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Culinary Art and Anthropology
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Culinary Art and Anthropology Joy Adapon Oxford • New York .
M4A35 2008 394. USA © Joy Adapon 2008 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of Berg. King’s Lynn www. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) 1. I. 81 St Clements Street. Oxford.First published in 2008 by Berg Editorial ofﬁces: 1st Floor. Angel Court. 4. cm. NY 10010. TX716. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) Typeset by Apex CoVantage. Mexican. Berg is the imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd. USA Printed in the United Kingdom by Biddles Ltd. New York. Cookery—Social aspects—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Title. 3. Culinary art and anthropology / Joy Adapon. Madison. Food habits—Mexico—Milpa Alta. UK 175 Fifth Avenue. Joy.bergpublishers. p. OX4 1AW.1'20972—dc22 2008017019 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Cookery—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Adapon.com . Cookery. Includes bibliographical references and index. 2. WI.
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.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. 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. How to Peel chiles poblanos.
Batter for Coating Fish.vi • Contents Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa. Carnitas Mole and Fiestas Compadrazgo and the mayodomía Hospitality and Food Mole and mole poblano Mole and Celebration The Development of a Tradition Fiesta Food The Presence or Absence of Mole in Fiestas Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’— for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home.’ Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela. Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal Culinary Agency Recipes Huevos a la mexicana. 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. Motherhood and Virtue Suffering. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa. Buñuelos de lujo. Taco placero. Chiles and albur Daily Meals. Barbacoa 4 Women as Culinary Agents The Value of Cooking and Other Work Marriage and Cooking Work. Home Cooking and Street Food Appetite. 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 .
and Corresponding Food Terms 2.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole 5.1 Feast Food in Milpa Alta.Illustrations Tables 2.2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes.1 Terminology Employed by Gell.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus 5. Shown as Families 103 104 34 35 100 – vii – . Arranged According to Type of Celebration Figures 5.
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Maurice Bloch was always inspiring and warm. In Alfred’s absence. I am grateful for the continued friendship and support of Simeran Gell. During a period of culinary experimentation when I was into peppers of all colours and types. I am grateful to Peter Loizos. So I had to learn to cook. particularly important to me before my ﬁeldwork. friend. Back in London. She shares her and Alfred’s love for life with all those who are fortunate to know her. especially for taking me seriously whenever I came up with odd ideas.Preface I love to eat. Their sensitive comments and insight were invaluable as I waded through the process of writing my dissertation on which this book is based. I visited Alfred Gell in his ofﬁce and told him. – ix – . supervisor and. Through her patience and understanding I discovered a new ﬁeld of study as well as a different direction for my academic life. Charles Stafford was consistently most reliable. if I can focus it on peppers. Looking back. So I went off to read up on Mexico and Mexican food before deciding for myself. 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. I was fortunate to be one of his last students before his untimely death in 1997. kindness and academic rigour. then Mexico was the place to go to.’ he said. I wish I could thank him personally for all his understanding and encouragement. who taught me that there are ‘tram-line’ people and ‘zigzag’ people. Without him I would never have begun this investigation. he repeated that if I was interested in chile peppers. He was my inspiration. His advice to enjoy ﬁeldwork and take note of any ‘interesting trivia’ kept me going and looking forward. thoughtful. ‘I’m thinking of maybe doing a PhD.’ ‘Of course you can. thorough and frank. that they all eventually arrive at their destination and that the different routes are equally valid. nor would I have even thought of going to Mexico. ‘Go to Mexico. most of all. guide. several more people helped me to bring this project to completion with incomparable patience. Fenella Cannell was especially helpful in grounding me during the period immediately following Alfred Gell’s death. This book is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Gell. Sally Engle Merry ﬁrst introduced me to anthropology and instilled in me an immediate devotion to the subject during my undergraduate years. She gave me my ﬁrst opportunity for ﬁeldwork and supported my initial shaky steps into anthropology.’ Despite my hesitation.
Ricardo was my ‘Muchona the Hornet’ of Mexican food. Gabriel Gutierrez. I wish for the time when they can come stay with me. I was eager to learn all I could about Mexican cooking and to taste everything. He in turn allowed me to sit in some classes of the gastronomy program and get to know the students and faculty. Doña Margarita Salazar. Alejandro Enriquez and Guille Arenas. Ma. Other friends of his who were also chefs repeatedly told me that with my interest in traditional Mexican food. he was eager to share with someone his favourite eateries and his love for the cuisines of Mexico. Other friends in Mexico—Patricia Salero and her family. Juan Manuel Horta and the rest of the staff of the Executive Dining Room in the UNAM—opened their hearts and homes to me. we had become inseparable friends.x • Preface In Mexico I owe a great debt to many whose generosity and presence made my stay both pleasant and stimulating. It was he who introduced me to Luz del Valle. He is now internationally acknowledged as an authority on Mexican cookery and has published ﬁve books of renown. I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. Ricardo Bonilla. With his warmth. Ileana Bonilla. constant moral support and generous interest in me and my work. The people with whom I lived in Milpa Alta. Her premature death in 1996 was one of the great shocks that I encountered in Mexico.’ he said. Leticia Méndez was the second person I met in the UNAM who understood me both academically and emotionally. in Manila. and I have missed her ever since. It was through him that I met other scholars of Mexican cuisine who inﬂuenced my understanding of Mexican gastronomy. homes and food with me. he helped me to eventually ﬁnd my way during ﬁeldwork. Antonio Rivera. Fabiola Alcántara. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have met him. including José Luis Juárez and Ricardo Muñoz. 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. who offered me valuable friendship and a link into Milpa Alta. took a strange foreigner into their homes and shared much more than their lives. especially Yadira Arenas and Luis Enrique Nápoles. Iván Gomezcésar shared with me thoughtful insight about Milpa Alta as well as several texts. Janet Long-Solís generously shared her books and her contacts with me. Conmigo siempre tienen su casa. He was the ﬁrst person to really understand what I was getting at when I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time. which I would have not found on my own. Juan Carlos López. . Berlin or wherever I may be. Even before my tiny ﬂat in Coyoacán became ﬂooded and unliveable. Abdiel Cervántes. Primitiva Bermejo. I was in Mexico City for 24 months from 1995 to 1998 and within a few weeks of my arrival. Andrés Medina welcomed me to the Institute of Anthropological Research (IIA) in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a sense of humour. ‘Now I guess you have to move in with me. Their friendship and thoughtful conversations constantly provided me with security and fruitful ideas. She introduced me to José Luis Curiel in the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana.
Anonymous readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript gave me something to chew on. My family. who showed humanity and equanimity at every blip along the way. have supported me in all possible ways. My survival and sanity depended on their constant presence and love. commented on drafts of this manuscript at various stages and were immeasurably helpful and intellectually stimulating. critical when necessary. 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. Saskia ﬁlled my days with such happiness that working at night seemed a fair enough exchange. Marilya and Scott Reese supplied me with timely stocks of Mexican ingredients and new cookbooks. David Sutton was endlessly patient. Yuehping was the ﬁrst and staunchest supporter of my using Alfred’s theory of art in my analysis. I would also like to thank Tom Jaine at Prospect Books for his always quick and witty responses to queries. especially Yuehping Yen and Anja Timm. His openness and offers to help encouraged me in the academic path that he himself chose not to take. And ﬁnally. Anja’s editorial eagle eye never failed to impress and amuse me. as well as willing eaters of all my culinary experiments.Preface • xi My occasional meetings with Chef Rick Bayless were always inspiring. helped me to reach bibliographic sources that I had difﬁculty accessing. and the Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 2001. and for his astounding commitment to my work and to me. keeping up my interest in Mexican food when I was distracted by other things. even when they did not understand what I was doing. Without his belief in my work this book would not have been published. much love and gratitude to Kai Kresse. and for permission to reuse my material published previously in Petits Propos Culinaires 67. And of course many thanks to Hannah Shakespeare at Berg. . enthusiastic and supportive. like Liese Hoffmann. providing much constructive criticism and tipping me onto certain crucial references that have helped me improve this book immensely. Most importantly. especially my parents and sister. Good friends and peers. Michael Schutz provided valuable technical support at short notice. Thank you! Uta Raina read through a chapter at a critical time and. for all the reasons mentioned above and more.
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he tossed in the totopos. (Some readers may be aware of Meredith Abarca’s (2006) recent book on Mexican and Mexican American women and cooking. for I have my own story to tell . like crème fraîche). I was struck by the fact that many ethnographies of food failed to take into account that cooking was a creative. That morning he deep-fried them till crisp to make totopos and set them aside for the excess oil to drain. The salsa sizzled for some moments. quickly coating them evenly and warming them up. ‘I like to keep them crispy. a bit of onion and garlic. It is made of fried pieces of day-old tortillas bathed in a chile-tomato sauce and garnished with mildly soured cream. serrano chiles and epazote. He told me that he sometimes liked to put a bit of fresh coriander on top but that it was not really necessary. . With or without. –1– . reading. ‘This is a typical Mexican breakfast. and it also looked beautiful.1 I will discuss Abarca’s work elsewhere. He poured this into a blender with some of the cooking liquid.’ he said. and then he lowered the heat for it to simmer with some salt. experimenting. crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or de canasto) and a dollop of thick cream (crema de rancho. experiencing chilaquiles. Chef Ricardo Muñoz. ignoring the fact that food had ﬂavour and was enjoyed and relished by those who ate and prepared it. where she begins metaphorically with her mother’s chilaquiles. tomatillos). Before going to Mexico. He arranged a mound of chilaquiles onto each plate. I had always believed that anthropological studies of food were overly concerned with staple crops. One dish that was personally meaningful for me during my time in Mexico was chilaquiles. but I am still compelled to begin with chilaquiles. When I began this research. it was delicious. that spices were as important as staples. Chilaquiles is typical Mexican breakfast food. So for me. The day before he had cut up leftover tortillas into eight wedges each and left them to dry overnight. My interest in and knowledge of cooking came mostly from my own research. exploring. When the salsa was ready. In a pot Ricardo had boiled green tomatoes (tomates verdes. even artistic process. white cheese and onions.Introduction As a once aspiring chef. topping them with thin slices of white onion.) One morning I arrived early at the kitchen of my friend. was a key ethnographic moment. not just preparing or eating it. and that individual dishes could be as meaningful as symbolic ingredients.’ he told me. I had never tasted or cooked anything like it. liqueﬁed the mixture thoroughly and strained it into hot oil. tasting. .
chicken. Since I did not have the beneﬁt of growing up in a Mexican home. meat. learning the culinary techniques needed to make Mexican food did not work as simply as following a recipe. I thought. This was Mexican home cooking. and his entire kitchen staff laughed with him. 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. Perhaps. from my perspective. high gastronomic standards. This event reﬂected my worries—would I ever be able to acquire any true knowledge of or expertise in Mexican cookery. and even insisted on. 2006. to use up leftover tortillas or simply for the pleasure of eating. Conversely.2 • Culinary Art and Anthropology My immediate reaction was to say. and it certainly seemed easier. Clearly I lacked the skill and knowledge to prepare chilaquiles properly. However. Busy families made it a point to have delectable dishes for daily meals. I realized that it was true. I found it hard to believe that something so complex and laborious could be typical for breakfast. after asking several people and later living in different Mexican households. p. Even those who were not culinary professionals delighted in. I began to absorb culinary and gastronomic knowledge. ‘No way!’ and this set him off laughing. among professional chefs in the centre as well as among barbacoieros in Milpa Alta at the outskirts.’ he said (‘The Chinese girl [as he affectionately called me] doesn’t believe me’). Though it looked easy. 71). in my body as well as in my mind. bread. I learned to feel the . The salsa was too thick and not smooth enough. the food that women prepare for their families on any given day. even if there was little time to linger over them. My introduction to Mexican cuisine was inevitably by way of recipes and cookbooks. They all agreed with him that this was a commonly prepared dish that any family might have on a regular day throughout Mexico. They were only cooking the kind of food that they always ate. Living in Mexico City. ‘La china no me cree. the more I got to know Mexico and the more I understood about the culture and cuisine. 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. The textures and ﬂavours were wrong. Many families had their chilaquiles with extra side dishes as well—beans. 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. Abarca’s mother is quoted referring to it as the food of the poor (‘la comida de uno de pobre’. this was food for restaurants or for special occasions. and I had not had it or practised enough times to really know what to do. eggs. Variations of chilaquiles were normal everyday fare. and I worked too slowly. my ﬁrst attempt at making chilaquiles at home was barely edible. letting the totopos go soggy.2 I felt that my cooking improved. and it looked like a sorry heap of nicely garnished mush. and no one thought twice about it or found it particularly difﬁcult to make. Ricardo was a well-known chef who specialized in traditional Mexican cooking. Eventually. even if done to the letter.
throughout Mexico’s history. reading cookbooks convinced me that Mexican cooking could be thought of as a form of art. this is not intended as ethnography of Mexican foodways. Alfred Gell’s theory of the art nexus is the theoretical basis of this book. If we think of cookery as art. 2006. 2005. Cowal. 1994.4 Food in Mexico is a richly satisfying topic. My concern with Mexico is secondary to this consideration of a cuisine as an art form. 1950–1982). there has been continuous adjustment. 104–5). My discussion of the art of Mexican cooking is based on the gastronomic . Stoller. in Jack Goody’s terms. 1–2). Even before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. 1997). Mexican cuisine was also considered a particularly ﬁne art in relation to other cuisines. Turkey and India (Goody. France. Culinary tradition here is really peasant food raised to the level of high and sophisticated art’ (Cowal. But by no means entirely. so I speciﬁcally use the word ‘ﬂavour’. a ‘high’ cuisine depends on ‘a variety of dishes which are largely the inventions of specialists. development and innovation of culinary techniques. Using Gell’s notion of art as a technical practice highlights the social as well as gastronomic virtuosity that is embodied in skilful cooking. Sahagún. In fact. Korsmeyer. for thinking as well as for cooking and eating. which I prefer to emphasize (see Howes. and that this art was to be found in everyday home cooking rather than in restaurants. As he deﬁnes it. Approaching cooking as artistic activity is most salient when what is under scrutiny can be deﬁned as an elaborate cuisine. 1990. new foodstuffs have been introduced and incorporated. enriching the cuisine through the sharing of culinary and cultural knowledge. on food as a form of art. is the regional food of peasants and the cooking of exotic foreigners’ (1982. Such a situation is what has existed in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived (see Coe. For the higher cuisine also incorporates and transforms what. Chiles could not be examined without the context of the whole cuisine. 510. I had come to Mexico interested primarily in chiles but found that there was so much more to consider. 1981. From what I read. Flavour has more sensual than sociological connotations.3 Food-as-art easily rolls off the tongue. from the national standpoint. Italy. we recognize the creative skill needed to produce good food. 97–9).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’. more often throughout this book. my aim is to explore how we can use a theory of art to analyze food anthropologically. Though my analysis is based on ethnographic practice. Since then. rather than ‘taste’. but what might it mean to take this idea seriously analytically? This study focuses on cooking as a deeply meaningful social activity. What can be inferred from this is that any good cook is a ‘specialist’. or. 1990. pp. 2003. ‘The imagination at work in the use of local ingredients means that eating is not the domain of the rich in Mexico. Goody counts Mexican cuisine among other ‘haute cuisines’ such as those found in China. pp. The people we study care about the ﬂavour of the food that they eat. pp. 514). in the ﬁrst instance. Rather. pp. Corcuera. a ‘differentiated’ or ‘high’ cuisine (1982.
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.
A very complex dish begins by roasting and/or grinding chiles. 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. foreword. starting with the all-important chile. It is in Mexico where the most extensive variety of chiles is used. and it is the chile that gives the peculiar and deﬁnitive accent to –7– . ripe or dried states they have different ﬂavours which are cooked or combined for different effects. my translation). and in my case. students and researchers of Mexican gastronomy. 13) This chapter introduces the cuisines of Mexico in general. The Mexican Stove (1973. In Mexico. ‘And does she eat tortillas?’ Complemented with beans. In what follows I describe some of the ways that people think of and write about the cuisines of Mexico. ‘Does she eat chile?’ The second question was usually. In their green. and ours has been and continues to be characterized by our daily and widespread consumption of chiles’ (Muñoz. we add some hot salsa at the table. To each broth or stew that does not contain chile.–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. I became enamoured of Mexican cooking from what I had read prior to my ﬁrst visit. chile and corn (most often in the form of tortillas) are the main ingredients of Mexican cuisine. 1996. chiles are used primarily for their distinct ﬂavours and not only for their heat. The chile is the heart and soul of Mexican food. p. ‘Food and cuisine can characterize a culture. Food writing colours our perceptions of other cuisines. The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles After the usual introductions. The most culturally meaningful of the three is the chile. on which most of this book is focused. —Richard Condon. the ﬁrst thing asked about me when I was brought to anyone’s home in Mexico was invariably.
especially vitamins A and C. who wrote in the sixteenth century that without chiles Mexicans did not believe they were eating.3 In the sixteenth century when the Spanish ﬁrst arrived. p. The combination of the three makes a nutritionally balanced meal. ‘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.. 10. but any Mexican interested in eating would place the chile above the squash in a list of priorities for the dining table. cornﬁelds. the cuisines of Mexico have been based on corn. Clearly these three crops are basic foodstuffs in the Mexican diet. The power of the chile in this Mexican ‘culinary triangle’ is wonderfully described by Zarela Martínez.1 but even a brief perusal of Mexican cookbooks indicates that chiles are signiﬁcant in Mexican life. beans and chiles. there was agricultural abundance. emphasis added) Mexican cuisine uses many kinds of chiles in diverse ways. but hopelessly monotonous. a New York restaurateur. Chile makes the gastric juices run for a dinner of beans and tortillas. Together they would be good basic sustenance. literally . 460). while the original inhabitants considered them a dietary cornerstone. my translation) Some writings on Mexican cooking state that the ancient Mesoamerican victuals were based on a ‘holy triad’ of corn. It is part of the landscape. with beans and squash. 38–9) asserts that ‘[t]his triad was invented by foreigners and imposed on the high cultures of the New World. except that with the exclusion of the chile. It also provides the vitamins they lack. Without each other. pp. It’s magic. too numerous to list here. and the proof of this is to be found in the omission of chile peppers. beans. 1989. The Aztecs of central Mexico had . p. without which food was a penance. Corn is an incomplete protein. none of the three would be what it is. It has outlasted religions and governments in Mexico. beans and squash. The image of a basic culinary triad is tempting. beans are difﬁcult to digest. which the outsiders viewed as a mere condiment. Food historian Sophie Coe (1994. 218.. (1992.8 • Culinary Art and Anthropology many meals. It is the ingredient that can determine the ﬂavour of a dish. p. and not just in their use as ﬂavouring for food. 1996. It belongs to the holy trinity that has always been the basis of our diet: corn. it fails to adequately describe Mexican cuisine.’ The possible reason that squash was included is because of the traditional style of planting milpas. (Muñoz. and chile. The Range of Mexican Foods Since pre-Hispanic times. and we know that even then they were prepared in a number of ways to make them palatable or even edible. who enthuses that Chile is history.2 Diana Kennedy echoes Bartolomé de las Casas.
5 The foods still boiled down to being variations of chiles. bland diet of bread. Those ﬂavours which are favourable are repeated and remembered. seeds. 90–9). and also of the feasts that the emperor Moctezuma offered to them and ate himself. pulses. Cuisines evolve as cooks experiment with ingredients and learn new ways to process and combine their raw materials for different occasions and effects. and this notion is reiterated by writers until today. She states that ‘at ﬁrst the civilization was too highly developed and the populace too numerous for the Spaniards to ignore the native cooking. adapted to the Mexican diet. beans and chiles. the ancient Aztecs ate turkey. tortillas and tamales. Cowal’s unpublished study. lentils and a few vegetables. plants and herbs that they collected or domesticated for food use. ﬁsh. 93). There are various accounts of how the Spaniards were impressed with the beauty and abundance of the Valley of Mexico. The repertory of Mexican cuisine expanded with the addition of ingredients and cooking methods which were introduced during the Spanish colonial . used to a modest. The settlers eventually accommodated themselves within the existing culture. including everything that they ate. though there is some disagreement amongst researchers and cookbook writers. As the Spanish established themselves in what they called New Spain. further shows how the Spanish who came during the Conquest were only partially forced to adjust to the foods of Mexico (pp. and culinary knowledge and expertise grow. Without question there was creativity. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1950–82 ). insects and a wide variety of fruits. vegetables. so the variety of foods recorded by Sahagún was actually a result of culinary expertise. Not all indigenous groups were equally afﬂuent. tasted and tested during meals. where all sorts of plants. but the availability of various foods impressed the conquistadors who came and saw the great markets of Tlatelolco. animals and insects were being sold for food as supplements to the basic diet of corn. p. Food historians assert that Aztec cooking was developed to high art. New foods and cooking techniques are incorporated. 1981. a Franciscan friar who came to Mexico in the sixteenth century. Spanish sources of the period attest to gastronomic abundance. meticulously collected material to describe the Aztec (Náhuatl) way of life. mainly of foods. The Spanish friars were the ﬁrst to learn the local languages for the purposes of evangelization. wild mushrooms. they also established ﬁrm roots for the Catholic church. Soldiers. tubers.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 9 sophisticated farming techniques (chinampas4 and milpas) and more sophisticated gastronomy. 30). They also had military and political power over other groups in the region from whom they demanded tribute. but Sonia Corcuera (1981) points out that the basic ingredients were still limited. and culinary artistry (Corcuera. Food in the History of Central Mexico (1990). and it is through their writings that we have any knowledge of the social and culinary systems of the precolonial period. which added variety and breadth to their diet with comestibles that they did not grow themselves. partly out of necessity and somewhat because of taste choice’ (p. imagination. Sahagún recorded that along with maize and beans. mutton. small game.
cloves and many other herbs and spices that are widely used in Mexican cookery today. 113). 1998). have all had much more impact than the usual indigenous/colonial story would lead one to believe. the process of mestizaje is not a simple fusion of Indian and Spanish. the Germans. 90). the Italians. the Mennonites. 1994. Before the arrival of the Spaniards. coriander.. therefore. as much of what they were used to cooking could not all be imported from Spain. p. Eight centuries of Arab inﬂuence had left their mark’ (1990. 62) or of ‘baroque cuisine’ comes directly from the convents. made up of different components that have now blended together to form . There were few Spanish who arrived during the Conquest. Not just the Spanish but the French. 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 .. cinnamon. These popular traditions partly consist in the culinary techniques and gastronomic knowledge that have been passed down the generations through the family kitchen.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. above all. The convents were wealthy laboratories of gastronomic experimentation where the sharing of culinary inﬂuences ﬂourished during the colonial period. What exists in Mexico is what food historian Rachel Laudan deﬁnes as a local cuisine. as were cooking methods using fats. (Rachel Laudan. garlic. The Spaniards introduced pigs. and though they did inﬂuence the local cuisines. the omnivorous appetites of its inhabitants. 1995. Historian Cristina Barros states that contemporary Mexican cuisine is 90 per cent indigenous and 10 per cent other inﬂuences. ‘The most delicious cuisines [in Mexico] are those with more indigenous inﬂuence. p. the bases remained Mexican. p.8 Cowal points out that ‘Spanish cooking was already a mixture when it got to the Americas. and. personal communication) By the nineteenth century. the power and wealth of its religious orders’ (Valle and Valle.7 Given the sophistication of both the native and foreign colonial cuisines.. the basis of Mexican cuisine remained the same as it had always been—corn. They also brought onions.. Juárez López (2000) argues that the bases of much contemporary . such as frying. which integrated the new ﬂavours and foodstuffs. The idea of an ‘emerging mestizo cuisine’ (Valle and Valle.10 • Culinary Art and Anthropology period. That is. a new and coherent cuisine . p. Yet in spite of this. ‘The excesses and inventiveness of convent cooking reﬂected Mexico’s diverse ﬂora and fauna. beans and chiles. 63).. At the same time.’9 She asserts that the indigenous cuisines of Mexico did not undergo the miscegenation that most people claim. within the convents. cows. the later Spanish refugees from the Civil War. On the other hand. Mexican cooks sought the essence of their art in popular traditions rather than in formalized techniques (Pilcher. the Lebanese. milk and its products were unknown.. Spanish nuns had to learn to use the local products. chickens and sheep to Mexico.
in restaurants and on regular days or during ﬁestas. 1986. techniques and customs related to food from all over the country. Kraig and Nieto. hunted. in small eateries. Bayless and Bayless. This was because I expected there to be dozens of beans and ways to prepare them in Mexico. many restaurants in Mexico offer home cooking as their specialities. planted. as well as culinary tools. Zaslavsky.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 11 Mexican cuisine are European. There are subtle as well as forceful ﬂavours. very much. was when we next met and Ricardo showed me the ﬁrst draft of the Mexican gastronomic dictionary he had written (now published. 1987. such as the Chinese. and he had already devoted seven years to travel. a fascinating and many-faceted world’ (1989. as well as other cookbook authors. Aﬁcionados travel to Mexico just to discover the richness and variety of the local cuisines. At the time. ranging from the simplicity of ingredients best eaten raw (like pápaloquelite or small avocados criollos. Ricardo was not yet 30 years old. All of them draw this conclusion from their exposure to regional home cooking rather than to restaurant food. He was teaching a class on beans in traditional Mexican cookery. encompassing all kinds of ﬂowers (like ﬂor de izote) and local vegetables (like huauzontle). He grew up with a passion for food because of his mother. have worked hard to dispel the idea that the foods of Mexico are anything like the food of popular Tex-Mex restaurants abroad. 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. many non-Mexican (e. The project was a self-motivated labour of love. Kennedy. and Laudan (2004) makes a strong case for Persian inﬂuences. 2005. whose edible skin tastes subtly of anise) to complex stews or preparations made of dozens of ingredients (like moles and stuffed chiles). states that ‘[t]he foods of regional Mexico are in a gastronomic world of their own. There were two thousand single-spaced pages describing what people cooked. 2000). Middle Eastern and French. xiii). Muñoz. the most well known writer on Mexican cookery. About thirty different recipes were covered. Diana Kennedy. Gabilondo. Much later Ricardo told me that he was miffed that I did not seem too impressed. and collected and what they ate at home. because Ricardo believed that there was so much about Mexican gastronomy that people in Mexico and abroad should be aware of. 1995). Regardless of a recipe’s origins. out at street stalls. What did impress me. Indeed. Gilliland and Ravago. who is an excellent . research and writing for this book. 1996. and this was only a sampling. p. Ricardo had had a modest upbringing in southern Mexico in Tabasco and Veracruz. Home Cooking by Profession Soon after I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz. after having read so much about Mexican food before my trip.g.
often shopping for their supplies. The latter suggested adding a bit of this and that. For a couple of years he lived in California. 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. 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. without the experience of growing up in a pueblo as Ricardo had done. Dissatisﬁed with a complex green sauce that he intended to serve with duck. she set up a fonda. To be able to afford to send her seven children to school. He recognized that many delicacies of Mexican gastronomy are wild ingredients or dishes produced only in people’s homes. occasionally lending a hand. on such a small scale that they remain local and unknown even in other areas of the country. 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’. But even without books. The soup . By the time he moved to Mexico City as a young adult and began formal culinary training. 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. After following these suggestions. he asked Ricardo for advice.11 To me it seems he is like a contemporary Sahagún. and with his delicious cooking. An example is a traditional soup from central Mexico known as squash blossom or milpa plantation soup. and there he took a course on international cookery. ultimately expanding. in his data collection and awe of the foods of Mexico. Mexican nouvelle cuisine. ‘I just told you how to make a traditional green mole!’ was Ricardo’s response. recommending other cooking tips. sometimes home cooking is reproduced in restaurants. sopa de ﬂor de calabaza or sopa de milpa. he was continually drawn back to the ﬂavours and culinary cultures of home. redeﬁning or reﬁning the cuisine. watching his mother cook. and later also his teaching and publications. 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. One friend of Ricardo’s was a chef at a sophisticated Mexico City restaurant serving nueva cocina mexicana. a small local eatery selling popular home-style dishes. He had had a relatively afﬂuent urban upbringing. he was attuned to the subtleties and diversity of Mexican regional cooking. then in turn is re-reproduced in people’s homes. Ricardo became recognized for his knowledge of traditional Mexican cookery. discovery or rediscovery of these things.12 • Culinary Art and Anthropology cook. Ricardo grew up hanging out in the fonda. he has been actively inﬂuencing others to share his appreciation of Mexican gastronomy. Despite his training as a chef that taught him the basics of French cuisine. where one of his sisters had migrated.
