heat the oil until it smokes lightly and fry the onions until soft and golden. but she came to live in the capital when she was very young. Add the garlic and as soon as it is fried. Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses are commonly used. and she soon learned to make local dishes. Few families have recipe collections. ﬁnely chopped 300 g (11 oz) minced beef 350 g (12 oz) minced pork sea salt to taste black pepper. stirring from time to time to separate the lumps and to avoid it sticking to the pan. especially the kinds that melt. peeled and cut into ½-cm (⅛-inch) cubes ½ cup corn or canola oil 1 cup white onions. ready for stufﬁng • See ‘How to Peel chiles poblanos’. to taste • Blanch the potatoes in water and set them aside. María Elena was born in Coahuila. stir in the beef and pork. Picadillo 3 cups potatoes.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 23 here can be substituted with cheese. 1996. just by watching. below. They should be cooked but not very soft. freshly ground.
• Serve the chiles with this sauce. Strain the mixture and pour it over the onions. 53) 2 kg (4½ lb) tomatoes ½ cup white onions.24 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add the potatoes and pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. chopped roughly 6 cloves garlic. as necessary ¼ cup corn oil sugar to taste . and season with salt and pepper to taste. below. • Leave to cool and stuff the chiles. Alternative caldillo ( from picadillo especial recipe. • Allow the caldillo to cook for about 15 minutes. and fry the onion until golden. as necessary corn or canola oil for frying • See ‘How to Achieve a Perfect capeado’. sliced into thin segments 4 cloves garlic. peeled 6 black peppercorns sea salt to taste chicken broth or water. Capeado 8 eggs at room temperature. 1996. tomato and cumin. liquefy the garlic. p. separated sea salt to taste ﬂour. Caldillo ¼ cup corn oil 2 cups white onions. accompanied with white rice and/or brothy beans and corn tortillas or bread. chopped ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds sea salt to taste black pepper to taste • Heat the oil in a pan until it smokes lightly. • In a blender. peeled 1 cup tomato. Munoz. Adjust the salt.
almost falling apart. immediately transfer the chiles to a plastic bag and close it. Pour the sauce into the oil and let it cook about 10 minutes. and stopping at least 1 centimetre (⅓ inch) before you reach the bottom tip. and chiles ixcatic. jalapeños. How to Peel chiles poblanos (pp. 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). because if they are peeled too far in advance they may become too soft and lose their texture and visual appeal. If the cut is made from end to end it may be difﬁcult to stuff and then close the chiles. If it is a bit sour or tart. 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. • Place the chiles directly over the ﬂame on the stove. because they may break. Set aside to serve with stuffed chiles. When the skin is charred well and evenly. add a little sugar. and salt in enough broth or water to completely cover them. Try to peel the chiles just before stufﬁng and coating them in batter. but this makes the chile lose some ﬂavor. so it is good to roast and peel a few extra chiles. With the tip of a knife cut a slit down the length of each chile. Many people ﬁnd it easier to remove the seeds under cold running water. Leave the chiles to rest for around 15 minutes so that they can sweat. • Pour it all into a blender jar and liquefy to form a smooth sauce. It is necessary to dry the chiles with a dry cloth or to drain them very well. This is best done with your ﬁngers. you may return them to the ﬂame to burn off any remaining skin. making the chiles hotter.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 25 • Boil the tomatoes with the onion. Cook until the tomatoes are totally cooked. This can also be done on a griddle (comal ). If they will be coated in capeado it is all right if some bits of skin remain. The inside of the chiles should be cleaned with a damp cloth. • This same technique may be used for other fresh chiles like the de agua of Oaxaca. . Taste and adjust the seasoning. Strain it. but if you have very sensitive skin you may wish to wear rubber gloves. These are the most common ways. garlic. starting 2 centimetres (¾ inch) from the stem. and the skin will slip off more easily. keeping the stem facing upward. • Remove all the veins and seeds from the chiles. • In a deep pot. If they are not to be battered. It is at this stage when the chiles are most easily broken. • It is unnecessary to scrape the chiles. or over hot coals or a wood ﬁre. pepper. heat the oil until it smokes lightly. • Place the chiles on a chopping board. with their respective differences.
• Roll the chiles in sifted ﬂour (make sure to shake off the excess). Afterward. it should smoke lightly. make sure that the oil is hot enough. • The stufﬁng should be cold or at room temperature. if not. they are not yet ready and should be beaten some more. Add one or two tablespoons of sifted ﬂour if you wish to have a thicker batter. 1996. moisture will deﬂate the stifﬂy beaten eggs. It should also be dry so that no liquid will spill out. lay it with the opening facing up. • If the batter spreads beyond the sides of the chile. • When stufﬁng the chiles. 112–3) • For the egg to stick well to the chiles. • The ﬂour should be sifted because lumps remain raw and give a bad taste to the capeado. • The eggs must always be at room temperature because cold egg whites do not rise sufﬁciently. • Before placing the chiles in the oil. • When placing the chile in oil. splash the oil over the top of the chile to seal it. At this stage you may add salt. but not too much because it is easy to overbeat them. in stages. • If you need to coat large amounts of chiles. . since it helps the whites to reach the required or ideal point. • As soon as the whites have been beaten to the required point. They very easily collapse or separate. Metal or glass bowls will also give good results. prepare the batter in small amounts. Pay special attention to drying the inside very well. • Beat the egg whites only until they form soft peaks ( punto de nieve. incorporate the yolks one by one with folding movements. just stiff ). if the egg whites move or slip. and with a spatula. Do not heat it too much or the batter may burn. turn the chile to cook the other side. the batter will separate.26 • Culinary Art and Anthropology How to Achieve a Perfect capeado (Muñoz. though copper bowls are expensive and difﬁcult to ﬁnd. To determine whether they have reached this point. avoid overstufﬁng them. because these bowls retain ﬂavors and odors and often cause the egg whites to collapse. • Never beat egg whites in plastic bowls. the chiles should be totally dry inside and outside. • Coat the chiles in the batter quickly. This also helps the egg to adhere to the chile and not slip off when you fry it. • Do not stuff the chiles too far in advance since the juices of the ﬁlling may spill out. It is very difﬁcult to beat many egg whites stiff at the same time. use a spatula to push it back to stick to the chile so that it remains uniform and without drips. even if it has previously been strained. because they are difﬁcult to handle if they are too heavy. overturn the bowl. If the eggs have been in the refrigerator it is necessary to remove them two hours before using them. pp.21 A copper bowl is ideal.
You may need to change the paper towels two or more times as you continue frying. you may need two spatulas to turn the chiles without breaking the egg coating. • The batter should cook until it is lightly golden (never brown). . it is possible! • When frying small chiles and those that do not have a heavy ﬁlling. 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 can hold them by the stem to turn them without using a spatula. place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. though it may be better to turn them by holding the stem. Yes. • Once you remove the chiles from the pan. • If you are inexperienced. though the bottom part will always be a little darker.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 27 • With practice.
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1997a. see Brown and Mussell. identity or symbolic staple foods. the means by which each of these groups acquires this skill are completely different. or to describe and discuss ﬂavours. Though the results are comparable. Chefs acquire skill by professional training in schools or working with masters. I develop these ideas by ﬁrst establishing how food has been treated previously. Counihan – 29 – . consumption and exchange of foods within social networks. In this chapter I put forth the argument that we should think of food as art in order to analyze it productively anthropologically. in the sensual/social relations (Howes. by taking into account the production. and a point of departure. 2003) of life in Milpa Alta. for my approach to food differs from that of Bourdieu and Goody. including culinary professionals. creativity and agency. Food and Culinary Art in Anthropology Chefs and gastronomes talk passionately about food. and second. memorable). This is because of the perceived skill involved in its execution. poverty. 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.g.1 This may be why there are few attempts to analyze ﬂavours anthropologically. and often in the context of ritual occasions (e. cookery and cuisine. I then move on to examine Gell’s broadly deﬁned notion of art. there has been more focus on issues such as gender. Chefs and home cooks both perceive and appreciate the knowledge acquisition of each other. who focused primarily on class distinction and social hierarchy.2 Though much has been written about food in anthropology. the ‘technology of enchantment’ and his notion of the ‘art nexus’. Yet many people. 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). often ﬁnd it difﬁcult to articulate their reasons for preferring some foods over others. I use Gell’s theory of art as a model. 1985. which ultimately results in their producing food (artwork/artefact) that is successful in its rendition (that is. delicious. for a fruitful anthropological examination of food and ﬂavour.–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. Caplan. meaningful.
There is a growing trend to consider the everyday. 25) Strangely enough. than if they simply pleased those who were doing the cooking and eating’ (1996. Instead. he discusses ‘the art of cooking’. The same could be said about ﬂavour in food. especially from the perspective of the anthropology of art. little is written about cooking as a form of art. bafﬂed him. 1999. constitutionally. Lentz. 1997. Lupton. Counihan and van Esterik. even food. 1996. However.4 In other words. comparison and contrast within and between cuisines lacks an essential dimension. sex and sacriﬁce. by locating their interpretation only at the ‘deeper’ level. Mintz encourages anthropologists to study food in its social context as a ‘cuisine’. In fact. Wiessner and Schiefenhövel. albeit lightly. 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’. Without the consideration of such related areas. the artistic aspect of food production has often been ignored in favour of its shock value. 2002). anthropologists are not used to thinking of it as art. not only in food studies (e. 1997. 1935)..g. (p. it has ﬂavour and the taste is important to the people who eat and cook the foods. which are deemed of higher theoretical relevance. 1996). Malinowski. The distinction between art and craft is a question of skill. or. and not food as a means of deﬁning what else it can be used for in the social order (e. 40). p. or were ceremonialized. p. 3). analysing cooking in its domestic quotidian context is as important as studying food in ritual contexts. 1998. Yet it cannot be denied that whether food is discussed in ritual or quotidian occasions. In Goody’s (1982) analysis of hierarchy and the development of elaborate cuisines. But his interest is in comparative analysis over a broad historical.5 Gell observes that ‘the neglect of art in modern social anthropology is necessary and intentional. as Sidney Mintz put it. Yet thinking of a cook/chef as an artist. like aesthetics. he supports the observation and study of cooking at the domestic level. is a connection that is so easily made in societies where most anthropologists come from. especially in areas as closely tied to the whole domestic domain as that of cooking. anti-art’ (1996. discussed further below. It is what matters most immediately to us when we eat and is difﬁcult to isolate as a subaspect of food.30 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and Kaplan. 1998) but also more generally in anthropology and sociology (see Highmore. Macbeth. using this label without questioning its meaning. see Sutton.3 The topic of food in anthropology has historically been subsumed into these other areas and contexts. taste in terms of ﬂavour seems to be particularly resistant to sociological analysis. it is considered to be subjective and too personal for scrutiny. Whilst we may subconsciously appreciate very good food as superior craft. arising from the fact that social anthropology is essentially. stating that there is a tendency to spirit away the more concrete aspects of human life. food and eating ‘were more interesting [to anthropologists] if they offended the observer. .g. perhaps because.
‘[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. 1982. As Sidney Mintz says. yet in his own work he neglected the aspect of preparation. simply did not have a clue about what I was getting at when I talked about culinary manipulations of chiles and other foodstuffs. 30). I was surprised to ﬁnd that real Mexican people. that make good food meaningful and thus give cooks greater social value. I was interested in learning the ‘language of chiles’ that I had been led to expect existed from reading Mexican cookbooks. meaning can be said to effectuate behaviors of certain kinds. describe Mexican culinary mastery as analogous to the control required to manipulate poetic language or magic. combined with the fact that raw materials need to be bought or collected from different places and then prepared and combined well. 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. therefore. 2). to talk about a body of knowledge—a culinary corpus or art corpus. He argues for the need to contextualize social theory in ‘the total process of production. both cooks and eaters) place in the food within their social context. 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. both professional cooks and women in Milpa Alta. It is the active element in food preparation. the creative activity. fully trapped under some kind of gastronomic spell. Furthermore. . The communicative aspects of cooking and eating lie in the meanings that actors (or agents. there is no ‘language of food’ which can be learnt via a grammar of eating habits or cooking techniques.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. Although I do not contest the analytical advantages of a structural framework. At least from my ﬁndings in Mexican cuisine.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 31 political and economic framework. to this ‘enchantment’. Some cookery writers. meaning is temporally extended and extendable. The active agency of art is the conveyor or mediator of social meanings. It makes more sense. preparation and consumption of food’ ( p. It allows women to change their social spaces and thereby expand their social network outside of the home. hence power. While it is true that Mexican eating habits can be placed into classiﬁcations and then encoded.8 an artistic approach may provide greater scope for an analysis of an elaborate cuisine. 30). Having succumbed. myself. ‘Because people act in terms of understood meanings.6 Nevertheless. like the Mexican. And power and meaning are always connected’ (1996. 1999b). p. To illustrate this point. When I ﬁrst went to Mexico. within the constraints of a cook’s daily life. that is. an example from my ﬁeldwork is helpful. p. within the complex of intentionalities that Gell talks about in his work (1998. from his topic of enquiry it seems logical to observe ‘the art of cooking’ itself in the context of its social dimensions.
43. So. 6 –7) Put into context. weekly. 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. pp. which is the efﬁcacious aspect. the social meanings or meaningfulness of foods can be better understood if we analyze cuisine as a whole. and recognizing this puts due emphasis on the ﬂavour of food. therefore. the perspective of food as art may help us understand some of the meanings that foods carry. I am taking cuisine as art in the way that Gell sees art. What Mexican cooking actually appears to ‘mean’ is a harmonious family and socio-cosmological life. (1986. intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it’ (1998. 6). or repository of social meaning. women’s domestic and extradomestic roles. These are important points which could lead to further investigation. Another way of looking at it is Munn’s deﬁnition of meaning. Thus I avoid analysis of semiotic relations such as corn with blood or chiles with penises (in the wordplay albur). but also acknowledge the artistic quality of the act of cooking. 6). p. rather than trying to explain why one foodstuff may ‘stand for’ something else. my research focuses on the meanings of interrelating cultural forms—the corpus of cuisine. and social interaction and hospitality in ﬁesta and quotidian occasions.g. 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. I mainly draw upon Alfred Gell’s theory of art. ‘as a system of action. focusing on culinary practice. essential to the reproduction of human societies’ (p. 1999b). the cultural meanings of culinary activity as part of women’s work is different from a semiotic analysis of foodstuffs. 1998. Women do the cooking. If foods are full of meaning. and yearly timetables of women as well as men. and therefore meaning ful. Rather than direct metonymic expressions of foodstuffs standing for other social structures. and the cuisine demands a certain discipline and lifestyle which partly structures the daily. To help in thinking about food anthropologically. p. Thinking of food as art which is based on action (Gell. monthly.32 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Technical mastery is what deﬁnes the art object. and my approach attempts to respond to such a gap. Thus. emphasis added) which . as being the relational nexus that enters into any given sociocultural form or practice (of whatever order of complexity) and deﬁnes that practice. as he developed it in several publications (e. Instead. then. Gell’s Theory of Art Gell (1996) suggests thinking of art as a ‘vast and often unrecognized technical system. 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.
the artwork is an ‘index’. 7) provide an example that illustrates how a cook’s agency affects eaters abducted by . Gell emphasizes action. for instance. The index ‘abducts’ agency within its social milieu to mediate social interaction. Some objects of art are produced with the intention of capturing the viewer’s (eater’s/recipient’s) attention. art objects are those that are ‘beautifully made. There is another sense in which the nature of art production is active. We as art lovers are enchanted by our perception of the technical virtuosity entailed to produce these works of art.9 Art objects.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 33 performs an aesthetic effect by what he calls ‘the technology of enchantment’.10 David Parkin (2006. The solution to this problem. If we transpose this terminology to the study of food. p. This may be effected and experienced as aesthetic awe. we may think of the artist as cook. affects the spectator in a way that may be called aesthetic. the index as the food. Each of these entities exerts agency upon others. sometimes directly. every ‘agent’ has a corresponding ‘patient’. meal or dish. upon which/whom agency is exerted. in Gell’s terms.1). sometimes through art-objects. 84) succintly glosses Gell’s theory as ‘a social anthropology of how objects. which thereby facilitates a perceptual change in the recipient. therefore. p. p. The capacity of the art object to inspire the awe or admiration afforded it is a direct result of this active agency. which is seen as artistic excellence or exemplary craftsmanship. produced by an ‘artist’. consumer. 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. 43. or both. They also are thought of as having higher value. or as a social actor. what Gell calls captivation (1998. and how these processes are part of the larger process we call society or the network of social relations’. Foodwriters Dornenburg and Page (1996. as products of techniques’ (p. original emphasis). the doing of art rather than the simple observation of semiotic meaning. It is art as an activity. including art-objects. and recipient as eater (see Table 2. acting as the nexus of interrelating social networks. This value is given to them by humans because of a perceived superiority. the person or thing depicted in the artwork. ‘demonstrate a certain technically achieved level of excellence … as made objects. whether from the position of producer. and viewed or consumed by a ‘recipient’ (spectator).1 is also caused or put into effect by intention or the network of intentionalities in which it is enmeshed. based on a ‘prototype’ (whatever is depicted). in particular. Although many objects may be thought of as beautiful. The action performed by any of the four variables in Table 2. 68ff). or the mastery of the artwork itself as an entity. the prototype as recipe. would be to take on Gell’s emphasis on agency and intention in the social milieux of works of art. Likewise. 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. become personiﬁed and persons become objectiﬁed. or (eventually) the development of personhood. 43). Put very simply for visual art. The agency of the artist. or made beautiful’ (p. gastronomic bliss. sometimes via the index/artwork.
This is because. smell. though examples can be given for the other instances of when agency is abducted via the index. Crudely put. replacing the corresponding terms that Gell uses with food-related ones. 153). however. its lineage). which will become clearer as this book progresses. and their effects. which chefs/culinary artists are able to manipulate to make the eater’s experience transcend the moment. Thinking of it in this way. the notion of culinary artistry remains elusive. The relations directly involving the index (in our case. 29) of what he calls the ‘art nexus’. p. following Gell (1998. texture. Our interpretation of a food event depends on the perspective we take. dish.2). This allows us to construct a table based on his (see Table 2. ‘accomplished chefs’ or ‘culinary artists’.11 It is helpful to use Gell’s terms to understand the active nature of bringing out the ﬂavour in food. meal Recipe Eater the food consumed. an art object can be thought of as equivalent to a person. that means that the construction of an artwork is like the construction of a person. even extra-sensorially. What is important to keep . 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. an object has the power (agency) to act. For my purposes. It is the ﬂavour of the food.1 Artist Index Prototype Recipient Terminology Employed by Gell. Food prepared by a culinary artist makes diners feel that ‘Life is wonderful’ rather than ‘That was delicious. patron Cook Food. to produce social effects on or conduct social relations with other social beings (patients). An artwork has the power not only to inspire awe. Of course. difﬁcult to describe. p. and Corresponding Food Terms Artist Artwork Object or person depicted by artwork Spectator. They categorize cooks as ‘burger-ﬂippers’. the artist’s technical mastery gives the object of art this social ability. food) are the primary transactions. hearing and that extra-special something (sazón?).’ Therefore we recognize culinary artistry by the power of the food to perform a perceptual change in the eaters. encompassing taste. wherein he demonstrates the differing relations among the previously mentioned four entities. the art corpus (its family. and these interpretations can change with time or the position we take in relation to the social actors involved. By its artistic nature. 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. depending on which is the primary agent (with the sufﬁx ‘-A’) and which is the primary patient (with the sufﬁx ‘-P’). a social agent. It is an extension of a person whose biography can be traced via the whole body of art. In effect. in the way that I use the term ‘culinary artistry’. physically enhancing their experience of life. which belongs to families. lineages and so on.34 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Table 2. we can think of the art nexus as a food nexus. Gell constructs a table (1998. The perception that ‘Life is wonderful’ would be something that eaters would experience through their senses. sight.
.g. host eating food prepared on his/her behalf Source: Table 1 from Gell (1998). eats own cooking. as witness to act of preparing food Cook-A→Food-P Basic act of cook making/preparing dishes. 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. eater dislikes food or does not ﬁnish what is served Eater-A→Eater-P Hiring a cook. e.Table 2.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus Agent→ Patient↓ Artist Cook Artist Cook Cook-A→Cook-P Cook shares meal.‘Life is wonderful’ effect by chef. Modiﬁed/Adapted. dish. dish. ‘tamal as. e. By permission of Oxford University Press. e. and affected by food/ingredient. e.a made thing’. 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. barbacoa/mole as feast food Recipe-A→Eater-P Concept of mole controls eaters’ experience. food is ordered in restaurant or at street stand Eater-A→Food-P Ordering food or asking cook to make particular dishes Index Food. making barbacoa bestows prestige Food-A→Food-P Prototype Recipe Recipe-A→Cook-P Recipe dictates what cook does. meal ‘tamales needing special care Recipe dictates form taken by not to anger them so dish/food that they can cook’. 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.g. © Oxford University Press.g. meal Food-A→Cook-P Food dictates cook’s action with it. following tradition Index Food. avocado.g. food-A→recipe-P Recipe constrained by physical characteristics of food/ingredient.
but put simply. The practice in itself is not restricted to publicly acknowledged culinary masters. For our purposes it is sufﬁcient to focus on the simplest and most direct relations of agency and intention. although those who stand out as particularly talented are given recognition. and employs those skills on her own. p. whose renditions of classic recipes were equivalent to art. ‘[T]echnical virtuosity is intrinsic to the efﬁcacy of works of art in their social context’ (Gell. Mexico. try to learn their craft by proximity. Whether the special meal is prepared at home or not. In Milpa Alta and other parts of Mexico City. 52). it is offered to guests in abundance. therefore. to explain the mediation performed by an artwork. Without a sufﬁciently elaborate or festive dish. we are in a patient position in relation to the cook-agent (cook-A→eater-P). enhancing his or her social relations by means of the occasion and its success. and many times I found myself listening to grandmothers telling stories about other women. So. now dead. and being known as a good cook is socially valued in Mexico. 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. and this directly affects the families of the bride and groom (food-A→eater-P). ingests. though within this relationship there may be several subrelationships of action.12 When we as eaters perceive of food as art. Regardless of who actually did the physical labour. is based on practice which can be learnt. This can also be observed in Milpa Alta. Learning to cook is actually part . Part of the requirement for a proper wedding is a proper feast. Gell details how each relationship occurs. and their daughters and daughters-in-law. he poses the example of the work of an (anonymous) artist commissioned to produce a likeness of a ruler or a religious ﬁgure. a woman hopes that some of her magic/skill will rub off on her as she observes. cooking is an ‘art’. 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. Such women gain fame in the community.36 • Culinary Art and Anthropology in mind is that objects and persons are connected in a nexus of intentionality. the celebration loses some of its meaning. 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. I am not assuming this only for the purposes of analysis. hence the focus on the agent-patient relationship. Working with or for a ‘master’ (or culinary artist). Culinary knowledge or skill. who were legendary cooks. and close women friends. A similar effect occurs when a person hosts a catered dinner party gets the credit for the quality of the food. 1996. and a particularly skilful cook is casually thought of as an artist. cookery is commonly spoken of in terms of artistic practice. In fact. and the hired cook is overlooked (recipient/eater-A→ artist/cook-P). in public feasts such as weddings.
’ In other words. the formal qualities of a piece of sculpture or music are signiﬁcant. She begins to learn by observing her mother. 1999). the ﬂavour of love. even the simplest naming of an object—as mask. ‘Socialization’ of food consists of cooking it into a delicious meal enjoyed by a discerning group of . Gow. In trying to deﬁne what art is anthropologically. 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. But from an anthropological standpoint. 15) characterization of art can lead one to interpret food as a form of art: ‘To an anthropologist.13 Not all of a master’s apprentices produce equivalent works. ritual and economic dimensions. and later also from her mother-in-law and other women. Simmel describes what in his terms would be a gastronomic paradox. all of which interrelate to make up the texture of social life. substance to art. the ﬂavour changes. art objects are produced within social. an aesthetic satisfaction is also expected from eating. 347). Becker. Although cooking can be conceived of as artistic practice from a native point of view. then. Culinary knowledge. The ‘egoistic’ and individual act of eating in fact unites people when they come together to share a meal. It is a talent or ﬂair which is physically exhibited but not copied. can be developed with practice.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 37 of every girl’s domestic training as she develops into a grown woman. Also. 1982). ritual. such as the works of Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo. ‘High’ qualities such as culture or society can almost only develop out of the ‘low’ ones. or funeral song— indicates an awareness of a social. Another way of looking at this is by thinking of Simmel’s notion of the ‘sociology of the meal’ (1994). food is not necessarily thought of as art in the same sense as Mexicans or Milpaltenses would think of visual arts. Nevertheless. within an artistic dimension of their own (within an ‘art world’. Thus. via the ‘aesthetic’ that comes from meal sharing. is attributed to the hand of the cook. since he considers eating and drinking as unfortunately necessary lowly activities that ultimately culminate in ‘society’. Firth’s (1996. but also the former [the community] rather than the latter [the individual] is its [the aesthetic level’s] rightful carrier’ (p. but it also causes the togetherness of the social actors. this signiﬁes a transformation of the carnal to spiritual.) As he puts it. ‘This is because when. But the learning process is not simply a matter of imitation and reproduction of the same. but what is learnt is a bodily discipline like other artistic skills (cf. In other words. or the sazón. or anthropomorphic ﬁgure. a sazón that works to produce spectacular ﬂavours is commonly called un sazón de amor. p. I might add) into the meal shared. such as food. and economic matrix in which the object has been produced. in addition to the satisfying of the appetite. good cooking is learnt by training and imitation of masters. not only can a community of several afford more easily the necessary effort than the individual. cf. (I will return to this idea below. When food is transformed (artistically. individual to society. la mano. who are usually other women in the community. Like any other type of skill. With a change of the hand that prepares the dish. thinking of food as art makes it easier to understand why it is that ﬂavour and cooking mean so much to Mexican people. the difference between great food and good food. between art and craft.
family warmth and. Using folk remedies. 1998. He or she may or may not be a member of the family. This is the sort of play of ideas that Laura Esquivel used in her successful novel and ﬁlm.14 Confronting a trap is like confronting a person. the hunter constructed this particular trap for that particular animal. Without a ﬁlling. and the food as a social meal both has more ‘aesthetic worth’ and is more meaningful because of it. and unverbalized intentionalities are infused in her cooking and later are literally embodied in those who eat her food. and recipes. nopales. and many others. in other areas. potentially. hospitality. green salsa or mole. ﬂavoured with fruits. ‘The nature of the art object is a function of the social-relational matrix in which it is embedded. must also . for example. Gell’s deﬁnition of an art object is perhaps easier to grasp from his essay ‘Vogel’s Net’ (1999b ). and other kinds of intentionalities. so long as it fulﬁls certain prerequisites. p. confronting a meal can also be thought of as confronting a person. on any occasion. though it can be personiﬁed. If we think in terms of food. onions and cheese. depending on her relationship to the people she cooks for. food does not have quite the same powers. convictions. Gell’s anthropology of art does not focus solely on analyzing works of art as deﬁned by an art public per se. 350). and there is no doubt that complex belief systems surround matters of cooking and eating. independent of the relational context’ (Gell. at the same time. with sometimes alarming physical effects. and the food itself is the outcome of the cook’s intentions to provide nourishment. such as the mediation that a work of art performs in Gell’s terms among social beings. It has no “intrinsic” nature. the pot or steamer. Potentially almost anything can be considered as an art object. they are called tamalates and are a traditional accompaniment to mole. 7). and are also made for nearly every ﬁesta. with red salsa. Socialization is ‘mediated’ by eating a meal together (p. Second. A tamal is a steamed bun made of coarse maize meal beaten with lard and enveloped in corn husks (or. banana leaves). There are many kinds of tamales: sweet ones. At the same time. ﬁlled with meat. or with strips of roasted chile. Esquivel’s novel constructs a Mexican world in which the heroine’s emotions. empowerment. the person who arranges the tamales in the earthenware pot or aluminium steamer may not leave the house until the tamales are cooked. savoury ones. typical sayings with culinary themes. beans or ﬁsh. First. called a tamalera. In real-life Mexico. In Milpa Alta I learned certain rules which must be followed so that the tamales will cook properly. artworks act as traps to the viewers/victims. People in Milpa Alta continue to believe that ‘angry’ tamales will never cook (food-A→food-P). using the knowledge he possesses about his victim’s habits and sociality. history.38 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members of society. but what is important is his or her presence in the house. as the hunter’s intentions and ingenuity are present in his handiwork. Tamales are eaten for breakfast or as a snack for supper. The meal presents a subset of the cook’s culinary knowledge. where he convincingly argues that traps can be artworks and. ﬂavour. Like Water for Chocolate (1992).
1999b. since his anthropological deﬁnition of an object of art is as follows: objects that are scrutinized as vehicles of complicated ideas. can be owned and exchanged. allusive. which is in itself a social system within a matrix of other interrelated social systems. which seems to lie in the realm of aesthetic pleasure. The ﬂavour aspect is analogous to artistic decoration. Third. like other works of art. hard to bring off. a meal or a special dish can be thought of as an art object. that means that artworks can also satisfy hunger or fulﬁl gastronomic desires. demanding of attention and perhaps difﬁcult to reconstruct fully. Food that is considered as artwork happens to have two fundamental qualities—it has (superior) ﬂavour (as opposed to bland or mediocre). difﬁcult. such as too much rice or the soft centres (migajón) of crusty bread rolls (bolillos. To remedy this. Hospitality. that food is eaten. Gell’s insight into decoration is pertinent at . intended to achieve or mean something interesting. (Gell. 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. it is a physical thing which. and. no one in the house must get angry. I would deﬁne as a candidate artwork any object or performance that potentially rewards such scrutiny because it embodies intentionalities that are complex.16 Some people also told me that certain foods cause stomach upsets (food-A→ eater-P). An angry tamal opens up or the lard drips out of the wrapping. because I witnessed these rules followed whenever we made tamales in Milpa Alta. and so on. For the purposes of this analysis. A food. the angered person has to spank the tamalera and then dance around it to make the tamales happy again. Without it the tamales will not cook. ‘Artworks can also trap eels … or grow yams. salsa) in order to fully enjoy eating (also food-A→eater-P). Another option would be to throw dried chiles into the ﬁre so that their seeds burn. 211)18 He also wrote. This is a piece of corn husk which needs to be tied on the handle of the tamalera.15 I never saw an angry tamal myself. 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. of course. On Edibility. although no one could give me an explanation for them. or that they need their chilito (chile. many said that they are never full unless they have eaten tortillas. as the smoke emitted removes anger. In a similar way. p. 211).17 For this reason. I think Gell would agree that his theory could be applied to Mexican food.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 39 have its bow. as well. and Exchange One of the main differences between food and visual art is. like other art objects in theory. p. a social nexus embedded within a culinary system. People swore that these methods were true. teleras). If anyone in the house loses his or her temper the tamales will not set because they will be angry.