squash blossoms. I had considerable contact with professional chefs in Mexico City. dough for making tortillas. was formed in Mexico City. and huitlacoche (corn fungus). something to be proud of. Traditions are the ‘habits and values [of a culture that are transmitted] from one generation to another’ (p. and the remote (‘authentic’12) recipes of the provincial towns. in spite of their support of experimentation and fusion. poblano chiles and sometimes nopales. traditions should not be thought of as static or frozen in the past.13 Long and Vargas (2005. As a nationalistic reaction to foreign inﬂuences on Mexican food. The number of restaurants in Mexico serving Mexican cuisine has been rising in the past twenty-ﬁve years.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 13 is made from the products of the milpa. In relation to gastronomy and ﬂavours. they still had great appreciation for what they sometimes called the ‘simple’ food. However. that is. some of whom had trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Ricardo’s work slots into this movement. and it was even possible to obtain a university degree in gastronomy. 138). green beans. 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. they often talked about Mexican food. to transmit. 139). . recovering the recipes of their grandparents. This was set up by a group of women who were distinguished chefs or otherwise specialists in Mexican culinary culture. and an awareness that their cuisines are unique. of recuperating and renovating (or even reinventing) ‘traditional’ foods and practices. the food of the pueblo or of the market. courgettes. with fresh maize kernels. and of the new and exciting Mexican cookery that was emerging. which included international cooking skills and culinary history among other subjects. In the 1990s professional cookery had become as fashionable and prestigious as it was in the USA and UK. which implies movement. The soup may be thickened with masa (nixtamal ). This soup is home cooking (comida casera). still under way. Whether they were specialists of French cuisine or California cooking. then. which may seem very personal and ephemeral. and more and more books were being published about ‘real’ Mexican food. The cooking schools in Mexico City were growing. p. Moreover. culinary traditions were self-consciously being revived (p. 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). the herb epazote.14 Hountondji (1983) reminds us that the root word of ‘tradition’ is the Latin word tradere. the greatest interest amongst young student chefs was in studying traditional Mexican cookery. ﬂavourful.15 Etymologically. 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. There were many more Mexican food festivals aimed at wealthy urban mestizos than ever before. of the pueblos. directly related to the growing interest in reclaiming a sense of what is Mexican. but it is now also served in posh restaurants serving nueva cocina mexicana.
from consulting with others. She herself had never tasted or cooked it before. 2001. This is how culinary knowledge is often passed on— without recipes or precise measurements. it ‘develops with the growth of the organism’ (2000. the recipe for which he described in detail. 361). ‘it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. in addition to gleaning what we can from books and other means or media (cf. it was explained to me. Rather. they improvise with the food they have at hand. tomatoes. saving the blood and tripe to cook with the huevera. 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. p. traditions are dynamic living practices that are ‘inﬁnitely adaptable’ (Sutton.14 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it is difﬁcult to pin down what precisely is transmitted. These habits and values. My friend Yadira. with a little imagination.d. quoted and discussed in Sutton. Knowing how to make certain dishes or how to combine foods is learnt by repeated observation and practice. 106). . hearts. cooking is something that is enacted and embodied. I had seen egg-laying hens for sale. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions’. culinary knowledge and skill. from the experience of growing up within a particular gastronomic culture.). La Merced. Sutton. For now. chile and epazote. Once I mentioned to friends in Milpa Alta that in the main market of Mexico City. 128–30) that is stored in their heads. fellow cooks are expected to be able to draw upon a ‘stock of knowledge’ (Keller and Dixon Keller. if they are labelled at all. 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’.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’. in a physiological. came home one day with calostros de vaca. not usually articulated. n. or as Ingold describes other kinds of skill. hands. but her friend who had given it to her told her to prepare it with onions. These unlain eggs are called the huevera and my friends were able to tell me about different ways of preparing them. They were cut open down the middle and their unlain eggs were on display. noses and mouths. social and/or professional sense. p. 2006. Certainly most people’s vast culinary knowledge is never written down. and these dishes are often thought of simply as being ‘traditional’.16 Unlike artefacts in an ethnographic museum. will affect the outcome of the dishes cooked. and they ordered an egg-laying hen from the butcher and prepared the tamales de huevera for my next visit. I will return to a discussion of culinary skill below and to the mutability of so-called traditional cooking in Chapter 5. when people need to do things quickly. combined with creativity. 2006. in Milpa Alta. Doña Margarita and Primy told me how they would usually make tamales with them. pp. the curds made from the colustrum of a cow. Miguel proceeded to relate how his mother would slaughter the hens. Rather than strictly following a recipe. 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.
‘The pervasive fact about Mexican food is that it is not only for people who like to eat. women had to spend several hours a day boiling dried maize kernels. skinned Achiote Rub (see recipe for Cochinita Pibil) Cebollas Rojas en Escabeche (see separate recipe) (Gilliland and Ravago. or basalt grinding stone. Often recipes looked deceptively simple. is necessary to cook well. 2005. It was intimidating. Fonda San Miguel. (Thank goodness we can ask the ﬁshmonger to ﬁllet and skin the ﬁsh for us!) . for people who like to cook’ (Condon and Bennet. Before industrialization (and now. Some cookbooks suggest sample menus or traditional accompaniments. so it is good advice to follow.to 7-ounce red snapper ﬁllets. ﬂat round cakes. it is. in spite of industrialization). in some households. 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.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 15 Some traditional Mexican cooking techniques are complex or involve long processes. p. textured salsa than an electric blender. a metal or clay griddle. The grinding action of the stones produces a more even. 134) In addition. I bought or read a number of Mexican cookbooks. which slices. to say the least. or with chipotle mayonnaise. Inspired by a recipe from Diana Kennedy. 16). p. 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. recipes for which are found on other pages of the book. and much effort and time are needed to prepare almost anything that people eat daily. then grinding them on a metate. these are the three ingredients of their recipe for Pescado Tikin Xik: 6 6. rather than grinds. hoping to try out some recipes. even more so if such a thing were possible. and baking them one by one on a comal. Some restaurants even serve salsas from molcajetes whether or not they actually make the sauces in them. On Learning Techniques Before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. the ingredients. The rice and beans would be the most common accompaniments for this ﬁsh in the Yucatán where the recipe originates.18 Sauces had to be prepared with the stone mortar and pestle called the molcajete and tejolote. This is one reason that a sincere interest in cooking. they recommend serving the ﬁsh with arroz blanco (white rice) and frijoles negros (black beans). 1973. 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’. As one cookbook aptly expresses. to make a soft dough before patting them out into tortillas. which are helpful. in the ﬂavours. but in fact they were full of parenthetical references to other recipes or basic techniques. making a choppy and more watery sauce. the raw materials and the ﬁnished dishes.
or 1⅓ cups salsa de tomate verde.16 • Culinary Art and Anthropology For another example. My impression was that short recipes were either composites of several others. cocida (page 337). which are. assessed by sight. and it is this type of discernment that also needs to be learnt. expertise is enacted as a symbiosis between a skilled practitioner and his or her environment within a system of relations (in our case social. approximately. 1989. but a full meal. peeled and roughly chopped 2 pounds (about 4 large) tomatoes. A cook needs to make myriad decisions before ﬁnally producing not just a dish. Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs). approximately. tasted and savoured. They were only some of the essential components of a complete or proper meal. after all. kept hot rajas of 1 large chile poblano (see page 471) 4 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or añejo (Kennedy. p. texture and smell. abstract formulae that need to be selfconsciously recorded. 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. But home cooks surely did not think in terms of recipes. gastronomic. 338) What appeared straightforward at ﬁrst glance seemed actually more like the endless subordinate clauses of a German sentence. 1989. it lists the following ingredients: 2 garlic cloves. p. along with the culinary techniques. 318) Turning then to her recipe for salsa ranchera on page 338. or were side dishes or basic preparations that ultimately constituted an ingredient for another recipe. touched and manipulated. Once in a material or physical state. an artefact (or . 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). and material). these are the ingredients of Diana Kennedy’s recipe for one of the most well-known dishes outside of Mexico. According to Ingold (2000). kept hot. broiled (see page 472) 2 tablespoons safﬂower oil 2 heaped tablespoons ﬁnely chopped white onion ½ teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt (Kennedy. Ingredients are chosen. broiled (see page 450) 5 chiles serranos. 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.
In my case. 345). p. frijoles refritos. Yet when it came to the way in which they talked about Mexican cuisine. preferably by demonstration and practice. the coming-into-being of any product (artefact. following a Mexican recipe required learning culinary skills to which I had had no prior exposure. he loved to watch her. showed me how he makes refried beans. The hands of the cook and other bodily sensory factors play a role in the outcome. I had to confess that I did not know what that meant. Yadira insisted that it is better to use too much oil to fry rice well before adding water or broth. This is because ‘the artefact engages its maker in a pattern of skilled activity’ (p. It took him almost forty-ﬁve minutes to fry and mash onions with the frijoles de olla. He said that he learned to cook by watching his sister cooking as he grew up. The women of Milpa Alta and the chefs of the centre differed in social class and social context. food. boiled beans. too. rather than use too little oil and sacriﬁce the ﬂavour and texture. When a Mexican friend told me that to make enchiladas I had to ‘pass the tortilla through hot oil’. When two cooks prepare food following the same recipe the food comes out differently. 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. but I had plenty of opportunities to observe. I rarely cooked on my own. Even watching my friends cook on occasion was not enough for me to pick up the skills in a short time. Another friend. Before going to Mexico for the ﬁrst time. In all my time in Mexico. practise and articulate my questions about Mexican culinary techniques so that some of the cooking skill could grow within me. a dish or meal) does not actually come into being in the exact way that it was previously imagined (Ingold. even though I comprehended the words individually. 343). Sutton (2001) notes that written recipes are ‘memory jogs’ that cannot actually teach someone how to cook. After some weeks watching and helping people cook in Mexico. Among chefs who specialized in Mexican cuisine.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 17 in our case. 2000. Making raw salsas and different kinds of cooked or part-cooked salsas with fresh chiles or dried chiles requires different methods. To prepare basic Mexican dishes some unique culinary techniques need to be learned. and he noticed how she respected food. and that it is important to allow foods to take their own time to reach their optimum points. they used a very similar discourse. I stopped thinking twice about it. who used to cook for a fonda in Veracruz. Because of these very individual actions. I garnered knowledge of technical terminology and processes much more systematically than I did from women in Milpa Alta. 2006). participate. . 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. Toño. They serve as reminders so that a cook can prepare a dish using previously learnt skills acquired through experience (see also Sutton. That is not to say that the techniques of one group were any more or less sophisticated than the other’s. even if you must drain off the excess oil. meal) is as much a part of the creative process as its pre-conceptualisation.
This was a phrase they volunteered. ‘La cocina mexicana es para él que siente. of course. It also appears that you need not be born Mexican in order to feel so strongly about their cuisine. and sometimes said that her secret was ‘love’. they almost always took up this popular discourse of love and gave an emotional value to the topic. Different kinds of culinary specialists subscribe to this popular discourse on the connection between love and cooking. saying. Professional chefs have a technical language in which to express themselves about gastronomic matters. which I did often. This comment may sound exaggerated. When people talk of love (amor). they refer to many facets of love. Relating food to love in Mexico may not be unique. A young banker once tried to explain to me his relationship to food. 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. when I complimented people on their cooking. And of course there is the correlation between food and romance. There are three types of orgasms. The latter often added that love was the ‘secret ingredient’ that made their dishes special. the spiritual. It may be that a good cook treats ingredients in a particular. including the attention and care that goes into cooking well. ‘I cook with love’ (‘Yo cocino con amor’ ). he who loves’). I never asked anyone directly. 1992). and I was unable to elicit a clear explanation from him. Wooing couples of different cultures often practise courtship or romance with private meals (out or in) as preludes to other things. Friends from different backgrounds have told me their culinary secret. and the gastronomical—and these three are encapsulated in mole. but I believe the prevalence and variety of its expression is pertinent. 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. knowing how or why certain things are used together. But my banker friend was not the only person I met who talked of food in this manner. the cook sometimes dictated me a recipe. Throughout my ﬁeldwork I was confronted with these statements—both from trained chefs and from home cooks. Knowing how to develop the ﬂavours of a food depends on an interest in understanding it and how it reacts with other foods. he told me—the carnal. loving way to bring out each ingredient’s best qualities. because of a love of cooking. The rhetoric of love is not something that is unique to Mexico. Richard Condon . It involves understanding the history of a dish or an ingredient. what ‘marries well’ or not. which is exempliﬁed by novels such as Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel. but oftentimes. If pressed. but when we talked about Mexican cuisine.18 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Food and Love There is a rhetoric of food and love in Mexico. At some point I wondered whether this might be a clever culturally sanctioned means of hiding culinary secrets. saying. This love may be interpreted as an affection for the people who will be eating or as the desire to eat well. él que ama’ (‘Mexican cuisine is for he who feels. ‘What’s your secret?’.
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
When I ﬁrst began my own research. For my part. In other words. I have heard people describe sazón as something like a blessing or a gift. 54). Her grassroots theorists tend to cook without measuring. or cheese. that someone is rarely able to pinpoint what her actual trick might be. yet also very humble and everyday dish. ‘captures the notion of saber rather than conocer’ (p. ‘to know’ at a sensory epistemological level rather than ‘to know’ in a technical way. personal histories and taste. that the sazón is what differentiates a good cook from a particularly ﬁnely talented one. I provide recipes throughout this book to give readers an idea of Mexican home cooking (comida casera). All kinds of chiles are stuffed and are served in people’s homes. it separates artists from craftspeople. They are guided by their memories. are poblano chiles stuffed with chopped or minced meat ( picadillo). instructions are meticulously written. When someone has sazón. Los chiles rellenos en México (1996). without recipes. In the market the chiles are sold wrapped in a tortilla like a taco. The recipes and cooking tips in this chapter are taken from Ricardo’s ﬁrst book. This can range from something as common as boiled beans in their broth.22 • Culinary Art and Anthropology their sazón in their ability to prepare particularly delicious food. but what is most commonly found in Mexico City. I have abridged it only a little as I translated it. Recipes Though I have just explained at length that it is difﬁcult to reproduce Mexican cooking without demonstration and practice. to more challenging dishes such as pipián verde. instead. Because of his training as a chef. When cooks are singled out for their ability. Abarca writes. or sazón. 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. ‘Stuffed Chiles a la Mexicana’. that is. un don. and in market stands and fondas. The picadillo ﬁlling for the chile recipes . embodied or otherwise. Sazón. Similar to what Abarca notes. I hope that Ricardo’s detailed explanations will compensate for the lack of his presence. and it is possible to have sazón even when cooking with modern appliances. but in a fonda or at home. though in sazón they are not mutually exclusive.20 Drawing from the work of Giard (2002). stuffed chiles would be served with a thin tomato sauce. as well as by their internal embodied knowledge. 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. my working title was Chiles rellenos a la mexicana. I would hesitate to connect sazón too much to ‘traditional’ kitchen equipment. it is not only a recognition of their culinary knowledge. It is precisely this inexplicable quality that sets some cooks apart from others. and to this I now turn in the chapter that follows. I suggest. She describes women who have good sazón who avoid pressure cookers and grind their moles on their metates. frijoles de olla. caldillo.
Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses are commonly used. ﬁnely chopped 1 tablespoon garlic. Panela. Add the garlic and as soon as it is fried. Chiles rellenos de picadillo sencillo con papa Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato (Muñoz. Formal classes of authentic Mexican cooking are never taken. peeled and cut into ½-cm (⅛-inch) cubes ½ cup corn or canola oil 1 cup white onions. Picadillo 3 cups potatoes. but a mother or mother-in-law knows that her daughter or daughter-in-law should someday inherit her culinary secrets. to taste • Blanch the potatoes in water and set them aside. especially the kinds that melt. stir in the beef and pork. below. and she soon learned to make local dishes. but she came to live in the capital when she was very young. They should be cooked but not very soft. just by watching. and everyone learns to cook according to the regional style. Chiles 15 chiles poblanos. Few families have recipe collections.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 23 here can be substituted with cheese. María Elena was born in Coahuila. 1996. • Heat the oil until it smokes lightly and fry the onions until soft and golden. ready for stufﬁng • See ‘How to Peel chiles poblanos’. 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. . pp. ﬁnely chopped 300 g (11 oz) minced beef 350 g (12 oz) minced pork sea salt to taste black pepper. freshly ground. Cook until the meat is crispy. stirring from time to time to separate the lumps and to avoid it sticking to the pan.
Capeado 8 eggs at room temperature. • In a blender. • Serve the chiles with this sauce. liquefy the garlic. peeled 1 cup tomato. sliced into thin segments 4 cloves garlic. • Leave to cool and stuff the chiles. below. 53) 2 kg (4½ lb) tomatoes ½ cup white onions. as necessary corn or canola oil for frying • See ‘How to Achieve a Perfect capeado’. chopped roughly 6 cloves garlic. tomato and cumin. chopped ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds sea salt to taste black pepper to taste • Heat the oil in a pan until it smokes lightly. and season with salt and pepper to taste. Caldillo ¼ cup corn oil 2 cups white onions. p. 1996. accompanied with white rice and/or brothy beans and corn tortillas or bread. separated sea salt to taste ﬂour. Adjust the salt. and fry the onion until golden. Alternative caldillo ( from picadillo especial recipe. • Allow the caldillo to cook for about 15 minutes. as necessary ¼ cup corn oil sugar to taste .24 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add the potatoes and pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. peeled 6 black peppercorns sea salt to taste chicken broth or water. Munoz. Strain the mixture and pour it over the onions.
It is necessary to dry the chiles with a dry cloth or to drain them very well. so it is good to roast and peel a few extra chiles. 48–9) Almost every family has their own technique for peeling and cleaning chiles. Try to peel the chiles just before stufﬁng and coating them in batter. keeping the stem facing upward. Strain it. If the cut is made from end to end it may be difﬁcult to stuff and then close the chiles. How to Peel chiles poblanos (pp. immediately transfer the chiles to a plastic bag and close it. and salt in enough broth or water to completely cover them. because if they are peeled too far in advance they may become too soft and lose their texture and visual appeal. and the skin will slip off more easily. If it is a bit sour or tart. with their respective differences. • It is unnecessary to scrape the chiles.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 25 • Boil the tomatoes with the onion. heat the oil until it smokes lightly. The inside of the chiles should be cleaned with a damp cloth. When the skin is charred well and evenly. This is best done with your ﬁngers. . jalapeños. but if you have very sensitive skin you may wish to wear rubber gloves. pepper. • Pour it all into a blender jar and liquefy to form a smooth sauce. • Remove all the veins and seeds from the chiles. • This same technique may be used for other fresh chiles like the de agua of Oaxaca. It is at this stage when the chiles are most easily broken. almost falling apart. but this makes the chile lose some ﬂavor. making the chiles hotter. you may return them to the ﬂame to burn off any remaining skin. 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. If they will be coated in capeado it is all right if some bits of skin remain. and chiles ixcatic. Check that the part attached to the stem is completely clean because some veins and seeds often remain. • Place the chiles directly over the ﬂame on the stove. These are the most common ways. add a little sugar. Pour the sauce into the oil and let it cook about 10 minutes. or over hot coals or a wood ﬁre. • Place the chiles on a chopping board. 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). and stopping at least 1 centimetre (⅓ inch) before you reach the bottom tip. Leave the chiles to rest for around 15 minutes so that they can sweat. Cook until the tomatoes are totally cooked. because they may break. • In a deep pot. Set aside to serve with stuffed chiles. If they are not to be battered. garlic. starting 2 centimetres (¾ inch) from the stem. Taste and adjust the seasoning. This can also be done on a griddle (comal ).
Pay special attention to drying the inside very well. splash the oil over the top of the chile to seal it. because they are difﬁcult to handle if they are too heavy. since it helps the whites to reach the required or ideal point. incorporate the yolks one by one with folding movements. even if it has previously been strained.21 A copper bowl is ideal. They very easily collapse or separate. • As soon as the whites have been beaten to the required point. moisture will deﬂate the stifﬂy beaten eggs. To determine whether they have reached this point. if the egg whites move or slip. if not. • Roll the chiles in sifted ﬂour (make sure to shake off the excess). 112–3) • For the egg to stick well to the chiles. • If the batter spreads beyond the sides of the chile. • The ﬂour should be sifted because lumps remain raw and give a bad taste to the capeado. If the eggs have been in the refrigerator it is necessary to remove them two hours before using them. • Before placing the chiles in the oil. and with a spatula. It should also be dry so that no liquid will spill out. turn the chile to cook the other side. overturn the bowl. but not too much because it is easy to overbeat them. just stiff ). Do not heat it too much or the batter may burn. • The stufﬁng should be cold or at room temperature. • Coat the chiles in the batter quickly. because these bowls retain ﬂavors and odors and often cause the egg whites to collapse. avoid overstufﬁng them. Add one or two tablespoons of sifted ﬂour if you wish to have a thicker batter. the batter will separate. • If you need to coat large amounts of chiles. in stages.26 • Culinary Art and Anthropology How to Achieve a Perfect capeado (Muñoz. • Never beat egg whites in plastic bowls. Afterward. they are not yet ready and should be beaten some more. pp. it should smoke lightly. This also helps the egg to adhere to the chile and not slip off when you fry it. make sure that the oil is hot enough. • When placing the chile in oil. 1996. It is very difﬁcult to beat many egg whites stiff at the same time. • When stufﬁng the chiles. use a spatula to push it back to stick to the chile so that it remains uniform and without drips. . • Beat the egg whites only until they form soft peaks ( punto de nieve. At this stage you may add salt. • Do not stuff the chiles too far in advance since the juices of the ﬁlling may spill out. Metal or glass bowls will also give good results. though copper bowls are expensive and difﬁcult to ﬁnd. • The eggs must always be at room temperature because cold egg whites do not rise sufﬁciently. lay it with the opening facing up. the chiles should be totally dry inside and outside. prepare the batter in small amounts.
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). you can hold them by the stem to turn them without using a spatula. though it may be better to turn them by holding the stem. Yes. 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. • Once you remove the chiles from the pan. though the bottom part will always be a little darker. • If you are inexperienced. place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. You may need to change the paper towels two or more times as you continue frying.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 27 • With practice. it is possible! • When frying small chiles and those that do not have a heavy ﬁlling. .
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there has been more focus on issues such as gender. for a fruitful anthropological examination of food and ﬂavour. see Brown and Mussell. identity or symbolic staple foods. and a point of departure. meaningful. the means by which each of these groups acquires this skill are completely different. I use Gell’s theory of art as a model. Yet many people. I then move on to examine Gell’s broadly deﬁned notion of art. cookery and cuisine. consumption and exchange of foods within social networks. which ultimately results in their producing food (artwork/artefact) that is successful in its rendition (that is.g. Though the results are comparable. Food and Culinary Art in Anthropology Chefs and gastronomes talk passionately about food. by taking into account the production. creativity and agency. Chefs and home cooks both perceive and appreciate the knowledge acquisition of each other. In this chapter I put forth the argument that we should think of food as art in order to analyze it productively anthropologically. Caplan. Counihan – 29 – . I develop these ideas by ﬁrst establishing how food has been treated previously.1 This may be why there are few attempts to analyze ﬂavours anthropologically. This is because of the perceived skill involved in its execution. 1985. memorable). including culinary professionals. 1997a. 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. poverty.–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. the ‘technology of enchantment’ and his notion of the ‘art nexus’. delicious. often ﬁnd it difﬁcult to articulate their reasons for preferring some foods over others. for my approach to food differs from that of Bourdieu and Goody. and often in the context of ritual occasions (e. who focused primarily on class distinction and social hierarchy. Chefs acquire skill by professional training in schools or working with masters. or to describe and discuss ﬂavours. and second. in the sensual/social relations (Howes. 2003) of life in Milpa Alta. 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).2 Though much has been written about food in anthropology.
But his interest is in comparative analysis over a broad historical. even food.3 The topic of food in anthropology has historically been subsumed into these other areas and contexts. 1996. by locating their interpretation only at the ‘deeper’ level. 1998) but also more generally in anthropology and sociology (see Highmore. Mintz encourages anthropologists to study food in its social context as a ‘cuisine’. like aesthetics. or. Malinowski. 1935). In Goody’s (1982) analysis of hierarchy and the development of elaborate cuisines. Instead. However. It is what matters most immediately to us when we eat and is difﬁcult to isolate as a subaspect of food. The distinction between art and craft is a question of skill. as Sidney Mintz put it. sex and sacriﬁce. Counihan and van Esterik. 1996). Lupton. p. food and eating ‘were more interesting [to anthropologists] if they offended the observer. Without the consideration of such related areas. Whilst we may subconsciously appreciate very good food as superior craft. it is considered to be subjective and too personal for scrutiny. constitutionally.g. the artistic aspect of food production has often been ignored in favour of its shock value.4 In other words. not only in food studies (e. Yet it cannot be denied that whether food is discussed in ritual or quotidian occasions. it has ﬂavour and the taste is important to the people who eat and cook the foods. albeit lightly. anthropologists are not used to thinking of it as art. 2002). stating that there is a tendency to spirit away the more concrete aspects of human life. especially in areas as closely tied to the whole domestic domain as that of cooking. Macbeth. analysing cooking in its domestic quotidian context is as important as studying food in ritual contexts. anti-art’ (1996..g. using this label without questioning its meaning. (p. The same could be said about ﬂavour in food. 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’. Yet thinking of a cook/chef as an artist. 1999. he supports the observation and study of cooking at the domestic level. In fact. or were ceremonialized. and not food as a means of deﬁning what else it can be used for in the social order (e. 1997. comparison and contrast within and between cuisines lacks an essential dimension. 25) Strangely enough. perhaps because. especially from the perspective of the anthropology of art. taste in terms of ﬂavour seems to be particularly resistant to sociological analysis. 40). 3). arising from the fact that social anthropology is essentially. which are deemed of higher theoretical relevance. little is written about cooking as a form of art. There is a growing trend to consider the everyday. 1998. see Sutton. is a connection that is so easily made in societies where most anthropologists come from. Lentz.30 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and Kaplan. Wiessner and Schiefenhövel. . bafﬂed him.5 Gell observes that ‘the neglect of art in modern social anthropology is necessary and intentional. than if they simply pleased those who were doing the cooking and eating’ (1996. discussed further below. p. 1997. he discusses ‘the art of cooking’.
meaning is temporally extended and extendable. to talk about a body of knowledge—a culinary corpus or art corpus. p. 1999b). to this ‘enchantment’. Having succumbed. 1982. When I ﬁrst went to Mexico.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 31 political and economic framework. myself. like the Mexican. 30). which are powerful enough to lead to social changes in other levels in the matrix of cultural forms. hence power. ‘Because people act in terms of understood meanings. It allows women to change their social spaces and thereby expand their social network outside of the home. 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.7 Goody (1982) and Mintz (1979) each insist that meaning (in food) is salient beyond the immediate place and time of its production and consumption. an example from my ﬁeldwork is helpful. the creative activity. It is the active element in food preparation. from his topic of enquiry it seems logical to observe ‘the art of cooking’ itself in the context of its social dimensions. 2). While it is true that Mexican eating habits can be placed into classiﬁcations and then encoded. p. therefore. To illustrate this point. I was surprised to ﬁnd that real Mexican people. that is. As Sidney Mintz says. He argues for the need to contextualize social theory in ‘the total process of production. that make good food meaningful and thus give cooks greater social value. both cooks and eaters) place in the food within their social context. describe Mexican culinary mastery as analogous to the control required to manipulate poetic language or magic. ‘[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. meaning can be said to effectuate behaviors of certain kinds. Furthermore. Although I do not contest the analytical advantages of a structural framework. simply did not have a clue about what I was getting at when I talked about culinary manipulations of chiles and other foodstuffs.8 an artistic approach may provide greater scope for an analysis of an elaborate cuisine. The communicative aspects of cooking and eating lie in the meanings that actors (or agents. 30). I was interested in learning the ‘language of chiles’ that I had been led to expect existed from reading Mexican cookbooks. The active agency of art is the conveyor or mediator of social meanings. there is no ‘language of food’ which can be learnt via a grammar of eating habits or cooking techniques.6 Nevertheless. It makes more sense. . preparation and consumption of food’ ( p. if you wish—or a socially developed system which is employed in the preparation of foods for consumption. within the constraints of a cook’s daily life. combined with the fact that raw materials need to be bought or collected from different places and then prepared and combined well. fully trapped under some kind of gastronomic spell. And power and meaning are always connected’ (1996. both professional cooks and women in Milpa Alta. yet in his own work he neglected the aspect of preparation. within the complex of intentionalities that Gell talks about in his work (1998. At least from my ﬁndings in Mexican cuisine. Some cookery writers.
So. ‘as a system of action. my research focuses on the meanings of interrelating cultural forms—the corpus of cuisine. 1999b). 43. which is the efﬁcacious aspect. therefore. as being the relational nexus that enters into any given sociocultural form or practice (of whatever order of complexity) and deﬁnes that practice. Another way of looking at it is Munn’s deﬁnition of meaning. the cultural meanings of culinary activity as part of women’s work is different from a semiotic analysis of foodstuffs. monthly. 6). emphasis added) which . or repository of social meaning. Rather than direct metonymic expressions of foodstuffs standing for other social structures. and yearly timetables of women as well as men. Thinking of food as art which is based on action (Gell. and the cuisine demands a certain discipline and lifestyle which partly structures the daily. I am taking cuisine as art in the way that Gell sees art. and social interaction and hospitality in ﬁesta and quotidian occasions. Thus I avoid analysis of semiotic relations such as corn with blood or chiles with penises (in the wordplay albur). p. and my approach attempts to respond to such a gap. and therefore meaning ful. but also acknowledge the artistic quality of the act of cooking. 6 –7) Put into context. p. If foods are full of meaning. (1986. and recognizing this puts due emphasis on the ﬂavour of food. Women do the cooking. weekly. women’s domestic and extradomestic roles. then. I mainly draw upon Alfred Gell’s theory of art. Instead. 6). These are important points which could lead to further investigation.32 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Technical mastery is what deﬁnes the art object. essential to the reproduction of human societies’ (p. Thus. the perspective of food as art may help us understand some of the meanings that foods carry. 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.g. focusing on culinary practice. What Mexican cooking actually appears to ‘mean’ is a harmonious family and socio-cosmological life. 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. Gell’s Theory of Art Gell (1996) suggests thinking of art as a ‘vast and often unrecognized technical system. To help in thinking about food anthropologically. 1998. intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it’ (1998. 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. rather than trying to explain why one foodstuff may ‘stand for’ something else. as he developed it in several publications (e. pp. the social meanings or meaningfulness of foods can be better understood if we analyze cuisine as a whole.
There is another sense in which the nature of art production is active. Although many objects may be thought of as beautiful. Gell emphasizes action. 68ff). 43). upon which/whom agency is exerted. what Gell calls captivation (1998. and viewed or consumed by a ‘recipient’ (spectator). Each of these entities exerts agency upon others. sometimes directly. as products of techniques’ (p. 43. every ‘agent’ has a corresponding ‘patient’. the prototype as recipe. It is art as an activity. or (eventually) the development of personhood. If we transpose this terminology to the study of food. 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. therefore.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 33 performs an aesthetic effect by what he calls ‘the technology of enchantment’. based on a ‘prototype’ (whatever is depicted). or made beautiful’ (p. meal or dish. would be to take on Gell’s emphasis on agency and intention in the social milieux of works of art.1). Foodwriters Dornenburg and Page (1996. or the mastery of the artwork itself as an entity. sometimes through art-objects. gastronomic bliss. which thereby facilitates a perceptual change in the recipient. in particular. or both. the person or thing depicted in the artwork.10 David Parkin (2006. and how these processes are part of the larger process we call society or the network of social relations’. the doing of art rather than the simple observation of semiotic meaning. Some objects of art are produced with the intention of capturing the viewer’s (eater’s/recipient’s) attention. The solution to this problem. or as a social actor. The action performed by any of the four variables in Table 2. 7) provide an example that illustrates how a cook’s agency affects eaters abducted by . Likewise. become personiﬁed and persons become objectiﬁed. p. The agency of the artist. We as art lovers are enchanted by our perception of the technical virtuosity entailed to produce these works of art. we may think of the artist as cook. ‘demonstrate a certain technically achieved level of excellence … as made objects. which is seen as artistic excellence or exemplary craftsmanship. the artwork is an ‘index’. consumer. original emphasis). in Gell’s terms. sometimes via the index/artwork. p. 84) succintly glosses Gell’s theory as ‘a social anthropology of how objects.9 Art objects. They also are thought of as having higher value. whether from the position of producer. The capacity of the art object to inspire the awe or admiration afforded it is a direct result of this active agency. including art-objects.1 is also caused or put into effect by intention or the network of intentionalities in which it is enmeshed. p. produced by an ‘artist’. 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. acting as the nexus of interrelating social networks. This may be effected and experienced as aesthetic awe. art objects are those that are ‘beautifully made. The index ‘abducts’ agency within its social milieu to mediate social interaction. Put very simply for visual art. the index as the food. affects the spectator in a way that may be called aesthetic. and recipient as eater (see Table 2. for instance. This value is given to them by humans because of a perceived superiority.
to produce social effects on or conduct social relations with other social beings (patients). They categorize cooks as ‘burger-ﬂippers’. What is important to keep . in the way that I use the term ‘culinary artistry’. dish. In effect. This allows us to construct a table based on his (see Table 2. patron Cook Food. The relations directly involving the index (in our case. p. For my purposes. Gell constructs a table (1998. that means that the construction of an artwork is like the construction of a person. Crudely put. By its artistic nature. depending on which is the primary agent (with the sufﬁx ‘-A’) and which is the primary patient (with the sufﬁx ‘-P’). The perception that ‘Life is wonderful’ would be something that eaters would experience through their senses. the art corpus (its family. smell. It is the ﬂavour of the food. encompassing taste. and Corresponding Food Terms Artist Artwork Object or person depicted by artwork Spectator. we can think of the art nexus as a food nexus.2). 153). Our interpretation of a food event depends on the perspective we take. Of course. which belongs to families. the notion of culinary artistry remains elusive. replacing the corresponding terms that Gell uses with food-related ones. which will become clearer as this book progresses. wherein he demonstrates the differing relations among the previously mentioned four entities.1 Artist Index Prototype Recipient Terminology Employed by Gell. though examples can be given for the other instances of when agency is abducted via the index. texture. the artist’s technical mastery gives the object of art this social ability. a social agent. p. Food prepared by a culinary artist makes diners feel that ‘Life is wonderful’ rather than ‘That was delicious. difﬁcult to describe. 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. its lineage).’ Therefore we recognize culinary artistry by the power of the food to perform a perceptual change in the eaters. Thinking of it in this way. however. ‘accomplished chefs’ or ‘culinary artists’. This is because. meal Recipe Eater the food consumed. 29) of what he calls the ‘art nexus’.34 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Table 2. but also to inform the spectator’s relationship with the represented image (or the artist himself ) as a node of the relation between the two. and these interpretations can change with time or the position we take in relation to the social actors involved. hearing and that extra-special something (sazón?). sight. An artwork has the power not only to inspire awe. and their effects.11 It is helpful to use Gell’s terms to understand the active nature of bringing out the ﬂavour in food. an art object can be thought of as equivalent to a person. even extra-sensorially. It is an extension of a person whose biography can be traced via the whole body of art. lineages and so on. food) are the primary transactions. which chefs/culinary artists are able to manipulate to make the eater’s experience transcend the moment. physically enhancing their experience of life. following Gell (1998.
Modiﬁed/Adapted. 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. e. By permission of Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press.a made thing’. following tradition Index Food. food-A→recipe-P Recipe constrained by physical characteristics of food/ingredient. host eating food prepared on his/her behalf Source: Table 1 from Gell (1998). dish. barbacoa/mole as feast food Recipe-A→Eater-P Concept of mole controls eaters’ experience. controls cook’s action Recipe-A→Food-P Recipient Eater Eater-A→Cook-P Hired cook prepares food. meal Food-A→Cook-P Food dictates cook’s action with it. ‘tamal as. e. eats own cooking.g. meal ‘tamales needing special care Recipe dictates form taken by not to anger them so dish/food that they can cook’. e.g.‘Life is wonderful’ effect by chef. dish. avocado. e.g. 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. making barbacoa bestows prestige Food-A→Food-P Prototype Recipe Recipe-A→Cook-P Recipe dictates what cook does. eater dislikes food or does not ﬁnish what is served Eater-A→Eater-P Hiring a cook. diner in awe eater-A→recipe-P Rejection of food. .2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus Agent→ Patient↓ Artist Cook Artist Cook Cook-A→Cook-P Cook shares meal. as witness to act of preparing food Cook-A→Food-P Basic act of cook making/preparing dishes. and affected by food/ingredient.g. food is ordered in restaurant or at street stand Eater-A→Food-P Ordering food or asking cook to make particular dishes Index Food.Table 2.
1996. and the hired cook is overlooked (recipient/eater-A→ artist/cook-P). 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. Part of the requirement for a proper wedding is a proper feast. try to learn their craft by proximity. Learning to cook is actually part . Regardless of who actually did the physical labour. and close women friends. the agency of the artwork can be mobilized by another person for social relational inﬂuences. 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. and a particularly skilful cook is casually thought of as an artist. Such women gain fame in the community. and many times I found myself listening to grandmothers telling stories about other women. 52). I am not assuming this only for the purposes of analysis. cookery is commonly spoken of in terms of artistic practice. Whether the special meal is prepared at home or not. and this directly affects the families of the bride and groom (food-A→eater-P).36 • Culinary Art and Anthropology in mind is that objects and persons are connected in a nexus of intentionality. and employs those skills on her own. in public feasts such as weddings. and their daughters and daughters-in-law. cooking is an ‘art’. a woman hopes that some of her magic/skill will rub off on her as she observes. Culinary knowledge or skill. p. Without a sufﬁciently elaborate or festive dish.12 When we as eaters perceive of food as art. ‘[T]echnical virtuosity is intrinsic to the efﬁcacy of works of art in their social context’ (Gell. though within this relationship there may be several subrelationships of action. This can also be observed in Milpa Alta. we are in a patient position in relation to the cook-agent (cook-A→eater-P). who were legendary cooks. Working with or for a ‘master’ (or culinary artist). In Milpa Alta and other parts of Mexico City. 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. ingests. In fact. but put simply. to explain the mediation performed by an artwork. hence the focus on the agent-patient relationship. now dead. he poses the example of the work of an (anonymous) artist commissioned to produce a likeness of a ruler or a religious ﬁgure. A similar effect occurs when a person hosts a catered dinner party gets the credit for the quality of the food. the celebration loses some of its meaning. and being known as a good cook is socially valued in Mexico. Mexico. whose renditions of classic recipes were equivalent to art. although those who stand out as particularly talented are given recognition. is based on practice which can be learnt. So. enhancing his or her social relations by means of the occasion and its success. Gell details how each relationship occurs. therefore. it is offered to guests in abundance. food is often the subject of conversation among all kinds of people.
1999).13 Not all of a master’s apprentices produce equivalent works. Also. food is not necessarily thought of as art in the same sense as Mexicans or Milpaltenses would think of visual arts.’ In other words. not only can a community of several afford more easily the necessary effort than the individual. good cooking is learnt by training and imitation of masters. Becker. is attributed to the hand of the cook. 347).Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 37 of every girl’s domestic training as she develops into a grown woman. ‘This is because when. 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. Simmel describes what in his terms would be a gastronomic paradox. art objects are produced within social. an aesthetic satisfaction is also expected from eating.) As he puts it. substance to art. such as the works of Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo. Like any other type of skill. the ﬂavour of love. 15) characterization of art can lead one to interpret food as a form of art: ‘To an anthropologist. (I will return to this idea below. thinking of food as art makes it easier to understand why it is that ﬂavour and cooking mean so much to Mexican people. When food is transformed (artistically. but also the former [the community] rather than the latter [the individual] is its [the aesthetic level’s] rightful carrier’ (p. Another way of looking at this is by thinking of Simmel’s notion of the ‘sociology of the meal’ (1994). between art and craft. or the sazón. this signiﬁes a transformation of the carnal to spiritual. individual to society. within an artistic dimension of their own (within an ‘art world’. such as food. cf. but what is learnt is a bodily discipline like other artistic skills (cf. Culinary knowledge. the formal qualities of a piece of sculpture or music are signiﬁcant. ‘Socialization’ of food consists of cooking it into a delicious meal enjoyed by a discerning group of . ritual and economic dimensions. But from an anthropological standpoint. 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. or anthropomorphic ﬁgure. a sazón that works to produce spectacular ﬂavours is commonly called un sazón de amor. even the simplest naming of an object—as mask. ritual. since he considers eating and drinking as unfortunately necessary lowly activities that ultimately culminate in ‘society’. or funeral song— indicates an awareness of a social. la mano. p. then. But the learning process is not simply a matter of imitation and reproduction of the same. Gow. In other words. who are usually other women in the community. can be developed with practice. ‘High’ qualities such as culture or society can almost only develop out of the ‘low’ ones. and economic matrix in which the object has been produced. all of which interrelate to make up the texture of social life. the difference between great food and good food. Nevertheless. I might add) into the meal shared. In trying to deﬁne what art is anthropologically. via the ‘aesthetic’ that comes from meal sharing. She begins to learn by observing her mother. Thus. Although cooking can be conceived of as artistic practice from a native point of view. the ﬂavour changes. Firth’s (1996. but it also causes the togetherness of the social actors. and later also from her mother-in-law and other women. With a change of the hand that prepares the dish. in addition to the satisfying of the appetite. 1982).
convictions. at the same time. family warmth and. typical sayings with culinary themes. though it can be personiﬁed. 1998. such as the mediation that a work of art performs in Gell’s terms among social beings. independent of the relational context’ (Gell. and other kinds of intentionalities. If we think in terms of food. Second. ﬁlled with meat. and unverbalized intentionalities are infused in her cooking and later are literally embodied in those who eat her food. on any occasion. beans or ﬁsh. The meal presents a subset of the cook’s culinary knowledge. This is the sort of play of ideas that Laura Esquivel used in her successful novel and ﬁlm. ﬂavour. p. savoury ones. He or she may or may not be a member of the family. green salsa or mole. and there is no doubt that complex belief systems surround matters of cooking and eating. and the food as a social meal both has more ‘aesthetic worth’ and is more meaningful because of it. for example. called a tamalera. People in Milpa Alta continue to believe that ‘angry’ tamales will never cook (food-A→food-P). the person who arranges the tamales in the earthenware pot or aluminium steamer may not leave the house until the tamales are cooked. with red salsa. In real-life Mexico. Gell’s deﬁnition of an art object is perhaps easier to grasp from his essay ‘Vogel’s Net’ (1999b ). they are called tamalates and are a traditional accompaniment to mole. Socialization is ‘mediated’ by eating a meal together (p. and many others. It has no “intrinsic” nature. Without a ﬁlling. hospitality. There are many kinds of tamales: sweet ones.38 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members of society. Like Water for Chocolate (1992). depending on her relationship to the people she cooks for. history. and recipes. and are also made for nearly every ﬁesta. empowerment. 350). Gell’s anthropology of art does not focus solely on analyzing works of art as deﬁned by an art public per se. in other areas. onions and cheese. banana leaves). confronting a meal can also be thought of as confronting a person. Using folk remedies. A tamal is a steamed bun made of coarse maize meal beaten with lard and enveloped in corn husks (or. Esquivel’s novel constructs a Mexican world in which the heroine’s emotions. and the food itself is the outcome of the cook’s intentions to provide nourishment. but what is important is his or her presence in the house. with sometimes alarming physical effects. or with strips of roasted chile. In Milpa Alta I learned certain rules which must be followed so that the tamales will cook properly. so long as it fulﬁls certain prerequisites. Tamales are eaten for breakfast or as a snack for supper.14 Confronting a trap is like confronting a person. First. as the hunter’s intentions and ingenuity are present in his handiwork. potentially. the hunter constructed this particular trap for that particular animal. using the knowledge he possesses about his victim’s habits and sociality. ﬂavoured with fruits. must also . where he convincingly argues that traps can be artworks and. ‘The nature of the art object is a function of the social-relational matrix in which it is embedded. food does not have quite the same powers. At the same time. nopales. 7). the pot or steamer. artworks act as traps to the viewers/victims. Potentially almost anything can be considered as an art object.
211). This is a piece of corn husk which needs to be tied on the handle of the tamalera. (Gell. To remedy this. can be owned and exchanged. intended to achieve or mean something interesting. I think Gell would agree that his theory could be applied to Mexican food. hard to bring off. like other works of art.17 For this reason. no one in the house must get angry. demanding of attention and perhaps difﬁcult to reconstruct fully.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 39 have its bow. Hospitality. as well. The ﬂavour aspect is analogous to artistic decoration. ‘Artworks can also trap eels … or grow yams. which seems to lie in the realm of aesthetic pleasure. Gell’s insight into decoration is pertinent at . it is a physical thing which. If anyone in the house loses his or her temper the tamales will not set because they will be angry. teleras). I would deﬁne as a candidate artwork any object or performance that potentially rewards such scrutiny because it embodies intentionalities that are complex.15 I never saw an angry tamal myself. Food that is considered as artwork happens to have two fundamental qualities—it has (superior) ﬂavour (as opposed to bland or mediocre). 211)18 He also wrote. such as too much rice or the soft centres (migajón) of crusty bread rolls (bolillos. since his anthropological deﬁnition of an object of art is as follows: objects that are scrutinized as vehicles of complicated ideas. that means that artworks can also satisfy hunger or fulﬁl gastronomic desires. Third.16 Some people also told me that certain foods cause stomach upsets (food-A→ eater-P). a meal or a special dish can be thought of as an art object. like other art objects in theory. difﬁcult. and. In a similar way. 1999b. People swore that these methods were true. Another option would be to throw dried chiles into the ﬁre so that their seeds burn. of course. or that they need their chilito (chile. salsa) in order to fully enjoy eating (also food-A→eater-P). p. and so on. These ideas and beliefs that inform social practice relate to what some Milpaltenses perceive as being ‘traditional’ or ‘truly Mexican’ or even coming from Milpa Alta. a social nexus embedded within a culinary system. although no one could give me an explanation for them. An angry tamal opens up or the lard drips out of the wrapping. and Exchange One of the main differences between food and visual art is. that food is eaten. because I witnessed these rules followed whenever we made tamales in Milpa Alta. 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. A food. On Edibility. Without it the tamales will not cook. which is in itself a social system within a matrix of other interrelated social systems. p. allusive. as the smoke emitted removes anger. many said that they are never full unless they have eaten tortillas. the angered person has to spank the tamalera and then dance around it to make the tamales happy again. For the purposes of this analysis.
If we account for that. p. which will be reciprocated in some unspeciﬁed way at an unspeciﬁed time in the other direction (that is. then it is an extension of a person. but the ownership needs further explanation. In hospitality. that ‘they are no mere “objects” of exchange. does this mean? The eating of the food implies that the ‘spirit of the gift’ that Mauss describes is ingested as well. Following Simmel. then. original emphasis). exchanged and displayed’ (1998. and tying this with its artistic nature.20 If it is an object of exchange in a Maussian sense. Abstracting the process of food hospitality ignores another fundamental aspect of food that is offered to others. a crucial element of sharing is involved. reveals to us. It must also be remembered that when it comes to food and eating. It is rather as if they were the agents of their own circulation’ (2003. Food has particular physical and sensual qualities which differ from other types of objects which are exchanged. to be owned. as David Howes explains for kula shells. p. They depend on them sometimes gastronomically. and also sometimes socially.19 Generally. This is its (the food’s) necessity of having a good ﬂavour and being made with culinary technical mastery. . This aspect of food giving and receiving implies an element of exchange. 346) from which its aesthetic and meaning arise. resulting in a literal communion of persons. although Mauss argues that they are all homologous. it is precisely the communal ingestion of food that ‘releases a tremendous socializing power’ (1994. in fact. from eater to artist). Recognizing the sensory aspect of food. 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. 81). which the eater recognizes (as art) by experiencing its ﬂavour. and in the case of food. although there is a different quality to commensality that seems not to ﬁt with art ownership and display. 113. p. it contains his or her ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’ by nature of being the product of a cook’s invested and creative labour. the functional and ‘decorative’ aspect is its ﬂavour. food is cooked for more than one person. This is not to say that the decorations are not important. then we can think of ingesting food as equivalent to the consumption/acceptance/possession of a work of art. 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.21 What. Eaters remember who prepares superior ﬂavours in certain dishes and return to those cooks. but vehicles of personhood. 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).40 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this point: ‘[Decorated objects] are not self-sufﬁcient sources of delight. for the family or for non-family members who are guests. Display and food presentation (how it appears on the plate) can be seen as equivalent. This product is then materially ingested by the recipient. which is what makes it analogous to a work of art. these decorations perform an important function. But I think that food is not merely an object of exchange in the same sense.
So cooking is an inherently social act.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 41 What the eater also recognizes is the socially meaningful network of intentionalities surrounding the meal.’ which transforms the patient’s relationship with the agent. original emphasis). conversely. dishes) that a person makes as the products of her agency. Food is exchanged for money. a meal at a restaurant. the act of sharing is a value-enhancing. 56. Mauss’s time lag). As in food hospitality. whereas eating is socially static and self-collapsing. just as neglecting to offer food when hospitality is pertinent is considered to be selﬁsh and greedy (envidioso/a). though. In this case. The . customer). 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. and condition which underlies kula shell exchange between partners’ (1986.g. ‘[T]he exchange of comestibles in hospitality is the dynamic base. Munn explains that in Gawa. This is food which follows the logic that it should be prepared for an other. Simmel perceives of eating as negative and ‘low’). Food sharing is dynamic and self-extending. some of which is the same as home cooking. 1994. therefore. prepared by vendors (señoras) to serve commercially. then not sharing (that is. vendor) and a patient (eater. since food transactions are inherently social activities. If sharing is a positive act. p. there is an agent (cook. If we further accept that these things are extensions of the agent’s personhood. they are material repositories of that person and that person’s intentions. If we think of the things (artworks. p. and so. is the opposite of sharing food with others (cook-A→cook-P). For example. 1986. Eating food on one’s own. shared and distributed to others. or the warmth of home cooking. positive extension of the agent’s ‘spacetime. which are given. whether it is a special ﬁesta. there is an immediate exchange between the social actors. how to make tortillas and salsas. 346). ‘[T]he shared meal lifts an event of physiological primitivity and inescapable commonality into the sphere of social interaction and thereby suprapersonal meaning’ (Simmel. knowing how to cook. unless one is sharing the food. This notion of cooking and eating also explains why a lone person in Mexico almost never cooks for oneself to eat alone. Munn. this infers that corresponding to the agent (donor) there must be a patient (recipient). a girl is said to be ready for marriage when she demonstrates culinary mastery. Food is shared with speciﬁc others as a means of exhibiting respect for an existing or future relationship of reciprocity.22 Within the corpus of Mexican culinary culture exists a vast subset of street food and market food. As Nancy Munn describes for kula exchange in Gawa. with the expectation of future reciprocity of a similar or different kind (e. In this vein I must emphasize that food giving is a basic form of generosity in Milpa Alta. eating what one cooks oneself is antisocial. The skill that the cook reveals through the food likewise reveals other things of social salience. ensuring an ongoing relationship which may be based on exchange at another level of social interaction. and thus also ensures community viability. the act of eating) can be thought of as a negative act (cf. and as mentioned previously.
opening an exchange relationship by offering food to a guest or family member likewise opens the possibility for reciprocity in some form (Mauss. therefore. does not really make an eater the ‘owner’ of that dish. Food selling is a social activity. With this perspective. once the dish is produced. food hospitality consists of ‘unﬁnished business’ which is the essence of the endurance of social relations (Gell. or its reproduction may depend on the actions of a speciﬁc cook. On two levels. it can never truly be completely consumed. or at least to know where to go in order to reproduce it (to know how or where or with whom to eat). the cook prepares food to the taste of the eater/customer. for example. 1986). with his name labelling the cuisine he produces. the eating of it makes it disappear.23 Also. A heightened awareness of artistic or culinary expertise does not in itself constitute possession or ownership of the work. 1998. The fact that most women in the community know how to prepare similar dishes following similar recipes (with the same ‘index’). or within the same transactive nexus. Not only this. Munn. Possession of food-as-art is not anything like the possession of an object which sits on the mantelpiece for personal admiration. In one sense. We remember once more that as soon as the supply of the food is depleted it can be constantly renewed. an index of .42 • Culinary Art and Anthropology transaction begins and ends there. even temporarily. Having eaten something once or twice. but it may not necessarily be reproducible in exactly the same way or in the same context. Parallel to this. and therefore it can never be truly owned. and who solely produces these dishes within the family sphere (cook-A→food-P). yet it can be reproduced ad inﬁnitum. pp. and this can in turn affect the kind of product that the cook produces (eater-A→cook-P). we can think of food as both a work of art as well as an object of exchange. The possession of food-as-art seems to take the form of having eaten it. either. But this is only a perspective among many possible ways of interpreting this situation. remains the owner of that dish (cook-A→recipe-P). makes it seem ludicrous to try to pinpoint any ‘owner’ of a dish. 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). a cook or chef. Possession is a more complex issue because the dish can be reproduced. Now the ﬁnal problematic issue to explain is its possession. and perhaps also having the possibility (or controlling this possibility) of eating it again. but it does not carry the fundamental persuasiveness of food giving. nor is it like the intellectual possession of a famous painting beyond a consumer’s (ﬁnancial) capacity to take it home and own it. as Gell has described (1996). 80–1). Perhaps it is also possible to say that the ‘inventor’ of a dish. and having enjoyed it very much. rather than self-consciously ‘invents’. It also is inapplicable to the anonymous cook who cooks ‘traditional’ foods. so the agency actually lies with the customer. which provides the cook with an agency that contains the powerful potential to demand social reciprocity. As the outcome of a recipe. 1990. its true possession can be thought of as possession of the know-how to be able to reproduce it (to know how to cook).
or wrapping tamales does not necessarily mean that the results are always uniform from cook to cook. here cuisine. 6). 7). ‘[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. To begin. ‘[T]aste classiﬁes. I mentioned that art. making tortillas. I would like to explain how the two can in fact be thought of as one and the same. Taste is a sociological phenomenon rather than a question of a person’s passion or individual discernment. What we learn to discern as valuable is due to our accumulating ‘economic capital’ and ‘cultural capital’ which is learnt via social class. he can be distinguished among others of different classes who would value other things. Recall that the artistic quality of an object is not inherent in the thing. for example. Along with this cultural capital. At the beginning of my discussion of Gell. Cooking techniques are learned by apprenticeships to masters. What distinguishes an extraordinary cook from an ordinary one is perceived as technical skill which can be judged by its ﬂavour. and it classiﬁes the classiﬁer’ (p. a part of habitus. it ‘is never fully possessed at all. ‘history turned into nature’. Although judgement of ﬂavour seems to be an aesthetic judgement. food is an object of exchange. 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. Flavour and Value This brings us back to ﬂavour. possession of food-as-art is a dynamic of eating that is dependent upon the social relational matrix in which it is embedded. and yet it can be cooked again and regenerated. but is always in the process of becoming possessed’ (p. whether a purposely made work of art or not. As Bourdieu puts it. A person’s taste becomes the mark of distinction between social classes and is revealed by an individual’s possession of an ‘aesthetic disposition’. . In other words. which in Milpa Alta translates as girls learning to cook from their mothers and other women. its social value is derived from its social use. I turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of taste judgements. However. should be thought of primarily as a technical system. so by his choices of what deserves value. cooking and eating certain foodstuffs. This is the capacity to recognize artistic characteristics in anything. This means. and technical mastery appears to be more objective or scientiﬁc. education and upbringing. This would explain why an element of prestige and (class) distinction is involved in the choices of serving. Taste is a subconscious kind of knowledge. since food is eaten and virtually disappears. Knowing the proper techniques for peeling chiles. to fulﬁl a social function of legitimating social differences’ (p. 81). 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.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 43 the dish/work of art.