It is rather as if they were the agents of their own circulation’ (2003. these decorations perform an important function. although Mauss argues that they are all homologous. in fact. which the eater recognizes (as art) by experiencing its ﬂavour. then. the functional and ‘decorative’ aspect is its ﬂavour. that ‘they are no mere “objects” of exchange.20 If it is an object of exchange in a Maussian sense. . food is cooked for more than one person. 113. then we can think of ingesting food as equivalent to the consumption/acceptance/possession of a work of art. Display and food presentation (how it appears on the plate) can be seen as equivalent. original emphasis). 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). Eaters remember who prepares superior ﬂavours in certain dishes and return to those cooks. p. p. reveals to us. but vehicles of personhood. from eater to artist). Recognizing the sensory aspect of food. This aspect of food giving and receiving implies an element of exchange. 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. which is what makes it analogous to a work of art. Food has particular physical and sensual qualities which differ from other types of objects which are exchanged. for the family or for non-family members who are guests. If we account for that. and also sometimes socially. 81). and in the case of food. This is its (the food’s) necessity of having a good ﬂavour and being made with culinary technical mastery.21 What. then it is an extension of a person. 346) from which its aesthetic and meaning arise. It must also be remembered that when it comes to food and eating. This product is then materially ingested by the recipient. it contains his or her ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’ by nature of being the product of a cook’s invested and creative labour. and tying this with its artistic nature. This is not to say that the decorations are not important. p. it is precisely the communal ingestion of food that ‘releases a tremendous socializing power’ (1994. They depend on them sometimes gastronomically. But I think that food is not merely an object of exchange in the same sense. does this mean? The eating of the food implies that the ‘spirit of the gift’ that Mauss describes is ingested as well. a crucial element of sharing is involved.40 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this point: ‘[Decorated objects] are not self-sufﬁcient sources of delight. but the ownership needs further explanation. although there is a different quality to commensality that seems not to ﬁt with art ownership and display. Abstracting the process of food hospitality ignores another fundamental aspect of food that is offered to others. resulting in a literal communion of persons. which will be reciprocated in some unspeciﬁed way at an unspeciﬁed time in the other direction (that is. exchanged and displayed’ (1998.19 Generally. to be owned. as David Howes explains for kula shells. 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. In hospitality. Following Simmel.
The skill that the cook reveals through the food likewise reveals other things of social salience. then not sharing (that is. shared and distributed to others. unless one is sharing the food. a girl is said to be ready for marriage when she demonstrates culinary mastery. If sharing is a positive act. 346). which are given. just as neglecting to offer food when hospitality is pertinent is considered to be selﬁsh and greedy (envidioso/a). how to make tortillas and salsas. conversely. For example. p. Munn. Food sharing is dynamic and self-extending. a meal at a restaurant. positive extension of the agent’s ‘spacetime. knowing how to cook. or the warmth of home cooking. As Nancy Munn describes for kula exchange in Gawa. prepared by vendors (señoras) to serve commercially. whether it is a special ﬁesta. Munn explains that in Gawa. ‘[T]he shared meal lifts an event of physiological primitivity and inescapable commonality into the sphere of social interaction and thereby suprapersonal meaning’ (Simmel. 1994. If we further accept that these things are extensions of the agent’s personhood. and condition which underlies kula shell exchange between partners’ (1986. therefore. the act of eating) can be thought of as a negative act (cf. Eating food on one’s own. and so. since food transactions are inherently social activities. 1986. The . some of which is the same as home cooking. whereas eating is socially static and self-collapsing. p. though. Food is shared with speciﬁc others as a means of exhibiting respect for an existing or future relationship of reciprocity.’ which transforms the patient’s relationship with the agent. 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. this infers that corresponding to the agent (donor) there must be a patient (recipient). Food is exchanged for money. original emphasis). is the opposite of sharing food with others (cook-A→cook-P). So cooking is an inherently social act. and as mentioned previously. and thus also ensures community viability. vendor) and a patient (eater. If we think of the things (artworks. ensuring an ongoing relationship which may be based on exchange at another level of social interaction. they are material repositories of that person and that person’s intentions. there is an immediate exchange between the social actors. In this vein I must emphasize that food giving is a basic form of generosity in Milpa Alta. Mauss’s time lag).g. 56. eating what one cooks oneself is antisocial. ‘[T]he exchange of comestibles in hospitality is the dynamic base. As in food hospitality. dishes) that a person makes as the products of her agency.22 Within the corpus of Mexican culinary culture exists a vast subset of street food and market food. This notion of cooking and eating also explains why a lone person in Mexico almost never cooks for oneself to eat alone. This is food which follows the logic that it should be prepared for an other. customer). Simmel perceives of eating as negative and ‘low’).Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 41 What the eater also recognizes is the socially meaningful network of intentionalities surrounding the meal. there is an agent (cook. In this case. with the expectation of future reciprocity of a similar or different kind (e. the act of sharing is a value-enhancing.
Munn. nor is it like the intellectual possession of a famous painting beyond a consumer’s (ﬁnancial) capacity to take it home and own it. But this is only a perspective among many possible ways of interpreting this situation. In one sense. as Gell has described (1996). so the agency actually lies with the customer. Having eaten something once or twice. pp. rather than self-consciously ‘invents’. The fact that most women in the community know how to prepare similar dishes following similar recipes (with the same ‘index’). 80–1). or its reproduction may depend on the actions of a speciﬁc cook. Possession of food-as-art is not anything like the possession of an object which sits on the mantelpiece for personal admiration. does not really make an eater the ‘owner’ of that dish. but it does not carry the fundamental persuasiveness of food giving. or at least to know where to go in order to reproduce it (to know how or where or with whom to eat). Parallel to this. and having enjoyed it very much. 1986). Food selling is a social activity. 1998. it can never truly be completely consumed. food hospitality consists of ‘unﬁnished business’ which is the essence of the endurance of social relations (Gell. even temporarily. With this perspective. and therefore it can never be truly owned. either. Possession is a more complex issue because the dish can be reproduced. once the dish is produced. A heightened awareness of artistic or culinary expertise does not in itself constitute possession or ownership of the work. 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).42 • Culinary Art and Anthropology transaction begins and ends there. remains the owner of that dish (cook-A→recipe-P). with his name labelling the cuisine he produces. 1990. or within the same transactive nexus. It also is inapplicable to the anonymous cook who cooks ‘traditional’ foods. the eating of it makes it disappear. a cook or chef. an index of . which provides the cook with an agency that contains the powerful potential to demand social reciprocity. The possession of food-as-art seems to take the form of having eaten it. Not only this. the cook prepares food to the taste of the eater/customer. its true possession can be thought of as possession of the know-how to be able to reproduce it (to know how to cook). and who solely produces these dishes within the family sphere (cook-A→food-P). and perhaps also having the possibility (or controlling this possibility) of eating it again. Now the ﬁnal problematic issue to explain is its possession. On two levels. we can think of food as both a work of art as well as an object of exchange. yet it can be reproduced ad inﬁnitum. opening an exchange relationship by offering food to a guest or family member likewise opens the possibility for reciprocity in some form (Mauss.23 Also. therefore. but it may not necessarily be reproducible in exactly the same way or in the same context. We remember once more that as soon as the supply of the food is depleted it can be constantly renewed. As the outcome of a recipe. Perhaps it is also possible to say that the ‘inventor’ of a dish. and this can in turn affect the kind of product that the cook produces (eater-A→cook-P). for example. makes it seem ludicrous to try to pinpoint any ‘owner’ of a dish.
and yet it can be cooked again and regenerated. which in Milpa Alta translates as girls learning to cook from their mothers and other women. cooking and eating certain foodstuffs. making tortillas. to fulﬁl a social function of legitimating social differences’ (p. 6). 81). or wrapping tamales does not necessarily mean that the results are always uniform from cook to cook. so by his choices of what deserves value. In other words. Along with this cultural capital. Although judgement of ﬂavour seems to be an aesthetic judgement. a part of habitus.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 43 the dish/work of art. since food is eaten and virtually disappears. This means. 7). 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. This would explain why an element of prestige and (class) distinction is involved in the choices of serving. What we learn to discern as valuable is due to our accumulating ‘economic capital’ and ‘cultural capital’ which is learnt via social class. ‘[T]aste classiﬁes. 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. Recall that the artistic quality of an object is not inherent in the thing. but is always in the process of becoming possessed’ (p. I mentioned that art. At the beginning of my discussion of Gell. . What distinguishes an extraordinary cook from an ordinary one is perceived as technical skill which can be judged by its ﬂavour. I turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of taste judgements. and it classiﬁes the classiﬁer’ (p. should be thought of primarily as a technical system. 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. ‘[A]rt and cultural consumption are predisposed consciously and deliberately or not. a person learns the kind of taste that he needs for social belonging. whether a purposely made work of art or not. I would like to explain how the two can in fact be thought of as one and the same. education and upbringing. and technical mastery appears to be more objective or scientiﬁc. he can be distinguished among others of different classes who would value other things. here cuisine. Cooking techniques are learned by apprenticeships to masters. To begin. Knowing the proper techniques for peeling chiles. A person’s taste becomes the mark of distinction between social classes and is revealed by an individual’s possession of an ‘aesthetic disposition’. its social value is derived from its social use. However. Taste is a subconscious kind of knowledge. food is an object of exchange. This is the capacity to recognize artistic characteristics in anything. it ‘is never fully possessed at all. ‘history turned into nature’. possession of food-as-art is a dynamic of eating that is dependent upon the social relational matrix in which it is embedded. As Bourdieu puts it. for example.
Taste. in fact. he does not analyze particular ‘works of art’ in relation to their own ‘art world’. and as Goody has argued. physiologically and psychologically. Because of his deﬁned concern with judgement. choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates. then ﬂavour is socially functional. that is embodied. So in the case of food. 5). judgement of something cannot be separated from an understanding of the process of its production (for food. and ‘life’ with function (and necessity). cooking). this should also be observed. So although Bourdieu’s perspective can be applied convincingly to the context in Milpa Alta. In a sense. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste. rather than beginning with social classiﬁcations. aware that he deliberately ignores the cooking aspect of cuisine. The skill required in culinary labour is the kind of technical mastery which Gell refers to as necessary for the production of an artwork. helps to shape the class body. at least in Milpa Alta (food-A→cook-P). therefore. or to taste better. Perhaps this is better explained with Gell’s method of analyzing art.25 He separates form from function by associating ‘art’ with form (and luxury). Bourdieu approaches artworks by arguing that value is allocated through the ‘stylization of life’ or ‘the primacy of forms over functions’ (p.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). and if the topic is an ‘art world’. In contrast. which it manifests in several ways. a class culture turned into nature. In an analysis of taste and aesthetics. as he approaches art from another perspective. and also for the homologous . which he describes as a dimension of habitus and systematic choices produced in practice. I argue that form is necessarily related to function. that is. it also has limitations. if form is constituted by ﬂavour. and then considering the audience and how this informs an artist to modify an artwork. It is an incorporated principle of classiﬁcation which governs all forms of incorporation. than another. He explains. form and function are merged when externally exhibited in bodily action via the ‘aesthetic’. the link between form and function can also be concluded from Bourdieu’s own concept of habitus and self-presentation.24 Although I cannot determine exactly where or when it began to be served during ﬁestas. This can be explained more fully after an examination of the social dynamics surrounding the cuisine. in other words. But the cooking is crucial to the achievement of its artistic status. (p. then some constituting artworks should be discussed as well. I suggest focusing primarily on the art world (cuisine) and the artists. Following Gell. and not just the isolated dishes (see Chapter 5). class and hierarchy. he is. having observed its widespread use I found that its acceptance is related to the prestige attached to barbacoieros. how it comes about that a society places value on an object and judges one thing to be in better taste. Focusing exclusively on classiﬁcations. 190) Thus.
In fact. 2006. In Chapter 4 I discuss how women talk of their skill in cooking in social situations where their power and value are questioned. Serving an elaborate dish commemorates an occasion as special by transferring its value (recipe-A→recipe-P). If cooking is artistic practice. therefore. such as a birthday. at ﬁrst glance. wedding or funeral. this is very much like what is considered to be men’s restrictions on women. and this is empowering in the sense that family ties are tightened when food is shared. there are marked dishes. 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. for example. culinary artistry or agency may be a source of women’s power over men (see Abarca. These traps are constructed to be far more sturdy and complicated than is actually necessary to trap an eel. many everyday dishes are complex to prepare. Thus.26 This is illustrated by his example of the Anga eel traps (1999b). As I will discuss further in chapters 4 and 6. the requirements to cook dishes from an elaborate cuisine may appear oppressive. actually reveal the high value placed on women’s chastity. Invariably. her in-laws. but at least she has the intention to provide good food somehow. With regard to Mexico. different from the daily fare. spouse. Preparing what is considered a proper meal is analogous to proper nurturing. then a cook has the creative freedom to make decisions at this level. which are served when there is a special occasion.27 Skilful cooking does not lead to social empowerment so directly. This is . Mintz. friends). her own satisfaction. André. Women as well as men value ﬂavourful food and what they consider to be ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ methods of preparing it. her children and. tying women to home when they would rather be out (also cf. however. 2001). which is also complex to prepare. 1996). In Mexico. reveals the Anga belief that the eel is so powerful that its trap must be particularly clever.28 Mole may be considered one of the culinary treasures or works of art of Mexican cuisine. 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. ultimately. which may have wider signiﬁcance at other social levels. A good wife would then strive to cook well for the sake of her husband. The trap. 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. which has been suggested to be a means of containing and curbing women’s power over men (Melhuus and Stølen.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 45 technical systems which bring about the (re)production of society. a complex-ﬂavoured sauce made of up to two dozen or more ingredients. and they are deﬁned by the sauce rather than by the meat or vegetable which is in it. often glossed as machismo. the trap is a repository of eel-power. Control over feeding the family becomes the nexus of meaning regarding women’s social and moral values. 1996). Strict regulations of women’s movements. She does not have to cook herself. Related to this. this used to be mole. The social efﬁcacy of an elaborately prepared meal performs a similar function. and at the same time is the source of the eel’s power.
In Milpa Alta. for there to be salsa. Mexican street food is another highly valued part of Mexican cuisine and is also considered to be ﬂavourful. I describe in Chapter 4 how in Mexico the ideal relationship between a man and a woman is that between husband and wife. For all meals in general. highly valued. 1986). This.’ Good food means good ﬂavours. one is eating a meal prepared by someone caring or is eating a meal with particular social signiﬁcance.32 In a way. but in fact. which is also equivalent to mole (see Chapter 5). 5 and 6). Chile is equivalent to salsa. good food ﬁxes the eater’s mind to the cook (or host). and also the family sphere which is based on love (discussed further in chapters 4. Munn. 1992). Since women’s virtue and moral value are also attached to her ability to suffer for her loved ones. that is. makes eating tacos in the market a major source of fun: ‘La mayor diversión es ir a comer tacos en el mercado. by extension. food that is thought of as ‘very Mexican’ are usually dishes which use autochthonous utensils or ingredients.31 In particular. and one of my informants also spontaneously told me the same: ‘Sin chile no come uno. and its nutritive beneﬁts are secondary. Also. beans. these dishes are considered to have the best ﬂavour. Rather than being fed.30 This is why a special occasion meal is served with a ﬂavourful. theatres or any other public venue of entertainment other than the market. Mexicans do not believe that they are eating’. 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. which results directly from the culinary mastery that a skilful cook possesses. vegetables. There must be a salsa or at least some chile on the table for people to enjoy their food (tortillas. In Mexico. both men and her children (Melhuus. It is also important for it to be palatable.’ This appears to contradict the value placed on home cooking. in . meat). the efforts of her labours (her cooking) are also highly valued. I was told.29 A famous quote is: ‘Without chile. It is also expressed in the importance and the forcefulness of hospitality in Mexico (or in Milpa Alta.46 • Culinary Art and Anthropology why salsas are the most important part of a Mexican meal. 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. The preceding discussion should help as a guideline for thinking about the social processes which revolve around food preparation and food sharing. ﬂavour. it is not enough for the food to provide nutrition and to be edible. What I hope to have conveyed here now is the idea that ﬂavour is actually the most functional aspect of food. 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. or ingredients which are grown or bred on local land. If it has superior ﬂavour. there are no cinemas. and in many ways this depends on women (good cooks) who make good sauces. because it lies within another social dimension of family eating (see Chapter 6). the ideal food is a meal cooked by a woman (wife and mother) for her husband and children. elaborate sauce (mole) rather than a regular salsa.
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. hovering in the background. Food and eating constitute such a domain wherein social settings exist for people to eat together. Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Food carries meaning. and foodstuffs can be social or cultural symbols. p. 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. a host/cook serves what there is at home. and with the food literally ‘merging’ with these persons as they eat it. By thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. but in fact it is most relevant. This suggests that ﬂavour is irrelevant to proper social behaviour.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 47 particular). that the ‘aesthetic stylization’ (1994. the cook continues to aim for the ideals of ﬂavour. 51–2). Failing that. foods prepared with the highest technical skill possible. neither the artwork and the ideas and meanings surrounding . 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). Accepting food offered to you. the emotional outcome of keeping culinary tricks or recipes secret is that a cook would be considered to be ‘greedy’ (envidiosa). prestige is allocated to a cook and her family when she is known to be an extraordinary cook. that is. The relevance of ﬂavour is evident because whether or not a cook is successful. This actually recalls Simmel’s gastronomic paradox mentioned earlier. original emphasis). [the spectator] is obliged to posit a creative agency which transcends his own and. it is an insult to the host. if a guest comes without warning. making social relations between persons via the meal. is so important in Milpa Alta that many people attend parties with a plastic bag or piece of Tupperware hidden in their handbags. and what is served at home also is prepared with technical mastery and love. The food transaction takes precedence over the particular food served. that is. If a guest leaves food. 12. indicating that the food had poor or no ﬂavour and was therefore inedible (eater-A→ cook-P). so that they can take home whatever is served to them that they are unable to eat. 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. In turn. p. 347) of the meal manifest in ﬂavour is part of the social nature of food transactions. Furthermore. whether you like it or not. some good cooks hide their culinary secrets viciously. however. the power of the collectivity on whose behalf the artist exercised his technical mastery’ (pp. a cook tries to serve only foods of superior ﬂavour to a guest. For this reason. and persons and persons via things’ (1998.
A work of culinary art can act as a trap. but of the mobilization of aesthetic principles (or something like them) in the course of social interaction’ (p. with their (proper) cooking. with the perspective of cooking as an artistic practice. securing a husband. women (and culinary professionals. women also have license to move beyond their restricted spaces. their communities. herself. In pursuit of culinary ideals. in this case.48 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. With this in mind. or the cook. and they have the autonomy to make important decisions for their family’s social life. but the one in control is the artist. 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. nor the social relations that are generated. cooking is creative. are ignored. This means that it is not a predetermined. . including barbacoieros) are willing to make sacriﬁces which others may not understand. By nature of being artistic. attracting others to the food and to the cook. their families. Easier or cheaper alternatives seem to be unacceptable when superior ﬂavours are the goal and this goal is attainable. Mexican. through the technical processes of cooking as well as the technical processes of social life and social reproduction. In pursuit of this goal. 4). ‘[T]he anthropology of art cannot be the study of the aesthetic principles of this or that culture. Thus. It may seem irrational for a family to hold large-scale ﬁestas when there is not enough money to ﬁnish building the house. society. and this liberty extends beyond the walls of the kitchen. it is possible to explore a cuisine. It is controlled. externally controlled activity. actively mediating between social members to make (proper) social interaction possible. Thus. In short. women exert power over their men. cooking is an activity which depends upon creative liberty. we can effectively investigate the social relational matrix surrounding the achievement of ﬂavour and the development of cuisine.
or brick-lined oven. beef. turkey. reserved for special celebrations or weekends. there also are restaurants in Mexico City which exclusively serve barbacoa with its traditional accompaniments. Since the whole animal is used. herbs and spices. including the head. Although these are antojitos. pork or goat (kid). A cultural show with dancing and singing of ranchera music gives the place the festive air of a cantina or countryside ﬁesta. there are also barbacoas of other meats such as rabbit. usually 1. although smaller parties are welcome. Eating barbacoa Whilst it is more commonly prepared as a cottage industry by families called barbacoieros. Customers can order traditional snacks such as gorditas or chalupitas as their starters.–3– Barbacoa in Milpa Alta In this chapter. Ordering them would be indulgent. typically eaten in the streets. 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.or 2-year-old sheep). pit-barbecued in a cylindrical clay. 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. It is common to start with a bowl of the consomé de barbacoa. The meat typically used is lamb (borrego. because barbacoa is tasty and complete enough the way it is normally served and requires little more to be satisfying. it is considered to be festive food. These barbacoa restaurants offer a complete celebration with the meal. labour-intensive preparation and cooking process (described below). Urban families who avoid eating in the marketplace frequent these restaurants for family celebrations such as birthdays or anniversaries. chicken. restaurants offer them because a large part of their clientele rarely eat street food. The word barbacoa is of Caribbean origin. In the central states the meat is ﬂavoured with the ﬂeshy leaves of the maguey. Depending on the region and tradition. 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. and because of its long. Barbacoa refers to a preparation of pit-roast meat which has been used in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. but the corresponding cooking methods used all over Mexico are based on the Mayan pib or earth oven. however.
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. or sliced avocado may be served). For eating barbacoa in the market. Villa Milpa Alta. and salsa borracha made especially for barbacoa. Salsas are offered on the side. As already mentioned. but the methods are basically the same. a mildly fermented drink made of maguey sap. For the Federal District of Mexico. usually served with a drizzle of green salsa. chopped onions and coriander. salt and vinegar or lime juice. Cooking styles and ﬂavourings vary regionally. The salsa borracha. is a black sauce whose colour comes from pasilla chiles. tomatoes. p. 22). Customers ﬁnd a space in front of the stalls and order consomé de barbacoa and tacos or ﬂautas. Barbacoieros can be commissioned to slaughter and cook the lambs that another family has bought or reared. and a sprinkling of grated white cheese. meaning ‘drunken sauce’. Stalls typically offer bowls of both red and green salsas (but not the black salsa borracha). oregano or coriander leaves.50 • Culinary Art and Anthropology during the long cooking process in the pit. usually a red and a green one (often either a typical guacamole or one made with avocado and green tomatoes. Flautas are long tacos that are rolled closed and fried. The meal is served with warm corn tortillas and can be eaten as a late breakfast (almuerzo). Around three thousand sheep are slaughtered and prepared in Milpa Alta each week. the main provider of barbacoa (as served in the markets) is Milpa Alta. although the livestock are raised elsewhere (Departamento de Distrito Federal. This is served with boiled rice and chickpeas stirred in. sliced limes. the particular trades in Barrio San Mateo. which are ordered by the piece. cooked prickly pear cactus paddles dressed with onions. and the eater has the option of squeezing in a little lime juice and adding chopped onions. the busiest time of day is the late morning. many families prepare barbacoa de borrego for a living. The salsa is served in a bowl decorated with crumbled fresh white cheese and green olives. but the vast majority of residents are still somehow involved in the family trade. Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta Many Milpaltenses have middle-class professional jobs or higher education. coriander leaves and salsa to mitigate the richness of this intense soup. as the main meal at lunchtime or as dinner. crema espesa. Other areas in the region famous for making barbacoa are Texcoco in the state of Mexico and parts of the state of Hidalgo. and it is drunken because it is traditionally made with pulque. and sometimes dried oregano. Others order the meat to take home with a small plastic bag of the accompaniments. are nopal . 1997. The soup is followed or accompanied by tacos or ﬂautas of the succulent meat. as I have already mentioned. In Milpa Alta. but they regularly prepare several animals to sell in markets every weekend. Sometimes there is also a side dish of nopales compuestos.
as running water has become normal in most homes. the greater the difﬁculty of access to an object [of art]. this practice has died out. In those days there was no running water in the houses. the higher its value. As mole became more and more expensive to prepare for large ﬁestas. Because of this. The modern stoves were used more for heating up food and tortillas. although locals know which families live in which houses and what their trades are. and those who remain behind are at home preparing for the sales of the following day. The ﬁrst family in Milpa Alta to produce barbacoa for a living in the 1930s was the Jurado family.1 Doña Margarita.) Barbacoa became the trade of highest honour (above butchery and nopal farming). but also because of the ﬁnancial prosperity associated with its sales. Economically. Now that few people cultivated maize and fewer still reared their own sheep. The barrio appears almost deserted as most people are busiest during the weekend. They scattered the whole street with salt from one end to the other and fed the animals with salt and water. and thus is valued higher.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 51 farming. pp. 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. to accommodate an extended family. This way. the dung could be easily collected for use as fertilizer. (This is an example of Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’. They had modern kitchen appliances but often had an extra outdoor kitchen with simple industrial gas hobs. barbacoiero families could afford to build their own houses. The smell begins to fade as the sun rises and the barbacoa is transported to markets in all reaches of Mexico City. . [1996. when water was needed for the ﬁelds. 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. not only because of the value of the product. Since most of the houses are surrounded by walls. it is impossible to see what is going on behind the gates.2 Preparing barbacoa is more laborious and also has more ﬂavourings. pork butchery (tocinería) and especially the cooking and selling of barbacoa de borrego. and barbacoa ranked higher in prestige than carnitas. carnitas and barbacoa grew in popularity as typical ﬁesta favourites. She had memories from the 1940s of how the Jurados brought their ﬂock down from the mountains once a week. In Milpa Alta over the decades the barbacoa business boomed. 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. 46–9]. The barbacoieros built corrals around these watering taps so that their sheep could graze there and leave their droppings. Almost all nopal growers now use cow dung to fertilize their ﬁelds. told me that they raised their own sheep which they would leave to graze in the mountainous pastures of Milpa Alta. a barbacoiera with whom I lived. but most people looked up to barbacoieros. 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. where they did most of the actual cooking. sometimes quite large.
’ Elena was a similar case in point. although many young couples aspired to build their own houses separately from their parents or in-laws. at least to the husband’s family. it is acceptable and even expected. By this time Mario’s older brothers had married and set up their own households in land that their father had given to them.3 Some built their houses adjacent to the husband’s parents’. Despite having her own profession. It was rare for Milpaltenses to buy land outside of Milpa Alta. she was expected to help her husband in his line of work: ‘Siendo profesionista. but on Saturdays she sold the barbacoa in the market because he had to stay home to prepare the meat to sell on Sundays. when she was 18. such as barbacoa.’ This is not exactly true. but rather that they must try their best to assimilate to and prioritize their husbands’. whilst others bought a new plot of land in another area of Milpa Alta. ‘I don’t know if it was because I did not take care or if I don’t know much about these things. Since he chose to dedicate himself to the barbacoa. la mujer tiene que ayudar a su esposo. It was not that they no longer belonged to their natal households. they usually moved to their husbands’ house and lived there until they could afford to build their own. He tried to supplement the family earnings by getting a part-time job in accounting but had to give this up. 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. Although she had not wanted to get married until she ﬁnished her studies. Wednesday and Thursday (see detailed description of barbacoa work below). at times. but he had time for other work on Tuesday. although they might resettle in a different barrio or town. After Mario’s father died. The ofﬁce often wanted him to come in on Fridays. women were expected to loosen their ties with their natal families. he did. She met her husband. but when his father took ill he decided to help with the family barbacoa business. ‘A woman always changes her profession or trade (oﬁcio) to that of her husband. as the generations passed the pieces of land inherited became smaller and smaller. and they eventually married when she was 22.5 Doña Margarita’s compadre was a barbacoiero and his wife was a primary school teacher. but she had no regrets. for example. Though there used to be a lot of land in the family.4 Families remain close nonetheless and visit often. Mario was left to take over the business. She added. Upon marriage. Whatever the precise statistics may be.52 • Culinary Art and Anthropology It was still common in Milpa Alta for three generations to live in one household. Elena got a job in a primary school and Mario continued studying accounting. as some women are already working in a similar sort of business as their husband’s before they marry. he was occupied from Friday to Monday. but oh! surprise—I was pregnant!’ She never ﬁnished her degree because of the baby. studying to be a teacher. but his priority was his barbacoa. An elderly lady told me. When women married. Also. Mario’s father decided to divide his share of . Mario. Doña Margarita said. He told me that he earned more working in barbacoa than by being an accountant. the business was his main inheritance. some men learn the trade of their wife’s family if it is more lucrative.
7 After marriage. for men to learn the trade from non-family members. it is rare. the business (or technical skill) is left to one’s children as an ‘inheritance’. Elena worked doubly hard so that they could save up enough money to invest in land. As the girlfriend of the son of a barbacoiero. She had most of her free time on Saturdays. Their skills are built from a young age. Until they marry into the family. and a few years later they learn to kill. and so he taught his younger brothers the process. Single men do not make barbacoa for a living. so they become knowledgeable specialists early on. a woman might sit with her future mother-in-law as she . children are taken to the market to help in the sales. 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. thus beginning the tradition in their family. He was illiterate. the youngest. he left the house. but few men start out in a new business like this at an older age. when she did housework and laundry (although I suspect that she hired help for this as well). but they also wanted land so Mario could work on it during his free days midweek. Typically. boys are trained to help their fathers with the meat and girls are trained to help their mothers with the vegetables and salsas. although I know that she could do the same work and sometimes helped Mario with the oven when necessary. it is not uncommon for young men to set up their own barbacoa business apart from their parents’. but Elena and Mario truly desired a plot of land of their own. This was men’s work. but with his business he maintained a comfortable lifestyle. This arrangement worked reasonably well. as in the case of Mario. To reach this goal. she told me. and to Mario. At 15 or 16 they begin to cut the raw meat. Not only was land of high value in Milpa Alta. however. young men might help their parents with the family business. Boys learn by helping their fathers to remove and clean the entrails (despanzar). but they usually go to university or might take on another job elsewhere. children learn the process of preparing barbacoa from their parents. buying more tortillas when they have run out or helping to wash up the plates and cookware at the end of the workday. Until they marry. though not unheard of. however. Until then she did not want more children.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 53 land among the older siblings when they married. these women never get involved. Apart from inheriting the barbacoa profession. From the age of about 5 or 6. and she chopped vegetables for the business.6 In other words. Alejandro told me that he taught his compadre how to prepare barbacoa when he was 39. Already as children. The trade has been described to me as ‘a tradition that one passes down to the new generations’. She taught two shifts at the primary school and also helped with the barbacoa when she was at home. Their new wives then begin apprenticing themselves to their mothers-in-law. barbacoa market stall and business. Alejandro’s grandfather’s brother ﬁrst learned to make barbacoa. 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. In his own family. but not to slaughter. She rarely had anything to do with the meat or with stacking or unloading the oven.
as always. 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. With Primy and Alejandro. The following section is a rundown of how barbacoa is prepared at home by professionals in the trade.54 • Culinary Art and Anthropology is busy cleaning or chopping vegetables. I learned to prepare barbacoa in what they considered the traditional manner. and she might lend a hand. and then invited me to watch her remove the meat from the oven the next morning. The description that follows is based on the ﬁrst time that I witnessed the entire process. playfully called matadores or otherwise referred to as trabajadores (workers). This is the same work that is done in the ofﬁcial slaughterhouse. as well as for many other culinary techniques. They sometimes varied their methods of preparation. This. she must take over as much of her mother-in-law’s work as she can. the slaughter. The matador-workers are in charge of the matanza. but also how daily meals can still be rather elaborate. She continued explaining the cooking process before she interrupted herself and said that no. 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. but a few years before the death of Alejandro’s father in the early 1990s. but it is representative of how families make barbacoa at home. depending on availability and price of ingredients. ‘¿la comercial o la buena?’ (‘the commercial sauce or the good one?’). they began to help with the barbacoa to carry on the family business. The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. and Primy embarked on a detailed description of the salsas that she made to serve with barbacoa. but nothing is expected of her. Milpa Alta Primy and Alejandro used to farm nopales. It illustrates some of the compromises that might be made for the sake of the business. ‘What would you like to know?’ she asked me. even if she has no sons. she can still carry on with the business. though. She described different forms of service. There are men who dedicate themselves solely to slaughtering animals. different dishes that can be made with barbacoa meat. but they tended to always return to the traditional. Should a barbacoiero wife become widowed or abandoned. this was all wrong. the traditional means of food preparation are generally preferred over modern shortcuts in spite of modern conveniences and new regulations. In barbacoa preparation. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live with a family who took pride in the ﬂavour of their product. They are also responsible for washing the entrails and chopping them. the rastro. elicited a positive response. As soon as she is married. 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. ‘¡Este es como empezar con el postre y terminar con la sopa!’ (‘This is like starting with the dessert and ﬁnishing with the .
Apart from the slaughter. starting from la matanza. They were prepared for a physically demanding and dirty job. I must come. It bucked its hind legs once in a while in silent protest. Although the actual killing was ﬁnished. The space was about 3 by 6 metres in area. Alejandro then went to get another lamb among the group huddled at the far end of the slaughter area. allowing it to bleed into the basin. She cut off the other three feet and tossed them toward the drain. since most people are up and working by 5 a. He then sharpened his knife with his sharpening steel and lay the lamb on its side. Alejandro placed a large aluminium basin in the centre of the space. it consisted of taking apart and cleaning the animals. For about ﬁve minutes he squatted by the lamb. she continued. Hanging the carcass this way makes it easier to clean the whole animal. The slaughter area was separated from the rest of the patio by a low wall reaching halfway up toward its roof. la matanza could also be interpreted to refer to all the proceedings of the day. He then proceeded to saw off one lower hind leg.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 55 soup!’) she exclaimed. Only after I have seen it all can we talk about salsas and chiles. Alejandro led a young sheep to the centre of the covered concrete and brick slaughter yard behind the house. he deftly punctured its throat with the tip of his knife. and along one wall there was a low concrete-lined drain. Holding its muzzle shut. and then he hung the body by the leg bone on one of the ceiling hooks. its head resting on the stool. Primy took the steel and sharpened her own knife. he sawed off its head and set it aside. work which is shared between husband and wife. This is almost considered a late start by Milpa Alta standards. the workweek begins at seven o’clock every Thursday morning. in one corner there was a water tap with a long hose attached. He sharpened his knife once more and after feeling for a soft spot in the neck joint. The ground was paved in concrete. It must have been around 10 degrees Celsius outside but they knew they would not feel cold. Beside this he positioned a rough-hewn wooden stool. One cannot learn about barbacoa without seeing everything from beginning to end. From the ceiling hung eight large hooks fastened to a wooden beam with thick twine. she insisted. While Alejandro continued to slaughter the rest of the livestock. and stay with them to observe the whole process.m. so Alejandro held its body still until it stopped bleeding and lay limp. She stood by the decapitated animal and felt for the soft cartilage in the joint of the other hind leg. Then she cut . allowing all the remaining blood and whatever may be left in the oesophagus to drip out onto the ground. Alejandro and Primy dressed in old jeans. and the process was repeated. short-sleeved shirts and long rubber boots. scraping away the fur to reveal the bone with its characteristic hole. Thursday: La matanza (The Slaughter) For the family whose trade is to make and sell barbacoa. She scraped away the fur of the other hind legs so that the carcasses could be hooked through and hung by both legs.
It was covered with a layer of fat. The odour was rancid and repulsive as the contents of the panza splashed onto the ground. pulling it inside out with all his strength and using his body weight for the ﬁnal yank. but in any case the pescuezo must be protected with gauze. the blood and bile that may remain in the throat attract large ﬂies which enter the pescuezo and may become embedded there. Primy warned me to get out of the way. securing them to keep them under control lest they slip away and get tangled and lost amongst the rest of the innards. She knotted them together at the centre. thus holding the centre of several separate lengths of intestine. Primy proceeded to unravel the small intestines. From the pail she pulled out a rectangle of gauze and wrung out the excess water. These were at least 12 metres long. keeping grip of the other end. She tore off about a half metre’s length and carefully wrapped the pescuezo with the gauze. First Primy pulled out the stomach. and in fact it looked like a square of pale pink lace8 and could be peeled off the stomach in one piece. Then she squeezed out any waste that may have remained before tossing them into the aluminium tub with the panzas. This can ruin the meat. and she began to pull out the entrails.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. catching each arms’ length in either hand. the caul. she proceeded to slice a long vertical hole through the centre of the skinned carcass. Primy brought a small plastic pail of water toward each animal and washed the blood from the neck. As soon as she had all the tripe looped in her hands she cut one end. and it was a grey-green colour. Having clariﬁed this. It is tied closed and cooked in the pit oven along with the meat to be later served in tacos. It is cleaned and later stuffed with the tripe and other innards mixed with herbs and spices. but Primy and Alejandro told me that this job was not for me and recommended I keep my distance to protect my clothes. She explained how important this was because when the meat is still fresh. la tripa delgada. covering the hole and tying it well. and she pulled them out as if she were measuring yarn. There she emptied the stomach. When Alejandro was ready he tugged the coat off each animal. swaying from side to side. which Primy described as being like a cloth. The hide is heavy and toughly attached to the ﬂesh. squeezing out the part-digested fodder and gastric juices. A soft popping noise was made as the body separated from its skin at the neck. 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. I offered to help. 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. el redaño. giving it a bitter ﬂavour. The panza is one of the most important parts of the sheep. so she stood aside and waited for her husband. He slung each hide on the low wall and carried on with the slaughtering. el pescuezo. and she carried the panza to the far corner of the slaughter area where there was a large metal rubbish bin. This is the start of the real cleaning process. ‘como una telita de grasa’. The panza was much bigger than I expected it to be. . la panza. despanzar.
the liver. about the size of the palm of my hand. Primy slit open the uterus to show me the foetus. corazón.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 57 Next to remove was the large intestine. to an airing room. dirt. Only then were we free to sit in front of the television to watch the football. the gall bladder. The meat needed hanging so that it matures a little and can be cut cleanly. 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). because pregnancy causes the uterus to develop. otherwise it is impossible to reach the inner folds of the meat. lungs. Primy rinsed everything quickly.e. Alejandro placed the hose in the anal passage at the top of the animal and sprayed a strong stream of water. it is not sold for slaughter as it will eventually provide young (i. la matriz. While Primy was completing this process. pulmones. The uterus was quite small. business). Pregnant sheep are particularly special because usually when the stockbreeder knows that a sheep is pregnant. where he hung each by one leg to dry the meat overnight. the bladder. Primy positioned the pail in front of the animal and pointed the large intestine toward the pail.. 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. el hígado. After saving the foetus Primy rinsed the uterus inside and out and then threw it into the tub of entrails. and so must be expunged. 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. Cold water must be used even if the weather is freezing because using warm water risks spoilage. They are attached to its inner lining and make the stuffed panza tastier and juicier. Without this gush of running water it is more difﬁcult to extract the waste products from the intestine. Furthermore. which went straight through the intestine and ﬂushed out most of the suciedad. heart. la vejiga. unappetizing colour and although this does not affect the ﬂavour of the meat. Later each offal meat was cleaned thoroughly with cold water to remove all traces of dirt. la vesícula billar. it may put customers off. now referred to as being en canal. Alejandro carried the cleaned carcasses. but when we got to the last lamb slaughtered I witnessed the discovery of a pregnant one. Any dirt that remains gives an unpleasant bitter ﬂavour to the meat and panza when cooked. cleaning must be done with bare hands. Primy stressed to me that each section must be well cleaned individually. la tripa gorda. Each part of the animal was systematically removed in its turn—the uterus. The developed uterus forms nutritious pink bolitas (these ‘little balls’ actually look like tiny pink donuts). Primy then cut it off and dropped it into the pail with the rest of the offal. then it was time for breakfast. The heads are left to soak and the panzas must be blanched so that the bitter stomach lining can be removed. . This is extremely important because when blood is cooked it becomes a dark. The ﬁnal step was to slice open the hearts and lungs to remove all traces of blood from the veins and arteries. Such a ﬁnd is considered lucky.
that supports two large gas rings that can accommodate very large pots and pans. chopping onions and carrots. Primy put all the tomatoes to soak in a plastic basin to soften the husks for easier removal. as usual. As we walked home from the school we passed by a tortillería. Primy separated them into the three containers. 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. The day began early. about waist height. 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). the other two for the green and red salsas that she would make. The cooker was like those found in food stalls in the market. These gorditas (also called sopes) are a type of snack food that is often eaten in the street. sancochando la carne (Pre-cooking the Meat) Alejandro told me that Friday is the heaviest day for women in the barbacoa trade. There we bought a kilo of masa. Primy went to the market to buy vegetables. chiles.58 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Friday: Mise en Place (Preparations). the maize dough used to make tortillas. removing stems from the fresh and dried chiles and just chatting away. we made thick tortillas. Doña Margarita made a green salsa with the chiles and green husk tomatoes (tomates or tomates verdes) that are also used for the barbacoa. She brought out three little painted wooden chairs with wicker seats for me. Primy and her mother-in-law began to prepare lunch. (I do not think he did much else that day. the innards. Meanwhile. we got back to work. made of a metal frame. For green chilaquiles.m. her mother-in-law and herself. I arrived at their house before 7 a. Alejandro asked Primy to prepare them for me so that I could taste as much typical Mexican food as time allowed. Alejandro was at his butcher block chopping all the menudencias. a small shop selling machine-made tortillas. but Primy was in charge. chiles and herbs for the cooking process and also to make the salsas that would accompany the meat. I stayed and helped make breakfast in the airing room. carrots. one for the panzas. green tomatoes. and almost all of this work was done by Primy. Primy returned from her shopping with sacks of white onions. where a simple industrial gas cooker was set up. and Primy was already away at the market while her mother-in-law was at home preparing breakfast. Indeed it is the most labour-intensive because all the preparations for the cooking and serving of the meat are done on Fridays. coriander and various other foods. so that we could make gorditas pellizcadas when we got home. After baking them on . Her mother-in-law helped as well. Primy kneaded the dough and with the help of a tortilla press and her two small sons. We were having chilaquiles verdes for breakfast that day. At the same time. We carried on preparing the vegetables.) Primy rinsed out the coriander and epazote and left the herbs to soak in water. that the women had cleaned so thoroughly the day before. After breakfasting on the chilaquiles with teleras (a type of bread roll) and hot milk with coffee or chocolate stirred in. When this was done it was time to pick up the children from school.
a tool that dates to pre-Hispanic times. far beyond the capacity of a domestic blender. but nowadays. and beans in their broth at the end. especially in cities. she preferred the effect of crushed crackers to that of breadcrumbs. The meal was washed down with an agua fresca de limón. Alejandro pounded chicken breasts to make milanesas and his mother hauled out the heavy stone metate to make breadcrumbs for the chicken. onions. She then proceeded to make the red salsa in which she used three types of dried chiles—chile morita. as well as ﬁlling and unloading the oven. Women look after the softer and more complex cooking. there was a lot of work to be done after eating. She boiled green tomatoes and put the toasted chiles to soak in the cooking water. 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.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 59 a hot comal. 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. there were tortillas and a lovely tomato-chile-based salsa to accompany. We had gorditas to start. garlic and salt. we took the pail to a salsa mill. and rajas con crema. although it was standard fare for them. Primy processed them in the blender in stages because she was making large amounts for the business. green salsa and crumbled white cheese. When we returned home Primy had to prepare the stufﬁng for the panzas. She told me that for small tasks. she would use it. rubbed them with melted lard. I asked her if she always used the metate. molino de salsas. Although I would have the tendency to linger over such exquisite food. they used an electric blender for making sauces and for larger tasks.9 The red salsa was more popular than the green in the stand where they sold barbacoa. She also had procured some pork fat to add to the ﬁlling mixture so that the panza would not get too dry during . she said. This was our starter for lunch on that day. chiles serranos. water ﬂavoured with a variety of sweet lime that they picked off the tree in the garden. árbol seco. unless there was a power failure. As always. so Primy had a 30-litre pail for this. chopped coriander and combined them with the green tomatoes. such as grinding these crackers. She used saltine crackers instead of bread because. crisply cooked crumbled longaniza (a type of sausage). Otherwise. like making the panza ﬁlling and the salsas. Lunch was a feast for me. Men in the barbacoa trade are responsible for the slaughter and preparing the meat. She knelt on the ground behind the grinding stone and in a matter of seconds reduced the crackers to ﬁne crumbs. She ﬁlled the pail with the tomatoes and chiles along with salt and other ingredients. as are chopping and cleaning vegetables and herbs. we pinched them several times on one side ( pellizcar means to pinch). few people did so because of the effort and physical force that was required. We returned to the vegetables we had been cleaning and divided the tomatoes and chiles for the salsas. Preparing the panza is always the women’s responsibility. and pulla or guajillo angosto. in a busy barbacoiero household such as this one. Since she needed to make a larger amount. For the green salsa we peeled avocados. a short walk away. I had heard that some people still used it. and topped them with refried beans. then breaded chicken with boiled carrots with cream.
5 metres tall. At the same time she had been boiling rice and chickpeas. one for Saturday’s sales and another for Sunday’s. and which for Monday. a notable difference in ﬂavour between the barbacoa de perol and barbacoa de horno. To save ﬁrewood. Then an iron grille is positioned above the tub with some special cooking ﬁlm to prevent bits of meat from falling through. and the perol is closed and left over a strong gas ﬁre for about twelve hours. In the perol the meat is steamed. 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. mixing the grains. This is used to steam the meat over a gas ﬂame. Into the mixture she threw chopped green tomatoes. The pieces of meat must be arranged in a speciﬁc order so that they cook properly. and she beat all of these together with her forearm (in the same way that one beats lard for making tamales). Then she stacked the perol. ribs. Next. the backbone or loin. the shoulder. pescuezo. The perol is a large aluminium bin. On Saturdays they sold barbacoa de perol. and the neck. 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. The rest of the parts are stacked in accordingly. She drained and separated them into two containers. to parboil the meat). For the sake of ease. which are traditionally served with the consomé de barbacoa. then the heads and necks. Alejandro pulled out his chainsaw and cut the lamb into pieces—the leg. He lay these out on the work table in the middle of the room and decided which pieces would be cooked for Saturday. but on Sundays. espinazo or lomo.60 • Culinary Art and Anthropology the cooking. She checked that there was sufﬁcient consomé and that . The panzas were now ready to be stuffed. epazote and onions. First the tub for the consomé is placed at the bottom so that the juices drip down into the herbs and spices. Whilst Primy was doing all of this detailed work. espaldilla. pierna. a method developed because of the shortage of ﬁrewood in recent years. 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. 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. most people these days ﬁnish cooking the barbacoa in the perol rather than use the traditional pit in the ground or brick oven (horno). sancochar la carne (literally. which for Sunday. the panzas are set down. 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. There is. around 75 centimetres in diameter and 1. When these were well incorporated she added powdered chile guajillo and salt and beat it some more. however. costilla. She also prepared the herbs and spices that go in the tub for the consomé. Mondays and special occasions they prepared the barbacoa de horno.
They are thick and spiny at the edges. avocado and pickled jalapeño chiles. Alejandro’s mother gave me a sandwich for breakfast and a pint of hot milk in which I stirred some café de olla. have been used extensively and have been exploited all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. the succulent leaves of the maguey plant. a typical homestyle soup with short noodles in (red) tomato broth. all parts of different varieties of maguey plants. and meanwhile we carried on with other household chores. Doña Margarita lit the coals that had remained in the pit with scraps of cardboard and burnt pencas. courgettes and strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles. which she made of sliced bread ( pan bimbo) spread with cream and ﬁlled with ham. for preparing food. We had sopa casera de tallarines con crema. both pencas and sap. I helped Doña Margarita wash the dishes from Friday and we went to buy food with which to prepare lunch. Primy came home and prepared the comida quickly. In fact. and different varieties are used for tequila and mezcal ). or pencas. coffee boiled with abundant water and ﬂavoured with cinnamon and. we attended to the oven. y además come ¡con gusto!’). This time it was less elaborate than on the Friday before. The pencas must ﬁrst be shaved at the base so that they are evenly thick and pliable. While waiting for Primy and the boys to return home. They are essential in the preparation of this type of barbacoa as they both protect the meat from burning. For women in the barbacoa trade. because Mexican food was thought to be notoriously difﬁcult for foreigners .Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 61 it had not overﬂowed and the meat was cooking nicely. Then she asked me to accompany her to do her errands. piloncillo. turning them and even hanging them halfway into the oven so that they roasted evenly. So we proceeded to light the oven by the side of the house. Then they must be toasted to mellow their ﬂavour and bitterness. if available. however. can reach up to 2 metres in length and about 30 centimetres wide at the base. Saturday morning may be spent doing any sort of tasks and chores. 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. By ﬁve o’clock the meat should be ready. tapering to a ﬁne point like a needle. By the time I got up at seven o’clock. and there were beans to follow if anyone wanted some. She accompanied me with a sandwich of her own. When a bright ﬁre was smoking in the oven we laid the fresh pencas across the top. This last point seemed particularly impressive to them. weaving cloth. as well as add ﬂavour and help to seal in moisture. Before all this. 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. This step took a good hour or so. Each of these leaves. All of this was served with warm corn tortillas. Alejandro had brought home pencas de maguey. served with a swirl of cream. To follow was a guisado de jitomate. and even making alcoholic drinks (like pulque. 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. a (red) tomato-based stew with chicken. crude sugar.
m. She ﬁlled the cavity with dry logs. and he and his wife expected. and then they slid the heavy steel cover over the opening. Sunday: Sacando la carne (Taking Out the Meat) At ﬁve in the morning I was awakened for the ﬁnal stage of preparing barbacoa. we unloaded the meat. When all the meat was properly arranged. while Primy made and sold tacos and consomé and also usually acted as cashier. and with old newspaper she grabbed a ﬁstful of tallow that she collected every week from the meat. heads and panzas by the kilo.30 a. Alejandro’s stall had been in the family for three generations. but he told me that he was dying to go. separating the meat into plastic crates lined with wax paper and the toasted maguey pencas from the oven.10 Already they took their 7-year-old son with them to sell. she waited for Alejandro to come and reach into the oven for the tub of drippings. My ability to enjoy their food. Primy lit the pit-oven with ﬁrewood. She placed the heads and pescuezos into separate pails and when she ﬁnished pulling out the panzas. The two women pulled out a square of canvas ﬁlled with sand to shroud the cover. Finally. On a Sunday the children considered this to be a special treat. or at least hoped. now full of consomé. more toasted pencas were lain. Primy and Doña Margarita did this in the same order as in stacking the perol. Both Alejandro and Primy would go to the market together as it was always their busiest day. otherwise the meat would fail to cook properly. She picked the meat from between the neck bones .30 p.m. and therefore understand the ﬂavours. With this she ignited the wood and left it to burn while we ate. no cooking ﬁlm was necessary and no water was added for the consomé. Then we checked the oven. They spread the sand evenly to block any cracks so that absolutely no steam escaped the oven. Then we left the barbacoa to stew in its own juices all night. which had been pre-cooking in the perol for a few hours. It was 5. they were on their way to their barbacoa stall in a market near the centre of Mexico City. 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. 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. Just before lunch. only this time the sides of the oven were lined with pencas. They loaded everything into the back of their truck and by 5. Alejandro sold meat. Primy was already unloading everything. Their second son was still too young to accompany them. Afterward. made me seem less foreign to them and more easily assimilated.62 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to eat. la carne sancochada. Each panza is placed individually in the centre of a toasted penca. and by now the logs were reduced to red-hot embers. an old cover and empty basins were arranged on the edges to secure it and weigh it down. Primy showed me how to wrap the panzas in pencas of maguey to protect them from burning as they cook. that both of their sons would maintain it when they came of age. la pura brasa. Last. It was time to stack the oven.
Whilst the supply of barbacoa might remain the same. the demand would decrease considerably in that fewer would be able to afford . She would recognize them and know what they usually ordered or consumed at one sitting. like other wives of barbacoieros. These are the days when most people decide not to cook at home. So if barbacoieros charged a fair price for their product. Primy. After the economic crash in 1994. Otherwise. If a holiday such as Christmas or Easter happened to fall on a weekday. The market price of barbacoa. she would give them a pint of salsa without charge. all the barbacoa stalls open.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 63 and used any other loose meat to ﬁll tacos. Sunday and Monday: A vender (to sell)—How Lucrative is barbacoa? Monday is usually a fairly light day for selling in the market. taking into account the rising prices of their raw materials. however. few people eat it in the market midweek. To increase their sales. and there is good business for barbacoieros. The best days for selling barbacoa are Saturday and Sunday. In the mid-1990s. economic constraints weigh heavily. their selling price would be beyond the reach of their customers’ spending power. they retained the same consumption pattern as before. Thus customer spending reduced and luxury goods such as special foods became less frequent expenses. Preparing it every day would be too much work to be worth the earnings. because of the unstable Mexican economy (la crisis). she noticed that some of her regular clients no longer came every week as they used to. This depends on her mood and other commitments. the price increase affected sales. but rather it decreased the frequency of their visits. 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. 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. When they did come. particularly since much of it is imported live from Australia and New Zealand or from the US. To improve the quality of their product. however. however. though. but several barbacoieros sell nevertheless. barbacoieros ﬁnd themselves in a competition of ﬂavour. Discussing the vendor-client relationship with me. Primy explained that certain people become regular clients and thus are given special treatment.11 In this way. could not increase at similar speed because wages failed to keep up with the falling peso. Since barbacoa is a heavy dish and is expensive. or if they ordered to take away. might or might not accompany her husband on these lighter sales days. the price of livestock multiplied. 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. Saturday. Sometimes she gave them slightly larger tacos. as the value of the Mexican peso fell to a fraction of its worth against the US dollar.
Most of the money they needed to build their houses came from high barbacoa profits. they were not willing to compromise anymore and go back to making barbacoa de perol. to choose and mark the sheep that they will later buy for slaughter. Their greater investment of work and money increased the quality of their product. Barbacoieros will not stop making their product. 1960). Sometimes Primy. hired another woman to help. as that would be lowering their standards. Primy and Alejandro stopped using the perol altogether and tended to buy slightly younger sheep so that they could cook exclusively in the oven. making it less commercial. In the meantime. They might lose some of their regular clients who were accustomed to a superior product.or two-room dwellings (Madsen. Tuesday is dedicated to cleaning and returning everything to normal. On the other hand. but by the 1980s many families began to build larger houses as they became more prosperous from selling nopales and barbacoa. Primy explained to me her perception of how household spending had changed since the crisis of December 1994. as it is their trade and means of livelihood. They did so despite the increased physical labour and expense required when using ﬁrewood rather than gas. During my last visit to Milpa Alta. but it was Alejandro who insisted that they switch to the pit oven because the resulting ﬂavour is so much better. as well as all the work areas and utensils used. the ranch where the livestock is sold. the husbands go to the ganadería. This has forced the price of barbacoa to remain low despite higher production costs. naturally. she pointed out. more of a luxury good and of course more expensive. In the 1950s most families lived in simple one. This is why. Doña Margarita told me that her husband used to make barbacoa in the perol. 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.64 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. although it was likely that newer clients would not mind the difference. as did many others. This attitude. they were unwilling to produce an inferior product. Still. 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. Until the eighties. there are many big houses in San Mateo. Few raise their own livestock since land and labour have become more scarce in recent . 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. Though using the perol would greatly increase their proﬁt margin. thus reducing the proﬁt margin for producers and forcing them to tighten their belts. did not make the most sense ﬁnancially. several houses were left unﬁnished.
she always stressed how the meat must be physically appealing. But if the lambs are too thin. They also have a singular odour. meaning ﬁve kilos less proﬁt. some barbacoieros are willing to pay a little more to buy borregos criollos. Since they are much smaller. For personal consumption. and later scrubbing down the work areas and the regular weekly cleaning indicate how essential this step is. During the cooking much of it melts away. all barbacoieros prefer pit-roast borregos criollos. When I talked with Primy about the desirable qualities of barbacoa. some compromises are necessary to increase the proﬁt margin. the meat does not come out well after cooking. Whilst both male and female goats and sheep may be used. many families in San Mateo slaughtered their own livestock themselves in a walled area in their yards rather than at the rastro (slaughterhouse). vendors prefer sheep. in which case they would prepare more barbacoa to sell on these special days. Up to ﬁve kilos of fat can be extracted. This is spent like a typical Sunday for anyone else. resulting in less kilos of meat to sell. splinters of bone or irregular cuts. most barbacoieros ﬁnd goats more difﬁcult to work with. however. For the sake of business. which remains if the meat is steamed in the perol. The meticulous elimination of all the suciedad from the entrails of the animals. For the sake of ﬂavour. The quality of the meat depends on the quality and cleanliness of the ingredients. It is also cheaper to buy the animals that are brought over live from the US or Australia. Thus. Other women married to barbacoieros emphasized this to me as well. Also. clients prefer meat to be less fatty. locally reared sheep. and they render less cooked meat per kilo of raw. with a similar preparation process. She also insisted on absolute cleanliness. They are more difﬁcult to prepare because of their size and expense. sometimes male goats retain their odour (‘the smell of a man’. although it disappears when it is cooked in the oven. they need to be treated more gently. as Doña Margarita described it) even after cooking in the perol. Although goat meat can be used as successfully as lamb. Wednesday: Rest Wednesday is the day of rest for barbacoiero families. These graze freely and eat what they wish instead of enriched industrial feed. To uphold this value and control quality. but all barbacoieros agree that they are worth it. unless there is a major holiday midweek. The local sheep are smaller and leaner than foreign livestock and also have better ﬂavour because of how they are raised. Otherwise they are free . If they are too fat there will be a huge lump of fat behind the kidney or distributed throughout the meat.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 65 years. without unappetizing dark spots. It becomes too dry and does not look good. and they must be neither too fat nor too thin. This is indisputably the tastiest and best-quality barbacoa that can be made.
it was evident that this was an industry that had signiﬁcant social effects. . particularly the wife.66 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to relax and hold their own or attend other ﬁestas which mark life cycle events in the family. barbacoieros seem to be both more attractive as well as more cautious when dealing with others. There was a distinct division of labour between men and women. When I later learned. so unsurprisingly. The sheepskins are sold to make into jackets and rugs. All other parts of the animal are eaten. 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. and wealth in the area is attached to barbacoa. Since Milpa Alta is ofﬁcially an area of Mexico City of relative poverty. The fact that they are concentrated in Barrio San Mateo gives the barrio a reputation of being excessively proud and stingy. nor do they share with each other unless there is a particular ﬁesta. discipline. it makes sense that people of similar occupation should group together. and the tallow is sold to make soap. that only married couples prepare barbacoa for a living. But I had not realized how much the preparation of the dish affected the way that barbacoieros interacted socially with others. It is uncommon to borrow ingredients from the neighbours as they are expected to pay for whatever foodstuff they require. The recent prosperity associated with barbacoa has made the wealth of barbacoieros a new value to protect. When a couple decides to dedicate themselves to barbacoa. the bones are sold to make detergents. whilst single men and women only helped their parents but had separate careers. As indicated in this chapter. Families carefully protect their belongings and social standing. with the main responsibility lying with the marital couple. disciplined hours to continue to earn a living and not disappoint their customers. After slaughtering. Their work rhythm dictates some of their values as well as their timetables. they commit themselves to working excessively hard during weekends and having free time in the middle of the week. as mentioned earlier. Having the opportunity to socialize at the same times. even if it is only a bit of sugar or a few tortillas. Those from San Mateo are said to be much less friendly than those of other barrios. issues of trust and envy are highly relevant in the community of all those who are involved in the same business. all parts of the animal are used either in the cooking or for other purposes. Whatever the weather. order. This behaviour is attributed to wealth. they have to work long. Conclusion From the ﬁrst time that I observed and participated in the preparation of barbacoa I was fascinated with the process. when most people are very busy working. This proximity to one another also encourages competition. cleanliness and frugality are necessary to perform the culinary technique. Nothing is wasted.
economic constraints and technical capabilities. The actual ﬂavouring and .Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 67 The production of the dish encompasses all aspects of their lives. barbacoa can be thought of as an artwork within the corpus of Mexican cuisine. Social values and behaviour seem encapsulated in the process of cooking or making barbacoa. Since barbacoa is an elaborately prepared dish. as in using the developed uterus for the panza. Because of the technical mastery necessary for its production and the acknowledgement of this virtuosity in its consumption. 52). or at least socially interpreted. the decoration is just as functional as the object itself (1998. This is why it is a dish typically eaten at special occasions or weekends. at ﬁrst. There is a problem with thinking of it in this way. and therefore creates a social relation between them. The goal is to achieve the best possible taste in the most pragmatic way for commercial and gastronomic success. although consumers themselves are unable to determine the cause of the difference in taste. Making barbacoa is both a source of livelihood and a pursuit of culinary excellence. It was precisely the complexity of the ﬂavours and the preparation which made it more than just meat. As Gell has argued in differentiating between decorated objects and non-decorated objects. Meat preparation can be socialized. in this case. ‘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. edible object. p. The technical activity of. the food preparation is a sensual experience. cookery is both a source of prestige from an object (dish) and a source of efﬁcacy in social relations. p. both for men and for women. As with any work of art. The matanza seems more than a slaughter. motherhood is a well-known value in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. ‘The work of art.12 A living animal changes from a natural state to a controlled. socially malleable. which is decorated or considered more special or beautiful than other objects/dishes. it seems the beginning of this social transformation. 74). however. The animals are simply a source of meat. Food requires ‘decoration’—ﬂavourings or elaborate preparation—just as much as it requires nutrients. 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. For example. the occasion in which it is eaten. For barbacoa. the resulting dish is greater than the sum of its parts. Barbacoa ranks high in the hierarchy of dishes in Mexican cuisine. though. that is. because preparing barbacoa is not a ritual. it can be thought of as a work of art. On small scale. references to motherhood seem related to the achievement of better ﬂavours. and that it had complex ﬂavours.13 Even so. it is a culinary technique. a craft whose product depends on physical labour. and vice versa. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (1996. to analyze the preparation of barbacoa as if it illustrates a process of social conversion and acculturation. Likewise. So it is tempting. The function of the elaboration is to mark the dish. another ingredient. it can be said that the purpose of eating food is not simply for nourishment. although it is by no means the highest. Before I met Primy for the ﬁrst time I had known that barbacoa was difﬁcult and laborious to prepare. as special.
effort and money in the everyday production of meals. women put in much effort and creativity in daily cooking. On large scale. which could later lead to greater social success. Worth noting now is that I did not arrive in Milpa Alta with the intentions of observing gender relations. Women. If the appropriate pleasurable ﬂavour is achieved in the many parts of the dish. 1998). I will describe their roles as wives and cooks. Recipes Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa Ma. affect the way they socialize with others. barbacoa has affected the community of San Mateo in Milpa Alta. which could be thought of as minor works of art or craft. San Mateo became special because of a special dish (or a special ﬂavour). a barbacoiero will have greater economic success. 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. and the technical skills they must acquire. San Mateo was like any other barrio of maize farmers among many. women’s labour. ideals and relations with men will be explored further. Before the concentration of barbacoieros and their technical and ﬁnancial success. 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. since they generally are the ones in charge of the panza and the all-important salsas. but also in celebration and large-scale sharing).68 • Culinary Art and Anthropology elaboration is often the responsibility of women. or cooks. raw green chile de árbol. stemmed garlic avocados . either in small groups or in large ﬁestas. In the chapter that follows. even though there is little time to relax and savour the ﬂavours of their meals. More customers will buy the product for their own consumption as well as to share with others. both with themselves and with one another. As shown in the earlier description of a typical week for barbacoieros. Daily food similarly inﬂuences adjustments in behaviour. In particular. invest measured amounts of time. and how the activities prescribed as appropriate for them. If we accept that the nature of the art object is deﬁned by its social use (Gell. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez green husk tomatoes. The success of their cooking affects their relations with the people they are feeding. but I could not help being struck by the organized cooperation that I observed during my ﬁrst few weeks there.