So although Bourdieu’s perspective can be applied convincingly to the context in Milpa Alta. In an analysis of taste and aesthetics. in fact. choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates. therefore. This can be explained more fully after an examination of the social dynamics surrounding the cuisine. which it manifests in several ways. Perhaps this is better explained with Gell’s method of analyzing art. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste. and also for the homologous . having observed its widespread use I found that its acceptance is related to the prestige attached to barbacoieros. judgement of something cannot be separated from an understanding of the process of its production (for food. he is. He explains. and as Goody has argued. cooking). if form is constituted by ﬂavour.25 He separates form from function by associating ‘art’ with form (and luxury). I argue that form is necessarily related to function. Bourdieu approaches artworks by arguing that value is allocated through the ‘stylization of life’ or ‘the primacy of forms over functions’ (p. then ﬂavour is socially functional. than another. In a sense. rather than beginning with social classiﬁcations. Because of his deﬁned concern with judgement.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). form and function are merged when externally exhibited in bodily action via the ‘aesthetic’. that is embodied. at least in Milpa Alta (food-A→cook-P). Focusing exclusively on classiﬁcations. and if the topic is an ‘art world’. which he describes as a dimension of habitus and systematic choices produced in practice. it also has limitations. It is an incorporated principle of classiﬁcation which governs all forms of incorporation. a class culture turned into nature. Taste. that is. 5). Following Gell.24 Although I cannot determine exactly where or when it began to be served during ﬁestas. aware that he deliberately ignores the cooking aspect of cuisine. class and hierarchy. (p. the link between form and function can also be concluded from Bourdieu’s own concept of habitus and self-presentation. in other words. So in the case of food. and not just the isolated dishes (see Chapter 5). this should also be observed. how it comes about that a society places value on an object and judges one thing to be in better taste. and ‘life’ with function (and necessity). helps to shape the class body. The skill required in culinary labour is the kind of technical mastery which Gell refers to as necessary for the production of an artwork. physiologically and psychologically. 190) Thus. he does not analyze particular ‘works of art’ in relation to their own ‘art world’. then some constituting artworks should be discussed as well. In contrast. or to taste better. and then considering the audience and how this informs an artist to modify an artwork. But the cooking is crucial to the achievement of its artistic status. as he approaches art from another perspective. I suggest focusing primarily on the art world (cuisine) and the artists.
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. In Mexico. many everyday dishes are complex to prepare. Serving an elaborate dish commemorates an occasion as special by transferring its value (recipe-A→recipe-P). Mintz. Invariably. The trap. this used to be mole. ultimately. Related to this. the trap is a repository of eel-power. spouse. 1996). Thus. and this is empowering in the sense that family ties are tightened when food is shared. often glossed as machismo. which may have wider signiﬁcance at other social levels. which is also complex to prepare. This is .Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 45 technical systems which bring about the (re)production of society. her children and. her own satisfaction. which are served when there is a special occasion. In fact. therefore. The social efﬁcacy of an elaborately prepared meal performs a similar function.27 Skilful cooking does not lead to social empowerment so directly. a complex-ﬂavoured sauce made of up to two dozen or more ingredients. the requirements to cook dishes from an elaborate cuisine may appear oppressive.26 This is illustrated by his example of the Anga eel traps (1999b). A good wife would then strive to cook well for the sake of her husband. 1996). however. André. such as a birthday.28 Mole may be considered one of the culinary treasures or works of art of Mexican cuisine. wedding or funeral. there are marked dishes. reveals the Anga belief that the eel is so powerful that its trap must be particularly clever. 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. at ﬁrst glance. culinary artistry or agency may be a source of women’s power over men (see Abarca. this is very much like what is considered to be men’s restrictions on women. These traps are constructed to be far more sturdy and complicated than is actually necessary to trap an eel. and they are deﬁned by the sauce rather than by the meat or vegetable which is in it. but at least she has the intention to provide good food somehow. 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. Preparing what is considered a proper meal is analogous to proper nurturing. Women as well as men value ﬂavourful food and what they consider to be ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ methods of preparing it. Strict regulations of women’s movements. If cooking is artistic practice. different from the daily fare. She does not have to cook herself. her in-laws. then a cook has the creative freedom to make decisions at this level. In Chapter 4 I discuss how women talk of their skill in cooking in social situations where their power and value are questioned. Control over feeding the family becomes the nexus of meaning regarding women’s social and moral values. and at the same time is the source of the eel’s power. tying women to home when they would rather be out (also cf. which has been suggested to be a means of containing and curbing women’s power over men (Melhuus and Stølen. actually reveal the high value placed on women’s chastity. 2001). friends). As I will discuss further in chapters 4 and 6. 2006. With regard to Mexico. for example.
theatres or any other public venue of entertainment other than the market. Since women’s virtue and moral value are also attached to her ability to suffer for her loved ones. 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. the culinary matrix of intentionalities involves the planes of social organizations such as the mayordomía and compadrazgo. This. The preceding discussion should help as a guideline for thinking about the social processes which revolve around food preparation and food sharing. vegetables. but in fact. and one of my informants also spontaneously told me the same: ‘Sin chile no come uno.’ This appears to contradict the value placed on home cooking. Mexican street food is another highly valued part of Mexican cuisine and is also considered to be ﬂavourful. beans. It is also expressed in the importance and the forcefulness of hospitality in Mexico (or in Milpa Alta. and in many ways this depends on women (good cooks) who make good sauces.46 • Culinary Art and Anthropology why salsas are the most important part of a Mexican meal. one is eating a meal prepared by someone caring or is eating a meal with particular social signiﬁcance. it is not enough for the food to provide nutrition and to be edible. the logic of love and lovers symbolically makes street food an illicit delight. In Milpa Alta. ﬂavour. Chile is equivalent to salsa. the ideal food is a meal cooked by a woman (wife and mother) for her husband and children. the efforts of her labours (her cooking) are also highly valued. food that is thought of as ‘very Mexican’ are usually dishes which use autochthonous utensils or ingredients. It is also important for it to be palatable. which results directly from the culinary mastery that a skilful cook possesses.29 A famous quote is: ‘Without chile. Mexicans do not believe that they are eating’. Munn. for there to be salsa. and its nutritive beneﬁts are secondary. I was told. there are no cinemas. both men and her children (Melhuus. by extension. meat). 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. makes eating tacos in the market a major source of fun: ‘La mayor diversión es ir a comer tacos en el mercado. For all meals in general. that is. in . 1992). good food ﬁxes the eater’s mind to the cook (or host). Rather than being fed. There must be a salsa or at least some chile on the table for people to enjoy their food (tortillas. these dishes are considered to have the best ﬂavour. or ingredients which are grown or bred on local land. 1986). What I hope to have conveyed here now is the idea that ﬂavour is actually the most functional aspect of food. I describe in Chapter 4 how in Mexico the ideal relationship between a man and a woman is that between husband and wife. which is also equivalent to mole (see Chapter 5). 5 and 6).32 In a way.31 In particular. In Mexico. and also the family sphere which is based on love (discussed further in chapters 4. elaborate sauce (mole) rather than a regular salsa.30 This is why a special occasion meal is served with a ﬂavourful. Also. highly valued. If it has superior ﬂavour.’ Good food means good ﬂavours. because it lies within another social dimension of family eating (see Chapter 6).
Furthermore. however. For this reason. p. 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. a host/cook serves what there is at home. If a guest leaves food. In turn. The food transaction takes precedence over the particular food served. neither the artwork and the ideas and meanings surrounding . 347) of the meal manifest in ﬂavour is part of the social nature of food transactions. that is. if a guest comes without warning. that is. and what is served at home also is prepared with technical mastery and love. a concept which is taken to be the opposite of loving in Milpa Alta (see Chapter 6). [the spectator] is obliged to posit a creative agency which transcends his own and. 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 cook tries to serve only foods of superior ﬂavour to a guest. making social relations between persons via the meal. 12. Failing that. hovering in the background. and foodstuffs can be social or cultural symbols. the emotional outcome of keeping culinary tricks or recipes secret is that a cook would be considered to be ‘greedy’ (envidiosa). but in fact it is most relevant. indicating that the food had poor or no ﬂavour and was therefore inedible (eater-A→ cook-P). and persons and persons via things’ (1998. the power of the collectivity on whose behalf the artist exercised his technical mastery’ (pp. 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. some good cooks hide their culinary secrets viciously. original emphasis). Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Food carries meaning. whether you like it or not. so that they can take home whatever is served to them that they are unable to eat. if it must be received regardless of personal taste. This suggests that ﬂavour is irrelevant to proper social behaviour. Accepting food offered to you. Food and eating constitute such a domain wherein social settings exist for people to eat together. that the ‘aesthetic stylization’ (1994. it is an insult to the host. 51–2). and with the food literally ‘merging’ with these persons as they eat it.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 47 particular). the cook continues to aim for the ideals of ﬂavour. The relevance of ﬂavour is evident because whether or not a cook is successful. p. foods prepared with the highest technical skill possible. This actually recalls Simmel’s gastronomic paradox mentioned earlier. is so important in Milpa Alta that many people attend parties with a plastic bag or piece of Tupperware hidden in their handbags. prestige is allocated to a cook and her family when she is known to be an extraordinary cook. By thinking of cooking as an artistic practice.
including barbacoieros) are willing to make sacriﬁces which others may not understand. women exert power over their men. but the one in control is the artist. women (and culinary professionals. Easier or cheaper alternatives seem to be unacceptable when superior ﬂavours are the goal and this goal is attainable. securing a husband. nor the social relations that are generated. in this case. Or it may seem to be too much effort for a woman to spend two days preparing maize and ﬁllings to make a few hundred tamales for the family when it is also possible to buy the dough for tamales already prepared. With this in mind. are ignored. ‘[T]he anthropology of art cannot be the study of the aesthetic principles of this or that culture. or the cook. with their (proper) cooking. actively mediating between social members to make (proper) social interaction possible. This means that it is not a predetermined. we can effectively investigate the social relational matrix surrounding the achievement of ﬂavour and the development of cuisine.48 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. and this liberty extends beyond the walls of the kitchen. In pursuit of culinary ideals. but of the mobilization of aesthetic principles (or something like them) in the course of social interaction’ (p. cooking is an activity which depends upon creative liberty. Thus. A work of culinary art can act as a trap. their families. their communities. By nature of being artistic. externally controlled activity. 4). It is controlled. and they have the autonomy to make important decisions for their family’s social life. In pursuit of this goal. with the perspective of cooking as an artistic practice. In short. attracting others to the food and to the cook. women also have license to move beyond their restricted spaces. . cooking is creative. Mexican. Thus. It may seem irrational for a family to hold large-scale ﬁestas when there is not enough money to ﬁnish building the house. herself. society. through the technical processes of cooking as well as the technical processes of social life and social reproduction. it is possible to explore a cuisine.
reserved for special celebrations or weekends. Barbacoa refers to a preparation of pit-roast meat which has been used in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. pork or goat (kid). a ﬂavourful broth consisting of the meat drippings which have amalgamated with herbs and spices – 49 – . usually 1. Ordering them would be indulgent. but the corresponding cooking methods used all over Mexico are based on the Mayan pib or earth oven. turkey. Urban families who avoid eating in the marketplace frequent these restaurants for family celebrations such as birthdays or anniversaries. there are also barbacoas of other meats such as rabbit. chicken. It is common to start with a bowl of the consomé de barbacoa. There is usually space for at least 400 diners.or 2-year-old sheep). Although these are antojitos. labour-intensive preparation and cooking process (described below). beef. 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. In the central states the meat is ﬂavoured with the ﬂeshy leaves of the maguey. herbs and spices. 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. typically eaten in the streets. and because of its long. there also are restaurants in Mexico City which exclusively serve barbacoa with its traditional accompaniments.or brick-lined oven. restaurants offer them because a large part of their clientele rarely eat street food. however. although smaller parties are welcome. because barbacoa is tasty and complete enough the way it is normally served and requires little more to be satisfying. Customers can order traditional snacks such as gorditas or chalupitas as their starters. Depending on the region and tradition. pit-barbecued in a cylindrical clay. The word barbacoa is of Caribbean origin. A cultural show with dancing and singing of ranchera music gives the place the festive air of a cantina or countryside ﬁesta. including the head. The meat typically used is lamb (borrego.–3– Barbacoa in Milpa Alta In this chapter. it is considered to be festive food. Eating barbacoa Whilst it is more commonly prepared as a cottage industry by families called barbacoieros. These barbacoa restaurants offer a complete celebration with the meal. Since the whole animal is used.
salt and vinegar or lime juice. The salsa borracha. Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta Many Milpaltenses have middle-class professional jobs or higher education. meaning ‘drunken sauce’. the main provider of barbacoa (as served in the markets) is Milpa Alta. The meal is served with warm corn tortillas and can be eaten as a late breakfast (almuerzo). which are ordered by the piece. Barbacoieros can be commissioned to slaughter and cook the lambs that another family has bought or reared. Stalls typically offer bowls of both red and green salsas (but not the black salsa borracha). coriander leaves and salsa to mitigate the richness of this intense soup. but the methods are basically the same. Sometimes there is also a side dish of nopales compuestos. Others order the meat to take home with a small plastic bag of the accompaniments. Flautas are long tacos that are rolled closed and fried. p. and it is drunken because it is traditionally made with pulque. Cooking styles and ﬂavourings vary regionally. or sliced avocado may be served). the busiest time of day is the late morning. and the eater has the option of squeezing in a little lime juice and adding chopped onions. as I have already mentioned. is a black sauce whose colour comes from pasilla chiles. as the main meal at lunchtime or as dinner. In Milpa Alta. oregano or coriander leaves. This is served with boiled rice and chickpeas stirred in. and sometimes dried oregano. crema espesa. Around three thousand sheep are slaughtered and prepared in Milpa Alta each week. For eating barbacoa in the market. the particular trades in Barrio San Mateo. but the vast majority of residents are still somehow involved in the family trade. although the livestock are raised elsewhere (Departamento de Distrito Federal. and salsa borracha made especially for barbacoa. For the Federal District of Mexico. The salsa is served in a bowl decorated with crumbled fresh white cheese and green olives. Other areas in the region famous for making barbacoa are Texcoco in the state of Mexico and parts of the state of Hidalgo.50 • Culinary Art and Anthropology during the long cooking process in the pit. Customers ﬁnd a space in front of the stalls and order consomé de barbacoa and tacos or ﬂautas. 1997. many families prepare barbacoa de borrego for a living. tomatoes. 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. cooked prickly pear cactus paddles dressed with onions. and a sprinkling of grated white cheese. sliced limes. but they regularly prepare several animals to sell in markets every weekend. As already mentioned. Villa Milpa Alta. The soup is followed or accompanied by tacos or ﬂautas of the succulent meat. 22). usually served with a drizzle of green salsa. a mildly fermented drink made of maguey sap. usually a red and a green one (often either a typical guacamole or one made with avocado and green tomatoes. are nopal . Salsas are offered on the side. chopped onions and coriander.
As mole became more and more expensive to prepare for large ﬁestas.2 Preparing barbacoa is more laborious and also has more ﬂavourings. 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. This way. the higher its value. the greater the difﬁculty of access to an object [of art]. 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. 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. when water was needed for the ﬁelds. . They scattered the whole street with salt from one end to the other and fed the animals with salt and water. They had modern kitchen appliances but often had an extra outdoor kitchen with simple industrial gas hobs. to accommodate an extended family. Now that few people cultivated maize and fewer still reared their own sheep. the dung could be easily collected for use as fertilizer. and barbacoa ranked higher in prestige than carnitas. this practice has died out.1 Doña Margarita. it is impossible to see what is going on behind the gates. and thus is valued higher. as running water has become normal in most homes. [1996. In Milpa Alta over the decades the barbacoa business boomed. The ﬁrst family in Milpa Alta to produce barbacoa for a living in the 1930s was the Jurado family. barbacoiero families could afford to build their own houses. 46–9]. The smell begins to fade as the sun rises and the barbacoa is transported to markets in all reaches of Mexico City.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 51 farming. The modern stoves were used more for heating up food and tortillas. Since most of the houses are surrounded by walls. not only because of the value of the product. Economically.) Barbacoa became the trade of highest honour (above butchery and nopal farming). Almost all nopal growers now use cow dung to fertilize their ﬁelds. pp. and those who remain behind are at home preparing for the sales of the following day. The barrio appears almost deserted as most people are busiest during the weekend. sometimes quite large. but also because of the ﬁnancial prosperity associated with its sales. but most people looked up to barbacoieros. Because of this. (This is an example of Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’. told me that they raised their own sheep which they would leave to graze in the mountainous pastures of Milpa Alta. 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. She had memories from the 1940s of how the Jurados brought their ﬂock down from the mountains once a week. carnitas and barbacoa grew in popularity as typical ﬁesta favourites. The barbacoieros built corrals around these watering taps so that their sheep could graze there and leave their droppings. although locals know which families live in which houses and what their trades are. In those days there was no running water in the houses. pork butchery (tocinería) and especially the cooking and selling of barbacoa de borrego. a barbacoiera with whom I lived. where they did most of the actual cooking.
Wednesday and Thursday (see detailed description of barbacoa work below). It was rare for Milpaltenses to buy land outside of Milpa Alta. it is acceptable and even expected. When women married. when she was 18. for example. He told me that he earned more working in barbacoa than by being an accountant. By this time Mario’s older brothers had married and set up their own households in land that their father had given to them. but rather that they must try their best to assimilate to and prioritize their husbands’. Despite having her own profession. Mario.3 Some built their houses adjacent to the husband’s parents’. but when his father took ill he decided to help with the family barbacoa business. Mario’s father decided to divide his share of . Upon marriage.’ This is not exactly true. Also. Doña Margarita said. Since he chose to dedicate himself to the barbacoa. he was occupied from Friday to Monday. he did. ‘A woman always changes her profession or trade (oﬁcio) to that of her husband. He tried to supplement the family earnings by getting a part-time job in accounting but had to give this up.’ Elena was a similar case in point. but his priority was his barbacoa. such as barbacoa. The ofﬁce often wanted him to come in on Fridays. and they eventually married when she was 22. After Mario’s father died. the business was his main inheritance. whilst others bought a new plot of land in another area of Milpa Alta. at least to the husband’s family. but on Saturdays she sold the barbacoa in the market because he had to stay home to prepare the meat to sell on Sundays. Mario was left to take over the business.4 Families remain close nonetheless and visit often. Though there used to be a lot of land in the family. at times. some men learn the trade of their wife’s family if it is more lucrative. as the generations passed the pieces of land inherited became smaller and smaller. She added. they usually moved to their husbands’ house and lived there until they could afford to build their own. ‘I don’t know if it was because I did not take care or if I don’t know much about these things. She met her husband. An elderly lady told me. It was not that they no longer belonged to their natal households. Although she had not wanted to get married until she ﬁnished her studies. women were expected to loosen their ties with their natal families.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. Whatever the precise statistics may be. 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. la mujer tiene que ayudar a su esposo.5 Doña Margarita’s compadre was a barbacoiero and his wife was a primary school teacher. as some women are already working in a similar sort of business as their husband’s before they marry. but she had no regrets. although many young couples aspired to build their own houses separately from their parents or in-laws. but oh! surprise—I was pregnant!’ She never ﬁnished her degree because of the baby. studying to be a teacher. although they might resettle in a different barrio or town. she was expected to help her husband in his line of work: ‘Siendo profesionista. but he had time for other work on Tuesday.
although I know that she could do the same work and sometimes helped Mario with the oven when necessary. so they become knowledgeable specialists early on. and to Mario. This was men’s work. Boys learn by helping their fathers to remove and clean the entrails (despanzar). She had most of her free time on Saturdays. Until then she did not want more children. Elena worked doubly hard so that they could save up enough money to invest in land. but they usually go to university or might take on another job elsewhere. thus beginning the tradition in their family. but with his business he maintained a comfortable lifestyle. barbacoa market stall and business. Single men do not make barbacoa for a living. Alejandro’s grandfather’s brother ﬁrst learned to make barbacoa. though not unheard of. but few men start out in a new business like this at an older age. Not only was land of high value in Milpa Alta. and a few years later they learn to kill. for men to learn the trade from non-family members. these women never get involved. however. the business (or technical skill) is left to one’s children as an ‘inheritance’. a woman might sit with her future mother-in-law as she . At 15 or 16 they begin to cut the raw meat.6 In other words. and so he taught his younger brothers the process. the youngest. Already as children. and she chopped vegetables for the business. young men might help their parents with the family business.7 After marriage. She taught two shifts at the primary school and also helped with the barbacoa when she was at home. it is not uncommon for young men to set up their own barbacoa business apart from their parents’. Until they marry into the family. she told me. Their skills are built from a young age. but they also wanted land so Mario could work on it during his free days midweek.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 53 land among the older siblings when they married. She rarely had anything to do with the meat or with stacking or unloading the oven. From the age of about 5 or 6. In his own family. but Elena and Mario truly desired a plot of land of their own. when she did housework and laundry (although I suspect that she hired help for this as well). he left the house. 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. The trade has been described to me as ‘a tradition that one passes down to the new generations’. As the girlfriend of the son of a barbacoiero. Alejandro told me that he taught his compadre how to prepare barbacoa when he was 39. however. as in the case of Mario. Until they marry. Their new wives then begin apprenticing themselves to their mothers-in-law. 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. This arrangement worked reasonably well. Typically. He was illiterate. it is rare. buying more tortillas when they have run out or helping to wash up the plates and cookware at the end of the workday. but not to slaughter. children learn the process of preparing barbacoa from their parents. children are taken to the market to help in the sales. To reach this goal. Apart from inheriting the barbacoa profession. boys are trained to help their fathers with the meat and girls are trained to help their mothers with the vegetables and salsas.
This. 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. ‘¿la comercial o la buena?’ (‘the commercial sauce or the good one?’). ‘¡Este es como empezar con el postre y terminar con la sopa!’ (‘This is like starting with the dessert and ﬁnishing with the . the slaughter. this was all wrong. she can still carry on with the business.54 • Culinary Art and Anthropology is busy cleaning or chopping vegetables. I learned to prepare barbacoa in what they considered the traditional manner. she must take over as much of her mother-in-law’s work as she can. playfully called matadores or otherwise referred to as trabajadores (workers). The description that follows is based on the ﬁrst time that I witnessed the entire process. but also how daily meals can still be rather elaborate. different dishes that can be made with barbacoa meat. the traditional means of food preparation are generally preferred over modern shortcuts in spite of modern conveniences and new regulations. In barbacoa preparation. Milpa Alta Primy and Alejandro used to farm nopales. the rastro. and she might lend a hand. elicited a positive response. There are men who dedicate themselves solely to slaughtering animals. She described different forms of service. It illustrates some of the compromises that might be made for the sake of the business. and then invited me to watch her remove the meat from the oven the next morning. but it is representative of how families make barbacoa at home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live with a family who took pride in the ﬂavour of their product. As soon as she is married. ‘What would you like to know?’ she asked me. This is the same work that is done in the ofﬁcial slaughterhouse. 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. The matador-workers are in charge of the matanza. She continued explaining the cooking process before she interrupted herself and said that no. but they tended to always return to the traditional. The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. but nothing is expected of her. Should a barbacoiero wife become widowed or abandoned. though. They are also responsible for washing the entrails and chopping them. With Primy and Alejandro. as well as for many other culinary techniques. 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. they began to help with the barbacoa to carry on the family business. depending on availability and price of ingredients. even if she has no sons. They sometimes varied their methods of preparation. but a few years before the death of Alejandro’s father in the early 1990s. The following section is a rundown of how barbacoa is prepared at home by professionals in the trade. and Primy embarked on a detailed description of the salsas that she made to serve with barbacoa. as always.
it consisted of taking apart and cleaning the animals. so Alejandro held its body still until it stopped bleeding and lay limp. Alejandro then went to get another lamb among the group huddled at the far end of the slaughter area. and stay with them to observe the whole process. Primy took the steel and sharpened her own knife. The ground was paved in concrete. and then he hung the body by the leg bone on one of the ceiling hooks. Only after I have seen it all can we talk about salsas and chiles. starting from la matanza. Holding its muzzle shut. This is almost considered a late start by Milpa Alta standards. She cut off the other three feet and tossed them toward the drain. since most people are up and working by 5 a. scraping away the fur to reveal the bone with its characteristic hole. the workweek begins at seven o’clock every Thursday morning. Hanging the carcass this way makes it easier to clean the whole animal. he deftly punctured its throat with the tip of his knife. Thursday: La matanza (The Slaughter) For the family whose trade is to make and sell barbacoa. Beside this he positioned a rough-hewn wooden stool. Then she cut . Alejandro and Primy dressed in old jeans.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 55 soup!’) she exclaimed. work which is shared between husband and wife. la matanza could also be interpreted to refer to all the proceedings of the day. she continued. From the ceiling hung eight large hooks fastened to a wooden beam with thick twine. he sawed off its head and set it aside. and the process was repeated. in one corner there was a water tap with a long hose attached. allowing all the remaining blood and whatever may be left in the oesophagus to drip out onto the ground. she insisted. He then proceeded to saw off one lower hind leg. For about ﬁve minutes he squatted by the lamb. One cannot learn about barbacoa without seeing everything from beginning to end. He then sharpened his knife with his sharpening steel and lay the lamb on its side. While Alejandro continued to slaughter the rest of the livestock. I must come. They were prepared for a physically demanding and dirty job. She stood by the decapitated animal and felt for the soft cartilage in the joint of the other hind leg. It bucked its hind legs once in a while in silent protest. Alejandro placed a large aluminium basin in the centre of the space. He sharpened his knife once more and after feeling for a soft spot in the neck joint. Although the actual killing was ﬁnished. its head resting on the stool. and along one wall there was a low concrete-lined drain. She scraped away the fur of the other hind legs so that the carcasses could be hooked through and hung by both legs. The slaughter area was separated from the rest of the patio by a low wall reaching halfway up toward its roof. It must have been around 10 degrees Celsius outside but they knew they would not feel cold. The space was about 3 by 6 metres in area. short-sleeved shirts and long rubber boots. Alejandro led a young sheep to the centre of the covered concrete and brick slaughter yard behind the house. Apart from the slaughter. allowing it to bleed into the basin.m.
‘como una telita de grasa’. This is the start of the real cleaning process. . so she stood aside and waited for her husband. The odour was rancid and repulsive as the contents of the panza splashed onto the ground. A soft popping noise was made as the body separated from its skin at the neck. she proceeded to slice a long vertical hole through the centre of the skinned carcass. covering the hole and tying it well. securing them to keep them under control lest they slip away and get tangled and lost amongst the rest of the innards. thus holding the centre of several separate lengths of intestine. el redaño. 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. but in any case the pescuezo must be protected with gauze. The panza was much bigger than I expected it to be. It is cleaned and later stuffed with the tripe and other innards mixed with herbs and spices. Primy brought a small plastic pail of water toward each animal and washed the blood from the neck. There she emptied the stomach. keeping grip of the other end. and in fact it looked like a square of pale pink lace8 and could be peeled off the stomach in one piece. the caul. pulling it inside out with all his strength and using his body weight for the ﬁnal yank. Primy proceeded to unravel the small intestines. First Primy pulled out the stomach. but Primy and Alejandro told me that this job was not for me and recommended I keep my distance to protect my clothes. The hide is heavy and toughly attached to the ﬂesh. la tripa delgada. el pescuezo. which Primy described as being like a cloth. swaying from side to side. la panza. She tore off about a half metre’s length and carefully wrapped the pescuezo with the gauze. and she began to pull out the entrails. Having clariﬁed this.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. From the pail she pulled out a rectangle of gauze and wrung out the excess water. She knotted them together at the centre. It is tied closed and cooked in the pit oven along with the meat to be later served in tacos. She explained how important this was because when the meat is still fresh. Then she squeezed out any waste that may have remained before tossing them into the aluminium tub with the panzas. the blood and bile that may remain in the throat attract large ﬂies which enter the pescuezo and may become embedded there. Primy hosed the panza inside and out and tossed it into another aluminium tub before returning to the carcass. and she pulled them out as if she were measuring yarn. When Alejandro was ready he tugged the coat off each animal. squeezing out the part-digested fodder and gastric juices. These were at least 12 metres long. and she carried the panza to the far corner of the slaughter area where there was a large metal rubbish bin. As soon as she had all the tripe looped in her hands she cut one end. despanzar. I offered to help. about half a metre long and 20 centimetres wide. giving it a bitter ﬂavour. He slung each hide on the low wall and carried on with the slaughtering. This can ruin the meat. and it was a grey-green colour. It was covered with a layer of fat. Primy warned me to get out of the way. catching each arms’ length in either hand. The panza is one of the most important parts of the sheep.