Mix well. Pass the chiles through the hot oil once. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa Ma. soaked 3 medium onions 10 small cloves garlic salt to taste Blend all ingredients together. Add olives. salt and a drizzle of olive oil to taste. toasted on comal. boiled ¼ kg each of dried chiles: chile mora. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez 6 kg green husk tomatoes.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 69 onion salt Grind all together in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. Pour into a serving bowl. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’—for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home Ma. Then one day I decided to try making it and was . Primitiva Bermejo Martínez chile pasilla. chile de árbol. garlic and orange juice. In the same oil. stemmed. fry the garlic cloves until golden. Blend together chiles. 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. freshly squeezed green olives salt olive oil queso canasto (a fresh white cheese) Heat oil in a frying pan. stems and veins removed oil for frying garlic. then drain. peeled orange juice. Decorate with crumbled cheese. and chile guajillo angosto ( pulla). cleaned.
and place it in the oven for about 2 hours. ancho. and serve with hot corn tortillas.70 • Culinary Art and Anthropology pleasantly surprised that the ﬂavour I achieved approximated the real thing. avocados and salsas. chopped 6 –8 dried red chiles (de árbol. or until the meat is very tender. chopped onions. but there is no real substitute for epazote. chopped roughly • Preheat oven to 180ºC (gas mark 5/375ºF) for about 1 hour. since some forms of barbacoa are prepared with them. Serves 3– 4 1 metre banana leaves 1 kg lamb shoulder (or leg) 3 bay leaves large handful of epazote handful of coriander. They will change colour slightly and become more pliable. morita. Banana leaves may substitute maguey leaves. • Combine the rest of the ingredients and place in the casserole. where the piece of meat will ﬁt. Use them to line a heavy casserole with a lid. Rub the meat with the garlic. although there was little consomé. • Wrap the meat with the banana leaves before securing the lid. and pour a little water into the pot so the meat does not dry out when cooking. guajillo) 1 onion. which I do grow on my windowsill. herbs and chiles. • Sprinkle with salt after cooking is complete. limes. if desired. sliced 3 cloves garlic. sliced 1 leek. wash the banana leaves and then pass them over a ﬂame or dry griddle to soften them. Meanwhile. preferably green (tomatillos). The following recipe was the result of my culinary experiment. chopped coriander. sliced 2–3 tomatoes. . The meat may or may not be raised on a wire rack.
Crucially. and go on to develop my argument in relation to how women and—or via—their cooking are valued in Milpa Alta. referring to the sazón de amor that is responsible for good ﬂavour. The work must be seen as separable from the one who does it. as wives. p. 1988. 1998. are devalued ‘or not regarded as skills at all’ (Charles and Kerr.3 The Value of Cooking and Other Work Some feminist sociological studies argue that when cooking is regarded as women’s work. which include cooking and other domestic tasks. p. their husbands. McIntosh and Zey. such as when they hire domestic helpers. and just as their agency is mobilized by the family during ﬁestas in community-wide sociality1 (see Chapter 5). home cooking is considered women’s work. instead of in the traditional way as an expression of love and personality’ (1991. 47). 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 – . we can think of women’s agency as a culinary agency. often ‘invisible’ skill that women take upon as ‘natural’. This chapter focuses on the role of women in the network of Milpa Alta society.g. is how women’s skills. they can also mobilize the agency of others. Murcott. DeVault writes.–4– Women as Culinary Agents Although many men in Milpa Alta are involved in food industries. it can lead to women’s subordination (e. they argue.4 By focusing on meal production as a household chore. Though I agree that feeding a family is a skill and responsibility easily taken for granted in Mexico and elsewhere. 1979. these studies take food production to be directly symbolic of the reproduction of a social order where women. 1991. inevitably play a subordinate role to men. Beardsworth and Keil. Cooking is a complex and artistic practice. Delphy. 1997. The root of the problem. Maintaining the leitmotif of cooking as an artistic practice. 1983). In her insightful and critical discussion of how ‘feeding a family’ is a complex. I would differentiate cooking from other forms of housework. ‘The underlying principles of housework must be made visible.2 I begin by describing local social relations and different kinds of women’s work in Milpa Alta. different from other kinds of housework because of the creative component involved. Women are the key actors in the culinary system. 142). Ekström. I hesitate to separate the act and skill of cooking from the cook.
if not a talent. marital-compadrazgo alliances. In fact.72 • Culinary Art and Anthropology with the existing ideology of Mexican cooking (see also Abarca. I would emphasize further that there is also nothing wrong with having deﬁned gendered roles in the family. cooking is a chore. when DeVault states that ‘women learn to think of service as a proper form of relation to men. leaving the house and socializing a little. in-laws and comadres. therefore. and learn a discipline that deﬁnes “appropriate” service for men’ (1991. Doña Delﬁna told me that before she married she used to take lunch to the peons who worked on her family’s land. I found several women to have such an attitude. women take pride in their cooking. The extended family. this does not necessarily imply a master-servant relationship. are not always forced to prepare elaborate meals for their husbands. Thus. applied to Latin America. but they can ﬁnd other ways to provide a delicious meal whether they cook it themselves or not. 143). p. integral to the historical schema … provides much latitude and legitimization of behavior in terms of social status. since power need not be publicly displayed in order to be enforced. and the like. ‘[T]he people see nothing servile in this’. In Milpa Alta cooking is indeed embedded in the domestic realm. 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. several recent studies document how family and gender ideologies are more dynamic than static. or when women work away from home. Women. and not by the wives or daughters of the landowners who prepared food and served it to those men. As Gudeman and Rivera (1990. of course. p. p.’ 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. In one of the earlier collections of essays published on gender. Though this might be taken as indicative of women’s subordination to men. knowing how to cook Mexican food is actually thought of as a skill worth learning. at least.5 Rather. On the . still widespread and potent in countryside and city. It cannot be denied that many women assume the role of wife. and whether or not they cook regularly. Servile status was held by the labourers who worked the ﬁeld. In Milpa Alta. p. 101) write about Colombia. In such cases. Some women in Milpa Alta say they cook to satisfy their own cravings or desires. and this is not to downplay or ignore ongoing social change in terms of gender relations. although women serve food to their husbands or bring them meals in the ﬁelds. This was one of the parts of the day that she enjoyed most. Many have told me that they enjoy it. although they may hardly cook at all. xiv) claimed. 2006. For others. affords the female an extensive amount of inﬂuence on the members of her family. prestige. subsumed as women’s work or women’s unpaid labour. relatives. as I explained in Chapter 1. Ann Pescatello (1973. ‘The Latin American family. mother and cook whether or not they enjoy it. 108). they meet the challenge of providing good food to their families by depending on cooperation with co-resident women.
The reasons for these competing discourses of power and submission are multiple and complex. often by means of their cooking. Williams. 260 –1). 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. 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. Milpa Alta works’ (‘Mientras México duerme. a journalist. Women remain at work for twelve hours or more. said that women generate sustenance. checking the barbacoa in their pit-ovens. Both are also valued as work.7 but that is only how it appears on the surface. This must be why several women described themselves as ‘housewives’ although if asked again. Her sensitive discussion of feminist kitchen politics is a . Rather than talk of a doble jornada. the cooking and providing of meals is not (cf. Juanita told me.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. Women in Milpa Alta have a reputation in Mexico City for being hardworking. People commonly say. they take on extradomestic work and still ﬁnd a way to feed their families (cf. Hard work seems to be deﬁned as commerce and extradomestic labour. including domestic tasks. a single woman in her mid-twenties still living in her natal household. teeming with women setting up their stalls and peeling nopales. They are the ones who maintain the economic control in the family. among other issues. they would say that they were barbacoieras. proper provision of tasty food reﬂects good motherhood. 2005. pp. I would ﬁnd many women awake. sometimes deﬁning themselves against this notion of submissiveness. and likewise. 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’). 1985. They are not simple housewives but are the drive of the family businesses. and get up again the next morning before dawn. Lulú.m. market vendors (vendedoras) or businesswomen (comerciantes). They admirably sacriﬁce sleep and other comforts for the sake of their work. Even when domestic work may appear to be devalued. good womanhood. ‘While Mexico sleeps. Juanita. involving changing gender relations resulting from women’s entrance into the labour force. women in Milpa Alta are ‘submissive’..Women as Culinary Agents • 73 contrary. Supposedly.6 they speak with pride of how able and productive their women are. Stephen. The example of a barbacoa household (Chapter 3) illustrates how women assume the domestic household duties along with helping in the family trade. que crea el comercio’). It was as natural for them to portray themselves as mothers and cooks (‘Me dedico al hogar’) as it was to call themselves barbacoieras. on Tejanos). returning home well after dusk. Indeed. told me that if I were to walk around Milpa Alta at 3 or 4 a. As I discuss further below. Milpaltense women present themselves as having various opportunities for release from oppression. Milpa Alta trabaja’). By four or ﬁve in the morning the market is alive. Juanita and other women repeatedly told me that Milpa Alta women never rest.
9 This is not only acceptable. because Doña Margarita told me not to take too long. 2004. One of the secrets of Mexican (and any good) cooking is having top-quality ingredients at hand. women’s independence and the dynamism of relationships between individuals of both or either gender. 2006. In Milpa Alta it is normal to make frequent. she needed someone to go to the tortillería to buy some prepared masa so that we would not have to soak. whereas they are usually chaperoned for social outings. I was surprised at her surprise at how quickly I had been. 1994. When I accompanied one or another friend or acquaintance on a visit to the market. women are not quite as conﬁned to the domestic sphere as it might appear. 1975. Though they live with some social restrictions. women do not need to be accompanied.g. Working hard in the pursuit of ﬂavour encourages a malleable boundary between domestic and extradomestic spaces. 1999. Once when Doña Margarita was making tamales and her dough came out a little too thin. 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. almost daily trips to the market or to different shops for fresh ingredients. Trips to the market are as much a social event for exchanging news and gossip as for stocking up the larder. 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. They go to particular vendors or even other towns. I offered to go instead of Primy or one of the children. which would take too long. Sometimes we would detour for an ice cream. Since unmarried daughters in the family are often asked to buy fresh bread in the evenings for supper. Williams. Even in cases where women appear to be subservient to their husbands (‘Es él que manda’). among others).. Roseman. Rogers. When I returned to the house. one way that they stretch their boundaries is in pursuit of culinary ideals. 1985). Melhuus and Stølen. Fowler-Salamini and Vaughan. 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. taco. boil and grind more maize (nixtamal ). much work in Latin America and elsewhere dismantles the notion of women being in a rigid oppressive condition (e. or between staying home and being out in the streets.74 • Culinary Art and Anthropology convincing critique of the kitchen as a site of female oppression (see also André. but expected. they are not imprisoned in their kitchens or completely engulfed in household chores (cf. In Milpa Alta. Abarca. . By stressing complementarity between the sexes. 1986. 1996. because I had done exactly as I was told—go to the tortillería and come back. Suárez and Bonﬁl. licuado or other snack bought on the street or in the market. Primy mentioned that it was because I walk very fast. Johnsson.10 Thus. but I suspect that it was more unusual not to spend more time chatting with passersby on every outing. Many women go to great lengths to collect the right foods for the dishes they wish to prepare. 2001). their everyday lives are not necessarily limited. and I set off without stopping. I observed that for women who are interested in cooking well. For culinary errands.
they usually help their husbands in their businesses by providing the necessary culinary labour (making salsas. she will always have him in the palm of her hand. she had been ambitious about her academic and later professional career and had little patience for the kitchen. If they used to dress seductively when they were single. With skilful cooking. Since her mother and sister taught her to cook little by little. Yet far from being housewives who solely cook. Guille told me conspiratorially that she only learned to cook several years after she got married. In other words. she said. This is just like how Ricardo told me (in Chapter 1) that a man falls in love with his stomach (rather than his heart). clean and raise their children. At the time. as I explained previously. although. either from her mother. Perhaps it is for good reason that married women spend so much time preparing proper meals. and their husbands are expected to eat what they serve them. do so largely because of the high value placed on motherhood and family life in Mexico (cf. motherhood and family life correspond to ideals of womanhood. she learns as soon as she gets married.Women as Culinary Agents • 75 Marriage and Cooking When a girl knows how to cook. she can entice him to her to fulﬁl his sexual desires. some women begin to dress conservatively and stop wearing makeup. food with good ﬂavour. culinary knowledge is not expected of men. out of ‘respect’ for their husbands. Yadira told me that a woman can win a man through his mouth (‘Un hombre se conquista por la boca’). Deciding to stay at home and raise a family is a choice that many (though not all) women make. García and Oliveira. and proper women prepare food at home from scratch. for not knowing how to cook. If a single woman does not know how to cook. and those who do.). If a man is satisﬁed with the way a woman cooks. love and sex. Married women are expected to know how to cook. as I discussed in Chapter 2. 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. Alejandro sometimes . 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. by extension. motherhood. homemaking and extradomestic work are not mutually exclusive. Men could depend on women to provide them their meals and could expect to be well-fed once married. if a woman appeals to a man’s oral/gastronomical desires (taste). the correlations amongst cooking. she is considered to be ready for marriage and. her mother-in-law or other female friends and relatives. 1997). but she managed to keep her husband from ﬁnding out. prepared with a sazón de amor. a woman can trap a man. and then enter into small commercial ventures on the side. This hints at the connections between food. It is also not unlike Gell’s notion of artworks as traps. Conversely. Some women quit their extradomestic jobs after marriage. She should have been ashamed of herself. which I discuss further below. We can also extend this to say that attaining culinary expertise is equivalent to attaining complete womanhood. In other words. etc.
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. but rather seem to consider it as an unfortunate necessity. 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. tying women to their homes and children when they would rather join the labour force. that motherhood does not actually stop women from taking on extradomestic work. Miguel said that he knew how to cook as well as how to clean and wash clothes. and a man needs a woman to bear children. ‘¿Entonces. Early one morning. motherhood has been suggested to be another cause of women’s subordination. Motherhood and Virtue Based on their investigation of motherhood and extradomestic work. In fact.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!’). as we drove to the market where they sell their barbacoa. Cooking knowledge (and practice) is almost meaningless without a family. Their study shows how motherhood is considered to be a source of fulﬁlment for women regardless of social class. Yet. married men depend on their wives. At this most basic level. Work. For women who feel that their duties as mothers are a burden or hindrance. Miguel and Coty provide another example of the social signiﬁcance of cooking within marriage. pa’ qué te casaste?’ (‘So what did you get married for?’) Coty taunted him. García and Oliveira demonstrate. and unmarried men depend on their mothers. 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. 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. 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. Levine (1993) also notes that urban Mexican women in the 1990s were more likely to encourage their children. Economic considerations play a signiﬁcant role in women’s activities. buy a plot of land or provide things for their children. they talked lightly about their skills and roles as husband and wife. he replied. and my ﬁndings in Milpa Alta agree. especially their daughters. it is often necessary for working-class women to work extradomestically to supplement the family income. although some women also feel ambivalent about their roles as mothers. Many women consider extradomestic work to be detrimental . Working-class women taking on jobs outside the home do not think of this freedom to work as any sort of liberating agency. ‘Para mis niñas’ (‘For my daughters’).
then. Sara (another member of the group) spoke with satisfaction about how good her sons were. the way they went to church on Sundays. these women were attacked in an indirect expression of community dissatisfaction over giving up this land. values and ideals of motherhood and domestic work. but also about her kind and faithful husband. including good cooking. largely because of the governmental support of the project. and Villareal (p. free) or their husbands as mandilón (tied to the apron strings. because they and/or their husbands thought it best for them to dedicate their time to child rearing. For the sake of their children. The boundaries of women’s accepted movements were threatened by gossip that labelled them as libertina (loose. despite problems with her husband. Mexico. Although some did talk of professional fulﬁlment. henpecked and in effect. with wives who are loose and free). a scarce resource for the community. often boasted about her cooking skills and was proud of the way she had reared her children. women may stop working outside the home or engage in work that can largely be done from home. Other women told me without any indication of shame that they stopped working after marriage. 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). Women who wish to pursue extradomestic activities can use a discourse of homemaking and cooking to subvert moral and social criticism. can also be demonstrated by the following example. The virtues. 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. It is helpful to quote at length here to illustrate this point: None [of the women beekeepers] claimed explicitly to be a model housewife. and how she walked kilometres across the . researchers tend to assume that ideas pertaining to those in hierarchical positions are oppressing passive victims. In the community’s reaction against this. They did so by emphasizing their exemplary behaviour with respect to other images of womanhood. Villareal’s (1996) analysis of women beekeepers in Jalisco. such as motherhood and being good homemakers (which includes cooking).Women as Culinary Agents • 77 to the development of their families despite their capitalist productivity. who wanted her to spend more time in the house. a larger percentage of both women and men in Milpa Alta neglected to practise their professional careers in favour of ‘traditional’ Milpaltense occupations. the president of the group.’ In Jalisco. she describes that the government encouraged peasant women’s participation in an entrepreneurial scheme which required the allocation of ejido land. but Petra. illustrates how attempts to restrict women’s social spaces may draw on gender imagery that plays upon male ideals and women’s morality. The dominant discourse of male power and female weakness is used often in reference to Latin America. therefore. 184) argues against this assumption: ‘In overemphasizing “dominant” imagery. or in particular after having their ﬁrst child.11 Eventually land was grudgingly given to the women beekeepers. Yet women can also use these notions to their advantage.
The idea of keeping their household in ‘good order’ was often conveyed. but he never hit her. Women’s suffering came up in conversation in a surprisingly casual manner. with them I am happy’ (‘Ni. even if he never has given her reason to believe he really will). 20). The greatest form of suffering for a married . (Villareal. and probably in other parts of Mexico as well. that women have the tendency to attach virtue to suffering. 195) A similar kind of dynamic exists in Milpa Alta. Mexico. Melhuus and Stølen (1996) argue that gender ideology is in constant ﬂux. though I have no hard facts to prove it. ‘No. she replied that at ﬁrst she had not thought about it. better not [to have a daughter]. Melhuus (1992) suggests in her study of Toluca. but actively use the ideals of cooking and motherhood to avoid forcing direct confrontation. but apart from those occasions. she told me. ‘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. con esos estoy contenta’). ya no. Then she added. Socorro bragged quietly about how she cooked for her family. They can take an active role in modifying their social spaces. If he does beat her. which undermines the power of the accepted gender imagery. y gracias a Dios. 1996. They do not necessarily succumb submissively to the dominant discourse. p. he never hit me!’ Some people spoke so openly about wife-beating that I was led to believe it was commonplace.78 • Culinary Art and Anthropology ﬁelds to take him a hot lunch. God gave me two sons. she never felt the desire to have a daughter. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal When Yadira’s ﬁrst child was born. When I asked Doña Delﬁna. there were few divorces and separations in Milpa Alta (though there were other reasons for this as well. They write. yet it continues to organize and perform functions in society. mejor. she suffers through it. she explained. since the girls had married out. I was also told that if a woman fails to cook or clean. if she had wanted a daughter. She proudly showed her sewing and embroidery to her visitors. at the time of ﬁeldwork. ‘It was better. which was now composed of only boys. and thanks to God. Suffering. Some cases cited in their volume indicate a certain complicity among women. In fact. por conocer que una como mujer sufre. but it was because I had done something to deserve it. An elderly lady told me that her husband was a womanizer and a drunk. Dios me ha dado dos hijos. he only hit me once or twice. Domestic violence rarely results in separation. as well as resistance. her husband may beat her (or at least she fears that he might. then stayed a bit to help out with his chores. Villareal’s case study clearly demonstrates that women are not passive. and since her sons always helped her at home. as I mention below). knowing how a woman suffers. as did the topic of physical abuse. who had two sons. She then added. Girls grow up to have difﬁcult lives. she cried because the child was a girl.
se pintan’). He did not know what to do. He offered to seduce Alfonso’s mistress so that she would lose interest in him. and that this is the source of women’s power. las quieren. about men who have affairs and why they stay with their wives. But what it also indicates is the centrality of women in the judgement of both men and women. Kiko mischievously decided not to respond in the way expected of him. such as Yadira and Lulú. es porque se deja’). and he had fallen in love with a 25-year-old beauty. What Yadira interpreted as a sign of women’s subjugation to men’s ideas or tastes Doña Delﬁna saw as a moral issue. and as ‘slaves’ to their children (‘Sí. Doña Delﬁna used to say that only women of the streets wear makeup (‘Sólo las pirujas. but this is the expected image.Women as Culinary Agents • 79 woman is if her husband is having an extramarital affair. Both single and married men found this attractive. They allowed their husbands to play the macho role. or at least on the surface. I began to enquire about men’s and women’s love relationships. wore makeup. Women were tempting when they dressed up. and cut their hair or left it loose in the modern fashionable hairstyles. and likewise that of their husbands. or for not dressing ‘appropriately’. Yadira said that men who had affairs surely did love their wives. married with children. and not the other way around. y esclavas para sus hijos’). women could protect their morality. With their appearance. supposedly to ask for advice.12 At some point in marriage. especially if she is young and pretty. were partly responsible for those consequences. if she becomes submissive. After hearing of this incident. Alejandro once said to me very bluntly. he is henpecked (‘Él que no pega a su mujer es su mandilón’). so this was why many men forbade their wives to cut their hair or wear makeup—to prevent them from attracting other men. a husband is thought likely to be unfaithful to his wife. las mujeres de la calle. Motherhood being the centre of domestic life kept men with their wives even if they were tempted by others. si se vuelve sumisa. . But my friends. it’s because she allows it’ (‘Depende en la mujer. 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. pero como mamás. though she could not say for sure that Milpa Alta had many machos. Decent women plaited their long hair and did not use makeup. Not all men are like this. The discussion so far suggests that men might have the upper hand over women when it comes to power and permissiveness. ‘It depends on the woman. ‘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’). As Lulú put it. thus relieving Alfonso of his guilt and his ‘problem’. A married man may be envied or admired among his peers if he is known to have a lover on the side. 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. high heels and short skirts. They loved them as mothers. He said that he was 50 years old. also said that women who are beaten by their husbands for not fulﬁlling domestic tasks (with or without hired help). Alfonso approached Kiko.
80 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Doña Delﬁna herself wore her hair in two plaits only after marriage. whereas calling a woman the daughter of a whore (hija de puta) is ambiguous and virtually meaningless. 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. When you say. she ultimately had the last word when it came to family decisions. and it is women’s behaviour and morality (their shame) which reﬂects upon men. because he is acting stupid (‘porque parece que no se da cuenta. They are related to the victimized wife of the macho man who has other lovers or more than one family. as swear words are used in English as well. This is why calling a man hijo de puta is a very powerful insult. this did not imply a lack of authority. the greatest value in society is placed on women. She refused to sign the tenancy agreement. 160) or suffering as a female virtue. More speciﬁcally. A woman described as pendeja is one whose husband has one or more lovers. a man who is called a güey has horns. While men appear to hold honour and represent their families as the household head. when you describe a man by saying. But two other terms. Furthermore. Of central importance is women’s role as mothers in relation to men. When a man’s wife has a lover. since bulls have horns. These express two key concepts of moral judgement. So by cheating on him with another man. to act stupidly. 159). it is because it seems that he takes no notice. Women are a threat to men as ‘bearers (if not keepers) of their honour’ (p. ‘Se hace güey’ (‘He is acting güey’). He arranged a ﬂat for them to rent and only needed Doña Delﬁna’s signature. it was explained to me. She pretends that either she does not know or that she does not care so much. It is one of the biggest insults for a man. 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. 80) and men are the ‘guardians of women’s virtue’ (p. When someone is called pendejo/a. preferring for her children to grow up on their land. are more commonly used in Milpa Alta for insulting men and women. he may be described as being pendejo. porque se hace tonto’). a man who moves into his wife’s house after marriage or who is henpecked . but though she appeared to defer to her husband on the surface. pendejo/a and güey. The word güey is derived from the word buey. Her morality is better insulted directly by calling her puta. his wife gives him horns (se pone los cuernos). In Milpa Alta. and she accepts it. it usually means hacerse tonto/a. complementary to the labels of puta and hijo de puta. 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. Years later. ‘Es un buey’ (‘He is a bull’). it is because his wife is deceiving him (‘porque su esposa le engaña’). Don Felipe was grateful for Doña Delﬁna’s decision in that the family was happy to have remained in Milpa Alta. which means bull (toro). although it is also used among close friends to profess admiration. but he is more likely to be called güey. So although Doña Delﬁna talked generally of women’s suffering. and to the cuckolded husband of the woman who sleeps around.
Although it may not necessarily be the case that his wife dominates over him or that she has an extramarital lover. On the much rarer occasion of a woman telling me that her husband had had an affair. as in the following anecdote: Doña Marta told me of her jealousy when she discovered that her husband had a lover. or a second family. in effect. Although he would have been very full and quite tired. whatever the time. As a dutiful wife. Doña Marta would not allow him to leave the table until he cleaned his plate. so that people will not speak ill of her.Women as Culinary Agents • 81 may be teased by others as a ciguamoncli or ciguamoncle. regardless of the eater’s true hunger. It was also Doña Marta’s subtle way of insisting that her husband recognize his sexual obligations to her. to keep up appearances. she would wait until he got home. 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. Since she had fulﬁlled her duties as a wife by cooking for him. A woman who acts tonta does so because she is pendeja. often cooking his favourites or requests for his comida. Inversely. he was unable to refuse the meal. real or imagined. Most people with whom I spoke made jokes and ‘naughty’ innuendos when they talked of sexual opportunities. if she was not stupid ( pendeja) and was overly concerned with others’ opinions. she prepared proper meals for him every day. it frustrated her. I hinted at the coerciveness of Milpaltense hospitality in Chapter 2 and discuss it further in the next chapter. When he failed to return home to eat. She had already suspected it when he would repeatedly come home after midnight without letting her know of his plans to stay out late. In retaliation. Men and women are conceived of as having differing motivations for lenience over the sexual behaviour of their spouses. she either couched the story in terms of woman’s suffering or told me of her little revenge. since he had already eaten a full meal with his lover. but her relatives and neighbours told her she simply had to accept that he was a man and that is how men were. and she would insist that he have his comida. since it is the norm for the wife to move to the husband’s house. by enforcing his gastronomical obligations to eat her home-cooked meals.’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. the man appears to be acting güey. She would rush to the kitchen to warm up the food and would purposely give him large servings. as he ought to do since it was served to him. she would take advantage of her right to demand her husband’s ‘respect’ and full sexual attention. both extramarital or premarital. 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. saying that he must be hungry since he was home so late. He allows her to dominate. 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. he had to fulﬁll his duties as a husband by eating what she had so lovingly cooked. As one .
For this reason they are willing to suffer and to work twice as hard as their husbands. it is ideally also the most ﬂavourful. though interpretations may vary. divorce and single motherhood is worse than having or being an extramarital lover. Women’s power is drawn from the domestic realm. you must come when you are bid’). They can provide for family needs through nurture as well as by wage-earning work. She generalized that for men. Yadira said that they prefer to leave their lovers before they are found out. to be in love means submission to men or society’s rules (at least in appearance). Well-prepared and delicious food is food cooked ‘with love’. Home cooking is not only the ideal food. ‘A la mesa y a la cama. original emphasis). are portrayed as the ideal providers of sex and food. in Milpa Alta. and by extension the greater social sphere. women are the hub of the family. and for women. Abarca. 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. in multiple ways. Although not common. They run the family. As Lulú and Yadira often said. Therefore. because people you care about will eat the meal’ (2006. On the other hand. children and culinary ideals. They are ready to make great sacriﬁces for the sake of their children. As Wilk describes it. they support as well as beneﬁt and depend upon their family and children. Among those women who have extramarital lovers. they would even leave their lovers. she may still be respected in her own way. epitomized in the mother-child bond. 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. or with love magic cooked in to ensnare a man or keep him at home. Being able to blame themselves for some unpleasant aspects of domestic life indicates that women can be powerful and autonomous agents. Home cooking is always concerned with quality. and they also cook for love. the most important point to note is that many women do feel that they are responsible for themselves as well as for their families. home cooking means a cuisine grounded in familiar shared history and in common knowledge of places and people. from the venerated role they play in the family. 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. a married woman having an affair is usually scolded by her female friends and relatives. in order to protect their virtuous image in the eyes of their children.82 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Mexican saying goes. Otherwise.14 Good women suffer for love of their husbands. with the sazón de amor of a talented cook who loves her husband and her children. ‘Metaphorically. Women. Although a single woman having an affair with a married man ought to be looked down upon. to be in love means sex. una sola vez se llama’ (‘To the table or to bed. in sum. 202. p. This is . The same does not apply for men. who suffer for the sake of husbands. 2006).
to compare. To be sure. In these differing tasks (and in eating). whether or not they consider it the main source of their public esteem in general. depending on the social or local political situation in which they ﬁnd themselves. they did so under terrible constraints. just staying alive was the sole challenge. whether or not they actually do so regularly because they are food vendors. 2001. Nevertheless. 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. some may choose to emphasize cooking as part of their gender identity. Women’s culinary agency is not limited to cooking but may also extend to creative methods of meal provision. p. often. Whether a woman cooks for her family or has someone else do the cooking. they were able to exercise the human potentiality to taste. Sanders. In fact. Melhuus and Stølen. to elaborate their preferences. cooking is a creative activity which requires a basic freedom to perform. 177).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. women in Milpa Alta are proud to be known as hardworking. 1997. see also Moore. This emphasizes the importance of cooking in family life. Sidney Mintz (1996. elaborate cuisines may in fact be a means of escaping the varied existing restrictions that are already embedded in social life. although Mintz does not speciﬁcally engage himself with Bourdieu. it is associated with economic success (economic capital). In Tasting Food. Yet the ability to render judgements of food. McCallum. 1999. 1996. and they provide good food for their families however much or little they cook. by focusing on food. 1994. That is. barbacoieras. Mintz’s ‘taste of freedom’ is in direct contrast with Bourdieu’s. to calibrate differences in taste—and to be prevented from doing so—help to suggest that something of the taste of freedom was . Bourdieu deﬁnes the ‘taste of luxury’ as the ‘taste of liberty’ or a distance from necessity (1984. to develop comparisons. Roseman. Furthermore. Mintz suggests. she may take the credit for providing a meal (abducting the culinary agency of the food/cook). Mintz describes how something judged to be of good taste can emanate from the necessity and poverty of the slaves of the American South. 2000). 1996. or have other incomegenerating activities that keep them busy away from home. In contrast. Rather than good taste (at least in food) being deﬁned according to the habitus of the dominant class. Chapter 3) describes how freedom from slavery may have been partly achieved by the development of a local cuisine. Not only this. as I have described previously. who were low in class hierarchy. they ultimately attained freedom. Tasting Freedom. but that gender is in ﬂux and power is not intrinsic to its constitution (González Montes and Tuñon. the existing ideal of gastronomy makes culinary artistry a possible goal that women may strive to achieve. Ortner. By constructing a cuisine of their own. women may choose to deﬁne themselves as loving individuals who cook for their husbands or other family members. By virtue of its artistic nature.
morality and domestic power and may even help them to trap a husband. by recognizing that cooking is active and creative. and because the cooks actually invented a cuisine that the masters could vaunt. 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. in the case of Mexico. by a wife or a mother.84 • Culinary Art and Anthropology around before freedom itself was. this was speciﬁcally the demands of making fresh tortillas (see Pilcher. put another way. To summarize. Ideally food is cooked at home. cooking was one signiﬁcant way around it. A woman should be able to satisfy her husband both sexually and gastronomically. there was resistance to machine-made tortillas. or. 1994). recipes) should be thought of as having social agency. pp. 1998. the dependence on ﬂavour. culinary or otherwise. 80–1). Although women’s socially acceptable spaces may have appeared limited. dishes. both because the master class became dependent on its cooks. gives women the legitimacy to expand their social and physical boundaries. then. Mexican women used to spend up to a third of their waking hours making tortillas (pp. or a devotion to culinary works of art. Abarca (2006. an idea also formulated by Mintz: ‘[W]orking in the emergence of cuisine legitimized status distinctions within slavery. Gradually. and it can even be thought of as a means toward women’s liberation. The tasting of freedom was linked to the tasting of food. in the way taught by generations of women who nourished their families as wives and mothers. its outcome (food. as works of art (Gell. Then. 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. 1996. 37) As I describe for Milpa Alta. pp. women were left with more time and energy to devote to other activities. (Mintz. It is a license for social action in the pursuit of technical or culinary artistry. therefore. 100–6). with technological advances and political changes as women entered the extradomestic labour force. Both sex and food lead to the continuance (and reproduction) of individuals as well as of society.15 With the tortillas sorted out. but could not themselves duplicate’ (47–8). In effect. or as being social actors in their own right. an elaborate cuisine is not simply a creative escape valve for otherwise restricted women. While it is arguable that women’s subordination was exacerbated by the demands of the kitchen. which eventually led to the development of an elaborate cuisine. p. she is in control over these two fundamental . it is as a provider of sex and food that women’s power becomes evident. pp. forms of autonomy. Looking more closely at cuisine and the social relations surrounding its production can be illuminating. At the same time. 1998). 106–10). because machines produced inferior ﬂavours and quality in comparison to handmade tortillas (Marroni de Velázquez. 1998. pp. The elaborate cuisine was not the restrictive factor of their lives per se. 99–121). machine-made tortillas gained acceptance (Pilcher. Before wide industrialization and the spread of mechanical tortillerías.
the only men for whom women prepare food are their husbands. among other Náhuatl-speaking groups. Furthermore. 1992. 1997. can be both culinary and reproductive. and they use this status in imaginative and subtle ways to assert their power (over men). 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. ﬁnely chopped 1 green chile. And fulﬁllment of these desires requires imagination. the greater social realm. 1985). Chapter 9) argues. 80–1. as wives and mothers. 1989). artistry. Gow. Gregor. pp. Recipes Huevos a la mexicana A typical recipe for almuerzo. skill. p. ﬁnely chopped 4 eggs salt . and many more examples can be given to corroborate this. ﬁnely chopped 1 large tomato. the word for ‘to eat’ has the double meaning of eating food and having sex (Taggart.Women as Culinary Agents • 85 desires (cf. therefore. I believe that such a thing as culinary agency. Women use their culinary agency in the cycle of festivity (described in the chapter that follows). in Náhuatl. in Mexico and elsewhere. This perception hinges on the connection between the value of good cooking—of good ﬂavour—and the value allocated to women. Taggart (1992. 1992). say that no one cooks better than their mothers. creativity—in a word. 80–1) also describes a link between hunger for food and desire for sex among the Sierra Nahaut of Central Mexico. the domestic sphere and. pp. In fact. is accessible to anyone who cooks (see Chapter 2). by extension. or potential to culinary artistry. In fulﬁllment of these desires social relations are made or unmade. 1989. Vázquez García. or in the nature of the two most important desires.16 The preceding discussion has indicated how home cooking is highly valued in Mexico. 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. Women are arguably the most highly valued half of society (Melhuus. Women’s agency. a woman can have actual power over her husband. Stephen (2005. 182). it is precisely women’s cooking that is most highly valued. Many people. If she is a skilful cook or can mobilize her culinary agency. for food and for sex (see Gow. oil ½ onion. when.
Eggs should still be soft. 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 . Some or all of the following foods are offered for taco placero. hence its name. Break the eggs into the pan. Serve with beans ( frijoles de olla). raise the heat and cook until well-done and almost dry. pickled chiles or salsa. Some people buy food and combine it with what they have at home for making any kind of tacos. add salt.86 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Over a medium ﬂame. Taco placero When there is little time to make a proper meal. and hot tortillas or bread. When just ﬁrm. and stir until all are well blended. some women buy various foods in the market to serve taco placero or tacos de plaza. 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. remove from the heat. Add tomatoes. heat oil in frying pan and sauté onions and chiles until soft.
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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2 As already mentioned. Mayordomos also arrange the salvas/promesas (gifts) that their barrio takes to others’ town/barrio ﬁestas. Lomnitz. the actual relationship between compadres may be characterized by competition. sometimes jointly. Compadrazgo and the mayordomía It is helpful to have a basic understanding of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. which at its most basic is the relationship between a couple and the godparents ( padrinos) of their child. the most important aspects of which are the food and the music. concluding with a discussion of mole. By extension. envidia (greed) and initial distrust. They are ritual kin. Their main responsibility is to organize ﬁestas. is natural under these circumstances. therefore. both systems function around feasts and hospitality at the levels of the family and the barrio. for example. and the families maintain commitments as of kinship into future generations. The way Yadira explained it. each family thereafter maintains this bond between them. Compadrazgo Compadrazgo3 is the system of ritual kinship. The ties bound by shared responsibility over the ahijado (godchild) provide a social assurance which may be necessary in future. mutual admiration and also social distance. the quintessence of Mexican culinary artistry. Compadrazgo ritualizes these close social relationships between families based on their mutual respect. When a couple chooses their compadres. Compadres. house blessings and almost any kind of inaugural or life cycle event.4 . she said that compadres (and friends) are ‘inherited’ in Milpa Alta. and these also extend throughout the families of the compadres. 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. Indeed. 1977). To speak with respect. there are other kinds of compadres for marriage. Thus. The respect that characterizes compadrazgo relationships implies personal affection. sometimes singly. although not necessarily for economic assistance. other family members on both sides call one another compadre/comadre or padrino/madrina. respectively. though much has already been written by others on these systems of reciprocal exchange. as ‘comadrita’. and one would begin to address the mother of one’s comadre. are couples married in church with whom they wish to maintain a lifelong relationship.90 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Barrio San Mateo and the systems of reciprocal exchange in hospitality. Accompanying heightened respect. 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. Both husbands and wives choose their compadres. especially baptismal compadres. Apart from baptism.
although this is not the norm. although most pueblos have both Catholic and Náhuatl names. The names of those who . either ﬁnancially or with their labour. thereby continuing to nourish the social relationship despite their absence. and it is not unheard of to celebrate both one’s birthday and saint’s day. local families are expected to help. If compadres cannot attend. barrios and pueblos celebrate their saint’s day with a ﬁesta. deserving special treatment. towns may be referred to solely by their indigenous names. it is only called San Mateo. to avoid offense they must let their hosts know in advance. As will be discussed in greater detail in this chapter. as large sums of money are needed (cf.) Likewise. when they leave a ﬁesta compadres are given extra food to take away with them. compadres assist in preparing the ﬁestas and are also the most honoured guests. Town or barrio ﬁestas are a combination of feasts. Brandes. We can say that the Spaniards ‘baptized’ each town with a new Catholic name. called an itacate. each saint corresponds to a certain day in the year. but nearby pueblos have double names like San Pablo Oztotepec or San Salvador Cuauhtenco. These parcels of food are also given to compadres when they cannot attend a ﬁesta. material or physical aid that is asked of them. They are organized by the socio-political institution called the mayordomía or ‘el sistema de cargos’. Throughout Mexico. The ﬁesta del pueblo and the mayordomía In Milpa Alta every barrio and pueblo is named after a Catholic saint. Mayordomos are like human go-betweens amongst the patron saints of the barrios and pueblos. one’s birthday is also referred to as one’s saint’s day (el día de su santo). compadres are expected to visit one another on occasions of special family events and can expect to be welcomed with a mole de ﬁesta.Mole and Fiestas • 91 In the realm of the family ﬁesta cycle. Like the images of saints who ritually visit one another during town ﬁestas. The mayordomos. According to the Catholic calendar introduced by the Spanish. his or her feast day. most families in Milpa Alta regularly give whatever economic. but they almost always have a Catholic saint’s name as well. On the whole. The mayordomos go to everyone’s houses collecting donations. 1988). People used to be named after the saints on whose day they were born. (Most people are now no longer named after the calendar name. one or more couples (who have married in church) from the barrio/pueblo. installing a church in honour of that saint in the centre. performances and religious ritual. In San Mateo the amounts that each contributed are announced one week after the ﬁesta. even if it is not always easy. taking charge of the ritual visits to other pueblos on their feast day celebrations. They take on this charge for a determined length of time before passing on the role to other members (married couples) of the community. are responsible for caring for the church. the cargo system. Since San Mateo is a barrio of the pueblo Villa Milpa Alta. and for this reason. For the ﬁesta del pueblo.
1977. it is to one’s personal beneﬁt to give to the community. Weddings are also the largest and most important family life cycle celebrations. with the usual accompaniments. they are continually replaced by future mayordomos who maintain the ongoing reciprocal exchange relationships amongst other barrios. and they are often ridiculed. it can be held jointly with a baptism (when a baby turns 1 year . bringing their promesas of ﬂowers and music. Some host their own private banquets during the barrio ﬁesta. . though they are organized amongst compadres. . Many families eagerly look forward to the ﬁesta del pueblo. begin to arrive with statues of their patron saints. indeﬁnite bonds of reciprocity that last a lifetime and beyond. a Mexican birthday song. Salles and Valenzuela. the form and content of community-level celebration has been appropriated into life cycle celebrations. pero para la ﬁesta . Both compadrazgo and the mayordomía are systems that structure social relations.’ (‘We don’t have enough [money] to buy underwear. In compadrazgo. ‘But you have to contribute to continue with the traditions. [we do]’). ‘No tenemos para el calzón. life cycle rituals are sometimes combined and celebrated together. and into the night there is dancing. amongst Zapotecs in Oaxaca. but for the ﬁesta . individuals representing family groups engage in long-term.6 Stephen (2005) explains how. She also argues that women are critical players in ritual life. because they are the ones who prepare the food. and ﬁreworks. Sometimes people give more money than they really can afford. apart from funerals. For example. 2005). When they ﬁnally do have a church wedding. Stephen. the visiting barrios are hosted by local mayordomos to share in a feast of mole. live bands.’ Yadira said. and nearby Morelos.5 Family events are celebrated in the same way. Though mayordomos typically ‘reign’ for one to ﬁve years in Milpa Alta. . especially in the role of mayordomos. carnitas or mixiotes. Mariachis play throughout the day while people eat. 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. some couples delay their church weddings.92 • Culinary Art and Anthropology did not contribute are also made public. planning and saving money months in advance. standing in for the communities represented by the patron saints. In fact. . However. especially weddings. After singing the mañanitas. who help in cash or kind. without the ﬁreworks. a single mother who washes clothes and does general cleaning for a living. 1997. My observations in Milpa Alta are comparable. The ﬁesta ofﬁcially starts on the eve of the feast day when several other barrios and pueblos of Milpa Alta. 1988. Lomnitz. The mayordomía engages in similar long-term contractual exchange relationships with the corresponding mayordomías of neighbouring barrios and pueblos. Cata. until they have children. As Chelita once said to me. and thus their obligation to provide a wedding feast. and also for the sake of comfortable relations and status within the social network (Brandes. closeness and distance in the community among families or pueblos. the most important aspect of any ﬁesta. barbacoa. offering the expected ﬁesta foods in abundance.
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. something to eat or drink must always be available. the ﬁrst thing that a host says is. however infrequent. live music and dancing. because this is all . young corn kernels. It starts with a soup or sopa aguada. and there is an abundance of food. in both ﬁestas and everyday settings. there are forceful fundamental rules of food hospitality in Milpa Alta. Before noon a guest is offered breakfast. The main meal of the day. In the mornings a guest may also be served leftovers from the day before. is usually served between two and ﬁve in the afternoon. or may be held on the day of the barrio ﬁesta. What would be unacceptable is to have a wedding or baptism without the mole de ﬁesta to offer to guests. la comida. The main course is often meat served in a sauce or with some other hot salsa on the side. or chicharrón en chile verde (pork crackling in green sauce). sometimes refried. even if it is only a piece of fruit or agua fresca. or perhaps enchiladas or thinly sliced beef steaks with a salsa and potatoes sautéed with onions. however long overdue the wedding may be. All occasions require the same menu for the banquet to accommodate hundreds of people. This would be followed by beans and all accompanied by tortillas. 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!’). which is either pasta or rice ﬂavoured with onions and garlic and sometimes tomatoes to which carrots. sweetened diluted fruit juice. teleras and hot milk. which are crucial to social interaction. and after six is suppertime. as well as agua de frutas. a complaint expressed with derision toward the subject of conversation. Since someone might arrive for whatever reason at any time.Mole and Fiestas • 93 old) or presentation (when a child is 3). As I explain in the section that follows. Hospitality and Food When guests arrive at the house. peas and/or potatoes may be added. 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. It may be as simple as breaded chicken breasts accompanied by cooked vegetables. If they have run out of milk the hosts apologize and ask if coffee would be all right. Since each ﬁesta should have the same kind of feast food. and/ or sopa seca (dry soup). from around noon to about six it is lunchtime. often chicken broth with pasta. What is served depends on the time of arrival. Whatever is for breakfast is served along with beans. or it may be something rather more complex such as mole verde con pollo (green mole with chicken). ‘¡Adelante! ¡adelante! ¿Qué les ofrezco?’ (‘Come in! Come in! What can I offer you?’). it is acceptable to celebrate them together with a single feast. such as a bowl of pancita accompanied by tacos of broad beans or nopales compuestos.
whose son was ill. Doña Margarita immediately passed her plate to Yadira and said that she was not very hungry. beans and tortillas. Yadira protested that she had already had breakfast and that Doña Margarita should eat. Alejandro and Doña Margarita would not accept this and again insisted we eat. After eating. He accepted the offer. We were invited to have a few tacos of nopales with cheese. we returned to the compadres’ house and helped them cook nopales. After this. we were each given a plate full of milanesas with a simple cucumber and avocado salad and fried plantains with cream. where we just had breakfast. . 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. just one!’). saying that she really did not feel like having two eggs that day. fresh sprigs of coriander and slices of avocado. This was what they had eaten for lunch the day before. Since Primy had not yet touched her eggs. Yadira and Kiko came to pick me up for the day. We were breakfasting on chilaquiles served with two fried eggs each and teleras. and then Yadira and Kiko left. Yadira and Kiko then took me back to Primy’s house. 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. which by this time were simply impossible to force in. so they gave us the fruit to take away with us. accompanied by a tomato and pasta soup. She would normally prepare a new sauce to make chilaquiles. There we were offered tacos dorados de pollo. 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. and she heated some barbacoa in the same sauce and served it to him with some beans. So with difﬁculty we cleaned our plates. she had only one egg.30.94 • Culinary Art and Anthropology that they have left. she and Kiko needed to pay their contribution to the local mayordomía. their compadre’s sister. which they sell in the market already prepared with onions. So we each had one. but Doña Margarita insisted. we went to visit Yadira’s compadres. at around 9. but Primy. We explained that we had just come from eating and that we were very full. Just as we started to eat. ¡nada más uno!’ (‘One little taco. but our hosts insisted. one uses whatever one has at hand. and the guest must accept the food offered. as the following anecdote illustrates: It was the feast day of Saint Francis. and then were pushed to have more. The host must share whatever food is at hand. she said. They were taking me to visit the town ﬁesta of nearby San Francisco Tecoxpa. Since Doña Margarita had served herself last and there was an odd number of eggs. and I was staying in Primy’s house. It was four o’clock and they had just served their comida. but. she passed one of them to Yadira’s plate. cebollas desﬂemadas con rajas de chile jalapeño (sliced onions tamed with lime juice and salt and mixed with strips of jalapeño chiles). After visiting San Francisco and walking around the fair. then we were offered apples and bananas. Since their nopalera was in that area of Milpa Alta. Since we arrived just in time. and they had several left. We told them that we had just that moment come from Primy’s house. so Yadira should have her share. we were served some sweet rolls and coffee. ‘Un taquito. This was a very informal and impromptu meal and Chelita. tomatoes and herbs.
physical and economic proximity. although if family members live physically far apart. 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. 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. When one family is particularly close to another family. 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. gifts require counter-gifts. She states that the obligation is so great that one risks being disowned by one’s compadres if one skips a private ﬁesta. Lomnitz (1977) deﬁnes the Latin American concept of conﬁanza as more than just ‘trust’ or ‘conﬁdence’. As soon as his plate is near empty. 85). Rejecting food is tantamount to rejecting the host. In this way food embodies the agency (of welcome. Stephen (2005) describes a similar coerciveness in ﬁesta hospitality amongst compadres in Teotitlán. Lomnitz shows that psychosocial distance is a more important factor in reciprocal exchange networks than blood ties. Attendance to a party is a social commitment. While people are sometimes too busy to attend public ﬁestas organized by the mayordomía. in appreciation of the superior ﬂavours of the food. the host offers the guest a reﬁll. Also inherent is Mauss’s notion of ‘the gift’. they must expect not to receive an invitation. both for the hosts and for the guests. It is a trusting relation between two individuals in social. People would talk and say that the offenders . The concept still applied in Milpa Alta in the 1990s. it is like being part of the same family. If a guest leaves food on the plate a host may say disapprovingly. gift) of the host in a material form. ‘[A]s part of this behavioral model. however. Especially when there is a certain closeness between host and guest. when there is conﬁanza between two families. which allows for the continuance of social relations. This implies a willingness to engage in reciprocal exchange because of perceived parity in an ‘equality of wants’. Food offered in hospitality appears to be treated as an extension of the host and/or cook (if they are the same person). 1988. They know that they are always invited to any family celebrations. it can be interpreted as a breach of trust. This same basic system of food giving and receiving is also in action when families are invited to large-scale ﬁestas. such as the town ﬁesta or a birthday. ‘Es que no te gustó’ (‘It’s because you didn’t like it’). and lending a hand at work obligates the recipient of the favor to reciprocate in kind at some later date’ (Brandes. If. invitations to meals beget counter-invitations. Thus. p. An invitation to a ﬁesta must be honoured with its acceptance and also requires reciprocity in the form of future invitations to family ﬁestas. ‘No desprecias a la comida’ (‘Don’t undervalue food’) or ‘No desperdicias la comida’ (‘Don’t waste food’). uttered in an offended tone of voice. 258). eats it all with relish and possibly asks for more. ‘[I]nvitations to life cycle rituals cannot be turned down’ (p. this is ﬁne.Mole and Fiestas • 95 The preceding description demonstrates that hospitality is a coercive system. and if they fail to show up on a special day. For this reason the social pressure to eat everything placed in front of a guest is high. what she calls ‘psychosocial distance’.
And it is because of this that the community is so festive—to show others that yes.8 One’s energies are easily depleted. Since her wedding day. More importantly. very hardworking because nature gave them few resources. or carnitas. If a guest cannot eat it. but the deepest pleasure. All the ﬁestas could be thought of as a sort of diversion from the monotony of daily labours at a social or community level. making ﬁestas a source of social cohesion (Perez-Castro and Ochoa. education and traditional industry. serving mole. 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’).96 • Culinary Art and Anthropology think they are too important to attend or that they think they do not need others in the community. It is necessary to work from dawn until late at night in order to progress [ﬁnancially]. Every month there is at least one ﬁesta at barrio level. is eating a meal at home. is socially enjoyable and beneﬁcial. and to do it well. can become tiresome (llega a aburir). In Milpa Alta there are so many ﬁestas that Doña Margarita told me that sometimes when she has a craving for mole. 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. are pressured food events. Barrio San Mateo is the most ﬁestero. Nevertheless. Parties and festivals in San Mateo are more than simple seasonal markers partly because of their frequency and also because of their obligatory force. ﬁestas are the primary occasions when kin. she can surreptitiously take it away to eat at home later.7 but this does not mean that the people of this barrio are idle. I observed a similar sense of this in Milpa Alta. barbacoa. of highest value. surrounded by loved ones (close family members). Yadira said. she had gained quite a lot of weight. As Yadira explained. 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. Yadira told me. therefore. So it is a luxury to be able to stay home to eat. There are private parties every week. especially when one tries to juggle family. Amongst the seven barrios and eleven pueblos of Milpa Alta. 1991). Holding large parties. To go from one party to the next. as shown by the case of Barrio San Mateo in Villa Milpa Alta. they do have money to celebrate. Yadira told me. she respected the importance of the festivities. This was mainly because she then moved to Milpa Alta.9 Her statement is telling in that she mentions eating well at home as a ‘luxury’. and explained: The people of Milpa Alta are very. Fiestas. because there is no time. 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 . where parties are taken so seriously and where hospitality requires a guest to eat everything she is offered. compadres and community come together to socialize and exchange news at greater leisure. profession.
Some cooks say that the mole poblano is distinguishable by the chiles used— mulato. the Pueblan mole. 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. molli. although many other moles may contain chocolate. both native and non-native to Mexico. fruits. The name for this dish is a Hispanicization of the Náhuatl word for sauce. crucial to these ﬁestas is a proper feast. thick sauce which incorporates up to thirty ingredients. Since during the ﬁesta cycle people regularly reunite over special meals. formerly called mole de olor. 1987 p. Others believe it is particular in its incorporation of chocolate. and chocolate is not an essential ingredient. ‘Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. There is some disagreement about what makes a mole poblano distinct from other moles. although it is commonly included. There are several different kinds of regional recipes for mole. photographs. 196). The popular Mexican saying above. 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. or the sculptural sweets made for the Days of the Dead called alfeñiques. but generally speaking. The word now connotes a combination of dried chiles. Mole and mole poblano Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles.) —Mexican saying The most famous dish in Mexico is the mole poblano. Some also use the plastic cups on the table which are there for serving drinks.Mole and Fiestas • 97 mentioned in Chapter 2. (You are the sesame seed of all moles. herbs. it is eaten primarily for celebrations. or they wrap food in tortillas and tie it into a napkin to take home. catalyzed by the food. the festive life ultimately sustains community life. then diluted with broth and cooked. Considered to be the ultimate Mexican dish. Leaving food is a great insult. Even in artistic images. In other words. nuts. seeds and starches (like bread and tortillas). it is a richly ﬂavoured.’ draws upon this common knowledge about festive food in Mexico. ancho and pasilla. The most important thing is never to leave anything on the plate. Mole is the dish that usually deﬁnes a feast. such as paintings. the mole poblano is recognized as the thick dark brown sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top just before serving. spices. It is often misrepresented as a combination of chiles and chocolate. which I will discuss in the remainder of this chapter. mole of fragrance (Bayless and Bayless. Each ingredient requires individual preparation before all are ground together into a paste. but it is more complex. a culinary work of art) which allows for ongoing social relations. Since . it is a breach of the spirit of the gift (of food.
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
When it is so delicious that it impresses the eaters as a gastronomic climax. which have their roots in pre-Hispanic customs. so cooks need skill and practice to prepare it well. Several women gave me culinary tips. 1998. after pouring a generous amount of mole over the piece of chicken. is a complex and socially powerful dish. carnitas or mixiotes.12 Almost everyone I met had a commentary or opinion about mole. When serving. Yet my observations in Milpa Alta showed that it was more common for ﬁesta food to be barbacoa. mole was also described as a ‘gastronomical orgasm’. So what Gell (1996. What is interesting is that Spanish or Catholic customs of avoiding meat during Lent and Advent are adhered to. Mole. This way the chiles would toast gently and were in no danger of burning and therefore becoming bitter. The value attributed to mole is related to an awareness that it requires a certain technical mastery to prepare well. But as I will explain below. her mother-in-law. and a sprinkling of this added a sheen and extra ﬂavour to properly garnish the dish. On another occasion.11 and these extra little attentions made quite a difference to the outcome of the dish. It is a good example of an object of art within the art corpus of cuisine (following Gell. p.’ The ﬁrst time I went to Milpa Alta and met Yadira and her family. spices may be old and ﬂavourless and nuts may go rancid if the weather is warm. Chiles and seeds are easily burnt. 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. No doubt mole deserved its status as quintessential ﬁesta food. rather than detract from its meaningfulness. I understood that since this mole was not commercial. and that she had some of the chiles sent over from Puebla. Doña Delﬁna. the eaters are succumbing to an enchantment grounded in their knowledge of what it takes to make a mole. had prepared mole for us as a special welcome. The changing or loss of such tradition may seem to indicate a decreasing signiﬁcance of mole. Mole is never made in small amounts. in short. This change in the traditional menu for feasts had probably begun to occur only since the 1980s. whether they are festivals of Spanish or indigenous origin.Mole and Fiestas • 101 Mole and tamales of different kinds are associated with speciﬁc ﬁestas and seasons. 1999b). but for personal ritual events and the Days of the Dead. . she said it was important to take a little of the oil rendered on top of the mole. the food served is what is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ or ‘traditional’. it was better than moles from San Pedro. as I mentioned in Chapter 1. but Doña Delﬁna proudly told us that she had made the mole herself. and. She also showed me another detail which indicated her special care in producing a good mole. It was the time of the Feria del Mole in San Pedro Atocpan. fruits may be underripe. 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. its replacement as ﬁesta food emphasizes and even reinforces its social meanings.
Wilk explains how a ‘Belizian’ style of cooking emerged from the particular history of Belize. salsas and vegetables. and spices. salsa is conceptualized as a whole green chile (in Milpa Alta. but the meal remains sufﬁciently festive. it is necessary to understand something about the role of social memory in how a cuisine or any other traditional art develops. such as tamales. We can begin by thinking of a cuisine developing in a linear progression from simple to complex. in Milpa Alta. 2006. . There may or may not be mole. mole is not served. submersion (absorbing a foreign/global ingredient into a local dish). pickled chiles. 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. a salsa can be a mole. Mole and its accompaniments. barbacoa. onion. were still almost always present during any sort of celebration in Milpa Alta. It is not meat in green chile only. carnitas and mixiotes are usually made at home.102 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Like mole. let us consider salsas in Mexican cuisine. the words salsa and chile are often used interchangeably. A prototypical salsa (chilmolli in Náhuatl) is one made of chiles ground into a sauce. wrapping and stufﬁng. 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. Carne en chile verde refers to meat in green salsa (which usually includes green husk tomatoes. usually de árbol or sometimes serrano) which accompanies a meal. compression (a simpliﬁed classiﬁcation of foods. At its most basic. or by relatives or compadres who know how to make it. Even when mole is not the main course of the ﬁesta meal. At other times. as I have been promoting it in this book. lumping together categories with emblematic dishes) and alternation and promotion. 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. which I ﬁnd entirely convincing. and perhaps other chiles as well). To explain why this is so. They offer it for their guests to eat with tamales and beans. At its most complex. In Milpa Alta. 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. substitution of ingredients with local or available ones. As an example. many families still prepare a small amount of mole to serve as a second main course after guests have ﬁlled themselves with barbacoa. There are also some women who are well-known in the community for their cooking. pp. to be bitten into whenever desired. how what is now considered ‘traditional’ came about through the complexity of culture contact that existed. 113–21). therefore. These methods are blending. and they can be hired to prepare certain dishes for the ﬁesta.