Primy then cut it off and dropped it into the pail with the rest of the offal. the gall bladder. . then it was time for breakfast. After saving the foetus Primy rinsed the uterus inside and out and then threw it into the tub of entrails. business). Cold water must be used even if the weather is freezing because using warm water risks spoilage. lungs. Later each offal meat was cleaned thoroughly with cold water to remove all traces of dirt. to an airing room. They are attached to its inner lining and make the stuffed panza tastier and juicier. la tripa gorda. la vejiga. el hígado. la vesícula billar. Alejandro carried the cleaned carcasses. 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. The meat needed hanging so that it matures a little and can be cut cleanly. Pregnant sheep are particularly special because usually when the stockbreeder knows that a sheep is pregnant. Primy positioned the pail in front of the animal and pointed the large intestine toward the pail. about the size of the palm of my hand. but when we got to the last lamb slaughtered I witnessed the discovery of a pregnant one. Furthermore. unappetizing colour and although this does not affect the ﬂavour of the meat. it may put customers off. because pregnancy causes the uterus to develop. otherwise it is impossible to reach the inner folds of the meat. where he hung each by one leg to dry the meat overnight. corazón. it is not sold for slaughter as it will eventually provide young (i. heart. the bladder. and so must be expunged. pulmones. which went straight through the intestine and ﬂushed out most of the suciedad. 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. 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). The developed uterus forms nutritious pink bolitas (these ‘little balls’ actually look like tiny pink donuts). now referred to as being en canal.e. Without this gush of running water it is more difﬁcult to extract the waste products from the intestine..Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 57 Next to remove was the large intestine. Primy stressed to me that each section must be well cleaned individually. Each part of the animal was systematically removed in its turn—the uterus. Such a ﬁnd is considered lucky. The ﬁnal step was to slice open the hearts and lungs to remove all traces of blood from the veins and arteries. Primy rinsed everything quickly. cleaning must be done with bare hands. Any dirt that remains gives an unpleasant bitter ﬂavour to the meat and panza when cooked. The uterus was quite small. Alejandro placed the hose in the anal passage at the top of the animal and sprayed a strong stream of water. While Primy was completing this process. The heads are left to soak and the panzas must be blanched so that the bitter stomach lining can be removed. Primy slit open the uterus to show me the foetus. dirt. the liver. This is extremely important because when blood is cooked it becomes a dark. Only then were we free to sit in front of the television to watch the football. la matriz.
that supports two large gas rings that can accommodate very large pots and pans. made of a metal frame. After breakfasting on the chilaquiles with teleras (a type of bread roll) and hot milk with coffee or chocolate stirred in. I stayed and helped make breakfast in the airing room. the innards. that the women had cleaned so thoroughly the day before. the other two for the green and red salsas that she would make. so that we could make gorditas pellizcadas when we got home. green tomatoes. (I do not think he did much else that day. removing stems from the fresh and dried chiles and just chatting away. Alejandro was at his butcher block chopping all the menudencias. The cooker was like those found in food stalls in the market. When this was done it was time to pick up the children from school. After baking them on . coriander and various other foods. Primy kneaded the dough and with the help of a tortilla press and her two small sons.) Primy rinsed out the coriander and epazote and left the herbs to soak in water.m. and Primy was already away at the market while her mother-in-law was at home preparing breakfast. Primy returned from her shopping with sacks of white onions. Doña Margarita made a green salsa with the chiles and green husk tomatoes (tomates or tomates verdes) that are also used for the barbacoa. we made thick tortillas. We carried on preparing the vegetables. I arrived at their house before 7 a. 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). chopping onions and carrots. carrots. We were having chilaquiles verdes for breakfast that day. Indeed it is the most labour-intensive because all the preparations for the cooking and serving of the meat are done on Fridays. as usual. and almost all of this work was done by Primy. 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.58 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Friday: Mise en Place (Preparations). sancochando la carne (Pre-cooking the Meat) Alejandro told me that Friday is the heaviest day for women in the barbacoa trade. a small shop selling machine-made tortillas. Primy put all the tomatoes to soak in a plastic basin to soften the husks for easier removal. Meanwhile. As we walked home from the school we passed by a tortillería. Primy and her mother-in-law began to prepare lunch. For green chilaquiles. but Primy was in charge. Primy separated them into the three containers. chiles. These gorditas (also called sopes) are a type of snack food that is often eaten in the street. about waist height. one for the panzas. Alejandro asked Primy to prepare them for me so that I could taste as much typical Mexican food as time allowed. we got back to work. where a simple industrial gas cooker was set up. Her mother-in-law helped as well. There we bought a kilo of masa. At the same time. The day began early. the maize dough used to make tortillas. Primy went to the market to buy vegetables. her mother-in-law and herself. chiles and herbs for the cooking process and also to make the salsas that would accompany the meat. She brought out three little painted wooden chairs with wicker seats for me.
rubbed them with melted lard. onions. For the green salsa we peeled avocados. garlic and salt. as well as ﬁlling and unloading the oven. Since she needed to make a larger amount. like making the panza ﬁlling and the salsas. especially in cities. water ﬂavoured with a variety of sweet lime that they picked off the tree in the garden. so Primy had a 30-litre pail for this. Men in the barbacoa trade are responsible for the slaughter and preparing the meat. a tool that dates to pre-Hispanic times. When we returned home Primy had to prepare the stufﬁng for the panzas. crisply cooked crumbled longaniza (a type of sausage). as are chopping and cleaning vegetables and herbs. Although I would have the tendency to linger over such exquisite food. She then proceeded to make the red salsa in which she used three types of dried chiles—chile morita.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 59 a hot comal. She also had procured some pork fat to add to the ﬁlling mixture so that the panza would not get too dry during . We returned to the vegetables we had been cleaning and divided the tomatoes and chiles for the salsas. and pulla or guajillo angosto. they used an electric blender for making sauces and for larger tasks. such as grinding these crackers. Preparing the panza is always the women’s responsibility. 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. The meal was washed down with an agua fresca de limón. and rajas con crema. She ﬁlled the pail with the tomatoes and chiles along with salt and other ingredients. green salsa and crumbled white cheese. in a busy barbacoiero household such as this one. and topped them with refried beans. chopped coriander and combined them with the green tomatoes. far beyond the capacity of a domestic blender. we pinched them several times on one side ( pellizcar means to pinch). Primy processed them in the blender in stages because she was making large amounts for the business. there were tortillas and a lovely tomato-chile-based salsa to accompany. then breaded chicken with boiled carrots with cream. and beans in their broth at the end. Lunch was a feast for me. we took the pail to a salsa mill. 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. We had gorditas to start. 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. a short walk away. chiles serranos. Women look after the softer and more complex cooking. This was our starter for lunch on that day. but nowadays. few people did so because of the effort and physical force that was required. she said. Alejandro pounded chicken breasts to make milanesas and his mother hauled out the heavy stone metate to make breadcrumbs for the chicken. She used saltine crackers instead of bread because. I had heard that some people still used it. she preferred the effect of crushed crackers to that of breadcrumbs. although it was standard fare for them. árbol seco.9 The red salsa was more popular than the green in the stand where they sold barbacoa. She told me that for small tasks. Otherwise. molino de salsas. I asked her if she always used the metate. She knelt on the ground behind the grinding stone and in a matter of seconds reduced the crackers to ﬁne crumbs. As always. unless there was a power failure. she would use it.
Mondays and special occasions they prepared the barbacoa de horno. He lay these out on the work table in the middle of the room and decided which pieces would be cooked for Saturday. The perol is a large aluminium bin. Alejandro pulled out his chainsaw and cut the lamb into pieces—the leg. the panzas are set down. pescuezo. so water is added to the basin at the bottom. This is used to steam the meat over a gas ﬂame. and which for Monday. To save ﬁrewood. sancochar la carne (literally. 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. Then an iron grille is positioned above the tub with some special cooking ﬁlm to prevent bits of meat from falling through. but on Sundays. the shoulder. to parboil the meat). most people these days ﬁnish cooking the barbacoa in the perol rather than use the traditional pit in the ground or brick oven (horno). When these were well incorporated she added powdered chile guajillo and salt and beat it some more. The pieces of meat must be arranged in a speciﬁc order so that they cook properly. since these all take longest to cook and need to be nearest to the heat source. pierna. ribs. espaldilla. First the tub for the consomé is placed at the bottom so that the juices drip down into the herbs and spices. and the neck. The panzas were now ready to be stuffed. 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. around 75 centimetres in diameter and 1. which for Sunday. epazote and onions. costilla. The rest of the parts are stacked in accordingly. There is. mixing the grains. In the perol the meat is steamed. however. 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.5 metres tall. Next. Then she stacked the perol. She checked that there was sufﬁcient consomé and that . 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. espinazo or lomo. She drained and separated them into two containers. a notable difference in ﬂavour between the barbacoa de perol and barbacoa de horno. Whilst Primy was doing all of this detailed work. On Saturdays they sold barbacoa de perol. and the perol is closed and left over a strong gas ﬁre for about twelve hours. At the same time she had been boiling rice and chickpeas. and she beat all of these together with her forearm (in the same way that one beats lard for making tamales). one for Saturday’s sales and another for Sunday’s. a method developed because of the shortage of ﬁrewood in recent years. For the sake of ease. the backbone or loin.60 • Culinary Art and Anthropology the cooking. then the heads and necks. Into the mixture she threw chopped green tomatoes. which are traditionally served with the consomé de barbacoa. She also prepared the herbs and spices that go in the tub for the consomé.
tapering to a ﬁne point like a needle. if available. all parts of different varieties of maguey plants. They are essential in the preparation of this type of barbacoa as they both protect the meat from burning. In fact. This time it was less elaborate than on the Friday before. All of this was served with warm corn tortillas. or pencas. So we proceeded to light the oven by the side of the house. and there were beans to follow if anyone wanted some. and different varieties are used for tequila and mezcal ). crude sugar. avocado and pickled jalapeño chiles. This step took a good hour or so. When a bright ﬁre was smoking in the oven we laid the fresh pencas across the top. Alejandro’s mother gave me a sandwich for breakfast and a pint of hot milk in which I stirred some café de olla. however. a typical homestyle soup with short noodles in (red) tomato broth. By ﬁve o’clock the meat should be ready. This last point seemed particularly impressive to them. For women in the barbacoa trade. Saturday morning may be spent doing any sort of tasks and chores.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 61 it had not overﬂowed and the meat was cooking nicely. Each of these leaves. coffee boiled with abundant water and ﬂavoured with cinnamon and. can reach up to 2 metres in length and about 30 centimetres wide at the base. I helped Doña Margarita wash the dishes from Friday and we went to buy food with which to prepare lunch. because Mexican food was thought to be notoriously difﬁcult for foreigners . Doña Margarita lit the coals that had remained in the pit with scraps of cardboard and burnt pencas. Primy came home and prepared the comida quickly. which she made of sliced bread ( pan bimbo) spread with cream and ﬁlled with ham. 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. served with a swirl of cream. weaving cloth. 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. Alejandro had brought home pencas de maguey. She accompanied me with a sandwich of her own. To follow was a guisado de jitomate. for preparing food. y además come ¡con gusto!’). While waiting for Primy and the boys to return home. as well as add ﬂavour and help to seal in moisture. have been used extensively and have been exploited all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. turning them and even hanging them halfway into the oven so that they roasted evenly. we attended to the oven. 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. Before all this. The pencas must ﬁrst be shaved at the base so that they are evenly thick and pliable. and meanwhile we carried on with other household chores. piloncillo. We had sopa casera de tallarines con crema. courgettes and strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles. Then they must be toasted to mellow their ﬂavour and bitterness. a (red) tomato-based stew with chicken. By the time I got up at seven o’clock. and even making alcoholic drinks (like pulque. They are thick and spiny at the edges. Then she asked me to accompany her to do her errands. the succulent leaves of the maguey plant. both pencas and sap.
m. heads and panzas by the kilo. Primy lit the pit-oven with ﬁrewood. 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. otherwise the meat would fail to cook properly.30 a.10 Already they took their 7-year-old son with them to sell. It was 5. My ability to enjoy their food. Primy showed me how to wrap the panzas in pencas of maguey to protect them from burning as they cook. She ﬁlled the cavity with dry logs. Sunday: Sacando la carne (Taking Out the Meat) At ﬁve in the morning I was awakened for the ﬁnal stage of preparing barbacoa. When all the meat was properly arranged. Their second son was still too young to accompany them. She placed the heads and pescuezos into separate pails and when she ﬁnished pulling out the panzas. and then they slid the heavy steel cover over the opening. With this she ignited the wood and left it to burn while we ate. Alejandro sold meat. or at least hoped. Just before lunch. that both of their sons would maintain it when they came of age. Last. separating the meat into plastic crates lined with wax paper and the toasted maguey pencas from the oven. They loaded everything into the back of their truck and by 5. and therefore understand the ﬂavours. now full of consomé. only this time the sides of the oven were lined with pencas. an old cover and empty basins were arranged on the edges to secure it and weigh it down. and by now the logs were reduced to red-hot embers. and he and his wife expected. Afterward. Alejandro’s stall had been in the family for three generations. Primy was already unloading everything. Both Alejandro and Primy would go to the market together as it was always their busiest day. more toasted pencas were lain. made me seem less foreign to them and more easily assimilated. The two women pulled out a square of canvas ﬁlled with sand to shroud the cover. Then we left the barbacoa to stew in its own juices all night. la carne sancochada. while Primy made and sold tacos and consomé and also usually acted as cashier. It was time to stack the oven.m. which had been pre-cooking in the perol for a few hours.62 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to eat. Finally. no cooking ﬁlm was necessary and no water was added for the consomé. Each panza is placed individually in the centre of a toasted penca. and with old newspaper she grabbed a ﬁstful of tallow that she collected every week from the meat. On a Sunday the children considered this to be a special treat. but he told me that he was dying to go. Then we checked the oven. They spread the sand evenly to block any cracks so that absolutely no steam escaped the oven. Primy and Doña Margarita did this in the same order as in stacking the perol. She picked the meat from between the neck bones . she waited for Alejandro to come and reach into the oven for the tub of drippings. we unloaded the meat. la pura brasa. they were on their way to their barbacoa stall in a market near the centre of Mexico City.30 p. 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.
but rather it decreased the frequency of their visits.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 63 and used any other loose meat to ﬁll tacos. She would recognize them and know what they usually ordered or consumed at one sitting. After the economic crash in 1994. Primy explained that certain people become regular clients and thus are given special treatment. The market price of barbacoa. Otherwise. Primy. Sunday and Monday: A vender (to sell)—How Lucrative is barbacoa? Monday is usually a fairly light day for selling in the market. Discussing the vendor-client relationship with me. In the mid-1990s. Thus customer spending reduced and luxury goods such as special foods became less frequent expenses. however. she noticed that some of her regular clients no longer came every week as they used to. the price increase affected sales. taking into account the rising prices of their raw materials. might or might not accompany her husband on these lighter sales days. like other wives of barbacoieros. economic constraints weigh heavily. another opportunity to sell or eat barbacoa midweek is to go to a nearby tianguis (roving market) on the day when it is designated in a certain area. Preparing it every day would be too much work to be worth the earnings.11 In this way. The best days for selling barbacoa are Saturday and Sunday. This depends on her mood and other commitments. barbacoieros ﬁnd themselves in a competition of ﬂavour. Sometimes she gave them slightly larger tacos. few people eat it in the market midweek. all the barbacoa stalls open. the demand would decrease considerably in that fewer would be able to afford . To improve the quality of their product. Saturday. however. To increase their sales. and there is good business for barbacoieros. When they did come. They stayed in the market all day until all their products were sold and sometimes returned home only at seven or eight o’clock at night. could not increase at similar speed because wages failed to keep up with the falling peso. however. 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. she would give them a pint of salsa without charge. because of the unstable Mexican economy (la crisis). the price of livestock multiplied. Whilst the supply of barbacoa might remain the same. So if barbacoieros charged a fair price for their product. Since barbacoa is a heavy dish and is expensive. These are the days when most people decide not to cook at home. their selling price would be beyond the reach of their customers’ spending power. particularly since much of it is imported live from Australia and New Zealand or from the US. If a holiday such as Christmas or Easter happened to fall on a weekday. though. but several barbacoieros sell nevertheless. or if they ordered to take away. as the value of the Mexican peso fell to a fraction of its worth against the US dollar. they retained the same consumption pattern as before.
During my last visit to Milpa Alta. making it less commercial. naturally. but it was Alejandro who insisted that they switch to the pit oven because the resulting ﬂavour is so much better. Sometimes Primy. several houses were left unﬁnished. as that would be lowering their standards. Most of the money they needed to build their houses came from high barbacoa profits. to choose and mark the sheep that they will later buy for slaughter. as well as all the work areas and utensils used. as did many others.or two-room dwellings (Madsen. Primy explained to me her perception of how household spending had changed since the crisis of December 1994. Doña Margarita told me that her husband used to make barbacoa in the perol. although it was likely that newer clients would not mind the difference. On the other hand. Primy and Alejandro stopped using the perol altogether and tended to buy slightly younger sheep so that they could cook exclusively in the oven. 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. This has forced the price of barbacoa to remain low despite higher production costs. more of a luxury good and of course more expensive. but by the 1980s many families began to build larger houses as they became more prosperous from selling nopales and barbacoa. Few raise their own livestock since land and labour have become more scarce in recent . they were unwilling to produce an inferior product.64 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. Still. 1960). They might lose some of their regular clients who were accustomed to a superior product. Their greater investment of work and money increased the quality of their product. as it is their trade and means of livelihood. This attitude. In the meantime. Until the eighties. she pointed out. 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. did not make the most sense ﬁnancially. Though using the perol would greatly increase their proﬁt margin. there are many big houses in San Mateo. the ranch where the livestock is sold. they were not willing to compromise anymore and go back to making barbacoa de perol. 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. In the 1950s most families lived in simple one. the husbands go to the ganadería. hired another woman to help. Tuesday is dedicated to cleaning and returning everything to normal. This is why. thus reducing the proﬁt margin for producers and forcing them to tighten their belts. They did so despite the increased physical labour and expense required when using ﬁrewood rather than gas. Barbacoieros will not stop making their product.
locally reared sheep. But if the lambs are too thin. unless there is a major holiday midweek. This is indisputably the tastiest and best-quality barbacoa that can be made. It becomes too dry and does not look good. however. vendors prefer sheep. Since they are much smaller. During the cooking much of it melts away. and they must be neither too fat nor too thin. Also. Other women married to barbacoieros emphasized this to me as well. For personal consumption. splinters of bone or irregular cuts. They are more difﬁcult to prepare because of their size and expense. all barbacoieros prefer pit-roast borregos criollos. some compromises are necessary to increase the proﬁt margin. with a similar preparation process. The local sheep are smaller and leaner than foreign livestock and also have better ﬂavour because of how they are raised. It is also cheaper to buy the animals that are brought over live from the US or Australia. This is spent like a typical Sunday for anyone else. clients prefer meat to be less fatty.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 65 years. The quality of the meat depends on the quality and cleanliness of the ingredients. although it disappears when it is cooked in the oven. She also insisted on absolute cleanliness. which remains if the meat is steamed in the perol. When I talked with Primy about the desirable qualities of barbacoa. without unappetizing dark spots. the meat does not come out well after cooking. as Doña Margarita described it) even after cooking in the perol. For the sake of business. and later scrubbing down the work areas and the regular weekly cleaning indicate how essential this step is. in which case they would prepare more barbacoa to sell on these special days. many families in San Mateo slaughtered their own livestock themselves in a walled area in their yards rather than at the rastro (slaughterhouse). The meticulous elimination of all the suciedad from the entrails of the animals. most barbacoieros ﬁnd goats more difﬁcult to work with. They also have a singular odour. some barbacoieros are willing to pay a little more to buy borregos criollos. Whilst both male and female goats and sheep may be used. sometimes male goats retain their odour (‘the smell of a man’. and they render less cooked meat per kilo of raw. Otherwise they are free . To uphold this value and control quality. resulting in less kilos of meat to sell. For the sake of ﬂavour. Wednesday: Rest Wednesday is the day of rest for barbacoiero families. These graze freely and eat what they wish instead of enriched industrial feed. she always stressed how the meat must be physically appealing. they need to be treated more gently. Although goat meat can be used as successfully as lamb. but all barbacoieros agree that they are worth it. Up to ﬁve kilos of fat can be extracted. Thus. meaning ﬁve kilos less proﬁt. If they are too fat there will be a huge lump of fat behind the kidney or distributed throughout the meat.
whilst single men and women only helped their parents but had separate careers. Whatever the weather. This behaviour is attributed to wealth. There was a distinct division of labour between men and women. 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. the bones are sold to make detergents. Nothing is wasted. discipline. cleanliness and frugality are necessary to perform the culinary technique. All other parts of the animal are eaten. issues of trust and envy are highly relevant in the community of all those who are involved in the same business. so unsurprisingly. The fact that they are concentrated in Barrio San Mateo gives the barrio a reputation of being excessively proud and stingy. When I later learned. nor do they share with each other unless there is a particular ﬁesta. order. even if it is only a bit of sugar or a few tortillas. it makes sense that people of similar occupation should group together. 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. barbacoieros seem to be both more attractive as well as more cautious when dealing with others. As indicated in this chapter. they have to work long. The recent prosperity associated with barbacoa has made the wealth of barbacoieros a new value to protect. Families carefully protect their belongings and social standing. This proximity to one another also encourages competition. and wealth in the area is attached to barbacoa. with the main responsibility lying with the marital couple. The sheepskins are sold to make into jackets and rugs. Having the opportunity to socialize at the same times. Conclusion From the ﬁrst time that I observed and participated in the preparation of barbacoa I was fascinated with the process. they commit themselves to working excessively hard during weekends and having free time in the middle of the week. as mentioned earlier. all parts of the animal are used either in the cooking or for other purposes. When a couple decides to dedicate themselves to barbacoa. Since Milpa Alta is ofﬁcially an area of Mexico City of relative poverty. Their work rhythm dictates some of their values as well as their timetables. Those from San Mateo are said to be much less friendly than those of other barrios. . that only married couples prepare barbacoa for a living. disciplined hours to continue to earn a living and not disappoint their customers. and the tallow is sold to make soap. when most people are very busy working.66 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to relax and hold their own or attend other ﬁestas which mark life cycle events in the family. particularly the wife. After slaughtering. it was evident that this was an industry that had signiﬁcant social effects.
both for men and for women. although it is by no means the highest. The technical activity of. though. This is why it is a dish typically eaten at special occasions or weekends. Making barbacoa is both a source of livelihood and a pursuit of culinary excellence. Food requires ‘decoration’—ﬂavourings or elaborate preparation—just as much as it requires nutrients. socially malleable. it can be thought of as a work of art. The matanza seems more than a slaughter. There is a problem with thinking of it in this way. and therefore creates a social relation between them. another ingredient. Before I met Primy for the ﬁrst time I had known that barbacoa was difﬁcult and laborious to prepare. Likewise. So it is tempting. Meat preparation can be socialized. Since barbacoa is an elaborately prepared dish. ‘The work of art. it seems the beginning of this social transformation. it can be said that the purpose of eating food is not simply for nourishment. edible object.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 67 The production of the dish encompasses all aspects of their lives. As with any work of art. On small scale. economic constraints and technical capabilities. motherhood is a well-known value in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. The actual ﬂavouring and . The animals are simply a source of meat.’ Gell states. or at least socially interpreted. Barbacoieros feel little or no attachment to the animals they slaughter. The function of the elaboration is to mark the dish. Social values and behaviour seem encapsulated in the process of cooking or making barbacoa. references to motherhood seem related to the achievement of better ﬂavours. p. it is a culinary technique. For example. the occasion in which it is eaten. and vice versa. As Gell has argued in differentiating between decorated objects and non-decorated objects. ‘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. however. the food preparation is a sensual experience. Barbacoa ranks high in the hierarchy of dishes in Mexican cuisine. at ﬁrst. the decoration is just as functional as the object itself (1998. 74). For barbacoa. as in using the developed uterus for the panza.12 A living animal changes from a natural state to a controlled. barbacoa can be thought of as an artwork within the corpus of Mexican cuisine. The goal is to achieve the best possible taste in the most pragmatic way for commercial and gastronomic success. in this case. because preparing barbacoa is not a ritual. Because of the technical mastery necessary for its production and the acknowledgement of this virtuosity in its consumption. although consumers themselves are unable to determine the cause of the difference in taste. a craft whose product depends on physical labour. that is. as special. to analyze the preparation of barbacoa as if it illustrates a process of social conversion and acculturation. 52).13 Even so. the resulting dish is greater than the sum of its parts. it is exemplary of how social behaviour is affected for the sake of concerns over taste and economy. It was precisely the complexity of the ﬂavours and the preparation which made it more than just meat. which is decorated or considered more special or beautiful than other objects/dishes. and that it had complex ﬂavours. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (1996. cookery is both a source of prestige from an object (dish) and a source of efﬁcacy in social relations. p.
raw green chile de árbol. Worth noting now is that I did not arrive in Milpa Alta with the intentions of observing gender relations. stemmed garlic avocados . Women. and how the activities prescribed as appropriate for them. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez green husk tomatoes. effort and money in the everyday production of meals. women put in much effort and creativity in daily cooking. but also in celebration and large-scale sharing). invest measured amounts of time. San Mateo became special because of a special dish (or a special ﬂavour). More customers will buy the product for their own consumption as well as to share with others. affect the way they socialize with others. and the technical skills they must acquire. The success of their cooking affects their relations with the people they are feeding. women’s labour. a barbacoiero will have greater economic success. but I could not help being struck by the organized cooperation that I observed during my ﬁrst few weeks there. San Mateo was like any other barrio of maize farmers among many. ideals and relations with men will be explored further. Before the concentration of barbacoieros and their technical and ﬁnancial success. In the chapter that follows. In particular. even though there is little time to relax and savour the ﬂavours of their meals. If we accept that the nature of the art object is deﬁned by its social use (Gell. On large scale. which could be thought of as minor works of art or craft. or cooks. 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. which could later lead to greater social success. since they generally are the ones in charge of the panza and the all-important salsas. either in small groups or in large ﬁestas. Recipes Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa Ma. 1998). barbacoa has affected the community of San Mateo in Milpa Alta. If the appropriate pleasurable ﬂavour is achieved in the many parts of the dish. Daily food similarly inﬂuences adjustments in behaviour. 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. both with themselves and with one another. As shown in the earlier description of a typical week for barbacoieros. I will describe their roles as wives and cooks.68 • Culinary Art and Anthropology elaboration is often the responsibility of women.
soaked 3 medium onions 10 small cloves garlic salt to taste Blend all ingredients together. salt and a drizzle of olive oil to taste.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 69 onion salt Grind all together in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. Mix well. garlic and orange juice. stemmed. fry the garlic cloves until golden. In the same oil. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez chile pasilla. peeled orange juice. Then one day I decided to try making it and was . chile de árbol. toasted on comal. and chile guajillo angosto ( pulla). Primitiva Bermejo Martínez 6 kg green husk tomatoes. then drain. 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. Add olives. Blend together chiles. stems and veins removed oil for frying garlic. boiled ¼ kg each of dried chiles: chile mora. Pour into a serving bowl. cleaned. Decorate with crumbled cheese. freshly squeezed green olives salt olive oil queso canasto (a fresh white cheese) Heat oil in a frying pan. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa Ma. Pass the chiles through the hot oil once. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’—for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home Ma.