Reasoning that one recipe develops into another makes sense. that a linear progression or family tree is an inadequate means of mapping out all the recipes in a cuisine. onions and salt. or a lineage of guacamoles. for example.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole . It has relations with other persons (salsas). it can still be seen as a precursor to the development of the recipe. In Figure 5. and adding more ingredients makes varieties of guacamole of increasing complexity (see Figure 5.1. Conceived of in this way. in this case) should be thought of as just like a person. there are extensive families of recipes (different types of guacamoles. but what of other dishes with different ingredients? It is not surprising. such as salsa mexicana cruda (pico de gallo). 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. Following Gell’s theory of art.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. the arrangement of recipes may look very much like a family tree. Although chile is no longer the main ingredient of the salsa called guacamole. of course.1).Mole and Fiestas • 103 A green chile can be elaborated on to develop it into a simple salsa. Adding avocado to this mixture makes the salsa into guacamole. Some of these are related to each other. others seem to have nothing to do with one another as they are completely different and do not mix. and thus forms a lineage. it can ‘marry’ and ‘have offspring’. or different types of barbacoas).2. which is a mixture of roughly chopped green chiles. an artwork (or salsa. This is not accidental. red tomatoes.1 guacamole 2. I illustrate a simpliﬁed plan of this in Figure 5.
2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes.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. Shown as Families .
The recipes are separately reﬁned by a collection of individuals who interact with and inﬂuence one another. Figure 9. is not as obvious as the similarity between a basic salsa and a mole (that is. Cooking is activity in two ways.14 who may have greater skill in using the ‘traditional’ knowledge of the culinary arts. although this quality may not be easily deﬁneable. leading to further innovation and growth. p. it is a set made up of many parts. from the perspective of the present looking back toward all past developments. 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. or they learn them from other individuals in the community. 235. they are members of categories of artworks. It continues to be modiﬁed and improved as each cook prepares each meal every day. 166). A cuisine is actually an ideal example of a ‘distributed object’ as deﬁned by Gell. and who are in turn . p. As a single unit. constructed by the efforts of individuals who prepare dishes based on recipes.Mole and Fiestas • 105 develop at the same time or how similar recipes may develop in different regions. and other members of the same category of artworks. spread out over space and time (see Gell. This. The recipes are drawn from their memories. Each part has some quality which deﬁnes it as belonging to the whole. 153) Pinpointing exactly what it is that makes barbacoa like mole. But my purpose here is not to examine the deﬁning style of what makes one dish Mexican and another not Mexican. As a distributed object. one body of cuisine made up of many recipes. (p. Traditional cuisines appear to develop as spatio-temporal wholes that change and move forward historically. and somewhat like Levi-Strauss’s culinary triangle/tetrahedron). its history (or ‘biography’) can be understood as having come into being by the work of many persons (mostly women) simultaneously in separate households. [A]rtworks are never just singular entities. each of the varied recipes which make up a cuisine may develop in its own way. or even in different households in the same community. Each part can be very different from the others. in essence. 1998. a cuisine is a collective work. but put together the parts make sense as a whole. and from this. made with chiles and other ingredients). As far as Mexican cuisine is part of Mexican tradition. as individuals. Thus. 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.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. as a physical activity and as a creative activity of continuous innovation. This quality is what Gell calls ‘style’ (1998. ‘The Artist’s Oeuvre as a Distributed Object’).4/1. 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. for example. is how all traditional arts develop. and their signiﬁcance is crucially affected by the relations which exist between them. both are salsas.
pork and/or chicken) which is rubbed with an adobo (a mole-like) paste. In Gell’s terms.106 • Culinary Art and Anthropology drawing from their own memories or inﬂuences. and it is always made as a special effort for . into which they introduce variations on what they have learnt. modiﬁed or discarded. in a way similar to Becker’s ‘art worlds’ (1982) or Gell’s notion of ‘style’. then is wrapped in a mixiote. it is ﬁrst interesting to note some of the similarities amongst these dishes. they may try making a similar salsa. and then tomorrow try out using dried chiles. Eventually this particular combination of ingredients may become widespread and embedded in local/regional cooking and thought of as ‘traditional’. implementing for themselves the changes I made. and.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. individuals maintain their own creative input. onions. Also. it is always served with salsas and tortillas. or a combination of chiles. I may learn to make salsa with tomatoes. to produce similar but different dishes. Innovation. and eventually this may become a regular part of my recipe repertoire. or herself. to make another salsa that still tastes as Mexican as the salsa that I ﬁrst learned to make. Fiesta Food To return to the question of how barbacoa. It is always served with particular salsas accompanying it. I may take note and repeat what I have done on another occasion. Historical and social factors play a role in how and when ingredients and techniques are incorporated. The high-quality ingredients for mole (chiles. 2006). green chile and salt. carnitas and mixiote came to be accepted as ﬁesta food. like barbacoa. may be planned or can happen by accident. Carnitas is made by stewing a whole pig in its own fat. therefore. mole is prepared at home even though it is available commercially. 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.16 yet as much as there is innovation and change. At the same time they incorporate new inﬂuences. Mixiote is made of meat (rabbit. It is ﬂavoured with oranges and garlic. The relative costs of preparing these dishes are also relevant. nuts and spices) are expensive. ideas and ingredients as well as experiment and improvise. a recipe is the prototype of a dish that is prepared. If the salsa is successful. We may also think of recipes developing into the dishes that make up a cuisine as ‘variations on a theme’. If others like my salsa. Meal structure is another area which requires analysis and incorporation. or add garlic. One kilo of mole costs more than one kilo of barbacoa. there is also repetition and constancy. the skin of the leaves of the maguey (the same plant used to line the pit for making barbacoa). carnitas or mixiote. I am aware that the development of cuisine cannot be fully explained by focusing solely on recipes (see Wilk.17 Dishes have a recognizable quality that can be thought of in relation to the cuisine.
000 (£1. carnitas or mixiote for ﬁve hundred people.. In short. Before then. 91). For this reason. The aesthetic point of view or aesthetic intention is ‘what makes the work of art’ (p. the fact that mole is made as a paste and then diluted. as mentioned previously.400) for barbacoa. a dish like barbacoa becomes more desirable as festive food. The adoption of these other dishes as suitable festive foods must have been gradual. So in money and in labour mole is more expensive. the acceptance of barbacoa as feast food can partly be explained by Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘aesthetic disposition’. as far as I know.e. 1991. it would seem more logical to serve mole during a ﬁesta. p.050) for carnitas. . if they decide to serve barbacoa during their ﬁestas. In addition. 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 . He continues that ‘[I]n fact. 29). many people delay holding their weddings until they have enough money to hold a proper feast. within the region. So if barbacoieros in Milpa Alta have the greatest economic capital locally and constitute the dominant class. Not only because of the costs. the more an object resists our possession (because. 1984. but also because of the social values. 687). and Mx$20. for example. or it may be the family business to prepare these dishes anyway. 29). it is very expensive). the greater its social value. Since mole is feast food par excellence. i. in that it bestows value on the occasion being celebrated. it cost around Mx$10. Mx$15.000 (£1. and can replace mole in value as a tasteful alternative. Recalling that honour and value are sometimes related to Simmel’s notion of resistance as a source of value. In effect. It is therefore deﬁned as appropriate. it would then make more sense to serve mole rather than barbacoa at a wedding banquet. 54). which is the time of great economic crisis in Mexico.000 (approximately £700) to make mole for ﬁve hundred people. and on one’s guests. serving barbacoa became prestigious for ﬁestas because of the prestige (or ‘distinction’) associated with being a barbacoiero in Milpa Alta. to prepare mole for ﬁve hundred people costs less than it would to prepare barbacoa. it can be considered to be in good taste. Since the costs of hosting a ﬁesta are high. In spite of its status as an appreciated artwork in the cuisine. p. the menu of a feast had been more or less consistent over time and space.Mole and Fiestas • 107 a special occasion.’ (p. But barbacoa or carnitas can be bought already made. and because to a large extent. In 2000.. The aesthetic disposition is associated with economic capital (Bourdieu. But if the prices of all the accompaniments are added up and put in relation to cost of food per head. Barbacoa is a luxury food. one kilo of mole is enough for more people than one kilo of the meat dishes. ‘only because choices always owe part of their value to the value of the chooser. when the value of the peso dropped phenomenally in relation to the US dollar (see graph on the exchange rate in Meyer and Sherman. this value makes itself known and recognized through the manner of choosing’ (p. It appears that the substitution of mole with these three other dishes occurred only since the 1980s. although it has a different ‘taste of luxury’ from how Bourdieu deﬁnes it. technically difﬁcult and valuable.
barbacoa—as culinary works of art are imbued with meaning as they form the nexus of the social networks of normal food hospitality. compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpaltense society. To understand this. mixiotes) have become socially salient as acceptable substitutes for mole in Milpaltense ﬁestas. as is the case in Milpa Alta. in either preparation or ingredients). there is still a relation between two dishes which allows them to represent or replace one another if they both maintain ‘the relative capacity .. Then.. 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. 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. Mexican cuisine. Some recipes can be shown to have developed directly from others. Yet because of the notions of style (Gell). other speciﬁc dishes (barbacoa. cuisine is an ‘object’ which can be divided into its constituent parts. 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. which. cuisine must be thought of as a distributed object. produce another dish or innovation. as being the ‘mole de ﬁesta’. in the cases when mole is not served. ritual and economic systems within the matrix of Milpa Alta social life. which are different dishes of varying kinds and complexity. To reiterate. synecdoche. as described previously. especially to the hosts’ compadres. that is. 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. there is no denying that they are equally valid parts belonging to the same whole. So while a simple part-for-whole synecdoche does not exist. that is. My analysis of mole indicates its social salience as a nexus of the interrelating social.108 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this is not enough to explain why mole is still served during ﬁestas. mole continues to be described as having the ultimate ﬂavour. there is perfect sense in barbacoa (or carnitas or mixiote) acting as its replacement at feasts. there is an apparent contradiction in mole being necessary for ﬁestas and yet not being present. as a conceptual whole. Though mole is the quintessence of Mexican cuisine. Others can be offshoots of preparatory recipes. carnitas. I have examined mole as an artwork within the context of the art world to which it belongs. when combined with other recipes or other techniques. to create potentialities for . If. Although not all the parts of the whole cuisine are similar (a salsa has nothing in common with a tortilla. 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. Still others may have been born of improvisation. as modiﬁcations of previously successful (ﬂavourful and pleasurable) dishes. resistance (Simmel) and the aesthetic disposition (Bourdieu). they are of the same style (Mexican).
or special enough to commemorate a special occasion. barbacoa can be taken as a representative of Mexican cuisine (as a distributed object) and can be demonstrated to have some equivalence to mole. p. close friends and family. Thus it makes sense that barbacoa could be served at a ﬁesta. Mix chiles with nopales and queso oaxaca. 11). Its actual presence or absence does not indicate its conceptual absence. the meat used is expensive. Steam. Fill prepared corn husks as if they were tamales but without masa. With time. and the family as a unit hosts ﬁestas on grand scale. The menu transformation reveals a transfer of value from mole to these three speciﬁed dishes.18 Provided that a dish is conceived of as needing a certain amount of technical mastery in order to prepare it. it requires labour and skill to prepare. after barbacoa’ to only ‘barbacoa’. each of which requires a relatively high level of technical skill for its preparation. therefore. and it is somewhere in the range of special dishes. barbacoa is made able to effectively carry similar meanings to those of mole. the meal structure could be modiﬁed by the preparation of a smaller amount of mole and accompaniments for a ﬁesta. what occurs is Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’ (1996) so that the dish can be designated as special.Mole and Fiestas • 109 constructing a present that is experienced as pointing forward to later desired acts or material returns’ (Munn. when served as the meal of a ﬁesta. In fact. The menu gradually shifts from a festive meal being deﬁned as ‘mole’ to ‘mole after barbacoa’ to ‘mole as itacate for compadres only. . placing a stick of double cream cheese in the centre as if it were a piece of meat. In effect. barbacoa is a luxury to be indulged in with the family. Since any recipe can be representative of the whole cuisine (synecdoche). because of its deep social signiﬁcance. mole is present at the ﬁesta in people’s memories. In effect. although it may not rank as high as mole. Add chopped nopales. Barbacoa is special enough to be a Sunday treat for the family. provided that there is a little bit of ‘mole de ﬁesta’ offered as a second main course to complete the social transaction of value. only to give as an itacate to the hosts’ compadres. mole is still omnipresent in ﬁestas. Eventually. Toast chile de árbol in lard and crush roughly. 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. Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta Doña Margarita Salazar Fry chopped onions in butter. 1986. whether or not it is actually served to them on their plates.
dribbled with a light ﬂavoured syrup or honey. Easter or Carnival. occasionally throwing the dough forcefully onto a metate. Sitting down. crispy fritters served in stacks. The measurements are approximate because. • Fry each circle in hot oil. The dough can be stretched to a very thin disk about 25 cm in diameter. Turn to brown the other side. This is how Primy always makes buñuelos. Knead it well to develop the glutens. Makes 50 to 60 buñuelos. If the dough breaks easily it is not elastic enough and may lack kneading. turning it constantly and sustaining it on your knee. like most home cooks. ﬂour a work surface and pull off walnut-sized balls. Flatten or roll each ball into a rough circle.110 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Buñuelos de lujo Ma. boiled in a little water 2 kg plain ﬂour 9–10 eggs ¼ kg butter. Drain on absorbent paper and allow to harden. melted zest of 2 oranges. ﬁnely grated orange juice. and do not worry about it breaking. except for the oil. . (Primy said that sometimes she would ask Alejandro or any available man to do the kneading for her because it is physically quite difﬁcult. a pinch of aniseed. To Serve Drizzle with a light syrup made of crude sugar ( piloncillo) and water (this may be ﬂavoured with aniseed or guava). cover your knee with a clean tea towel. in a large bowl. Primy just throws in whatever amounts ‘feel’ right to her. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez In Mexico buñuelos are broad.) • When the dough is elastic. freshly squeezed 2 ﬁstfuls of lard 3 cups of sugar abundant oil for frying • Combine all the ingredients. Place the circle of dough on the rounded surface and very gently pull the dough from the edges in small increments. adding enough orange juice to make an elastic dough. as the dough is strong. Do this several times and make sure that you hear a loud slapping noise with each throw. making sure to press the centre into the oil so that it cooks evenly. 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. They are served at Christmas parties or during posadas and are said to represent the diapers of the Baby Jesus Christ.
adding the bananas half an hour before serving. Allow to cool. cut into thick sticks 200–250 g peanuts. until the oil surfaces. represented by the water in which the beetroot is boiled. Cook 5–10 minutes. combine the rest of the ingredients with the cubed beets and cooking water. about 20 minutes. with peels 3 ripe bananas. In a large bowl. shredded sugar to taste The beetroot must be very clean and boiled in abundant water with the skins. sauté onions until golden. about 3 minutes. shredded ½ –1 L extra virgin olive oil ½ kg (about 3 cups) onions. Serves 8–10. leaves removed and well-scrubbed 500 g (1 large) jícama. stirring frequently. 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. cut into cubes and reserve the cooking water. soaked several hours. Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela Chef Abdiel Cervantes ¾ kg salt cod (bacalao). peeled 5 oranges. ﬁnely chopped 1½ cups parsley. sliced in ½-cm rounds. drained.25-cm slices. peeled. This is a very refreshing dish that people prepare only during Lent and Advent. Add garlic and let brown. Serve in bowls with abundant broth. . with their peels ¼ –½ iceberg lettuce. 1 kg beetroot. or baguettes) • In abundant olive oil. Add tomatoes and cook over high heat. ﬁnely chopped 300 g almonds. ﬁnely chopped To serve: 1 jar green olives 1 tin chiles güeros (or any pickled yellow chiles) crusty bread (teleras or bolillos. in 1.Mole and Fiestas • 111 Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo’ Yadira Arenas Berrocal ‘Sangre de Cristo’ means the blood of Christ. peel them and discard the skins. • Add ﬁsh and almonds. ﬁnely chopped 2–2½ cups (about 4 large heads) garlic. When cooked. blanched. ﬁnely chopped 1½ –2 kg tomatoes.
and it probably would not matter if the bread used was very fresh. Serves 12. separated vegetable oil for frying Hollow out each piece of bread by removing some of the central crumbs. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez Torrejas are a Lenten dessert typical of the state of Michoaca ΄n. which is a bit unusual in that they are coated in the egg batter called a capeado. cooking until ﬁsh completely falls apart into small bits. This is the way Primy makes them. Serve in low bowls with lots of syrup. each cut into 3 pieces. Fill each space with cheese and proceed with the capeado as for stuffed chiles. Serve with crusty bread. To serve. Primy’s version contains no milk. or 1 baguette. like the capeado for chiles rellenos. Torrejas Ma. Most recipes for torrejas are reminiscent of Spanish torrijas. Doña Margarita. 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. This is something that she rarely prepared because her mother-in-law. or use an aged white cow’s milk cheese like Romano or Sardo 3 eggs. 4 slightly stale teleras. leaving an open pocket. warm the fried bread pieces in the syrup to impregnate them with the ﬂavours and to heat them through.112 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add parsley and mix well. • Let rest until cool and decorate with olives and chiles. cut into 6-centimetre slices 250 g queso cotija. did not like the idea of a sweet made with spices. like French toast. she liked them so much that she had seconds. When Doña Margarita was persuaded to try these torrejas. .
In other words. situating this in the context of Milpa Alta. gender is not intrinsically hierarchical (cf. via cooking. is thought of as an artwork. This means that we can understand different social levels (family-compadrazgo-mayordomía) by analyzing food in terms of cooking. but ﬂavour. It is not a superﬁcial. 1996). 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). is always a concern. p. cultural and social reasons that people eat and drink certain foods. its artistic nature. are interlinked. or a dish. active element of food. 1986). it is decorative. physical characteristic which carries semiotic meaning. and in other ways throughout this book. McCallum. If food. Given that any kind of cooking – 113 – . the presence of ﬂavour. —Lévi-Strauss (1994. The Function of Flavour There are many physiological. whose normal function is to mediatize the conjunction of the raw product and the human consumer. and social organization can be understood as a social-relational matrix with food as indexes within the active art nexus (following Gell. from everyday hospitality to ﬁesta hospitality. form and function. Melhuus and Stølen. 2006. 2001) and women are able to use cooking to exert power and enact their social value (Abarca. effectively creates social relations. the ﬂavour is not simply the decorative aspect—or rather. original italics) In this book I have approached Mexican cuisine by thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. and whose operation thus has the effect of making sure that a natural creature is at one and the same time cooked and socialized. and this decoration is precisely what makes food powerful or meaningful.–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. In the following sections I will explain these conclusions. and the mobilization of different ﬂavours in a cuisine. I argued in Chapter 2. surface and depth. ﬂavour is achieved via love (the sazón de amor necessary for good cooking). that ﬂavour is the most important and functional. observing cooking shows how actors are acted upon by their actions (following Munn. 336. Rather than as an aid to help humans ingest nutrients.
food/artwork is ‘the crystallisation of activity within a relational ﬁeld’ (2000. as producers and reproducers. The same can be applied to most tamales which are differentiated by the salsa used in the ﬁlling (such as tamales verdes. 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). In the case of Mexican cuisine. The varieties of pozoles (hominy soups made with pork. 345). As I described in greater detail in chapter 4. women’s morality is circumscribed by their knowledge of cookery and their domestic and extradomestic labour. who are highly valued in Milpaltense society as wives and mothers. and not only in terms of ﬂavour. thought of as representing the best of Mexican cuisine. there are also many Mexican dishes that are inconceivable to eat without an accompanying sauce. adobos or adobados. barbacoa. pipiánes. compadres and the wider community). In Milpa Alta. or by the salsa’s absence (tamalates. ﬂavour is chile. Many dishes are deﬁned by their sauces or chiles rather than the accompanying meat or vegetable that is eaten with the sauce. de rajas or de mole). ﬂavour constitutes the surrounding social relations of the actors (cooks and eaters. enchiladas. This includes all sorts of tacos. or it is an example of excellence amongst other salsas. sweet tamales). and hence value is added. chilaquiles. rojos. family. 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. white and green). and to fully appreciate the honour bestowed upon them if they are served mole in someone’s home. and street foods like sopes. moles. and for family ﬁestas. When mole is served to guests. tlacoyos. combining more ingredients and culinary techniques than most others. When women prepare mole from scratch. p. Mole. jícamas.114 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and eating are food transactions. and the variations are prepared by the addition or omission of a red or green salsa in the cooking process. Or. or they may never learn to like it. Examples of this are chicharrón en chile verde. are sold with a sprinkling of powdered chile piquín and lime juice. Otherwise foreigners are expected to like it right away. ﬂavour is added. Mole epitomizes some of the best qualities of Mexican cuisine. gorditas and sincronizadas. so much so that sometimes foreigners are warned that they may not like it when they try it for the ﬁrst time. as well as by their sexual behaviour. Otherwise. or a pickled chile or fresh green chile to chew on at the side. bananas. and pineapples. as it is. entomatados. especially a whole hog’s head) are differentiated by colour (red. using family recipes. borrowing Tim Ingold’s deﬁnition of an artefact. A foodstuff can be eaten on its own. mole acts as the . It is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ and ‘very traditional’. and chiles rellenos. like mangoes. but when combined with chile or some sort of sauce. It is one of the most laborious and technically difﬁcult dishes to prepare. is the ultimate recipe. It also carries other meanings when it is served or eaten. and by extension. and chile is salsa. for instance. The cooks are speciﬁcally women. and also soups (including rice and pasta dishes). Even fresh fruit.
They might prepare mole for a ﬁesta. The manipulation or mobilization of ﬂavours in cooking is as much a social activity as human agents interacting (cf. though some moles are better than others. as well as the most ﬂavourful dish in a woman’s culinary repertoire. 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. This discussion indicates that there is greater creativity involved in domestic cooking. Particular ﬂavours are not just the guiding principles of social events and their organization. more speciﬁcally. Conversely. cooks deliberately produce certain ﬂavours (chile/salsa/mole) for their own social ends. and therefore more culinary agency and freedom in daily life. in their social interaction. Rather than an incidental characteristic of food. The Importance of Cooking in Social Life So if chiles appear to be symbolic ingredients in Mexican cuisine. and how Milpaltenses use their cuisine. That is. Depending on who cooks what. but in an area like Milpa Alta its preparation is common knowledge. or the moral notions surrounding cooking. Of course there is no denying that mole is a complex and sophisticated dish. 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. Discussing barbacoa in Milpa Alta. or. 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. barbacoa to sell in the market or family favourites for loved ones.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 115 quintessence of women’s hard work. that of husband and . 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. Yet in spite of this. ﬂavour is a central and active element. By preparing particular dishes for personal or commercial reasons. This value was achieved only by means of skilfull production of a socially desired ﬂavour that ultimately produced successful business and sociality. the nuclear family. Everyone knows how to make mole. 1984). cooked in for speciﬁc reasons and for speciﬁc others/eaters. 1998). Together chapters 3. It also requires cooperation within the primary social unit. it is in a deeply meaningful way because there is a sophisticated gastronomic technology that actors learn and can mobilize via their cooking. I showed that the production of this culinary work of art is an all-encompassing social activity. Gell. the production of particular ﬂavours is the primary concern in food preparation. we can make sense of the culinary system of Milpa Alta only in relation to other local social systems. Not everyone is considered a good cook or has the same range of culinary expertise which is fully explored only in the familiar sphere. when and why. the ideal relationship between a man and a woman.
as pork or lamb butchers and/ or in another professional job (such as teaching). 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. What is less common is for a man to continue to prepare barbacoa without his wife. But though cooking is embodied and gender is embodied (McCallum. They are not necessarily causally linked. A ﬁnal observation is that only married men prepare barbacoa. In this way. 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 providers. which is more likely than it would be for a barbacoiera widow to do. ‘[A]gents. For men this includes working in the ﬁelds. as a sexual partner for her husband and as a mother and nurturer for the next generation. It is said that only then does his business regain similar success as with his late wife. but it is a creative task based on culinary agency and skill. 14 –15. she may continue to rely on barbacoa as her means of livelihood. cooking is not an activity of performative gender roles per se. This occurs unless he remarries. These are the most culinary activities of the whole process. Since one of women’s domestic roles is to be a cook. Ingold. When widowers do continue with their businesses. as individuals or groups. women are related as much to men as wives (or lovers) and mothers as they are related to the preparation of food. It must be reiterated that the wife’s basic role in preparing barbacoa is to prepare the salsas and the panza. cf. ‘not only engage in action but are also “acted upon” by the action. 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. on the value placed upon the home. but (previously married) women without husbands are also able to prepare barbacoa. Perhaps he needs the support of a wife’s loving touch to produce salsas for a successfully ﬂavourful barbacoa. The cuisine is a material embodiment of a woman’s role in the family. As my material on Milpa Alta shows. If a woman’s husband dies or abandons her. by hiring men to perform the slaughter and disembowelling for her (the ‘matador’ already mentioned). pp. and on women as lovers and mothers.’ Practices form types of social relations and also form the actors who engage in them (1986.’ she writes. The production of barbacoa provides a good example of what Munn refers to as ‘intersubjectivity’. it is not accidental that women are expected to perform these tasks. housework and caring for children. which is represented by the preparation of salsas/chile/ﬂavour. 2000).1 The preceding and my discussion in Chapter 4 indicate that cooking is not part of housework as invisible labour. some hire women to help them with the salsas and anything else that their wives would have normally done. 2001). For women it includes cooking.116 • Culinary Art and Anthropology wife. I was told that generally a barbacoiero widower’s business does not ﬂourish the way it did when his wife was alive. as a loving dimension of women’s (house)work. as well as extradomestic labour (such as selling .
in Milpa Alta. Agency and Intention Thus cooking is an activity performed for the sake of social interaction (cf. they use their culinary agency according to the network of intentionalities in which they are entangled as social beings. when the living eat the food that had been set out. The technical mastery required to cook is also socially learnt and socially salient. although it may have been prepared with the same culinary principles as always. and other (usually unmarried) members of the household. 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. the dead. sweets and some favourite foods of the dead. Gell’s conception of intentionality is based on deﬁning the nature of causation. this unit is also thought to be at the core of business success. ‘[T]he explanation of any given event (especially if socially salient) is that it is caused intentionally’ (p. The dead are believed to eat the essence of the food when they come. The explanation for this is no more mystical than the relationship between the cook (culinary agent) and the expected recipient of the food. why ﬂavour is a social (and also cultural) aspect of food. and this is how it has been reported to me by people in Milpa Alta (see also Lok. Hence. The idea of a cook/artist’s intentions can be better understood when applied to feast food. Food set out on the family altar. and afterward. Simmel. and to the fulﬁllment of the mayordomos’ role for the community. 1991. women cook with particular eaters in mind. in the example of the Days of the Dead. it no longer has any ﬂavour. rather it is in the deliberately induced reaction of foodstuffs when cooked or combined in a particular way. So this is why food has ﬂavour. Although the way that they prepare some dishes may be nuanced by their own taste and pleasure. as well as yellow fruits. It is not because of inherent biochemical properties in the foodstuffs themselves. ‘[I]ntentions cause events to happen in the vicinity of agents’ (1998. 101). 2005. In other words. it is thought to occur in this way. the food loses its ﬂavour because of the presence of the dead who come to eat its essence. the ofrenda. tamales. p. Although not everyone says that they believe it. Whilst the unit of wife and husband is crucial to the establishment of links of compadrazgo. In this case of food for the dead. They also cook particular dishes during ﬁestas for compadres and the wider community. Rather than searching for a chemical or physical explication of why something caused another thing to occur. that is. 101). they still are cooking with the intention of feeding (or offering food to) someone else (a recipient). Mole with chicken is always present. What they prepare is dependent upon their relationship with the eaters. 150). p.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 117 in the market). 1994) as much as for making food edible or tastier. Long and Vargas. is offered to the dead relatives of the family. Married women cook for their husbands and children. Although other living .
3 Hospitality begets further hospitality. Mole. Anything that comes from a person. During ﬁestas.2 Gell’s theory of art uses a conception of a body of artworks as if it were a body of a person. are divisible and indivisible. social distance and hospitality amongst the relevant actors. this means that food is involved in interrelating social networks amongst individuals or groups. the same gift. In effect. and with the social relationships of the cooks and eaters. Not only this. is coercively given and received. related to the cook. Rather.118 • Culinary Art and Anthropology people. 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. the same personhood—is awaited on each occasion. all assume that they will be. which are detachable and also exchangeable. art objects are exuviae. is detachable from that person and can be physically touched as well as seen. Part and whole. and actors expect an ultimate balance of give and take. Competitively bigger and better versions of the same meal are circulated endlessly amongst compadres. no one need demand to be fed upon arrival at a ﬁesta. 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. though competition and one-upmanship exist as well. but they accept the food nonetheless. a ‘distributed person’. The ﬁesta cycle revolves around the religious timetable and notions of respect. including visual appearance and things he or she produced. eventually may eat the food. Guests may even be reluctant recipients. but only in relation to how they compare with other dishes in the cuisine. Whether compadres. individual and group. relatives and neighbours and thereby maintain community viability. neighbours. mayordomos or other guests. towns) to maintain the circulation of value (food/virtue) in the indeﬁnitely enduring cycle of festivity. 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. individuals act on behalf of social groups (families. and not to feed the living. the food was cooked with the intention of feeding the dead. 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. mayordomos. or a socially approved substitute. This means that special foods are signiﬁcant. These gifts of food are offered by obligation and their acceptance is obligatory as well. and they expect elaborate food and entertainment at these events. Therefore the ﬂavour was cooked in for the dead to take away. so much so that even those who do not attend are given food in their absence.4 . 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. in a sort of Maussian social contract. the same kind of food—effectively. With respect to Mexican cuisine.
who can imagine the complexity of the production of the dish from his or her informed culinary knowledge. the hosts’ decision to serve these dishes to others in formal hospitality bestows value on their guests. So in other words. Sault. serving mole. women’s culinary agency is distributed and shared amongst her family.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 119 Children and unmarried adults do not formally participate in these systems of reciprocity. As an example. this effect is encapsulated in Gell’s notion of the ‘technology of enchantment’(1996). the value of mole can be understood as effectively equivalent to the value of women in Milpaltense society. 1982). becomes representative of the whole distributed object of Mexican cuisine. In the same way children and unmarried adults are not responsible for food provision. or ‘el lujo de barbacoa’. including gifts of food. 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. even after many years of cohabitation and the birth of several children. family honour can be distributed and properly enacted only with ﬁesta commensality. 1998. But while women are in charge of cooking for feasts. As should be clear by this point in this book. produced through daily cooking. ﬁesta hospitality and the corresponding food are products of gender complementarity and family cooperation. In the wider social context. Munn. When people in Milpa Alta talk of ‘el mole de ﬁesta’. In fact. current popularly served dishes like barbacoa are prepared jointly by women and men. which all effectively . Indeed. The whole cuisine. though they may help married women who are. fetching or delivering things. In the ﬁesta cycle. 1986). vis-à-vis the wider public. although women are thought of as the family cooks. As the relational node of a culinary matrix of interrelating social spheres. The individual actors who take responsibility as ofﬁcial representatives are highly respected church-married couples. 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. they are treated as extensions of their families. Goody. similar to how Simmel (1994) allocates value to daily meals. A particular recipe is placed in a hierarchical relation to the indexes of other dishes in the corpus of its cuisine (cf. mediates the domestic realm with the public sphere. in the ﬁesta sphere. 1984. In short. the mole of the feast. in fact. except for the occasional unmarried woman who is asked to be a comadre (cf. Gell. The dish can be judged as delicious or ﬂavourful because it is accepted with gastronomic awe from the perspective of the eater. morally recognized as capable of cooking the mole de ﬁesta and able to legitimately reproduce the next generation. the power and value of women (or cooks) are transformed into ongoing social relations. or the everyday and the ritual. then. Finally. 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. mole. 1985). the luxury of barbacoa. on whom they depend for their food and on whose behalf they are expected to perform minor duties such as shopping. or its substitutes.