• Wrap the meat with the banana leaves before securing the lid. sliced 1 leek. guajillo) 1 onion. morita. The meat may or may not be raised on a wire rack. sliced 3 cloves garlic. and serve with hot corn tortillas. limes. • Sprinkle with salt after cooking is complete. Use them to line a heavy casserole with a lid. although there was little consomé. since some forms of barbacoa are prepared with them. which I do grow on my windowsill. where the piece of meat will ﬁt. or until the meat is very tender. Serves 3– 4 1 metre banana leaves 1 kg lamb shoulder (or leg) 3 bay leaves large handful of epazote handful of coriander. preferably green (tomatillos). . sliced 2–3 tomatoes. but there is no real substitute for epazote. chopped roughly • Preheat oven to 180ºC (gas mark 5/375ºF) for about 1 hour. chopped onions. • Combine the rest of the ingredients and place in the casserole. Meanwhile. Rub the meat with the garlic. chopped 6 –8 dried red chiles (de árbol.70 • Culinary Art and Anthropology pleasantly surprised that the ﬂavour I achieved approximated the real thing. and pour a little water into the pot so the meat does not dry out when cooking. herbs and chiles. and place it in the oven for about 2 hours. Banana leaves may substitute maguey leaves. ancho. avocados and salsas. They will change colour slightly and become more pliable. wash the banana leaves and then pass them over a ﬂame or dry griddle to soften them. The following recipe was the result of my culinary experiment. if desired. chopped coriander.
different from other kinds of housework because of the creative component involved. Ekström. home cooking is considered women’s work. p. Beardsworth and Keil. Maintaining the leitmotif of cooking as an artistic practice. and just as their agency is mobilized by the family during ﬁestas in community-wide sociality1 (see Chapter 5). 1998. p. which include cooking and other domestic tasks. McIntosh and Zey. these studies take food production to be directly symbolic of the reproduction of a social order where women. 1997. Crucially. their husbands. instead of in the traditional way as an expression of love and personality’ (1991. it can lead to women’s subordination (e. they argue. 1988. inevitably play a subordinate role to men. 1983). Delphy. and go on to develop my argument in relation to how women and—or via—their cooking are valued in Milpa Alta. such as when they hire domestic helpers. The work must be seen as separable from the one who does it. In her insightful and critical discussion of how ‘feeding a family’ is a complex. DeVault writes.–4– Women as Culinary Agents Although many men in Milpa Alta are involved in food industries. 1979. 1991. 142). 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 – . Cooking is a complex and artistic practice. The root of the problem. Though I agree that feeding a family is a skill and responsibility easily taken for granted in Mexico and elsewhere.g. referring to the sazón de amor that is responsible for good ﬂavour.3 The Value of Cooking and Other Work Some feminist sociological studies argue that when cooking is regarded as women’s work. I hesitate to separate the act and skill of cooking from the cook. are devalued ‘or not regarded as skills at all’ (Charles and Kerr. 47). they can also mobilize the agency of others. Women are the key actors in the culinary system. This chapter focuses on the role of women in the network of Milpa Alta society.2 I begin by describing local social relations and different kinds of women’s work in Milpa Alta. I would differentiate cooking from other forms of housework.4 By focusing on meal production as a household chore. Murcott. is how women’s skills. as wives. ‘The underlying principles of housework must be made visible. we can think of women’s agency as a culinary agency. often ‘invisible’ skill that women take upon as ‘natural’.
and learn a discipline that deﬁnes “appropriate” service for men’ (1991. relatives. at least. but they can ﬁnd other ways to provide a delicious meal whether they cook it themselves or not. applied to Latin America. ‘[T]he people see nothing servile in this’. marital-compadrazgo alliances. I found several women to have such an attitude. they meet the challenge of providing good food to their families by depending on cooperation with co-resident women. In such cases. or when women work away from home. when DeVault states that ‘women learn to think of service as a proper form of relation to men. This was one of the parts of the day that she enjoyed most. xiv) claimed. in-laws and comadres. In Milpa Alta cooking is indeed embedded in the domestic realm.72 • Culinary Art and Anthropology with the existing ideology of Mexican cooking (see also Abarca. mother and cook whether or not they enjoy it.’ 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. Doña Delﬁna told me that before she married she used to take lunch to the peons who worked on her family’s land. It cannot be denied that many women assume the role of wife. 2006. 108). integral to the historical schema … provides much latitude and legitimization of behavior in terms of social status. In one of the earlier collections of essays published on gender. and the like. Thus. as I explained in Chapter 1. Women. since power need not be publicly displayed in order to be enforced. Many have told me that they enjoy it. women take pride in their cooking. 101) write about Colombia. In Milpa Alta. 143). although women serve food to their husbands or bring them meals in the ﬁelds. this does not necessarily imply a master-servant relationship. For others. are not always forced to prepare elaborate meals for their husbands. Though this might be taken as indicative of women’s subordination to men. Servile status was held by the labourers who worked the ﬁeld. p. subsumed as women’s work or women’s unpaid labour. and whether or not they cook regularly. if not a talent. and not by the wives or daughters of the landowners who prepared food and served it to those men. of course. affords the female an extensive amount of inﬂuence on the members of her family. In fact. prestige. several recent studies document how family and gender ideologies are more dynamic than static. I would emphasize further that there is also nothing wrong with having deﬁned gendered roles in the family. p. knowing how to cook Mexican food is actually thought of as a skill worth learning. On the . The extended family. p. leaving the house and socializing a little. Some women in Milpa Alta say they cook to satisfy their own cravings or desires. therefore. cooking is a chore.5 Rather. As Gudeman and Rivera (1990. 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. p. although they may hardly cook at all. Ann Pescatello (1973. still widespread and potent in countryside and city. and this is not to downplay or ignore ongoing social change in terms of gender relations. ‘The Latin American family.
a single woman in her mid-twenties still living in her natal household. returning home well after dusk. Both are also valued as work. This must be why several women described themselves as ‘housewives’ although if asked again. checking the barbacoa in their pit-ovens. Milpaltense women present themselves as having various opportunities for release from oppression.m. market vendors (vendedoras) or businesswomen (comerciantes). Hard work seems to be deﬁned as commerce and extradomestic labour. and both paid and unpaid domestic and extradomestic work is acknowledged and valued. It was as natural for them to portray themselves as mothers and cooks (‘Me dedico al hogar’) as it was to call themselves barbacoieras. They are the ones who maintain the economic control in the family. They are not simple housewives but are the drive of the family businesses. 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. 2005. they would say that they were barbacoieras.. Supposedly. involving changing gender relations resulting from women’s entrance into the labour force. Her sensitive discussion of feminist kitchen politics is a . Women remain at work for twelve hours or more. Indeed. Williams. including domestic tasks. they are very hardworking (‘La mujer milpaltense no descansa … es muy trabajadora’). The reasons for these competing discourses of power and submission are multiple and complex. Milpa Alta trabaja’).Women as Culinary Agents • 73 contrary. good womanhood. often by means of their cooking. sometimes deﬁning themselves against this notion of submissiveness. told me that if I were to walk around Milpa Alta at 3 or 4 a. women in Milpa Alta are ‘submissive’.6 they speak with pride of how able and productive their women are. teeming with women setting up their stalls and peeling nopales. among other issues. Juanita. ‘While Mexico sleeps. As I discuss further below. 260 –1). and likewise. they take on extradomestic work and still ﬁnd a way to feed their families (cf. que crea el comercio’). The example of a barbacoa household (Chapter 3) illustrates how women assume the domestic household duties along with helping in the family trade. People commonly say. Stephen. pp. Lulú. By four or ﬁve in the morning the market is alive.7 but that is only how it appears on the surface. and get up again the next morning before dawn. Women in Milpa Alta have a reputation in Mexico City for being hardworking. Juanita and other women repeatedly told me that Milpa Alta women never rest. Even when domestic work may appear to be devalued. 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. I would ﬁnd many women awake. Juanita told me. the cooking and providing of meals is not (cf.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. Rather than talk of a doble jornada. a journalist. proper provision of tasty food reﬂects good motherhood. on Tejanos). Milpa Alta works’ (‘Mientras México duerme. 1985. said that women generate sustenance. They admirably sacriﬁce sleep and other comforts for the sake of their work.
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. In Milpa Alta it is normal to make frequent.10 Thus. one way that they stretch their boundaries is in pursuit of culinary ideals. women are not quite as conﬁned to the domestic sphere as it might appear. their everyday lives are not necessarily limited. or between staying home and being out in the streets. Rogers. When I accompanied one or another friend or acquaintance on a visit to the market. 1996. 1994. much work in Latin America and elsewhere dismantles the notion of women being in a rigid oppressive condition (e. I observed that for women who are interested in cooking well. Roseman. I was surprised at her surprise at how quickly I had been. Since unmarried daughters in the family are often asked to buy fresh bread in the evenings for supper. Working hard in the pursuit of ﬂavour encourages a malleable boundary between domestic and extradomestic spaces. women do not need to be accompanied. Suárez and Bonﬁl. 1999..g. One of the secrets of Mexican (and any good) cooking is having top-quality ingredients at hand. whereas they are usually chaperoned for social outings. boil and grind more maize (nixtamal ). Sometimes we would detour for an ice cream. because Doña Margarita told me not to take too long. For culinary errands. Trips to the market are as much a social event for exchanging news and gossip as for stocking up the larder. 1975. . 2006. 1986. but expected. In Milpa Alta.9 This is not only acceptable. Even in cases where women appear to be subservient to their husbands (‘Es él que manda’). Once when Doña Margarita was making tamales and her dough came out a little too thin. Many women go to great lengths to collect the right foods for the dishes they wish to prepare.74 • Culinary Art and Anthropology convincing critique of the kitchen as a site of female oppression (see also André. they are not imprisoned in their kitchens or completely engulfed in household chores (cf. 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. Williams. I offered to go instead of Primy or one of the children. Primy mentioned that it was because I walk very fast. almost daily trips to the market or to different shops for fresh ingredients. which would take too long. women’s independence and the dynamism of relationships between individuals of both or either gender. 1985). 2004. 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. When I returned to the house. taco. Fowler-Salamini and Vaughan. she needed someone to go to the tortillería to buy some prepared masa so that we would not have to soak. By stressing complementarity between the sexes. Melhuus and Stølen. among others). They go to particular vendors or even other towns. but I suspect that it was more unusual not to spend more time chatting with passersby on every outing. licuado or other snack bought on the street or in the market. 2001). because I had done exactly as I was told—go to the tortillería and come back. Abarca. Though they live with some social restrictions. and I set off without stopping. Johnsson.
culinary knowledge is not expected of men. they usually help their husbands in their businesses by providing the necessary culinary labour (making salsas. she can entice him to her to fulﬁl his sexual desires. a woman can trap a man.Women as Culinary Agents • 75 Marriage and Cooking When a girl knows how to cook. although. and then enter into small commercial ventures on the side. Men could depend on women to provide them their meals and could expect to be well-fed once married. by extension. In other words. she had been ambitious about her academic and later professional career and had little patience for the kitchen. as I explained previously. Deciding to stay at home and raise a family is a choice that many (though not all) women make. out of ‘respect’ for their husbands. which I discuss further below. 1997). With skilful cooking. she said. and their husbands are expected to eat what they serve them. Married women are expected to know how to cook. the correlations amongst cooking. clean and raise their children. some women begin to dress conservatively and stop wearing makeup. and proper women prepare food at home from scratch. and those who do. Yadira told me that a woman can win a man through his mouth (‘Un hombre se conquista por la boca’). for not knowing how to cook. she learns as soon as she gets married. either from her mother. she is considered to be ready for marriage and. Yet far from being housewives who solely cook. García and Oliveira. Guille told me conspiratorially that she only learned to cook several years after she got married. 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. At the time. if a woman appeals to a man’s oral/gastronomical desires (taste). If a single woman does not know how to cook. Some women quit their extradomestic jobs after marriage. prepared with a sazón de amor. Conversely. her mother-in-law or other female friends and relatives. she will always have him in the palm of her hand. Perhaps it is for good reason that married women spend so much time preparing proper meals. It is also not unlike Gell’s notion of artworks as traps.). She should have been ashamed of herself. This is just like how Ricardo told me (in Chapter 1) that a man falls in love with his stomach (rather than his heart). We can also extend this to say that attaining culinary expertise is equivalent to attaining complete womanhood. homemaking and extradomestic work are not mutually exclusive. as I discussed in Chapter 2. love and sex. but she managed to keep her husband from ﬁnding out. food with good ﬂavour. In other words. do so largely because of the high value placed on motherhood and family life in Mexico (cf. Since her mother and sister taught her to cook little by little. If they used to dress seductively when they were single. motherhood. If a man is satisﬁed with the way a woman cooks. etc. motherhood and family life correspond to ideals of womanhood. This hints at the connections between food. 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.
In fact. Working-class women taking on jobs outside the home do not think of this freedom to work as any sort of liberating agency. as we drove to the market where they sell their barbacoa. Their study shows how motherhood is considered to be a source of fulﬁlment for women regardless of social class. but rather seem to consider it as an unfortunate necessity. Work. Many women consider extradomestic work to be detrimental . they talked lightly about their skills and roles as husband and wife. ‘Para mis niñas’ (‘For my daughters’). García and Oliveira demonstrate. motherhood has been suggested to be another cause of women’s subordination. married men depend on their wives. he replied. 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. At this most basic level. that motherhood does not actually stop women from taking on extradomestic work. and a man needs a woman to bear children. Motherhood and Virtue Based on their investigation of motherhood and extradomestic work. Cooking knowledge (and practice) is almost meaningless without a family. boasting that he could look after himself on his own. Early one morning. Levine (1993) also notes that urban Mexican women in the 1990s were more likely to encourage their children. Miguel said that he knew how to cook as well as how to clean and wash clothes. ‘¿Entonces. and my ﬁndings in Milpa Alta agree. 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. 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. especially their daughters. 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. Yet. although some women also feel ambivalent about their roles as mothers.76 • Culinary Art and Anthropology teased his cousin Kiko that he could do nothing without his wife: ‘¡Ni sabe calentar tortillas!’ (‘He doesn’t even know how to heat up tortillas!’). For women who feel that their duties as mothers are a burden or hindrance. García and Oliveira (1997) found that motherhood is still the main deﬁning characteristic or source of identity for women in urban Mexico. it is often necessary for working-class women to work extradomestically to supplement the family income. pa’ qué te casaste?’ (‘So what did you get married for?’) Coty taunted him. buy a plot of land or provide things for their children. Economic considerations play a signiﬁcant role in women’s activities. and unmarried men depend on their mothers. Miguel and Coty provide another example of the social signiﬁcance of cooking within marriage. tying women to their homes and children when they would rather join the labour force.
can also be demonstrated by the following example. therefore. henpecked and in effect. the way they went to church on Sundays. who wanted her to spend more time in the house. For the sake of their children. these women were attacked in an indirect expression of community dissatisfaction over giving up this land. and how she walked kilometres across the . Women who wish to pursue extradomestic activities can use a discourse of homemaking and cooking to subvert moral and social criticism. researchers tend to assume that ideas pertaining to those in hierarchical positions are oppressing passive victims. Villareal’s (1996) analysis of women beekeepers in Jalisco. and Villareal (p. but also about her kind and faithful husband. Sara (another member of the group) spoke with satisfaction about how good her sons were. In the community’s reaction against this.’ In Jalisco. 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. Although some did talk of professional fulﬁlment. despite problems with her husband. then. It is helpful to quote at length here to illustrate this point: None [of the women beekeepers] claimed explicitly to be a model housewife.11 Eventually land was grudgingly given to the women beekeepers. or in particular after having their ﬁrst child. The boundaries of women’s accepted movements were threatened by gossip that labelled them as libertina (loose. illustrates how attempts to restrict women’s social spaces may draw on gender imagery that plays upon male ideals and women’s morality. 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). values and ideals of motherhood and domestic work. including good cooking. such as motherhood and being good homemakers (which includes cooking). because they and/or their husbands thought it best for them to dedicate their time to child rearing. largely because of the governmental support of the project. with wives who are loose and free). The virtues. the president of the group. The dominant discourse of male power and female weakness is used often in reference to Latin America.Women as Culinary Agents • 77 to the development of their families despite their capitalist productivity. a scarce resource for the community. a larger percentage of both women and men in Milpa Alta neglected to practise their professional careers in favour of ‘traditional’ Milpaltense occupations. They did so by emphasizing their exemplary behaviour with respect to other images of womanhood. Yet women can also use these notions to their advantage. Other women told me without any indication of shame that they stopped working after marriage. Mexico. often boasted about her cooking skills and was proud of the way she had reared her children. 184) argues against this assumption: ‘In overemphasizing “dominant” imagery. but Petra. she describes that the government encouraged peasant women’s participation in an entrepreneurial scheme which required the allocation of ejido land. women may stop working outside the home or engage in work that can largely be done from home. free) or their husbands as mandilón (tied to the apron strings.
Mexico. as well as resistance. but actively use the ideals of cooking and motherhood to avoid forcing direct confrontation. as I mention below). 20). She proudly showed her sewing and embroidery to her visitors. Villareal’s case study clearly demonstrates that women are not passive. Suffering. Melhuus (1992) suggests in her study of Toluca. she told me. and since her sons always helped her at home. her husband may beat her (or at least she fears that he might. he only hit me once or twice. The idea of keeping their household in ‘good order’ was often conveyed. por conocer que una como mujer sufre. and probably in other parts of Mexico as well. but apart from those occasions. knowing how a woman suffers. yet it continues to organize and perform functions in society. Socorro bragged quietly about how she cooked for her family. even if he never has given her reason to believe he really will). 1996. she replied that at ﬁrst she had not thought about it. mejor. They do not necessarily succumb submissively to the dominant discourse. (Villareal. p. which was now composed of only boys. ‘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. as did the topic of physical abuse. Some cases cited in their volume indicate a certain complicity among women. They can take an active role in modifying their social spaces. Then she added. When I asked Doña Delﬁna. better not [to have a daughter]. who had two sons. y gracias a Dios. Domestic violence rarely results in separation. she cried because the child was a girl. She then added. she never felt the desire to have a daughter. but he never hit her. she explained. he never hit me!’ Some people spoke so openly about wife-beating that I was led to believe it was commonplace. and thanks to God. ‘It was better. ‘No. Dios me ha dado dos hijos. which undermines the power of the accepted gender imagery. ya no. An elderly lady told me that her husband was a womanizer and a drunk. Melhuus and Stølen (1996) argue that gender ideology is in constant ﬂux. that women have the tendency to attach virtue to suffering. but it was because I had done something to deserve it. The greatest form of suffering for a married . Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal When Yadira’s ﬁrst child was born. God gave me two sons. at the time of ﬁeldwork. They write. though I have no hard facts to prove it. Women’s suffering came up in conversation in a surprisingly casual manner. If he does beat her. con esos estoy contenta’). with them I am happy’ (‘Ni. Girls grow up to have difﬁcult lives. then stayed a bit to help out with his chores.78 • Culinary Art and Anthropology ﬁelds to take him a hot lunch. 195) A similar kind of dynamic exists in Milpa Alta. I was also told that if a woman fails to cook or clean. In fact. if she had wanted a daughter. she suffers through it. there were few divorces and separations in Milpa Alta (though there were other reasons for this as well. since the girls had married out.
Alfonso approached Kiko. thus relieving Alfonso of his guilt and his ‘problem’. but this is the expected image. Yadira said that men who had affairs surely did love their wives. he is henpecked (‘Él que no pega a su mujer es su mandilón’). Alejandro once said to me very bluntly. But what it also indicates is the centrality of women in the judgement of both men and women. He said that he was 50 years old. es porque se deja’). a husband is thought likely to be unfaithful to his wife. Motherhood being the centre of domestic life kept men with their wives even if they were tempted by others. He did not know what to do. ‘It depends on the woman. A married man may be envied or admired among his peers if he is known to have a lover on the side. or at least on the surface. Kiko mischievously decided not to respond in the way expected of him. se pintan’). and cut their hair or left it loose in the modern fashionable hairstyles. What Yadira interpreted as a sign of women’s subjugation to men’s ideas or tastes Doña Delﬁna saw as a moral issue. also said that women who are beaten by their husbands for not fulﬁlling domestic tasks (with or without hired help). and likewise that of their husbands. high heels and short skirts. He offered to seduce Alfonso’s mistress so that she would lose interest in him. Decent women plaited their long hair and did not use makeup. las quieren. it’s because she allows it’ (‘Depende en la mujer. las mujeres de la calle. were partly responsible for those consequences. supposedly to ask for advice. y esclavas para sus hijos’). and not the other way around. With their appearance. After hearing of this incident.Women as Culinary Agents • 79 woman is if her husband is having an extramarital affair. married with children. especially if she is young and pretty. As Lulú put it. so this was why many men forbade their wives to cut their hair or wear makeup—to prevent them from attracting other men. They loved them as mothers. ‘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’). They allowed their husbands to play the macho role. Women were tempting when they dressed up. women could protect their morality. though she could not say for sure that Milpa Alta had many machos. 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. and as ‘slaves’ to their children (‘Sí. The discussion so far suggests that men might have the upper hand over women when it comes to power and permissiveness. Not all men are like this. and he had fallen in love with a 25-year-old beauty. si se vuelve sumisa. Doña Delﬁna used to say that only women of the streets wear makeup (‘Sólo las pirujas. if she becomes submissive. wore makeup. and that this is the source of women’s power. I began to enquire about men’s and women’s love relationships. about men who have affairs and why they stay with their wives. or for not dressing ‘appropriately’. . But my friends.12 At some point in marriage. Both single and married men found this attractive. such as Yadira and Lulú. 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.
Years later. a man who moves into his wife’s house after marriage or who is henpecked . When you say. pendejo/a and güey. The word güey is derived from the word buey. 160) or suffering as a female virtue. While men appear to hold honour and represent their families as the household head. this did not imply a lack of authority. Don Felipe was grateful for Doña Delﬁna’s decision in that the family was happy to have remained in Milpa Alta. whereas calling a woman the daughter of a whore (hija de puta) is ambiguous and virtually meaningless. 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. his wife gives him horns (se pone los cuernos). This is why calling a man hijo de puta is a very powerful insult. when you describe a man by saying. It is one of the biggest insults for a man. Furthermore. A woman described as pendeja is one whose husband has one or more lovers. She refused to sign the tenancy agreement. Of central importance is women’s role as mothers in relation to men. but he is more likely to be called güey. More speciﬁcally. a man who is called a güey has horns. because he is acting stupid (‘porque parece que no se da cuenta. 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. 80) and men are the ‘guardians of women’s virtue’ (p. the greatest value in society is placed on women. These express two key concepts of moral judgement. since bulls have horns. she ultimately had the last word when it came to family decisions. complementary to the labels of puta and hijo de puta. porque se hace tonto’). 159). So although Doña Delﬁna talked generally of women’s suffering.80 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Doña Delﬁna herself wore her hair in two plaits only after marriage. Her morality is better insulted directly by calling her puta. He arranged a ﬂat for them to rent and only needed Doña Delﬁna’s signature. and it is women’s behaviour and morality (their shame) which reﬂects upon men. She pretends that either she does not know or that she does not care so much. ‘Es un buey’ (‘He is a bull’). it usually means hacerse tonto/a. it is because his wife is deceiving him (‘porque su esposa le engaña’). preferring for her children to grow up on their land. 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. which means bull (toro). But two other terms. it was explained to me. So by cheating on him with another man. but though she appeared to defer to her husband on the surface. although it is also used among close friends to profess admiration. he may be described as being pendejo. as swear words are used in English as well. When someone is called pendejo/a. and she accepts it. ‘Se hace güey’ (‘He is acting güey’). Women are a threat to men as ‘bearers (if not keepers) of their honour’ (p. are more commonly used in Milpa Alta for insulting men and women. When a man’s wife has a lover. They are related to the victimized wife of the macho man who has other lovers or more than one family. to act stupidly. and to the cuckolded husband of the woman who sleeps around. In Milpa Alta. it is because it seems that he takes no notice.
she would wait until he got home. She had already suspected it when he would repeatedly come home after midnight without letting her know of his plans to stay out late.’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. Most people with whom I spoke made jokes and ‘naughty’ innuendos when they talked of sexual opportunities. When he failed to return home to eat. On the much rarer occasion of a woman telling me that her husband had had an affair. As one . if she was not stupid ( pendeja) and was overly concerned with others’ opinions. in effect. so that people will not speak ill of her. both extramarital or premarital. As a dutiful wife. Doña Marta would not allow him to leave the table until he cleaned his plate. Since she had fulﬁlled her duties as a wife by cooking for him. and she would insist that he have his comida. the man appears to be acting güey. by enforcing his gastronomical obligations to eat her home-cooked meals. saying that he must be hungry since he was home so late. she either couched the story in terms of woman’s suffering or told me of her little revenge. she would take advantage of her right to demand her husband’s ‘respect’ and full sexual attention. real or imagined. 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. or a second family. In retaliation. whatever the time. I hinted at the coerciveness of Milpaltense hospitality in Chapter 2 and discuss it further in the next chapter. since he had already eaten a full meal with his lover. Inversely. it frustrated her. She would rush to the kitchen to warm up the food and would purposely give him large servings. he had to fulﬁll his duties as a husband by eating what she had so lovingly cooked.Women as Culinary Agents • 81 may be teased by others as a ciguamoncli or ciguamoncle. A woman who acts tonta does so because she is pendeja. but her relatives and neighbours told her she simply had to accept that he was a man and that is how men were. 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. as he ought to do since it was served to him. she prepared proper meals for him every day. often cooking his favourites or requests for his comida. Although it may not necessarily be the case that his wife dominates over him or that she has an extramarital lover. regardless of the eater’s true hunger. Men and women are conceived of as having differing motivations for lenience over the sexual behaviour of their spouses. since it is the norm for the wife to move to the husband’s house. He allows her to dominate. It was also Doña Marta’s subtle way of insisting that her husband recognize his sexual obligations to her. 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. to keep up appearances. Although he would have been very full and quite tired. as in the following anecdote: Doña Marta told me of her jealousy when she discovered that her husband had a lover. he was unable to refuse the meal.
if her married lover acknowledges her (and their children) and thus demands her respect. The intimacy of these social relationships makes home cooking the best—somehow construed to be the highest in prestige.82 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Mexican saying goes. home cooking means a cuisine grounded in familiar shared history and in common knowledge of places and people. are portrayed as the ideal providers of sex and food. They run the family. 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. Home cooking is always concerned with quality. who suffer for the sake of husbands. Although not common. to be in love means sex. from the venerated role they play in the family. una sola vez se llama’ (‘To the table or to bed. On the other hand. p. and by extension the greater social sphere.14 Good women suffer for love of their husbands. because people you care about will eat the meal’ (2006. or with love magic cooked in to ensnare a man or keep him at home. Although a single woman having an affair with a married man ought to be looked down upon. They can provide for family needs through nurture as well as by wage-earning work. in sum. though interpretations may vary. children and culinary ideals. to be in love means submission to men or society’s rules (at least in appearance). and they also cook for love. For this reason they are willing to suffer and to work twice as hard as their husbands. ‘Metaphorically. they would even leave their lovers. it is ideally also the most ﬂavourful. Among those women who have extramarital lovers. and for women. a married woman having an affair is usually scolded by her female friends and relatives. original emphasis). in multiple ways. they support as well as beneﬁt and depend upon their family and children. 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. She generalized that for men. epitomized in the mother-child bond. she may still be respected in her own way. Home cooking is not only the ideal food. Yadira said that they prefer to leave their lovers before they are found out. divorce and single motherhood is worse than having or being an extramarital lover. The same does not apply for men. in order to protect their virtuous image in the eyes of their children. Well-prepared and delicious food is food cooked ‘with love’. Being able to blame themselves for some unpleasant aspects of domestic life indicates that women can be powerful and autonomous agents. This is . 202. women are the hub of the family. in Milpa Alta. with the sazón de amor of a talented cook who loves her husband and her children. They are ready to make great sacriﬁces for the sake of their children. As Lulú and Yadira often said. ‘A la mesa y a la cama. 2006). Women’s power is drawn from the domestic realm. Otherwise. Therefore. you must come when you are bid’). Women. As Wilk describes it. Abarca. the most important point to note is that many women do feel that they are responsible for themselves as well as for their families.
she may take the credit for providing a meal (abducting the culinary agency of the food/cook). although Mintz does not speciﬁcally engage himself with Bourdieu. To be sure. 2000). Nevertheless. Furthermore. Mintz describes how something judged to be of good taste can emanate from the necessity and poverty of the slaves of the American South. 1994. it is associated with economic success (economic capital). Melhuus and Stølen. see also Moore. In contrast. they were able to exercise the human potentiality to taste. Mintz suggests. to compare. This emphasizes the importance of cooking in family life. who were low in class hierarchy. Not only this. In fact. 1996. Ortner. the existing ideal of gastronomy makes culinary artistry a possible goal that women may strive to achieve. as I have described previously. just staying alive was the sole challenge. Yet the ability to render judgements of food. 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. often. Tasting Freedom. 1999. women in Milpa Alta are proud to be known as hardworking. Mintz’s ‘taste of freedom’ is in direct contrast with Bourdieu’s. Bourdieu deﬁnes the ‘taste of luxury’ as the ‘taste of liberty’ or a distance from necessity (1984. depending on the social or local political situation in which they ﬁnd themselves. Whether a woman cooks for her family or has someone else do the cooking. they ultimately attained freedom. Roseman. In Tasting Food. to calibrate differences in taste—and to be prevented from doing so—help to suggest that something of the taste of freedom was . Sidney Mintz (1996. cooking is a creative activity which requires a basic freedom to perform. Women’s culinary agency is not limited to cooking but may also extend to creative methods of meal provision. 2001. to develop comparisons. and they provide good food for their families however much or little they cook. some may choose to emphasize cooking as part of their gender identity. women may choose to deﬁne themselves as loving individuals who cook for their husbands or other family members. 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. they did so under terrible constraints. In these differing tasks (and in eating). 1997. McCallum. p. By constructing a cuisine of their own. Sanders. That is. whether or not they actually do so regularly because they are food vendors. but that gender is in ﬂux and power is not intrinsic to its constitution (González Montes and Tuñon. whether or not they consider it the main source of their public esteem in general. or have other incomegenerating activities that keep them busy away from home. 1996. barbacoieras.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. 177). to elaborate their preferences. elaborate cuisines may in fact be a means of escaping the varied existing restrictions that are already embedded in social life. By virtue of its artistic nature. by focusing on food.
put another way. by recognizing that cooking is active and creative. Although women’s socially acceptable spaces may have appeared limited. with technological advances and political changes as women entered the extradomestic labour force. Before wide industrialization and the spread of mechanical tortillerías. In effect. recipes) should be thought of as having social agency. or. 37) As I describe for Milpa Alta. machine-made tortillas gained acceptance (Pilcher. this was speciﬁcally the demands of making fresh tortillas (see Pilcher. therefore.15 With the tortillas sorted out. dishes. gives women the legitimacy to expand their social and physical boundaries. p. it is as a provider of sex and food that women’s power becomes evident. women were left with more time and energy to devote to other activities. but could not themselves duplicate’ (47–8). 99–121). or a devotion to culinary works of art. Ideally food is cooked at home. an idea also formulated by Mintz: ‘[W]orking in the emergence of cuisine legitimized status distinctions within slavery. Gradually. cooking was one signiﬁcant way around it. 80–1). morality and domestic power and may even help them to trap a husband. Both sex and food lead to the continuance (and reproduction) of individuals as well as of society. To summarize. The elaborate cuisine was not the restrictive factor of their lives per se. 1994). as works of art (Gell. which eventually led to the development of an elaborate cuisine. pp.84 • Culinary Art and Anthropology around before freedom itself was. Looking more closely at cuisine and the social relations surrounding its production can be illuminating. 100–6). While it is arguable that women’s subordination was exacerbated by the demands of the kitchen. its outcome (food. an elaborate cuisine is not simply a creative escape valve for otherwise restricted women. Mexican women used to spend up to a third of their waking hours making tortillas (pp. 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. because machines produced inferior ﬂavours and quality in comparison to handmade tortillas (Marroni de Velázquez. It is a license for social action in the pursuit of technical or culinary artistry. A woman should be able to satisfy her husband both sexually and gastronomically. she is in control over these two fundamental . or as being social actors in their own right. 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. 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. pp. 1998). 1998. both because the master class became dependent on its cooks. pp. and it can even be thought of as a means toward women’s liberation. and because the cooks actually invented a cuisine that the masters could vaunt. Abarca (2006. the dependence on ﬂavour. culinary or otherwise. 106–10). pp. by a wife or a mother. 1998. At the same time. in the case of Mexico. forms of autonomy. (Mintz. Then. there was resistance to machine-made tortillas. then. 1996.
In fact. Many people. This perception hinges on the connection between the value of good cooking—of good ﬂavour—and the value allocated to women. the word for ‘to eat’ has the double meaning of eating food and having sex (Taggart. Gregor. 80–1. 182). Stephen (2005. 1989. ﬁnely chopped 1 large tomato. Women’s agency. And fulﬁllment of these desires requires imagination. Women use their culinary agency in the cycle of festivity (described in the chapter that follows). Recipes Huevos a la mexicana A typical recipe for almuerzo. it is precisely women’s cooking that is most highly valued. skill. pp. If she is a skilful cook or can mobilize her culinary agency. creativity—in a word. Chapter 9) argues. I believe that such a thing as culinary agency. Gow. Vázquez García. Furthermore. oil ½ onion. among other Náhuatl-speaking groups.Women as Culinary Agents • 85 desires (cf. in Mexico and elsewhere. 80–1) also describes a link between hunger for food and desire for sex among the Sierra Nahaut of Central Mexico. the greater social realm. can be both culinary and reproductive. 1992. therefore. artistry. for food and for sex (see Gow. Taggart (1992. 1985). ﬁnely chopped 4 eggs salt . 1992). by extension. pp. the only men for whom women prepare food are their husbands. 1997. 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. In fulﬁllment of these desires social relations are made or unmade. as wives and mothers.16 The preceding discussion has indicated how home cooking is highly valued in Mexico. ﬁnely chopped 1 green chile. and they use this status in imaginative and subtle ways to assert their power (over men). in Náhuatl. Women are arguably the most highly valued half of society (Melhuus. when. or potential to culinary artistry. is accessible to anyone who cooks (see Chapter 2). 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. 1989). and many more examples can be given to corroborate this. the domestic sphere and. p. say that no one cooks better than their mothers. a woman can have actual power over her husband. or in the nature of the two most important desires.
86 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Over a medium ﬂame. 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 . heat oil in frying pan and sauté onions and chiles until soft. Add tomatoes. When just ﬁrm. add salt. Taco placero When there is little time to make a proper meal. pickled chiles or salsa. remove from the heat. Some or all of the following foods are offered for taco placero. and hot tortillas or bread. Break the eggs into the pan. raise the heat and cook until well-done and almost dry. Eggs should still be soft. 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. hence its name. and stir until all are well blended. Serve with beans ( frijoles de olla). Some people buy food and combine it with what they have at home for making any kind of tacos. some women buy various foods in the market to serve taco placero or tacos de plaza.
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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especially baptismal 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.2 As already mentioned. sometimes jointly. is natural under these circumstances. respectively. and these also extend throughout the families of the compadres. though much has already been written by others on these systems of reciprocal exchange. she said that compadres (and friends) are ‘inherited’ in Milpa Alta. as ‘comadrita’. for example. the quintessence of Mexican culinary artistry. house blessings and almost any kind of inaugural or life cycle event. 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. Compadres. The way Yadira explained it. concluding with a discussion of mole. are couples married in church with whom they wish to maintain a lifelong relationship. 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. Both husbands and wives choose their compadres. Their main responsibility is to organize ﬁestas. and the families maintain commitments as of kinship into future generations. Thus. Accompanying heightened respect.4 . Apart from baptism. both systems function around feasts and hospitality at the levels of the family and the barrio. By extension. each family thereafter maintains this bond between them. other family members on both sides call one another compadre/comadre or padrino/madrina. Compadrazgo ritualizes these close social relationships between families based on their mutual respect. there are other kinds of compadres for marriage. the actual relationship between compadres may be characterized by competition. To speak with respect. 1977). When a couple chooses their compadres. therefore. Compadrazgo Compadrazgo3 is the system of ritual kinship. The respect that characterizes compadrazgo relationships implies personal affection.90 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Barrio San Mateo and the systems of reciprocal exchange in hospitality. Mayordomos also arrange the salvas/promesas (gifts) that their barrio takes to others’ town/barrio ﬁestas. and one would begin to address the mother of one’s comadre. sometimes singly. Lomnitz. although not necessarily for economic assistance. Indeed. Compadrazgo and the mayordomía It is helpful to have a basic understanding of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. envidia (greed) and initial distrust. They are ritual kin. mutual admiration and also social distance. The ties bound by shared responsibility over the ahijado (godchild) provide a social assurance which may be necessary in future.
each saint corresponds to a certain day in the year. barrios and pueblos celebrate their saint’s day with a ﬁesta. They take on this charge for a determined length of time before passing on the role to other members (married couples) of the community. either ﬁnancially or with their labour. as large sums of money are needed (cf. although this is not the norm. but they almost always have a Catholic saint’s name as well. The mayordomos. If compadres cannot attend. 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’. local families are expected to help. thereby continuing to nourish the social relationship despite their absence. one or more couples (who have married in church) from the barrio/pueblo. In San Mateo the amounts that each contributed are announced one week after the ﬁesta. and for this reason. deserving special treatment. According to the Catholic calendar introduced by the Spanish. taking charge of the ritual visits to other pueblos on their feast day celebrations. Since San Mateo is a barrio of the pueblo Villa Milpa Alta. but nearby pueblos have double names like San Pablo Oztotepec or San Salvador Cuauhtenco. We can say that the Spaniards ‘baptized’ each town with a new Catholic name. when they leave a ﬁesta compadres are given extra food to take away with them. 1988). compadres assist in preparing the ﬁestas and are also the most honoured guests. People used to be named after the saints on whose day they were born. Throughout Mexico. are responsible for caring for the church. performances and religious ritual. even if it is not always easy. (Most people are now no longer named after the calendar name. Mayordomos are like human go-betweens amongst the patron saints of the barrios and pueblos. Like the images of saints who ritually visit one another during town ﬁestas. called an itacate. Brandes. to avoid offense they must let their hosts know in advance. it is only called San Mateo. his or her feast day. although most pueblos have both Catholic and Náhuatl names. one’s birthday is also referred to as one’s saint’s day (el día de su santo). These parcels of food are also given to compadres when they cannot attend a ﬁesta. As will be discussed in greater detail in this chapter. installing a church in honour of that saint in the centre. towns may be referred to solely by their indigenous names. the cargo system. The ﬁesta del pueblo and the mayordomía In Milpa Alta every barrio and pueblo is named after a Catholic saint. On the whole. most families in Milpa Alta regularly give whatever economic. The mayordomos go to everyone’s houses collecting donations. and it is not unheard of to celebrate both one’s birthday and saint’s day.Mole and Fiestas • 91 In the realm of the family ﬁesta cycle. Town or barrio ﬁestas are a combination of feasts. compadres are expected to visit one another on occasions of special family events and can expect to be welcomed with a mole de ﬁesta.) Likewise. The names of those who . For the ﬁesta del pueblo.
and into the night there is dancing. In fact. barbacoa. Weddings are also the largest and most important family life cycle celebrations. ‘No tenemos para el calzón. they are continually replaced by future mayordomos who maintain the ongoing reciprocal exchange relationships amongst other barrios. and they are often ridiculed. 2005). My observations in Milpa Alta are comparable. offering the expected ﬁesta foods in abundance. with the usual accompaniments. planning and saving money months in advance.6 Stephen (2005) explains how. Some host their own private banquets during the barrio ﬁesta. Stephen. However. until they have children. The ﬁesta ofﬁcially starts on the eve of the feast day when several other barrios and pueblos of Milpa Alta. . especially weddings. Many families eagerly look forward to the ﬁesta del pueblo. it can be held jointly with a baptism (when a baby turns 1 year . Lomnitz. . ‘But you have to contribute to continue with the traditions. closeness and distance in the community among families or pueblos. [we do]’). In compadrazgo.’ (‘We don’t have enough [money] to buy underwear. the visiting barrios are hosted by local mayordomos to share in a feast of mole. live bands. though they are organized amongst compadres. amongst Zapotecs in Oaxaca. For example. Mariachis play throughout the day while people eat. 1997. begin to arrive with statues of their patron saints.92 • Culinary Art and Anthropology did not contribute are also made public.’ Yadira said. the form and content of community-level celebration has been appropriated into life cycle celebrations. and thus their obligation to provide a wedding feast. 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. The mayordomía engages in similar long-term contractual exchange relationships with the corresponding mayordomías of neighbouring barrios and pueblos. After singing the mañanitas. the most important aspect of any ﬁesta.5 Family events are celebrated in the same way. Cata. Salles and Valenzuela. When they ﬁnally do have a church wedding. it is to one’s personal beneﬁt to give to the community. As Chelita once said to me. a Mexican birthday song. carnitas or mixiotes. indeﬁnite bonds of reciprocity that last a lifetime and beyond. individuals representing family groups engage in long-term. Though mayordomos typically ‘reign’ for one to ﬁve years in Milpa Alta. and ﬁreworks. life cycle rituals are sometimes combined and celebrated together. especially in the role of mayordomos. a single mother who washes clothes and does general cleaning for a living. 1977. She also argues that women are critical players in ritual life. apart from funerals. . bringing their promesas of ﬂowers and music. 1988. without the ﬁreworks. . pero para la ﬁesta . who help in cash or kind. standing in for the communities represented by the patron saints. because they are the ones who prepare the food. some couples delay their church weddings. and also for the sake of comfortable relations and status within the social network (Brandes. Both compadrazgo and the mayordomía are systems that structure social relations. but for the ﬁesta . and nearby Morelos. Sometimes people give more money than they really can afford.
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!’). or it may be something rather more complex such as mole verde con pollo (green mole with chicken). live music and dancing. from around noon to about six it is lunchtime. What is served depends on the time of arrival. or chicharrón en chile verde (pork crackling in green sauce). It starts with a soup or sopa aguada. often chicken broth with pasta. teleras and hot milk. is usually served between two and ﬁve in the afternoon. such as a bowl of pancita accompanied by tacos of broad beans or nopales compuestos. a complaint expressed with derision toward the subject of conversation. in both ﬁestas and everyday settings. something to eat or drink must always be available. Since each ﬁesta should have the same kind of feast food. Whatever is for breakfast is served along with beans. The main meal of the day. it is acceptable to celebrate them together with a single feast. the ﬁrst thing that a host says is. 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. because this is all . This would be followed by beans and all accompanied by tortillas. however long overdue the wedding may be. and/ or sopa seca (dry soup). which are crucial to social interaction. la comida. and there is an abundance of food. The main course is often meat served in a sauce or with some other hot salsa on the side. ‘¡Adelante! ¡adelante! ¿Qué les ofrezco?’ (‘Come in! Come in! What can I offer you?’). If they have run out of milk the hosts apologize and ask if coffee would be all right. as well as agua de frutas. there are forceful fundamental rules of food hospitality in Milpa Alta. In the mornings a guest may also be served leftovers from the day before. young corn kernels. however infrequent. Before noon a guest is offered breakfast. sometimes refried. or perhaps enchiladas or thinly sliced beef steaks with a salsa and potatoes sautéed with onions. peas and/or potatoes may be added. Since someone might arrive for whatever reason at any time. and after six is suppertime. Hospitality and Food When guests arrive at the house. What would be unacceptable is to have a wedding or baptism without the mole de ﬁesta to offer to guests. or may be held on the day of the barrio ﬁesta. which is either pasta or rice ﬂavoured with onions and garlic and sometimes tomatoes to which carrots. All occasions require the same menu for the banquet to accommodate hundreds of people. sweetened diluted fruit juice. even if it is only a piece of fruit or agua fresca. It may be as simple as breaded chicken breasts accompanied by cooked vegetables.Mole and Fiestas • 93 old) or presentation (when a child is 3). As I explain in the section that follows. 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.
which by this time were simply impossible to force in.30. Yadira and Kiko came to pick me up for the day. she said. Since we arrived just in time. and I was staying in Primy’s house. she and Kiko needed to pay their contribution to the local mayordomía. ¡nada más uno!’ (‘One little taco. After eating. 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. she had only one egg. their compadre’s sister. 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. Yadira protested that she had already had breakfast and that Doña Margarita should eat. The host must share whatever food is at hand. tomatoes and herbs. where we just had breakfast. so they gave us the fruit to take away with us. After this. He accepted the offer. After visiting San Francisco and walking around the fair. Just as we started to eat. Alejandro and Doña Margarita would not accept this and again insisted we eat. and the guest must accept the food offered. at around 9. but. She would normally prepare a new sauce to make chilaquiles. one uses whatever one has at hand.94 • Culinary Art and Anthropology that they have left. so Yadira should have her share. whose son was ill. They were taking me to visit the town ﬁesta of nearby San Francisco Tecoxpa. we returned to the compadres’ house and helped them cook nopales. but our hosts insisted. beans and tortillas. which they sell in the market already prepared with onions. This was what they had eaten for lunch the day before. cebollas desﬂemadas con rajas de chile jalapeño (sliced onions tamed with lime juice and salt and mixed with strips of jalapeño chiles). saying that she really did not feel like having two eggs that day. Since their nopalera was in that area of Milpa Alta. There we were offered tacos dorados de pollo. we were each given a plate full of milanesas with a simple cucumber and avocado salad and fried plantains with cream. So with difﬁculty we cleaned our plates. just one!’). fresh sprigs of coriander and slices of avocado. then we were offered apples and bananas. We were invited to have a few tacos of nopales with cheese. we were served some sweet rolls and coffee. We explained that we had just come from eating and that we were very full. Doña Margarita immediately passed her plate to Yadira and said that she was not very hungry. Since Doña Margarita had served herself last and there was an odd number of eggs. as the following anecdote illustrates: It was the feast day of Saint Francis. We were breakfasting on chilaquiles served with two fried eggs each and teleras. 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. and they had several left. It was four o’clock and they had just served their comida. Since Primy had not yet touched her eggs. but Doña Margarita insisted. ‘Un taquito. We told them that we had just that moment come from Primy’s house. and then were pushed to have more. and then Yadira and Kiko left. So we each had one. but Primy. we went to visit Yadira’s compadres. accompanied by a tomato and pasta soup. and she heated some barbacoa in the same sauce and served it to him with some beans. she passed one of them to Yadira’s plate. This was a very informal and impromptu meal and Chelita.
Lomnitz shows that psychosocial distance is a more important factor in reciprocal exchange networks than blood ties. which allows for the continuance of social relations. Rejecting food is tantamount to rejecting the host. when there is conﬁanza between two families. If. gifts require counter-gifts. People would talk and say that the offenders . 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. and if they fail to show up on a special day. This implies a willingness to engage in reciprocal exchange because of perceived parity in an ‘equality of wants’. For this reason the social pressure to eat everything placed in front of a guest is high. ‘Es que no te gustó’ (‘It’s because you didn’t like it’). It is a trusting relation between two individuals in social. p. 258). They know that they are always invited to any family celebrations. ‘[A]s part of this behavioral model. it is like being part of the same family. She states that the obligation is so great that one risks being disowned by one’s compadres if one skips a private ﬁesta. it can be interpreted as a breach of trust. Especially when there is a certain closeness between host and guest. and lending a hand at work obligates the recipient of the favor to reciprocate in kind at some later date’ (Brandes. uttered in an offended tone of voice. Thus. and a food parcel (itacate) will be sent to their home after the ﬁesta is over. both for the hosts and for the guests. Stephen (2005) describes a similar coerciveness in ﬁesta hospitality amongst compadres in Teotitlán. they must expect not to receive an invitation. this is ﬁne. Also inherent is Mauss’s notion of ‘the gift’. although if family members live physically far apart. The perfect guest accepts everything offered to him gratefully. This same basic system of food giving and receiving is also in action when families are invited to large-scale ﬁestas. a guest should not be surprised if his refusal is answered with. such as the town ﬁesta or a birthday. in appreciation of the superior ﬂavours of the food. Food offered in hospitality appears to be treated as an extension of the host and/or cook (if they are the same person). gift) of the host in a material form. invitations to meals beget counter-invitations. physical and economic proximity. Attendance to a party is a social commitment. An invitation to a ﬁesta must be honoured with its acceptance and also requires reciprocity in the form of future invitations to family ﬁestas. 1988. When one family is particularly close to another family. Lomnitz (1977) deﬁnes the Latin American concept of conﬁanza as more than just ‘trust’ or ‘conﬁdence’. however. If a guest leaves food on the plate a host may say disapprovingly. eats it all with relish and possibly asks for more. 85). the host offers the guest a reﬁll. they have spoken to the hosts to let them know they cannot make it. As soon as his plate is near empty.Mole and Fiestas • 95 The preceding description demonstrates that hospitality is a coercive system. The concept still applied in Milpa Alta in the 1990s. ‘[I]nvitations to life cycle rituals cannot be turned down’ (p. In this way food embodies the agency (of welcome. ‘No desprecias a la comida’ (‘Don’t undervalue food’) or ‘No desperdicias la comida’ (‘Don’t waste food’). While people are sometimes too busy to attend public ﬁestas organized by the mayordomía. what she calls ‘psychosocial distance’.
There are private parties every week. education and traditional industry. As I . To go from one party to the next.96 • Culinary Art and Anthropology think they are too important to attend or that they think they do not need others in the community. or carnitas. 1991). 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’). is socially enjoyable and beneﬁcial. This was mainly because she then moved to Milpa Alta. where parties are taken so seriously and where hospitality requires a guest to eat everything she is offered. but the deepest pleasure. she respected the importance of the festivities. Amongst the seven barrios and eleven pueblos of Milpa Alta. As Yadira explained. are pressured food events. especially when one tries to juggle family. therefore. Fiestas. 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. she can surreptitiously take it away to eat at home later. Yadira told me. If a guest cannot eat it. because there is no time. 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. surrounded by loved ones (close family members). barbacoa. And it is because of this that the community is so festive—to show others that yes. I observed a similar sense of this in Milpa Alta. can become tiresome (llega a aburir). Every month there is at least one ﬁesta at barrio level. Yadira said. Nevertheless. and to do it well. they do have money to celebrate.8 One’s energies are easily depleted. All the ﬁestas could be thought of as a sort of diversion from the monotony of daily labours at a social or community level. Parties and festivals in San Mateo are more than simple seasonal markers partly because of their frequency and also because of their obligatory force. Holding large parties. is eating a meal at home. profession. So it is a luxury to be able to stay home to eat.7 but this does not mean that the people of this barrio are idle. In Milpa Alta there are so many ﬁestas that Doña Margarita told me that sometimes when she has a craving for mole. she had gained quite a lot of weight. making ﬁestas a source of social cohesion (Perez-Castro and Ochoa. of highest value. and explained: The people of Milpa Alta are very. serving mole.9 Her statement is telling in that she mentions eating well at home as a ‘luxury’. very hardworking because nature gave them few resources. It is necessary to work from dawn until late at night in order to progress [ﬁnancially]. as shown by the case of Barrio San Mateo in Villa Milpa Alta. compadres and community come together to socialize and exchange news at greater leisure. 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. Since her wedding day. Barrio San Mateo is the most ﬁestero. More importantly. ﬁestas are the primary occasions when kin. Yadira told me.
Mole is the dish that usually deﬁnes a feast. Each ingredient requires individual preparation before all are ground together into a paste. ancho and pasilla. The most important thing is never to leave anything on the plate. ‘Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. photographs. although it is commonly included. Since . it is eaten primarily for celebrations. The name for this dish is a Hispanicization of the Náhuatl word for sauce. then diluted with broth and cooked. and chocolate is not an essential ingredient. nuts. Even in artistic images.) —Mexican saying The most famous dish in Mexico is the mole poblano. 196). the Pueblan mole. mole of fragrance (Bayless and Bayless. formerly called mole de olor. a culinary work of art) which allows for ongoing social relations. fruits. Considered to be the ultimate Mexican dish. it is a breach of the spirit of the gift (of food. the festive life ultimately sustains community life. Some cooks say that the mole poblano is distinguishable by the chiles used— mulato. The popular Mexican saying above. Mole and mole poblano Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. It is often misrepresented as a combination of chiles and chocolate. There is some disagreement about what makes a mole poblano distinct from other moles.Mole and Fiestas • 97 mentioned in Chapter 2. but generally speaking. spices.’ draws upon this common knowledge about festive food in Mexico. crucial to these ﬁestas is a proper feast. but it is more complex. it is a richly ﬂavoured. Leaving food is a great insult. Since during the ﬁesta cycle people regularly reunite over special meals. catalyzed by the food. both native and non-native to Mexico. which I will discuss in the remainder of this chapter. In other words. herbs. seeds and starches (like bread and tortillas). the mole poblano is recognized as the thick dark brown sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top just before serving. such as paintings. or they wrap food in tortillas and tie it into a napkin to take home. The word now connotes a combination of dried chiles. (You are the sesame seed of all moles. 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. Others believe it is particular in its incorporation of chocolate. 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. although many other moles may contain chocolate. molli. Some also use the plastic cups on the table which are there for serving drinks. or the sculptural sweets made for the Days of the Dead called alfeñiques. There are several different kinds of regional recipes for mole. thick sauce which incorporates up to thirty ingredients. 1987 p.
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
as I mentioned in Chapter 1. No doubt mole deserved its status as quintessential ﬁesta food. 1999b). had prepared mole for us as a special welcome. Yet my observations in Milpa Alta showed that it was more common for ﬁesta food to be barbacoa. but for personal ritual events and the Days of the Dead. her mother-in-law. It is a good example of an object of art within the art corpus of cuisine (following Gell. On another occasion. When it is so delicious that it impresses the eaters as a gastronomic climax. and. But as I will explain below. The value attributed to mole is related to an awareness that it requires a certain technical mastery to prepare well. whether they are festivals of Spanish or indigenous origin. in short. Doña Delﬁna. fruits may be underripe.11 and these extra little attentions made quite a difference to the outcome of the dish. She also showed me another detail which indicated her special care in producing a good mole. spices may be old and ﬂavourless and nuts may go rancid if the weather is warm. and that she had some of the chiles sent over from Puebla. mole was also described as a ‘gastronomical orgasm’. she said it was important to take a little of the oil rendered on top of the mole. This way the chiles would toast gently and were in no danger of burning and therefore becoming bitter. The changing or loss of such tradition may seem to indicate a decreasing signiﬁcance of mole.’ The ﬁrst time I went to Milpa Alta and met Yadira and her family. This change in the traditional menu for feasts had probably begun to occur only since the 1980s. p. and a sprinkling of this added a sheen and extra ﬂavour to properly garnish the dish. its replacement as ﬁesta food emphasizes and even reinforces its social meanings. .Mole and Fiestas • 101 Mole and tamales of different kinds are associated with speciﬁc ﬁestas and seasons. after pouring a generous amount of mole over the piece of chicken.12 Almost everyone I met had a commentary or opinion about mole. So what Gell (1996. it was better than moles from San Pedro. 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. so cooks need skill and practice to prepare it well. carnitas or mixiotes. It was the time of the Feria del Mole in San Pedro Atocpan. the eaters are succumbing to an enchantment grounded in their knowledge of what it takes to make a mole. 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. is a complex and socially powerful dish. which have their roots in pre-Hispanic customs. Mole. I understood that since this mole was not commercial. Several women gave me culinary tips. 1998. Chiles and seeds are easily burnt. but Doña Delﬁna proudly told us that she had made the mole herself. What is interesting is that Spanish or Catholic customs of avoiding meat during Lent and Advent are adhered to. the food served is what is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ or ‘traditional’. Mole is never made in small amounts. When serving. rather than detract from its meaningfulness.
barbacoa. let us consider salsas in Mexican cuisine. At its most basic. to be bitten into whenever desired. There are also some women who are well-known in the community for their cooking. Mole and its accompaniments. as I have been promoting it in this book. or by relatives or compadres who know how to make it. 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. At its most complex. pickled chiles. in Milpa Alta. These methods are blending. 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. therefore. but the meal remains sufﬁciently festive. They offer it for their guests to eat with tamales and beans. substitution of ingredients with local or available ones. lumping together categories with emblematic dishes) and alternation and promotion. Wilk explains how a ‘Belizian’ style of cooking emerged from the particular history of Belize. To explain why this is so. 113–21). it is necessary to understand something about the role of social memory in how a cuisine or any other traditional art develops. but a small portion is given to special guests (family and compadres) as an itacate. carnitas and mixiotes are usually made at home. We can begin by thinking of a cuisine developing in a linear progression from simple to complex. A prototypical salsa (chilmolli in Náhuatl) is one made of chiles ground into a sauce. such as tamales. a salsa can be a mole. were still almost always present during any sort of celebration in Milpa Alta. and they can be hired to prepare certain dishes for the ﬁesta. many families still prepare a small amount of mole to serve as a second main course after guests have ﬁlled themselves with barbacoa.102 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Like mole. Even when mole is not the main course of the ﬁesta meal. and perhaps other chiles as well). 2006. Examples from current conceptions of the ‘traditional’ cuisines of Mexico can easily be found that ﬁt into Wilk’s categories of culinary methods. wrapping and stufﬁng. . and spices. pp. the words salsa and chile are often used interchangeably. 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. At other times. salsas and vegetables. onion. how what is now considered ‘traditional’ came about through the complexity of culture contact that existed. usually de árbol or sometimes serrano) which accompanies a meal. There may or may not be mole. compression (a simpliﬁed classiﬁcation of foods. Carne en chile verde refers to meat in green salsa (which usually includes green husk tomatoes. It is not meat in green chile only. salsa is conceptualized as a whole green chile (in Milpa Alta. mole is not served. submersion (absorbing a foreign/global ingredient into a local dish). As an example. which I ﬁnd entirely convincing.
and adding more ingredients makes varieties of guacamole of increasing complexity (see Figure 5. an artwork (or salsa. or a lineage of guacamoles. but what of other dishes with different ingredients? It is not surprising. it can still be seen as a precursor to the development of the recipe. 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.Mole and Fiestas • 103 A green chile can be elaborated on to develop it into a simple salsa. that a linear progression or family tree is an inadequate means of mapping out all the recipes in a cuisine. I illustrate a simpliﬁed plan of this in Figure 5. red tomatoes. there are extensive families of recipes (different types of guacamoles. Adding avocado to this mixture makes the salsa into guacamole. or different types of barbacoas). It has relations with other persons (salsas). onions and salt. for example. which is a mixture of roughly chopped green chiles. others seem to have nothing to do with one another as they are completely different and do not mix.1 guacamole 2. Some of these are related to each other.1. such as salsa mexicana cruda (pico de gallo). Following Gell’s theory of art. Reasoning that one recipe develops into another makes sense. and thus forms a lineage. This is not accidental. of course. Although chile is no longer the main ingredient of the salsa called guacamole.2. it can ‘marry’ and ‘have offspring’.1). the arrangement of recipes may look very much like a family tree.1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole . Conceived of in this way. In Figure 5. in this case) should be thought of as just like a person.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.