Its complex history involves the invasion of foreigners who brought ingredients and technical knowledge to Mexico. In this way. as a ﬁnal garnish. the fulﬁllment of gastronomical ideals or desires is central to social life in Milpa Alta. To recapitulate. Food and Love. although men may be the public or ofﬁcial representatives. but it is special not only because it is difﬁcult to make. women. According to them. sexual. there are two kinds of human desires: for food and for sex. 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. If the preceding are the ingredients necessary to successfully prepare mole (or any other recipe). Chiles and albur In different ways throughout this book I have discussed the interconnections between notions of love and food in Milpa Alta. cooked with culinary artistry (or technical mastery). land. Mole represents salsa. altering social interaction while simultaneously altering women’s relationship with food and cooking. and especially ﬂavour.5 The teaching of cultural events and Mexican history were included in the curricula of some cookery schools. which represents ﬂavour. compadrazgo. superior ﬂavour could be achieved by technical culinary skill. top-quality ingredients. who are ultimately governed by an honour code of giving and respect to their children.120 • Culinary Art and Anthropology represent the whole cuisine. Therefore social interaction circulates around women and women’s culinary labours. via women’s culinary agency. In effect. 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. we can take sex into account as part of the socialization of women as members of the community as well as in their relations . 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. Equivalently. an understanding of traditions and Mexican culture and. which represents women. women are representing the family. loved ones. which revolve around women and their roles in the family. 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. 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’. and who inﬂuenced the religious and domestic realms. This means that social interaction is effective when food is offered. women in Milpa Alta have two kinds of responsibilities: housework and cooking (production) and family (reproduction). a sazón de amor (a sprinkling of love). Other dishes in Mexican cuisine are difﬁcult to make. Recognizing the deeply symbolic value of cooking as a part of women’s work. partners. religious and maternal love.
‘systematically related to certain types of social relations’ (p. Yet one other dynamic of food and love is worth describing for a more nuanced picture of how ﬂavour and morality are intertwined. or. food that is thought of as particularly delicious is food cooked with love. 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.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 121 with men. and yet also are considered funny. those en conﬁanza) in terms of sexually penetrating them without being considered homosexual. he argues that the desires for food are linked to speciﬁc food providers. Once girls are able to cook. people use other food metaphors in joking conversation to refer to male and female sexual organs. even if there is only a small proportion of chile in the recipe for the salsa. Since chiles come in so many different shapes and sizes. 20–6). This is because there are overt sexual connotations in the speech games in albur. Home cooking is highly valued because of the moral value of women. Lomelí. Usually it is obvious why they are chosen. pp. Chiles are central to Mexican gastronomy and are arguably the basic unit of the cuisine. Thus an individual would be prone to prefer his mother’s cooking over others’. it is amongst other women (not in mixed company) and is of a milder sort. Albur is a kind of wordplay used almost exclusively amongst men (see Jiménez. put another way. italics added). In Chapter 4 I discussed the kind of sexual/gastronomical reciprocity that exists between husbands and wives. For the vagina there are words such as . However. Men are able to speak with their friends (cuates. he would still be performing within what is considered normal male behaviour. He continues. they are ready for marriage. though sometimes the analogy is more obscure. rather than the one penetrated. perhaps even more than his mother’s. and depends on speed and wit. In this way women are understood to be powerful agents within their local social spheres. At the same time. which stands for the penis. 1996). as a husband should also value and prefer his wife’s cooking. They are also central to a variety of jokes in which the chile is spoken of metaphorically as a man’s penis. As I explained in Chapter 1. It is very rare for women to speak using albur. in Milpa Alta people use the words salsa and chile interchangeably. A man using albur plays upon these sensibilities. 568). Albur and derivative word games can be used in mild to increasingly aggressive ways. ‘[R]elationships are predicated on the satisfaction of particular desires experienced by the partners in the relationship’ (p. 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. He can continue to consider himself to be heterosexual. 568. 1991. even macho (see Gutmann. 1991. The marital relationship is both moral and imbued with social obligations. who are the producers of this food. as well as on linguistic twists. In Gow’s (1989) article on the Piro. One of the central metaphors used is the chile. there is ample opportunity for innuendo. As long as a man is the one penetrating. most used in albur. If they do.
Some other food metaphors for the penis are longaniza (a type of sausage). 202).122 • Culinary Art and Anthropology papaya. A few Milpaltenses told me. names for the genitalia. Rather. camote (sweet potato). explicitly relating it to sex. (1989. they travel to the centre of Mexico City. pescado (ﬁsh). and they cater mainly to outsiders (from Mexico City) who work in the municipality rather than to locals. Home Cooking and Street Food I have already explained at length that food prepared at home (i.e. rather than that between food objects and genitals as objects. p. is subject to linguistic and conceptual manipulation by men. The use of foods as metaphors for the genitals occurs only in joking. Having established that the values and virtues of women are materialized in home cooking. with love) has connotations of being tastier and better for you (nutritionally and socially) than food prepared commercially. … these metaphors are not structured simply by direct reference to the objects themselves. Though not speciﬁcally . that is because they are not used in an alternate discourse to encode another arbitrary symbolic structure. Jiménez. culinary way. Daily Meals. if they really wish to eat out. continuously draws attention to the metaphoric relationship between oral and sexual desire. 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. tacos or tamales. too lazy to prepare a meal at home. 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. mamey (a type of fruit). whether foods or genital organs. ejote (young corn on the cob) and zanahoria (carrot. especially the chile. as Gow argues. I would agree. but at the level of desire. even random. These restaurants serve comida casera. non-euphemistic. p. panocha (crude sugar). The signiﬁcance of albur is that food. with some pride. or mondongo (a dish made of tripe. 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. 201). On the other hand. 82. more generally and among women. The use of food metaphors in joking. pp. the chile is manipulated in another. partly because of the belief that food prepared at home is better. that there are only two restaurants in Villa Milpa Alta. If these metaphors appear unsystematic. homestyle 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. for native people have standard. and is explicitly related to eating and ﬂavour. 1991. I was told that eating out in the street indicates that the women of the house are lazy (‘son fodongas’ ). Eating out in Milpa Alta is uncommon. or.. Local Milpaltenses go home for their meals.
garnachas and various other snacks. 55). A social activity by nature. 93) also emphasizes this point. At the stand she chatted guiltily with the food vendors as if they shared a naughty secret. like different kinds of tacos. She also notes that some street foods take longer to make than some typical daily meals. tamales. or even womanly.’ In other words. she tries to be discreet about it. The words envidia and envidioso are used to describe a range of characteristics from envy to greed to being overprotective over family . she would suggest to me that we eat in the market. She would have a mischievous glint in her eye as she said. ‘Vamos a chinaquear’. for instance. In Milpa Alta there is a speciﬁc verb for this idea of eating out that is used only in the region: chinaquear. So although there may be times when a woman is too tired. 2006. effectively failing to fulﬁll her obligation to feed her family or guests. if a woman forgets to place salsa on the table. keeping all the ﬂavour to herself. Perhaps there is also an element of taste involved in the decision to buy food in the street. Chinaquear means to eat snacks in the street and it encapsulates shirking one’s household. nor would this be normal behaviour in Milpa Alta. Mexican street food is one of the broadest-ranging parts of the cuisine. or was more work to prepare than we wished to do. pambazos. 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. duties. huaraches. Some things are not easily made at home. part of the social signiﬁcance of a meal prepared at home stems from the caring involved in cooking food with ﬂavour for speciﬁc eaters. Another eater makes a cook more willing to go through the trouble of preparing the several parts that make up a meal (cf. food preparation entails an emotional commitment from cooks and eaters. In Milpa Alta.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 123 investigating Mexico. however. In Milpa Alta. because we could have or should have prepared food for ourselves. referring to Silva. too cumbersome for the domestic kitchen or for daily cooking. Abarca. most women know how to make many of the foods that can be bought in the streets. she most likely will buy it to take away. quesadillas. A complete Mexican meal requires much time and effort and is difﬁcult to prepare in single servings. The food sold by the vendor might be particularly delicious. Abarca (p. Cooking is almost never done for the sake of the cook alone. she may be teased as being envidiosa. perhaps could not be the same if made at home. pp. 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. Tinker (1987) observes that ‘[i]n most countries the traditional foods eaten at home take a long time to make. If she decides to buy ready-made food in the market. too busy or indeed too lazy to cook for her family. so that busy housewives or working women will avoid this effort by feeding their families street foods’ (p. Another instance when Milpaltenses might eat in the streets is when they eat alone or with only one other person. Sometimes when Doña Margarita and I were on our own. 92–3). such as barbacoa.
It also then follows that when the relationship between cook and eater is very close. Raising children is more simply a moral obligation and. Envidia is conceptually opposed to the notions of generosity. I have used the word love to explain how culinary technical mastery is achieved.124 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members. love and hospitality of home. Within the family. women’s culinary agency becomes directed to their husbands and their new households. In Milpa Alta. someone who somehow displeased another was often described as being envidioso. Flavour and variety are sought after for everyday meals. 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.7 Unlike in the ﬁesta cycle. in daily meals food is not circulated. Morality and Taste In a perhaps simpliﬁed way. While community relationships are characterized by respect and social expectations. Once they marry. 1989). the eater is more likely to judge the food as tastier and better because of the social relationship that exists between them. and then all of it is eaten. Gow. enticing the family and ritual kin to maintain their ties to the cook. a woman supplies it. Parents do not expect anything from children in exchange for feeding and raising them. given and received. family relationships are characterized by love. though of course. it is only within the domestic realm. This is partly because of the asymmetrical relationship between parent and child or married woman and her in-laws (see Gell. husbands and in-laws. a cook’s . I think that that is far too long-term to establish an exchange relationship via food. not because of some deep-seated subordination of women to men. Ideally. I have already described how the full artistry of Mexican cuisine is explored daily in the family kitchen.6 A person who is envidioso/a refuses to share or lend food or other material belongings. and I have also described how love is the instigation for culinary activity. all different kinds of food are demanded and supplied. moral obligation and gender role expectations. as I mentioned earlier. but if they do. Appetite. Failure to feed their husbands can be judged as shirking marital as well as womanly duties. women prepare food for their husbands and children and other members of the household. like family. However. He or she lacks conﬁanza. food is demanded by children. and it is not exchanged for an expected return of food reciprocity on another occasion. children are considered as extensions of their parents in the community-wide systems of (food) reciprocity and exchange that do exist in ﬁestas. and in this way good cooking works like a well-designed trap. but because of the centrality of the marital bond as the source of social (and sexual and gastronomical) fulﬁllment. 1999a. on a daily basis. food in this case is not actually exchanged between culinary agents and recipients. For daily meals. Daughters rarely take full responsibility for meal provision. at least not until many years later in old age.
1986). Among other writers. the ﬁnal product’ (p. instrumentalized for the production of legitimate members of society. This implies that in the case of home cooking. She also observes that many women who sell home-cooked food in the streets are unwed . as socially controlled. Mexico. 171. home cooking generates positive social ends. Rather. A home-cooked meal should then taste better and should also be better than snacks bought in the street. there is a moral obligatory force involved in giving and receiving food. this extends to the gastronomical and sexual loyalty of potentially unfaithful husbands. it makes more sense that the appeal of home cooking is based upon its intrinsic meaningfulness. loyalty and appreciation of family members. this food may seem to taste better in the streets. 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. my translation). This being the case. hence the importance of a home-cooked meal. economic ends. presumably prepared for selﬁsh. In other words. Applying the same logic to cooking. but men depend on women for the tortilla. As I described in Chapter 4. marketable. and not for a return of yet undetermined food hospitality in future. I dare say that home cooking is offered in a most complex bounded way. Yet street foods are known to be desirable. Vázquez discusses the domestic economy of ﬁrst and second wives in both monogamous and polygamous unions. 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. somehow. 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. Conversely. 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. socially sanctioned sexual desires. Vázquez García (1997) describes the marital relationship as reciprocal in a Nahua community in southern Veracruz. as a sophisticated culinary trap couched in the ideology of generosity and the virtue of women’s suffering and sacriﬁce.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 125 talent must also be considered. is meaningful in a different 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. other cooking. commercially viable and delicious. Understanding this. She notes that men inherit land and women receive kitchen equipment upon marriage. 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. whereas commercial cooking would then generate antisocial (individual) ends. the food is exchanged for the love. 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 family and friends. Munn.
akin to the pleasures of sex without the entanglements of love (amongst social relations). then. and the value of food sharing. Brieﬂy put. there are two ways of experiencing food as delicious. Both the vendor and the home cook wish to attract and appease the appetite of the same consumer. satisfying way. buying and selling street food would constitute a food transaction of supreme reciprocity. food in the street provides the ﬂavour of Mexican cuisine without the effort or social investment.126 • Culinary Art and Anthropology mothers or ‘second wives’ of men whose legitimate wives exert domestic (marital and gastronomical) rights. without any moral obligation on the part of the buyer or the seller. The goal of this and other kinds of commodity exchange is a simple transaction. A customer hands over money and the vendor hands over ﬂavourful food. or her intended food consumers. . In Chapter 3 I also mentioned how Primy would proffer special treatment to regular customers. the food is transacted in a mercifully simple. There is quantitative equivalence. Home cooking has the status of the highly moral marital bond. as the vendor-client relationship can blur over time to approximate friendship. Things are exchanged for things. I can choose to buy food from this or that vendor. If we follow Gell’s (1999a) logic about commodity exchange. Indeed. however. there are no social relations involved to complicate one’s enjoyment of the ﬂavours. especially if one eats alone at a street stand. This immediate-return exchange is instant gratiﬁcation. What is given is not a gift. nor is it obligatory. with the intention of constructing bait in a particular way to ensnare the loyalty of kin and ritual kin. Street food is commoditized cooking. In fact. Both the customer and the vendor indeed ‘sacriﬁce’ something of value (money/food) in exchange for something that they value more (food/money). then.9 It is as delicious and clandestine as an illicit love affair. and neither I nor the vendor I choose engage in any realm wherein either of us can be judged to be generous or envidiosa. completed on the spot. What is given over is a thing that the giver values less than what is received.8 Recall now that cooking is an activity like building a trap-as-artwork. and its appeal lies in the link between eating and sex. So the culinary agency involved in preparing food for sale or for loved ones is actually one and the same. though each leaves the transaction happier with his or her newly acquired money or food than before. There will always be differences in a cook’s activities depending on her speciﬁc intentions. To conclude. with respect to her agency. 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. rather than being an unethical commercial venture in opposition to the ethical food-giving at home. Yet more pertinent to this point than Gell’s discussion of artworks as traps. is how Gell (1999a) dismantles the idea that commercial activities should be less moral than non-commercial/gift-giving and gift-receiving. wherein each actor values the other thing more than the thing he or she gives up. and so the vendor directs her agency to this competition. 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.
not one’s wife. Chinaqueando is an occasional delight. to join in the activity. 1991. married women prepare food for their husbands and the rest of the household as part of their domestic role. given that I have been arguing throughout this book that we do not eat solely for the sake of nutrition. Though different vendors produce different qualities of ﬂavours. 1985). Likewise. Furthermore. Gow. I invite readers to experiment with some variations on the theme of basic dishes in Mexican cuisine. as Ricardo says. an individual practice more commonly engaged in than openly admitted. Because of the many rules of greed and generosity surrounding home cooking. To summarize. Please note that this is just a sampling of recipes. Eating in the streets is thus an illicit pleasure. food that is not cooked at home is also considered to be delicious in a different. interrelated with the social systems of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. but of course. just as we have preferences for and opinions about people with whom we socialize. More speciﬁcally. 1994. it is an act of freedom. Because of the meanings attached to home cooking (food prepared by women. naughtily enjoying someone else’s cooking as she shirks her own duties to cook. rather than there being a power struggle between genders (Gregor. to eat in the street is equivalent to having an illicit love affair—equally or arguably more delicious food prepared by others. being seen in the streets invites digression and the potential for extramarital love affairs. in Milpa Alta. the meal is heavily emotionally laden. Milpa Alta society is characterised by gender complementarity. and if she chooses to eat in the streets. 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. Vázquez García. she can be criticized. eating to satisfy appetite without emotional entanglements. or to cook tradition. In contrast. almost sinful sense. but they both provide temporary satisfactions of desires fulﬁlled for the sake of pure pleasure. 1997). Recipes: Variations on a Theme Despite the apparent impossibility of learning to cook Mexican food with only recipes. 2001. to snack in the streets is considered a pastime. if a woman does not cook at home for her family. there are deviances from the norm.g. After all.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 127 even if under a coercive system. she is chinaqueando. Likewise. and some things do taste better when prepared at home. there is no contradiction if it is accepted that we have preferences and opinions about food. without the social signiﬁcance attached to eating in someone’s home. Neither are necessarily offered for the purpose of nourishment or the propagation of society. and quantities can vary with every cook’s taste. it would be naive to suggest that sex is solely for the sake of procreation. McCallum. . as has been shown to exist in other Latin American societies (e. Descola. and men and women are known to have extramarital affairs. A man should ﬁnd the greatest pleasures with his wife. primarily for their husbands).
ﬁnely chopped 1 small green chile (serrano or jalapeño). Blend to desired consistency. • The ingredients can be more mashed or liqueﬁed and other ingredients added. grilled meats or ﬁsh. roughly chopped 2 small green chiles. • Mash in a mortar with a pestle or put all in a blender with a little water if necessary. 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. ﬁnely chopped (optional) lime juice (optional) . raw salsas are nice left chunky.1 Guacamole 2 large ripe avocados 1 small tomato.1 Salsa roja cruda (Raw Red Salsa) 2 large ripe red tomatoes. In any case. chopped salt to taste • Chop all ingredients and mix well. this is the classic salsa mexicana. which is often used to accompany grilled ﬁsh or meat or eggs. or anything. 1.2 Guacamole Raw red salsa with mashed avocado added. This is a perfect accompaniment for guacamole and tortilla chips as well as for eggs.128 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1 Variations on Salsa 1. ﬁnely chopped ¼ white onion. Variations or optional ingredients. • Fresh. cut into pieces ½ medium onion. ﬁnely chopped (optional) salt to taste coriander (cilantro). If left chunky. this is a table salsa. as with raw red salsa 1.2.
not cassia). fresh chiles.3 Salsa Verde (Green Salsa) Substitute green husk tomatoes (tomates verdes or tomatillos) for red tomatoes. black pepper. • If using dried chiles. Use some of the soaking liquid in the blender. Cook until it changes colour and the ﬂavour changes. . using some of the boiling broth in the blender. It is not necessary to peel tomatoes or chiles after roasting them. • Add herbs (use one): dried oregano. onions. with soft thin bark. Variations are endless. • Tomatoes. smooth cooked salsas or caldillos. Variations for Cooked Salsa • Add spices (use all): cloves. as the charred skin contributes a nice smoky ﬂavour. • With dried chiles and spices. pour in the liqueﬁed salsa. epazote. 1. • Before blending. garlic and spices on a dry griddle. fresh coriander. about 10 to 15 minutes. You may need to add a little water.5 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Other Ingredients Often meat. • 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. and when the oil begins to smoke. allspice. • Boil tomatoes (peel husks off green tomatoes ﬁrst) and fresh chiles before liquidizing. chiles. marjoram.4 Cooked Salsa Blend salsa ingredients until fairly smooth. to soften them. Heat oil or lard in a saucepan. onions and garlic should be roasted unpeeled until the skin blackens (green tomatoes should have papery husk removed). • Serve as a dip with tortilla chips (totopos) or alongside grilled or fried meat or ﬁsh. 1. stuffed chiles. omelettes or vegetable or ﬁsh tortitas (croquettes) are cooked into or served heated in thin. comal or frying pan. and proceed as for raw red salsa. roast tomatoes. vegetables. cumin.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 129 • Mash all together with fork. soak them in hot water for a few minutes after roasting. cinnamon (‘true’ or Ceylon cinnamon sticks. 1. to roll into tacos or use in sandwiches. be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter. Examples follow.
and patting out by hand. grated or shredded cheese . Heat in cooked salsa verde until soft. sliced radish. Well-made tortillas puff up as they bake and have two different sides. Break fried pork rinds into pieces. They are served alongside pozole (hominy soup) with crema espesa.2 Tostadas Fry whole day-old tortillas until crisp. grinding it to a soft dough. 2. beans and corn tortillas. onions. avocados. large or small. 1. topped with a variety of different things. long or short. always with some kind of salsa or chile on the side. then topped with refried beans and things like crisply fried crumbled longaniza.1 Chicharrón en chile verde (Fried Pork Rinds in Green Salsa) This is very common in Milpa Alta. keeping them ﬂat—these are now called tostadas. shredded lettuce and chopped coriander. pinched side is smeared with melted lard.130 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1. pressing out with a tortilla press. lime. 2. Tostadas are also eaten on their own. or putting masa through an industrial tortillería machine. 2 Tortillas Tortillas can be made by boiling corn with lime (CaOH). onions and cream. This is usually served with white rice.5.5. Tortillas can be thick or thin.1 Gorditas or Tortillas Pellizcadas These are fat tortillas which have been pinched on the thin side to make a rough surface. Serve with boiled beans and warm corn tortillas. masa. a front and a back.2 Calabacitas con queso (Courgettes with Cheese) Cook cubed courgettes and panela cheese in red tomato caldillo with fresh epazote. salsa. The rough. 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.
grated cheese. fry them in hot oil till crisp. cut leftover corn tortillas into 8 triangles each. Prepare masa for tortillas and refried beans.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 131 chopped coriander crumbled. and 1 cm thick.1 Huaraches Huaraches are like tlacoyos but are much wider. oblong tortillas from fresh masa so that the ﬂautas will be long like ﬂutes. extra-long. Serve drizzled with salsa and cream and with chopped onions. Make sure to liquefy it long enough to get it very smooth. coriander and grated white cheese (all optional).1 Chilaquiles • The night before. place a length of beans in the centre of a ball of masa and press it out into an oblong shape.3 Tacos dorados Roll shredded chicken in corn tortillas. 2. Top with cooked salsa. 8 cm wide. • Make thin red or green salsa in any way you wish. about 10–15 cm long. chopped onions. Leave them out to dry overnight. dry frying pan or griddle. Before pressing out the tortillas. The beans should be encased in masa. Señoras sell them on street corners and outside metro stations in Mexico City. 3 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Tortillas 3. chopped coriander and cream. Secure each roll with a toothpick and deep-fry. You may use chicken broth or water to thin it out further. cream and grated white cheese. The next morning. crisply fried longaniza or chorizo (sausage) 2. 2. They are usually bought in the market or in a street stall. .1 Variation: Flautas Make tacos dorados using shredded barbacoa de borrego as ﬁlling.4 Tlacoyos This is typical street food in Mexico City.4.3. thinner and crisper. Bake on both sides on a hot comal. 2. Flautas de barbacoa are sometimes served alongside a bowl of consomé de barbacoa. They can be up to 40 cm long and 25 cm wide and are served with the same toppings as tlacoyos. Drizzle the fried tacos with green salsa. Many people make thin.
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. Typical Toppings white onion. Arrange in ovenproof dish and bake till heated through and cheese has melted. • One by one.2 Enchiladas corn tortillas thin cooked salsa. and put on toppings and side dishes before serving. Arrange rolls side by side. as for chilaquiles shredded boiled chicken. 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 on plates. sliced into very thin wedges.132 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Strain into hot oil. lay tortillas on a plate or ovenproof serving dish. 3. fry and cook the salsa with epazote. dip each tortilla in the pan of hot salsa and pass it through to quickly coat it. • Sprinkle with chopped onions and grated cheese.2. • Toss the tortilla chips in the hot salsa. When they are well coated. • One by one. see below) bolillos or teleras (crusty white bread roll) 3. 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. queso fresco.1 For Enchiladas suizas Use green salsa. pork or beef ﬁlet (milanesa) fried crumbled Mexican longaniza (sausage) shredded boiled chicken frijoles refritos (refried beans. rings or half-rings shredded or crumbled white cheese (queso oaxaqueño. .
very smoothly liqueﬁed beans ( frijoles de olla or frijoles refritos) instead of salsa.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 133 3. Only after they are very soft may you add salt.3 Enfrijoladas Use thin. They do not need to be soaked. If you add salt too soon. They also taste better after they have settled. crumbled white cheese and crema espesa. add hot water. and after at least 2 hours the beans should be soft. • If you need to add water. 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. place grated melting cheese on top and bake in oven till cheese melts and all is heated through. 3. and either corn or wheat ﬂour tortillas (ﬂour tortillas need not be passed through hot oil). Traditionally. pinto or any other beans—should be rinsed and all stones and empty beans removed. • Put beans in a pot with about triple the amount of water. ham and/or cheese.2 Enmoladas or Enchiladas de mole For salsa.2. a small clay olla with water is placed on top of the big clay olla where the beans are cooking. Adding cold water will temporarily halt the cooking process. cover and simmer over medium heat with some onion and lard or vegetable oil. The other layers: shredded boiled chicken. 3. • The beans—black turtle or Veracruz beans. the water in the small olla is at the same temperature as the cooking beans.4 Pastel azteca Arrange tortillas in layers in an ovenproof dish like lasagna. use leftover mole that has been thinned down with water or chicken broth. the beans will never soften. or with any sauce that remains on the plate after the meat or ﬁsh of the main course is ﬁnished. .2. If water needs to be added. • Beans are often eaten after the main course. and top with sliced onions. Stir occasionally. the ﬁlling can be shredded chicken. use shredded chicken as ﬁlling. • Beans are best prepared in advance since you cannot be sure how long they will cook (this depends on how old they are). crema espesa. thin refried beans.2. They are also served together with the main course or with rice as well.
heat lard or oil in a frying pan.2 Sopa de frijol (Bean Soup) Prepare beans with a lot of water or add chicken or other stock before liquefying them. some pickled chile and cheese and/or cured or roasted meat to make tortas. or substitute feta or white Lancashire). add some sliced white onions.1 Frijoles refritos (Refried Beans) • Over a medium ﬂame. 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 . They are also often served with crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or queso añejo. Chopped coriander also goes well with any beans. 4. 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. a slice of avocado. Stir these and cook them until they are dark brown and almost burnt. red. Mash them continually in the lard and incorporate the onions until a smooth paste is formed. 4.134 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • For black beans. most people add a sprig of epazote to the pot toward the end of the cooking time. or you can scramble them into eggs. • Only then add the beans with some of their broth. When it begins to smoke. • You can serve these with scrambled eggs and salsa. Optional ingredients to add. • Beans cooked like this go well with any dish with a sauce and are also used to spread into sandwiches made with crusty bread.
rice is stirred into the broth or eaten with the main course or with the beans after the main course.2.1 Arroz blanco (White Mexican Rice) 1½ cups long-grain rice. Note: This rice should be dry. 5. peas. then lower the heat to a very low ﬂame. • Blend onions and garlic with a bit of water until smooth. Keep the heat high for a few minutes so that the veggies cook.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 135 4. cover and let simmer until the rice is cooked. • Cover the lid of the pot with a tea towel before placing it over the pot to absorb excess moisture. 5 Sopa seca (Dry Soup) This is rice or pasta without broth. Add vegetables and salt and top up with enough water or broth to cook the rice well. often eaten on its own with salsa on the side. if you wish. corn kernels. rather it should be more like pilau. 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. chopped 1 clove garlic.3 above. Add to rice. and sometimes avocado and lime. epazote or chile to the top of the rice toward the end of the cooking time. drained well ¼ cup oil ½ white onion. usually served as a ﬁrst or second course. with separate grains.3 Enfrijoladas See 3. It is served after a vegetable soup or meat or chicken broth with hot corn tortillas. • Stir well and allow to cook. . Fry the rice (and carrots) until it is lightly golden. It should not be soft and milky like risotto. chopped ½ cup each carrots (soaked in hot water). Add salt to taste. Sometimes. salsa. soaked in hot water. • Add coriander.
g.2 Arroz rojo (Red Rice) Prepare arroz blanco (see preceding recipe).3 Sopa de ﬁdeos/Macarrones Substitute vermicelli or pasta elbows (macaroni) for the rice and prepare as for arroz rojo. frying the dry pasta in oil until it browns a little. 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. peaches. guavas. Variations combine 2 or more types of fruit stir in chopped mint before serving serve with crema espesa/de rancho (crème fraîche) . add 1 or 2 tomatoes to the garlic and onion mixture and blend well. Serve cold. pineapples).136 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 5. when it is done. You might want to add a bit of lime juice so that it is not too sweet. Fry a bit before adding the optional vegetables. without a sauce. tejocotes. before stirring in the salsa and water to cook. When the syrup is ready. This is good for pears. Allow the fruit to cool in the syrup and then refrigerate. 5. To make red rice. salt and water or chicken broth. Sometimes dry pasta ‘soups’ are served with cream (crème fraîche) drizzled over. 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. and other fruits that do not disintegrate (e. The pasta should remain dry. like a smooth red salsa.
This is very well explained by Wilk (2006. 3. p. in fact her approach is necessarily different. India and China are comparable in their complexity of everyday cooking. and cooking as a source of women’s agency and empowerment. and indeed of an anthropologist. In my case. The mixing of cuisines and culinary culture is far from a simple matter. there are certain things which non-natives notice that natives may not immediately see or may take for granted. I approached Mexican cuisine with the curiosity.007 for the whole city). and indeed of one’s own person. . her experience was intellectualized before she revalued and reevaluated her appreciation of the Mexican kitchen. and vice versa. At the time of my research in the nineties. 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. Abarca draws from literary. 5. The regional cuisines of the Middle East. So for her. Our different perspectives can only further enrich our understanding of food and cooking and Mexican gastronomy. ‘Where . pp. 2000. though it occupied 19.102 for Milpa Alta and 8. She grew up with the creative artistry of Mexican cooking as part of her normal daily life. food as art.489. 4. Most of this land was put to agricultural use. sense of adventure and discovery of an outsider or tourist.5 per cent was inhabited. the population was only about 1 per cent of the Federal District (81. 2. 3. The people of Milpa Alta rarely – 137 – . As can be expected. Chapter 6) in his discussion of the creolization of Belizean food. Yet while her treatment of these subjects appeared to overlap with mine. . gender and cultural studies and is herself a native Mexican.2 per cent of its area. the productive forces appear as the embodied qualities of human subjects—as their technical skills’ (Ingold. given our different disciplinary training and personal backgrounds. 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.Notes Introduction 1. 21–2). sazón. and 1 per cent was used for urban buildings and other purposes (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografía e Informática 1997. of course. 318). food production depends on the skilled handling of tools. Any researcher of Mexican food would ﬁnd them to be part of the reality of Mexican culinary culture.
preparation and consumption. Villa Milpa Alta. See Sophie Coe’s brilliant book. 205). Bayless and Bayless (1987. p. a mildly fermented viscous drink made of the maguey sap. 38). Pulque used to be a common drink in this region. Muñoz. 6. . 8. for the barrio level there are no demographic ﬁgures in print. or honey water. The maguey is the source of pulque. 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. as Milpa Alta has. Kennedy (1989. and Muñoz (2000). see Muñoz (2000). and it had religious signiﬁcance during Aztec times. 33– 49. pp. 9. and acknowledging that there is insufﬁcient space for me to include a comparative analysis with other cuisines or other cultures. and on a comparative perspective of cuisines since cultures must be situated within the world system. Goody (1982) highlights four main areas of investigation for studying food. 3. 15). while I have been unable to treat the topics of food production and distribution at a level beyond the barrio. or another community of central Mexico with Náhuatl roots. 1997. Andrews (1984). (1996). I draw my main conclusions from my data of the local system of Barrio San Mateo in relation to the rest of Milpa Alta.138 • Notes emigrated. distribution (political factors. (1991). For an idea of the variety of uses of chiles in Mexican cuisine.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. A comparative study of another group in a different. These are production (economic factors). Lomelí. Also. 7. His own work focuses on production and consumption. p. community of Mexico City. See Long-Solís (1986). 459 –84). pp. would surely provide a broader perspective than my limited research allowed. allocation). even neighbouring. 96. so my data here is reliant upon personal communication with Enrique Nápoles of Barrio San Mateo. 328–38). to name a few. and also Coe (1994). it is called aguamiel. esp. esp. When unfermented. ‘the arts of cooking and the cuisine’ (p. Unfortunately. Martínez (1992). and van Rhijn (1993). Lynn Stephen describes similar differences between how women describe their occupations as recorded in the national census and what they actually do (2005. Chapter 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine 1. 2. market. based on household and class. among others. America’s First Cuisines (1994).
11. 14. A chinampa is a very fertile type of artiﬁcial island. In Mexico City. see Wilk (2006). In a thought-provoking article. 1989. 7. 13. For a lighter account. 29 September 1997. culture contact and creolization.Notes • 139 4. Mexico City. I am grateful to Kai Kresse for pointing this out to me. see Long (1996).). 4). which is made up of several residential districts. 9. See Pilcher (1998). Public talk in Universum. Coming from a pueblo implies a connection with a community of people who share a common hometown. National pride and identity are qualities which a people’s cuisine can sometimes help determine. and always has been. Furthermore. 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. ‘The culinary merit is perhaps more if one considers. and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). 15. in spite of work-related movement and interaction with other parts of the city. ‘The cooking of corn in Mexico with all its elaborations and ramiﬁcations is. 5. . p. more urbanized areas. Rachel Laudan (2001) questions the meaning of ‘authentic’ cuisine. 3). beyond that of any other country’ (Kennedy. these are called colonias in the central. 12. 8. and Brown and Mussell (1985). The word pueblo refers to a small town or village. p. see Sokolov (1991). and on the edges of the city the divisions of the municipalities are called pueblos (which may be further subdivided into barrios). She argues that depictions of traditional recipes as rural and natural is romantic nostalgia. and that the foods we think of as traditional and authentic actually depend upon the modern. See Wilk (2006). For an excellent discussion of culinary blending. one’s life can easily be contained within the boundaries of one’s pueblo. usually in a non-urban context. within the realm of the highest culinary art. my trans. See also Long and Vargas (2005). 10. For a comprehensive compilation of papers on different aspects of the cultural/culinary inﬂuences between the Old and New Worlds. See also Cruz Díaz (2000) and the regional ‘family cooking’ series published in 1988 by Banco Nacional de Credito Rural (Banrural). See also Wilk (2006) and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). Pilcher (1998). industrial global economy that supporters of the ‘authentic’ criticize. Using the word pueblo to describe the residential area where you live actually has other connotations that living in a colonia does not. Diana Kennedy’s work would fall into this category. analyzing the texts carefully. See also Long and Vargas (2005) for an excellent overview of food in Mexico. 29. 1981. that the variety [of foods] was not as great as it ﬁrst appears at ﬁrst sight’ (Corcuera. 6. 2005. p. inaccurately referred to as a ‘ﬂoating garden’ (Long and Vargas. Appadurai (1988).
see Goody (1982. knowledge and skill in relation to the topic of culinary knowledge and skill. 2006) examines food for understanding cultural change. pero en restaurante. 1989). I rather prefer to avoid applying metaphorical. Deben prepararlos bien de principio.g. Chapter 7. For a critical discussion of how culinary knowledge is transmitted. Some also base analysis on religious taboo or hierarchy and classiﬁcation (such as Douglas. especially chapter two on sazón. 19. who questions the linear transmission of cooking skill. textual or language-based models to food and cooking.. Jonaitis provides an excellent discussion of how the sense of taste has been neglected in ethnographic writing. Entonces. 10 –39). pp. pp. 51).g. For a description of how impoverished our language is to describe our experience of ﬂavour. For a detailed overview of the treatment of food in anthropology and sociology. which focus interest on cuisine or on eating particular foods for (gastronomical or other) pleasure. Chapter 2 Cooking as an Artistic Practice 1. pp. see also Warde (1997). 2006. ‘The Aesthetics of Kitchen Discourse’). sin el sazón del amor. p. (1992. 18.d. y debe ser un currículo en las escuelas de cocina. Abarca emphasizes what she calls the ‘sensory logic’ or ‘sensual.’ 20. 4. and Richard Wilk (1999. 47–70). livelihood. Khare. Caplan (1997b). Lenten. 1976). see Sutton (n. corporeal knowledge’ of sazón. 21. 3. Peter Gow (1989) analyzes the desires for food and sex in the construction of social relations in Amazonian Peru. For a discussion of cooking without written recipes. 1–19). 2. Beardsworth and Keil (1997. en vez de tratar de copiar el modelo europeo. Babb. of course. Imitar las cocinas famosas no sirve. She suggests.). As I explain in Chapter 2. 1993) or are more about economic issues and gender than cuisine itself (e. como en la casa de la abuela. There is much to say about Ingold’s theories of habitus. which she also describes as a ‘discourse of empowerment’ (2006.140 • Notes 16. Mennell et al. or analyzing a drum without hearing the music it plays’ (Jonaitis. debe utilizar los ingredientes mejores. My friend Primy also overturned her bowl to check if the whites were ready. See Vizcarra (2002). which I am unfortunately unable to develop fully here. see Fine (1996. tal y como es. ‘Hay que trasladar la cocina casera a la cocina restaurantera. claro. 1966. p. In Milpa Alta I have seen women beat their egg whites in plastic bowls and the capeado still worked. Alicia María González (1986) does not write . globalization and local identity in Belize. see Abarca (2006). semiotic. 17. There are some exceptions. ‘Approaching food without considering taste is like studying a mask without referring to its dance. 162). In some communities this is still the case. Food-related ethnographies often privilege development issues (e. But see Sutton (2006).
10. 7. 1987). 1994). Chapter 3). by its very nature. Chapter 3). ‘[A]nimal traps … might be presented to an art public as artworks. For them. 285). convey meanings. and therefore creates a social relation between them. baker. because the aesthetic cannot be isolated from (Islamic) social or cultural values. nor was he the ﬁrst. She emphasizes the artistic nature of foods and personal adornment. Douglas (1975). ‘Objects are really the end result of a long process of negotiation between the material world. 1981. E.. and his craftsmanship in making bread with particular names and shapes. Ingold. Kanafani’s (1983) ethnography of women in the United Arab Emirates focuses on the culinary arts. both had ‘simple’ cuisines. for example. 1993. 14. Firth.g. 8. Gell was not the only one to emphasize the technical aspect of art. Bayless and Bayless. . 11. Layton. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (Gell. focusing on the panadero. 12. 1973. It is also interesting to note that one of the chefs represented as culinary artists in this book is Chef Rick Bayless. 6. see Weismantel (1988). but at least there is an attempt to understand the artistic notions attached to cooking tasty food. including perfumes. and is also used to avoid pollution and to restore oneself to a state of purity. See also Abarca (2006. who specializes in so-called traditional or authentic Mexican cooking (see Bayless. 1996. As Andrew Martin describes Latour. but her thesis analyzes the symbolic meanings of Mexican wheat bread. Dornenburg and Page (1996). is a transformed representation of its maker. See. the main difference between feast food and daily fare was abundance rather than special preparations of dishes. These devices embody ideas. 2003). 9. ‘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. Lévi-Strauss (1966. and the prey animal.Notes • 141 about art. p. and for a successful use of semiotics in analyzing cuisine. Gell was also neither the ﬁrst nor the only one to ascribe agency to objects or artworks (see Latour. 52). historical associations and people—who give things names and relationships’ (2005. 1996. and Mintz (1996. its 5. and beauty is pleasing to Allah. see Hugh-Jones (1979). the LoDagaa and the Gonja. the hunter. 13. This conclusion may seem unsatisfying. describing the interconnections among sensory experience. although not on cooks as artists. See Chapter 4. This is possibly because the two cultures in which he did ﬁeldwork. p. She argues that aesthetic satisfaction enhances the experience of the senses. It is a received notion that one cannot assess art without looking at techniques (see Bateson. 2000). because a trap. for a particularly effective and convincing ethnographic analysis. Her analysis locates the source of aesthetic meaning on the recommendations of the Prophet Muhammad. See Sutton (2006). aesthetics and body rituals among women. 1996.
21. 18). p. 203). 1990. can one properly speak of art’ (1996. and of their mutual relationship. Not to share it with others is “to kill its essence”. There she raises bees for honey and grows her own wheat. Abarca (2006. Diana Kennedy said that she herself believes in these culinary methods. Cf. The reason. p. quintessentially social one. For the general theme of invention of tradition. when put into practice. 23. see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). 1999b. maize. 1991. these traps communicate the idea of a nexus of intentionalities between hunters and prey animals. 19.142 • Notes victim. The ancient Aztecs used chile smoke as a punishment for naughty children (Coe. via material forms and mechanisms’ (Gell. given meaning in human terms by comparative associations. as having human involvement with the material: ‘Art is a product of human commitment. In a talk at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana on 3 June 1996. determined by man’s social existence. 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. . questioning the dichotomy between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. It is essentially form. See Lok (1991) for a discussion of sacriﬁce and exchange. She said that you must sing to moles in the same way that you must talk to your plants. 18. Kennedy’s outlook and attitude toward cuisine is more holistic than many other cookbook writers or culinary investigators. render superior culinary results. 1994). In fact. it is to destroy it both for oneself and for others’ (Mauss. 17. 53). is a complex. but only when the form is mobilized for human purposes. 57). In a way. Wilk (2006) discusses the construction and recuperation of ‘traditional’ cooking and other practices in Belize. in that she has built up an ecologically friendly oasis in her home in Michoacán. the transaction may continue if a customer becomes a regular and then becomes recognized by the vendor as deserving of occasional special favours. p. among hunting people. hospitality can be thought of as a form of sacriﬁce. Her love of the art of Mexican cookery eventually led to her greater understanding of and care for environmental issues. she explained. That is to say. which. Raymond Firth recognizes art in a comparable way. They made them breathe it to remove their anger as well (Clendinnen. with speciﬁc regard to the Days of the Dead. 92–3). 20. 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. ‘It is in the nature of food to be shared out. which. p. is because ‘the ancestors’ had more contact with food and so their wisdom must be respected. mushrooms and all types of plants from the whole country. pp. 16. The case of the cook as eater is discussed below. 22.
for art. 28. Aztec children were disciplined by being made to inhale chile smoke as punishment (Coe. 2. 29. Recall that going to university is a luxury only recently acquired with the increased economic prosperity in Milpa Alta. 31.g. As explained in Chapter 4. Very little material is published on the history of barbacoa in Milpa Alta or elsewhere. Also adobo. see Gomezcésar (1992). The food product transacted remains the same. See Chapter 5 for an examination of ﬁesta food. i. Stoller (1989. Gell (1996. mixiote or barbacoa. 7. 24. Cf. borregos criollos.e. E. p. If a husband moves into his wife’s house. for barbacoa. 5. which is used to make mixiote. 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). Ingold also considers practical knowledge to be embedded in a social matrix of relations. He is met not with disapproval. In other parts of Mexico the caul is also called encaje. though Bourdieu argues a different point. so the ‘sociality’ produced is of the kind that McCallum (2001) describes. As mentioned previously in Chapter 2. 30. For a clearer understanding of attachment to land. instead of mole. 26. Chapter 4). In a way this seems to echo Simmel. These dishes are also technically difﬁcult to prepare. but perhaps with some ridicule at times.Notes • 143 with food portions. Nowadays (within the last 20 years). Cf. where he writes of the social meanings behind serving a bad sauce among the Songhay in Niger. 3. 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. 1999b). 8. Chapter 3 Barbacoa in Milpa Alta 1. 4. 9. 32. Chapter 1). locally reared sheep. See Miller (2002) on expressing love through food shopping. 6. 289).’ Use of this phrase to describe something seemed to indicate its importance in Milpa Alta society. he is often teased for being mandilón (tied to the apron strings) or called ciguamoncli (cf. as ‘links in chains of personal rather than mechanical causation’ (2000. Discussed further in Chapter 5. 25. they mutually imply one another (mole ↔ ﬁesta). pp. since mole is to ﬁesta as ﬁesta is to mole. 1994. 63 – 4). . However. many families who hold large celebration banquets serve carnitas. ‘Es una tradición que le va dejando a la nueva generación. and the menu rarely varies beyond these three choices. which literally means lace. 27.
arguably. González Montes (1997). hierarchical relationships may be useful for effectively pursuing these ideals. There are (immoral) actions that can lead to anti-sociality. This term has been used to criticize women’s entry into the capitalist labour force. but also by food quality. This is an indication that people tend not to make gastronomic compromises. 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. where they were not only underpaid. and not all social relations lead to sociality. 2. that they are supposed to stop making barbacoa! 11. Alternatively. For example. Likewise. but migrants from the poorer states of Oaxaca. but only cases where a woman was hired for a few hours a week or on an occasional basis. I recognize that I tread on the tenuous border between portraying culinary life as simply rosy and lovely and the dire reality of others. 3.144 • Notes 10. Note that most of their ﬁndings were based on white middle-class Americans or Europeans. 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. González Montes and Tuñón (1997). 1982). p. but had to do another full day’s work at home for their families or husbands. McCallum deﬁnes sociality as ‘a temporary product of morally correct engagement in social relationships’ (1989. But because of the demands of culinary ideals. The doble jornada. 11) which is characterized by generosity with food as a central virtue among the Cashinaua of western Amazonia. (‘to feed them’). 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. 5. Melhuus and Stølen (1996). . culinary technical superiority or culinary artistry. although they do lead to social organization. those social relations that lead to sociality may be not only characterized by food generosity. Gutmann (1996). Note that she describes how men believe that the only responsibility of women to their husbands is ‘dar de comer’. McCallum (2001). Puebla and Veracruz. or ‘double workday’. 12. Most women who worked as domestic help in Milpa Alta were not natives. Alejandro hoped that one of his sons would become a trafﬁc policeman and Primy hoped they would study medicine. however. Mole probably ranks as the highest. See Vizcarra (2002) for a comparable account of women and food in an impoverished community in the State of Mexico. 4. This does not necessarily mean. 6. I did not know anyone who had live-in domestic help. 13. that is. Chapter 4 Women as Culinary Agents 1.
where there is a discourse of gender hierarchy and women’s submissiveness but also of egalitarianism.’ 14. Martin. The power of human artistry hinges upon the crucial aspect of making something artistic. 11. 9. Women had restrictions on their movements outside the house as any errand could be construed as an excuse for an illicit rendezvous. no son buenas personas. Chapter 7) describes for women in Teotitlán. for example. Debe a su familia. a los hijos. 15. naturally selected.’ (See also Melhuus. wherein planning the food is foremost. Gell. Si no sufren. see Levine (1993. Chapter 9) explains that unlike in business. Yet in practice. For a vivid comparative account. decorated. Dissanayake (1995) argues that human artistic behaviour is a necessary. ‘La mujer es el eje conductor. esp. women’s culinary agency gives them their ritual power. Zapotec women play a strong role in ritual decision making. Una mujer se hace tonta por pendeja. conducted in Zapotec. Almost everyone I met still maintained that handmade tortillas taste better than factory made. Stephen (2005. chapters 2 and 3) for more on courtship and marriage. 1992. para que la gente no habla mal de ella. p. this relative freedom can be seen as problematic in regard to relations between jealous husbands and wives. para guardar las apariencias. 12. Lulú’s words were. 10. ‘special’ and ‘extra-ordinary’ (cf. y tiene que sufrir. Ejido land is distributed by the government in accordance with the law on agrarian reform. Chapter 3). ¿Quién es él que manda? (‘Who is in charge?’) is a rhetorical question the answer to which is supposed to be ‘the husband’. ‘Regularmente cuando un hombre se hace tonto es por tanto amor que le tiene para su mujer. Mujeres trabajan el doble de sus maridos. 1996). it is not privately owned and it cannot be sold. In an article called ‘¿Quién manda? … ’. J. the response is not so clear. 16. which is conducted in Spanish and requires mathematical skills. Chapter 5 Mole and Fiestas 1. 8. See Levine (1993. This is a large topic that goes beyond the scope of this discussion. 13. 1990). but see. In other words. Son persinadas. There was apparently also a compromise on taste. practice which aided the survival of the species. In some cases. and I also agree. Like communal land.Notes • 145 7. In Milpa Alta the stereotype of self-sacriﬁcing women exists: la mujer abnegada is a woman whose husband controls family decisions. A comparative case is what Stephen (2005. . Mummert (1994). Roseman (1999) describes a similar ambiguity in rural Galicia. el timón de la familia.
this is commonly done at home for breakfast the day after a ﬁesta as part of the recalentado. This idea of homemade products being better than their commercial counterparts is prevalent and put into practice more by suburban. For a theoretical analysis. and Stephen (2005). Just as Lomnitz argues that ‘compadrazgo strengthens social ties between equals. as central ﬁgures in ritual community life. p. 7. 160). San Mateo and Santa Martha are rivalling barrios from within which there is much intermarriage as well as competition. ‘La gente de Milpa Alta es muy trabajadora porque la naturaleza no les dió tanto. 9. women. see Martinez R. 11. The señoritas are also expected to provide typical breakfast foods. Because of how guests are fed during ﬁestas. 6. 8. Chapter 1). This is comparable to what Stephen (2005) describes occurring in Teotitlán. furthers social mobility and economic advancement. early hour. In urban . In Milpa Alta. especially the excesses of food given to compadres to take home. see Lomnitz (1977). For more on compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpa Alta. 3. fond of parties. Their ﬁestas are occasions when they can socialize freely when the residents of the barrios ritually visit one another bearing salvas. also see Adapon (2001). Chapter 9) also describes how relationships of compadrazgo are ‘inherited’. and elsewhere in Mexico. Hay que trabajar desde la madrugada hasta la noche para salir adelante. (1987). hot tamales verdes and atole champurrado. For thorough analyses of compadrazgo as a principle for networking and reciprocal exchange. They begin at around half past four in the morning of the feast day (21 September for San Mateo). The dictionary deﬁnition of this word. entonces es un lujo quedarte a comer en la casa. Stephen (2005.146 • Notes 2. where some women spend their money on their compadrazgo gifts and obligations rather than on their daily meals. rural or lower-middle-class people than central urban or upper-middle-class to upper-class people.’ 10. see Greenberg (1981. ties amongst barrios are strengthened and aggression can be averted when mayordomías bring promesas to other town or barrio ﬁestas. For a town or barrio ﬁesta in Milpa Alta the unmarried youths are organized to get involved in preparing for the ﬁesta. Y es por eso que es un pueblo tan ﬁestero—para mostrar a los demás que sí tiene dinero para festejar y hacerlos bien. and affords a magic symbolic protection against latent personal aggression’ (1977. for members of the public who attend the singing event at this cold. For example. ﬁestero. juggle their ritual responsibilities with quotidian needs. 4. 5. For a thorough history and description of the cargo systems in Milpa Alta. 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. Sault (1985. is pleasure-seeking. 1987). porque no hay tiempo.
they were also appalled at the price charged at the restaurant. persons. though as a means to another end. I once went to a barbacoa restaurant in the city. The meal concluded with the opinion that this was a commercial barbacoa. 3. but it just was not as good as what they made themselves at home.Notes • 147 centres this is starting to change. 14. 4. and which I consider to be useful. which was double the price per kilo that they charged in their market stall. 17. although the restaurant barbacoa was quite good. where the spirit of the town ﬁesta is reproduced for tourists or urban dwellers. made for wealthy customers who did not eat it regularly and who were detached from it. 12. ‘[T]o write about art … is … to write about either religion. more ﬂavourful and of higher quality. The barbacoa was ﬁne. interest and disinterest are all merged. 16. it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. things. as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ Mexican cuisine is growing in popularity. Apart from this. Wilk also notes that consistency is just as difﬁcult to maintain as innovation (2006. See Sutton (n. This is what Munn calls the ‘relative extension of spacetime’. 13. If she were making mole poblano she would also sprinkle sesame seeds on top. She was one other person who conﬁded in me that her culinary secret was that she ‘cooks with love’. strengthen one another. 122). Michoacán (Mexico). ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions. See Wilk (2006.d. Chapter 6 The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life 1. p. When we warmed it up and ate it. 18. the whole family was unanimous in their opinion. 97). This relates to an anecdote I mentioned in Chapter 1. 15. and … in the long or short term these favors should somehow be balanced. or the substitute for religion which those who have abandoned the outward forms of received religions content themselves with’ (Gell. These messages. whether in the public ﬁesta domain or the private daily domain. 1998.) for a thought-provoking article on how culinary knowledge and apprenticeship are not necessarily passed from mother to daughter. I brought the leftovers to Milpa Alta for my friends to try it and compare. In my opinion the barbacoa that Primy and Alejandro made was much better. Stanley Brandes analyzed the ﬁesta cycle in Tzintzuntzan. As Parry (1986) explains it. Chapter 6) for a convincing attempt to deﬁne the style of Belizean food. p. They . This is a notion that Mary Douglas (1983) and David Sutton (2001) have both explored in different ways. when I was told. arguing that ‘reciprocal favors are critical to survival. Primy’s young son said that they must have used goat meat instead of lamb. 2.
.148 • Notes pervade all of social life and. Their income was mainly used for their children and school fees. 5. there were religious or customary reasons for this. which he bases on early childhood relationships with parents. 8. because of the links between Nahuat conceptions of eating and sex. through frequent repetition. 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. Self-critical members of Milpa Alta society pointed out that their attitude to land is also envidioso. emphasis added). they reduce the price considerably (see Flores Aguilar. In a study of seven countries in Africa and Asia. 9. His data on Mexico emphasize cooking as part of women’s role and link cooking and eating with the relationship between husband and wife. 6. They discourage non-Milpaltenses from buying property in the municipality by keeping the prices high. women still often contributed their labour from home. Where vendors were mostly men. 87). Here I would also classify cookbook writers. 7. or at least did not share their income with their husbands. See Woodburn (1998) for a view which refutes the idea of (food) sharing as exchange. 1992). In these cases. ‘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. His study is a comparative analysis of gender segregation in Mexico and Spain. preparing the food for their husbands to sell. persuade villagers to live according to prevailing contractual norms’ (1988. As mentioned in Chapter 4. but if a Milpaltense is interested in the land. Women vendors were often in polygamous unions or unmarried and were the primary earners in the family. Taggart (1992) also describes a link between eating and sex in his analysis of the Sierra Nahuat. who are involved in a wider discourse of taste than local Milpaltenses. Tinker (1987) shows that in four countries street food vendors were usually middle-aged women (32 to 41 years old). 81. p.
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76 – 8. 102 Lévi-Strauss. 41. 33. 108. 3. 46. 89. 3. 117 love. 84. 29– 48. 21 street food and. 30. 125 hospitality. 82 Munn. 46. 95. 119. 46. 3. 113 artworks as traps. 95. 35. 103. 124. 21. 32. 76. 91. 6. 13. Victoria. 95. 21–2 on women’s empowerment. 120. 37. Claude. 18 –22 passim. 89. Ricardo. 32. Marcel. 20. 19–21 recipes. 125 Muñoz. 47. 32– 6. 127 Melhuus. 81. 3. 100. 79. 11–13. 82–5. 31 Corcuera. 1–2. Meredith. 103. 16 Laudan. 106 –9 Bayless. 90. 85. 7– 8. 123. 17. 45. 101. 109. 15. 45. 44. 126 on commodity exchange. Raymond. 75. 37 fusion. 96. 10. 113. 116 on sharing. 18–21. 113. 34. 3. 115 see also technical mastery Firth. 113 Lomnitz. 11–12. 41–2. 45. 118 generosity. 127 greed. 121. Alfred. David. 115–26 passim see also agency decoration. 104. 31. 39– 40. 119 as ﬁesta food. 3. 10 see also mestizaje. fusion. Laura. Sonia. 122–3. 105. 16. 93–7. 75. 123. 42. 67 distributed object. 51. 121. 82. 39– 42. 9. 90. 42. 14. 32. 101. 106. 85. 108 –9. 11. 125. 113. 1–2. 16 culinary. 46. Stanley. 9. 9 Cowal. 106. 121. 2. See love art nexus. 113. Tim. 106.Index Abarca. 29. 117–20 motherhood. 3. 41. 73. 50. 120 chilaquiles. 68. 2. 58. 40 Ingold. 116 intention. 126 on decoration. 18. 71–2. Jack. 100–2. 22–7 nueva cocina mexicana. 13 – 159 – . Rachel. 41. 46. 10 see also miscegenation. 5. 2. 113 agency. 80 –5 passim. 38–9 mole and. 89–92. 92. 7. 95 Long-Solís. 34. 120 see also agency Kennedy. 107. 117–20 passim. 108. 90. Peter. 127 conﬁanza. 46. 124 see also greed Esquivel. 30. 38 expertise. 90. 105 intentionality. 114. 47. 89–92. 71. See mayordomía carnitas. 92. 42. 98. 4–5. 12. 124 cookbook(s). 45. 126 intentionality and. Larissa Adler. 121–2 lovers and. 92. 124 intention and. 75. 123. 125 restaurants and. 113 barbacoa. 45. 119 theory of art. 119 concept of meaning. 95. 29. 29. 51. 71. 114 –15. 127 Goody. 20 –1. 44 Gow. 31. 15. 82. 12–21 passim. 106 –8 chefs. 40. 95 cargo system. 94. 11. 41. 5. 124–7 value of. 29. 108 technology of enchantment. 97 Brandes. 22. 122. 89 –109. Wilk. 71–6 passim. 41. 10 see also mestizaje. 46. miscegenation Gell. 10 culinary agency. 124–7 albur and. 1. 67. 106. 105 intersubjectivity. 46. 113 envidia. Marit. 36. 108. 87. 47. 113 mestizaje. 92. 126 on sazón. 118 Howes. 124. 127 guacamole. fusion mole. 126 women and. 75. 113. 31–3. 72–4. 67. 122 see also sazón McCallum. 78 – 82 sex and. Rick. 118. 121. 13. Nancy. 116 Mauss. 7–11 passim. 3. 118 mayordomía. 49–70. Janet. 123–7 Coe. 128 home cooking. 117–8 albur. 119–25 passim as coercive. 115–16. 131–2 chinaquear. 114. 101–5 passim. 10 compadrazgo. Cecilia. 78. 8. Diana. 8. 2. Richard miscegenation. 40. 11. 83. 117 style. 29. 41. Sophie.
Luis. 46. 71–2. 92. 14–17. 43 see also skill tradition. 106 womanhood. 53. 123 agency and. Fray Bernardino de. 84. 116. 29. 117 Wilk. 72–3. 21–2. 83. 89. 83 technical mastery. 116. 54. 108 on learning. 44. 82–3. 95 street food. 42 Bourdieu. 37. 17. 99–104 passim. 52. 32. 33. 48. 85. 85. 9. 116. 106. 92. 15–17. 43–4. 80. 115 ﬂavour and. 33. 77 as cooks. 37. 2. David. 45. 117. 96. 124 power of. 74. 71–2. 126 food as. 120. 101. 48. 14. 73. 73. 121 Stephen. 109 street food. 124. 46. 98. 71. 36–7. 119 sistema de cargos. 101. 82. artworks as. 41. 89. See mayordomía skill. 46. 9. Jeffrey 10. 98 Sahagún. 3. 75. 45. 67. 14. 113. 12–15 and restaurants. 40. 9. 120 women’s. 21. 120. 13–14. 82–3. 17. 38–9 as feast food. 117 angry. 58–60. 48. 98. 40–1. 36. 79. 30. Richard. 67 culinary. 34. 71–85 barbacoa and. 122–7 Sutton. 107. 89. 116 value of. 14.160 • Index Pilcher. 119 boundaries and restrictions on. 34 judgement of. 6. 99. 21. 71. 12 sazón. 109 barbacoa. 77–85. 125 Simmel. 85 cooking and. 29–30. 3. 77 see also motherhood women. 120 traps. 124 technique(s). 119–22 work. 82. 74. 121 roles. 22. 75. 53. 122 economic activity of. 102–6 traditional cookery. 80. 124–7 Mintz. 89. 125 Vargas. 71. 41–7 passim. 75. 47. 4. 5. 75 love and. 98. 76. 38–9. 5. 122. 114. 120 development of. 47. Lynn. 84. 34. 13. 107. 71–8. Georg. 30 tamal(es). 3. 113–14. 45. 75. 123 taste. 102. 85. 4 expectations of. 75. 116 . 43–7 passim. 102.
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