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 drawn from their memories. 166).4/1. and from this. a cuisine is a collective work.14 who may have greater skill in using the ‘traditional’ knowledge of the culinary arts. or even in different households in the same community. each of the varied recipes which make up a cuisine may develop in its own way. it is a set made up of many parts. Each part has some quality which deﬁnes it as belonging to the whole. This. As a distributed object. or they learn them from other individuals in the community. Traditional cuisines appear to develop as spatio-temporal wholes that change and move forward historically. This quality is what Gell calls ‘style’ (1998. and who are in turn . 235. (p. they are members of categories of artworks. and their signiﬁcance is crucially affected by the relations which exist between them. leading to further innovation and growth. is not as obvious as the similarity between a basic salsa and a mole (that is. As a single unit. p. constructed by the efforts of individuals who prepare dishes based on recipes. p. Thus. The recipes are separately reﬁned by a collection of individuals who interact with and inﬂuence one another. as a physical activity and as a creative activity of continuous innovation. spread out over space and time (see Gell. A cuisine is actually an ideal example of a ‘distributed object’ as deﬁned by Gell. and somewhat like Levi-Strauss’s culinary triangle/tetrahedron). both are salsas. As far as Mexican cuisine is part of Mexican tradition. Cooking is activity in two ways. 153) Pinpointing exactly what it is that makes barbacoa like mole. Each part can be very different from the others. one body of cuisine made up of many recipes. although this quality may not be easily deﬁneable. It continues to be modiﬁed and improved as each cook prepares each meal every day. ‘The Artist’s Oeuvre as a Distributed Object’). for example. But my purpose here is not to examine the deﬁning style of what makes one dish Mexican and another not Mexican.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. and other members of the same category of artworks. 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. 1998.Mole and Fiestas • 105 develop at the same time or how similar recipes may develop in different regions. its history (or ‘biography’) can be understood as having come into being by the work of many persons (mostly women) simultaneously in separate households. as individuals. 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. is how all traditional arts develop. [A]rtworks are never just singular entities. made with chiles and other ingredients). 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. Figure 9. but put together the parts make sense as a whole. in essence.
and then tomorrow try out using dried chiles. We may also think of recipes developing into the dishes that make up a cuisine as ‘variations on a theme’. and. I may learn to make salsa with tomatoes. ideas and ingredients as well as experiment and improvise.17 Dishes have a recognizable quality that can be thought of in relation to the cuisine. At the same time they incorporate new inﬂuences. the skin of the leaves of the maguey (the same plant used to line the pit for making barbacoa). onions. to produce similar but different dishes. One kilo of mole costs more than one kilo of barbacoa. Also. or add garlic. they may try making a similar salsa. The relative costs of preparing these dishes are also relevant. Meal structure is another area which requires analysis and incorporation. nuts and spices) are expensive. I may take note and repeat what I have done on another occasion. pork and/or chicken) which is rubbed with an adobo (a mole-like) paste. individuals maintain their own creative input. there is also repetition and constancy. Carnitas is made by stewing a whole pig in its own fat. in a way similar to Becker’s ‘art worlds’ (1982) or Gell’s notion of ‘style’. It is always served with particular salsas accompanying it. then is wrapped in a mixiote. and it is always made as a special effort for . carnitas or mixiote. green chile and salt. If the salsa is successful.106 • Culinary Art and Anthropology drawing from their own memories or inﬂuences. may be planned or can happen by accident.16 yet as much as there is innovation and change. a recipe is the prototype of a dish that is prepared. and eventually this may become a regular part of my recipe repertoire. The high-quality ingredients for mole (chiles. mole is prepared at home even though it is available commercially. 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. Eventually this particular combination of ingredients may become widespread and embedded in local/regional cooking and thought of as ‘traditional’. or herself. it is ﬁrst interesting to note some of the similarities amongst these dishes. into which they introduce variations on what they have learnt. to make another salsa that still tastes as Mexican as the salsa that I ﬁrst learned to make. In Gell’s terms. Historical and social factors play a role in how and when ingredients and techniques are incorporated. like barbacoa. therefore. implementing for themselves the changes I made. Mixiote is made of meat (rabbit. It is ﬂavoured with oranges and garlic. I am aware that the development of cuisine cannot be fully explained by focusing solely on recipes (see Wilk.15 Within the limits of the style of cooking that one learns by imitation of masters/mothers. it is always served with salsas and tortillas. modiﬁed or discarded. 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. carnitas and mixiote came to be accepted as ﬁesta food. Innovation. Fiesta Food To return to the question of how barbacoa. or a combination of chiles. If others like my salsa. 2006).
a dish like barbacoa becomes more desirable as festive food. Before then. ‘only because choices always owe part of their value to the value of the chooser. In addition. So if barbacoieros in Milpa Alta have the greatest economic capital locally and constitute the dominant class. 91).000 (£1. and on one’s guests. In short. but also because of the social values. the acceptance of barbacoa as feast food can partly be explained by Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘aesthetic disposition’.000 (£1. For this reason.Mole and Fiestas • 107 a special occasion. this value makes itself known and recognized through the manner of choosing’ (p. in that it bestows value on the occasion being celebrated. It appears that the substitution of mole with these three other dishes occurred only since the 1980s. The adoption of these other dishes as suitable festive foods must have been gradual. although it has a different ‘taste of luxury’ from how Bourdieu deﬁnes it. p. it would then make more sense to serve mole rather than barbacoa at a wedding banquet. Mx$15. when the value of the peso dropped phenomenally in relation to the US dollar (see graph on the exchange rate in Meyer and Sherman.050) for carnitas. and because to a large extent. serving barbacoa became prestigious for ﬁestas because of the prestige (or ‘distinction’) associated with being a barbacoiero in Milpa Alta. i. Recalling that honour and value are sometimes related to Simmel’s notion of resistance as a source of value. and can replace mole in value as a tasteful alternative. But if the prices of all the accompaniments are added up and put in relation to cost of food per head.. to prepare mole for ﬁve hundred people costs less than it would to prepare barbacoa. as far as I know. many people delay holding their weddings until they have enough money to hold a proper feast. In 2000. as mentioned previously. So in money and in labour mole is more expensive.. 1984. for example. and Mx$20. it would seem more logical to serve mole during a ﬁesta. 1991. the greater its social value. In spite of its status as an appreciated artwork in the cuisine. . The aesthetic point of view or aesthetic intention is ‘what makes the work of art’ (p. the more an object resists our possession (because. 29). it cost around Mx$10. Not only because of the costs.e. He continues that ‘[I]n fact. within the region. it can be considered to be in good taste. 54). or it may be the family business to prepare these dishes anyway. it is very expensive). 29). In effect. the menu of a feast had been more or less consistent over time and space. which is the time of great economic crisis in Mexico. p.400) for barbacoa. one kilo of mole is enough for more people than one kilo of the meat dishes. Barbacoa is a luxury food. if they decide to serve barbacoa during their ﬁestas. The aesthetic disposition is associated with economic capital (Bourdieu. carnitas or mixiote for ﬁve hundred people.’ (p. Since the costs of hosting a ﬁesta are high. 687). It is therefore deﬁned as appropriate. technically difﬁcult and valuable. the fact that mole is made as a paste and then diluted.000 (approximately £700) to make mole for ﬁve hundred people. But barbacoa or carnitas can be bought already made. 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 . Since mole is feast food par excellence.
I have examined mole as an artwork within the context of the art world to which it belongs. Then. There must be another reason why barbacoa has become acceptable feast food in Milpa Alta. So while a simple part-for-whole synecdoche does not exist. compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpaltense society. when combined with other recipes or other techniques. there is still a relation between two dishes which allows them to represent or replace one another if they both maintain ‘the relative capacity . 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. Though mole is the quintessence of Mexican cuisine.. how can barbacoa be served at a feast in its stead? The Presence or Absence of Mole in Fiestas I described previously how certain dishes—mole. barbacoa—as culinary works of art are imbued with meaning as they form the nexus of the social networks of normal food hospitality. mole continues to be described as having the ultimate ﬂavour. resistance (Simmel) and the aesthetic disposition (Bourdieu). Mexican cuisine. To reiterate. especially to the hosts’ compadres. using a cook’s knowledge of recipes she has followed in the past or learnt from others while applying her skill to the limited ingredients or situation that she has at her disposal. as is the case in Milpa Alta. there is no denying that they are equally valid parts belonging to the same whole. that is. 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. in either preparation or ingredients). whether or not there is mole for the rest of the guests. they are of the same style (Mexican). If. to create potentialities for . mixiotes) have become socially salient as acceptable substitutes for mole in Milpaltense ﬁestas. Some recipes can be shown to have developed directly from others. other speciﬁc dishes (barbacoa. My analysis of mole indicates its social salience as a nexus of the interrelating social. Still others may have been born of improvisation. which are different dishes of varying kinds and complexity. which. To understand this. there is an apparent contradiction in mole being necessary for ﬁestas and yet not being present. as modiﬁcations of previously successful (ﬂavourful and pleasurable) dishes. Yet because of the notions of style (Gell). as described previously. that is.. as being the ‘mole de ﬁesta’. cuisine is an ‘object’ which can be divided into its constituent parts.108 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this is not enough to explain why mole is still served during ﬁestas. carnitas. cuisine must be thought of as a distributed object. produce another dish or innovation. in the cases when mole is not served. synecdoche. Although not all the parts of the whole cuisine are similar (a salsa has nothing in common with a tortilla. as a conceptual whole. ritual and economic systems within the matrix of Milpa Alta social life. there is perfect sense in barbacoa (or carnitas or mixiote) acting as its replacement at feasts. Others can be offshoots of preparatory recipes.
Add chopped nopales. Its actual presence or absence does not indicate its conceptual absence. or special enough to commemorate a special occasion. after barbacoa’ to only ‘barbacoa’. Toast chile de árbol in lard and crush roughly. although it may not rank as high as mole. barbacoa is made able to effectively carry similar meanings to those of mole. The menu transformation reveals a transfer of value from mole to these three speciﬁed dishes. the meat used is expensive. because of its deep social signiﬁcance. Barbacoa is special enough to be a Sunday treat for the family. mole is present at the ﬁesta in people’s memories. 11). Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta Doña Margarita Salazar Fry chopped onions in butter. barbacoa is a luxury to be indulged in with the family. 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. p. 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. provided that there is a little bit of ‘mole de ﬁesta’ offered as a second main course to complete the social transaction of value. With time. 1986. In fact. whether or not it is actually served to them on their plates. Since any recipe can be representative of the whole cuisine (synecdoche). and the family as a unit hosts ﬁestas on grand scale. In effect. Fill prepared corn husks as if they were tamales but without masa. it requires labour and skill to prepare. In effect. when served as the meal of a ﬁesta. what occurs is Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’ (1996) so that the dish can be designated as special. only to give as an itacate to the hosts’ compadres. . close friends and family. Eventually. barbacoa can be taken as a representative of Mexican cuisine (as a distributed object) and can be demonstrated to have some equivalence to mole. each of which requires a relatively high level of technical skill for its preparation.Mole and Fiestas • 109 constructing a present that is experienced as pointing forward to later desired acts or material returns’ (Munn. therefore. Thus it makes sense that barbacoa could be served at a ﬁesta. mole is still omnipresent in ﬁestas. Steam.18 Provided that a dish is conceived of as needing a certain amount of technical mastery in order to prepare it. the meal structure could be modiﬁed by the preparation of a smaller amount of mole and accompaniments for a ﬁesta. Mix chiles with nopales and queso oaxaca. and it is somewhere in the range of special dishes.
Knead it well to develop the glutens. boiled in a little water 2 kg plain ﬂour 9–10 eggs ¼ kg butter. dribbled with a light ﬂavoured syrup or honey. (Primy said that sometimes she would ask Alejandro or any available man to do the kneading for her because it is physically quite difﬁcult. making sure to press the centre into the oil so that it cooks evenly. a pinch of aniseed. freshly squeezed 2 ﬁstfuls of lard 3 cups of sugar abundant oil for frying • Combine all the ingredients. Do this several times and make sure that you hear a loud slapping noise with each throw. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez In Mexico buñuelos are broad. The dough can be stretched to a very thin disk about 25 cm in diameter. Flatten or roll each ball into a rough circle. occasionally throwing the dough forcefully onto a metate. To Serve Drizzle with a light syrup made of crude sugar ( piloncillo) and water (this may be ﬂavoured with aniseed or guava). turning it constantly and sustaining it on your knee. They are served at Christmas parties or during posadas and are said to represent the diapers of the Baby Jesus Christ. Easter or Carnival. The measurements are approximate because. Place the circle of dough on the rounded surface and very gently pull the dough from the edges in small increments. . cover your knee with a clean tea towel. crispy fritters served in stacks. ﬂour a work surface and pull off walnut-sized balls. 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. adding enough orange juice to make an elastic dough. This is how Primy always makes buñuelos. If the dough breaks easily it is not elastic enough and may lack kneading. Turn to brown the other side. • Fry each circle in hot oil.110 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Buñuelos de lujo Ma. and do not worry about it breaking.) • When the dough is elastic. in a large bowl. ﬁnely grated orange juice. melted zest of 2 oranges. Drain on absorbent paper and allow to harden. Sitting down. Makes 50 to 60 buñuelos. Primy just throws in whatever amounts ‘feel’ right to her. except for the oil. as the dough is strong. like most home cooks.
with peels 3 ripe bananas. 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. Serves 8–10. about 20 minutes. cut into cubes and reserve the cooking water. sauté onions until golden. or baguettes) • In abundant olive oil. sliced in ½-cm rounds. blanched. 1 kg beetroot. with their peels ¼ –½ iceberg lettuce. leaves removed and well-scrubbed 500 g (1 large) jícama. about 3 minutes. adding the bananas half an hour before serving. peel them and discard the skins. Add garlic and let brown. ﬁnely chopped 300 g almonds. shredded ½ –1 L extra virgin olive oil ½ kg (about 3 cups) onions. shredded sugar to taste The beetroot must be very clean and boiled in abundant water with the skins. ﬁnely chopped To serve: 1 jar green olives 1 tin chiles güeros (or any pickled yellow chiles) crusty bread (teleras or bolillos. until the oil surfaces. . drained. cut into thick sticks 200–250 g peanuts. ﬁnely chopped 1½ –2 kg tomatoes.Mole and Fiestas • 111 Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo’ Yadira Arenas Berrocal ‘Sangre de Cristo’ means the blood of Christ. • Add ﬁsh and almonds. ﬁnely chopped 1½ cups parsley. This is a very refreshing dish that people prepare only during Lent and Advent. in 1. When cooked. Cook 5–10 minutes. peeled 5 oranges. ﬁnely chopped 2–2½ cups (about 4 large heads) garlic. peeled.25-cm slices. Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela Chef Abdiel Cervantes ¾ kg salt cod (bacalao). soaked several hours. combine the rest of the ingredients with the cubed beets and cooking water. represented by the water in which the beetroot is boiled. Serve in bowls with abundant broth. Add tomatoes and cook over high heat. Allow to cool. In a large bowl. stirring frequently.
This is the way Primy makes them. cut into 6-centimetre slices 250 g queso cotija. and it probably would not matter if the bread used was very fresh. When Doña Margarita was persuaded to try these torrejas. Serves 12. 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. Most recipes for torrejas are reminiscent of Spanish torrijas. Doña Margarita. Fill each space with cheese and proceed with the capeado as for stuffed chiles. each cut into 3 pieces. Serve in low bowls with lots of syrup. separated vegetable oil for frying Hollow out each piece of bread by removing some of the central crumbs. like French toast. warm the fried bread pieces in the syrup to impregnate them with the ﬂavours and to heat them through. leaving an open pocket. did not like the idea of a sweet made with spices. • Let rest until cool and decorate with olives and chiles. Torrejas Ma. cooking until ﬁsh completely falls apart into small bits. Serve with crusty bread. which is a bit unusual in that they are coated in the egg batter called a capeado. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez Torrejas are a Lenten dessert typical of the state of Michoaca ΄n. This is something that she rarely prepared because her mother-in-law.112 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add parsley and mix well. like the capeado for chiles rellenos. . To serve. or use an aged white cow’s milk cheese like Romano or Sardo 3 eggs. or 1 baguette. she liked them so much that she had seconds. Primy’s version contains no milk. 4 slightly stale teleras.
and this decoration is precisely what makes food powerful or meaningful. and the mobilization of different ﬂavours in a cuisine. Melhuus and Stølen. from everyday hospitality to ﬁesta hospitality. original italics) In this book I have approached Mexican cuisine by thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. via cooking. If food. and in other ways throughout this book. In other words. and whose operation thus has the effect of making sure that a natural creature is at one and the same time cooked and socialized. p. —Lévi-Strauss (1994. effectively creates social relations. but ﬂavour. that ﬂavour is the most important and functional. This means that we can understand different social levels (family-compadrazgo-mayordomía) by analyzing food in terms of cooking. The Function of Flavour There are many physiological. 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. situating this in the context of Milpa Alta. Given that any kind of cooking – 113 – . 2001) and women are able to use cooking to exert power and enact their social value (Abarca. In the following sections I will explain these conclusions. 336. surface and depth. its artistic nature. gender is not intrinsically hierarchical (cf. ﬂavour is achieved via love (the sazón de amor necessary for good cooking). it is decorative. physical characteristic which carries semiotic meaning. are interlinked. 2006. I argued in Chapter 2. Rather than as an aid to help humans ingest nutrients. 1998). the ﬂavour is not simply the decorative aspect—or rather. It is not a superﬁcial. McCallum. form and function. whose normal function is to mediatize the conjunction of the raw product and the human consumer. observing cooking shows how actors are acted upon by their actions (following Munn. is thought of as an artwork. is always a concern. 1996). the presence of ﬂavour. or a dish. active element of food. 1986).–6– The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life The conjunction of a member of the social group with nature must be mediated through the intervention of cooking ﬁre. and social organization can be understood as a social-relational matrix with food as indexes within the active art nexus (following Gell. cultural and social reasons that people eat and drink certain foods.
or they may never learn to like it. thought of as representing the best of Mexican cuisine. white and green). and hence value is added. de rajas or de mole). there are also many Mexican dishes that are inconceivable to eat without an accompanying sauce. women’s morality is circumscribed by their knowledge of cookery and their domestic and extradomestic labour. 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. as well as by their sexual behaviour. Otherwise.114 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and eating are food transactions. 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). pipiánes. or it is an example of excellence amongst other salsas. enchiladas. and not only in terms of ﬂavour. A foodstuff can be eaten on its own. especially a whole hog’s head) are differentiated by colour (red. and for family ﬁestas. moles. Even fresh fruit. The cooks are speciﬁcally women. rojos. This includes all sorts of tacos. as producers and reproducers. and to fully appreciate the honour bestowed upon them if they are served mole in someone’s home. chilaquiles. Many dishes are deﬁned by their sauces or chiles rather than the accompanying meat or vegetable that is eaten with the sauce. The varieties of pozoles (hominy soups made with pork. is the ultimate recipe. compadres and the wider community). ﬂavour is added. When women prepare mole from scratch. who are highly valued in Milpaltense society as wives and mothers. but when combined with chile or some sort of sauce. for instance. ﬂavour constitutes the surrounding social relations of the actors (cooks and eaters. Otherwise foreigners are expected to like it right away. When mole is served to guests. and chile is salsa. bananas. and pineapples. Mole epitomizes some of the best qualities of Mexican cuisine. Or. 345). family. like mangoes. tlacoyos. In Milpa Alta. jícamas. In the case of Mexican cuisine. as it is. The same can be applied to most tamales which are differentiated by the salsa used in the ﬁlling (such as tamales verdes. borrowing Tim Ingold’s deﬁnition of an artefact. combining more ingredients and culinary techniques than most others. mole acts as the . Mole. or a pickled chile or fresh green chile to chew on at the side. It is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ and ‘very traditional’. and also soups (including rice and pasta dishes). ﬂavour is chile. and by extension. food/artwork is ‘the crystallisation of activity within a relational ﬁeld’ (2000. It also carries other meanings when it is served or eaten. It is one of the most laborious and technically difﬁcult dishes to prepare. using family recipes. or by the salsa’s absence (tamalates. and street foods like sopes. p. are sold with a sprinkling of powdered chile piquín and lime juice. so much so that sometimes foreigners are warned that they may not like it when they try it for the ﬁrst time. Examples of this are chicharrón en chile verde. gorditas and sincronizadas. As I described in greater detail in chapter 4. barbacoa. adobos or adobados. entomatados. and chiles rellenos. sweet tamales). and the variations are prepared by the addition or omission of a red or green salsa in the cooking process.
This discussion indicates that there is greater creativity involved in domestic cooking. 1998). Discussing barbacoa in Milpa Alta. Particular ﬂavours are not just the guiding principles of social events and their organization. By preparing particular dishes for personal or commercial reasons. Depending on who cooks what. though some moles are better than others. more speciﬁcally. Not everyone is considered a good cook or has the same range of culinary expertise which is fully explored only in the familiar sphere. I showed that the production of this culinary work of art is an all-encompassing social activity.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 115 quintessence of women’s hard work. or. 1984). Together chapters 3. ﬂavour is a central and active element. They might prepare mole for a ﬁesta. This value was achieved only by means of skilfull production of a socially desired ﬂavour that ultimately produced successful business and sociality. it is in a deeply meaningful way because there is a sophisticated gastronomic technology that actors learn and can mobilize via their cooking. Rather than an incidental characteristic of food. as well as the most ﬂavourful dish in a woman’s culinary repertoire. 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. cooked in for speciﬁc reasons and for speciﬁc others/eaters. 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. Of course there is no denying that mole is a complex and sophisticated dish. 4 and 5 addressed this topic. when and why. Everyone knows how to make mole. cooks deliberately produce certain ﬂavours (chile/salsa/mole) for their own social ends. that of husband and . That is. Gell. the ideal relationship between a man and a woman. The Importance of Cooking in Social Life So if chiles appear to be symbolic ingredients in Mexican cuisine. The manipulation or mobilization of ﬂavours in cooking is as much a social activity as human agents interacting (cf. Conversely. and how Milpaltenses use their cuisine. but in an area like Milpa Alta its preparation is common knowledge. and therefore more culinary agency and freedom in daily life. It also requires cooperation within the primary social unit. 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. barbacoa to sell in the market or family favourites for loved ones. or the moral notions surrounding cooking. in their social interaction. we can make sense of the culinary system of Milpa Alta only in relation to other local social systems. 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. the nuclear family. Yet in spite of this. the production of particular ﬂavours is the primary concern in food preparation.
Since one of women’s domestic roles is to be a cook.116 • Culinary Art and Anthropology wife. housework and caring for children. as well as extradomestic labour (such as selling .’ she writes. 14 –15. When widowers do continue with their businesses.1 The preceding and my discussion in Chapter 4 indicate that cooking is not part of housework as invisible labour. The production of barbacoa provides a good example of what Munn refers to as ‘intersubjectivity’. ‘[A]gents. If a woman’s husband dies or abandons her.’ Practices form types of social relations and also form the actors who engage in them (1986. Perhaps he needs the support of a wife’s loving touch to produce salsas for a successfully ﬂavourful barbacoa. cf. What is less common is for a man to continue to prepare barbacoa without his wife. as a loving dimension of women’s (house)work. but it is a creative task based on culinary agency and skill. some hire women to help them with the salsas and anything else that their wives would have normally done. Culinary creativity can therefore be seen as the outcome of quotidian domesticity and the social dynamics of men and women. 2000). Women and men have roles and expectations which seem to dictate the limits of their behaviour. It is said that only then does his business regain similar success as with his late wife. and on women as lovers and mothers. As my material on Milpa Alta shows. which is represented by the preparation of salsas/chile/ﬂavour. pp. women are related as much to men as wives (or lovers) and mothers as they are related to the preparation of food. she may continue to rely on barbacoa as her means of livelihood. In this way. which is more likely than it would be for a barbacoiera widow to do. by hiring men to perform the slaughter and disembowelling for her (the ‘matador’ already mentioned). good cooking can lead to the development of a ‘traditional’ cuisine as much as the production of social relations. it is not accidental that women are expected to perform these tasks. as pork or lamb butchers and/ or in another professional job (such as teaching). 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. cooking is not an activity of performative gender roles per se. but (previously married) women without husbands are also able to prepare barbacoa. These are the most culinary activities of the whole process. 2001). ‘not only engage in action but are also “acted upon” by the action. as individuals or groups. as providers. They are not necessarily causally linked. For women it includes cooking. But though cooking is embodied and gender is embodied (McCallum. For men this includes working in the ﬁelds. but which also allow them to achieve social and material ends through complementary action. I was told that generally a barbacoiero widower’s business does not ﬂourish the way it did when his wife was alive. The cuisine is a material embodiment of a woman’s role in the family. as a sexual partner for her husband and as a mother and nurturer for the next generation. on the value placed upon the home. Ingold. A ﬁnal observation is that only married men prepare barbacoa. It must be reiterated that the wife’s basic role in preparing barbacoa is to prepare the salsas and the panza. This occurs unless he remarries.
although it may have been prepared with the same culinary principles as always. Agency and Intention Thus cooking is an activity performed for the sake of social interaction (cf. Long and Vargas. women cook with particular eaters in mind. The idea of a cook/artist’s intentions can be better understood when applied to feast food. Although the way that they prepare some dishes may be nuanced by their own taste and pleasure. p. this unit is also thought to be at the core of business success. in Milpa Alta. Gell’s conception of intentionality is based on deﬁning the nature of causation. the food loses its ﬂavour because of the presence of the dead who come to eat its essence. ‘[I]ntentions cause events to happen in the vicinity of agents’ (1998. ‘[T]he explanation of any given event (especially if socially salient) is that it is caused intentionally’ (p. 1994) as much as for making food edible or tastier. 101). Mole with chicken is always present. They also cook particular dishes during ﬁestas for compadres and the wider community. sweets and some favourite foods of the dead. and afterward. is offered to the dead relatives of the family. The dead are believed to eat the essence of the food when they come. tamales. it is thought to occur in this way. rather it is in the deliberately induced reaction of foodstuffs when cooked or combined in a particular way. they still are cooking with the intention of feeding (or offering food to) someone else (a recipient). Although other living . p. So this is why food has ﬂavour. 1991. Married women cook for their husbands and children. Food set out on the family altar. it no longer has any ﬂavour. Whilst the unit of wife and husband is crucial to the establishment of links of compadrazgo. 150). Rather than searching for a chemical or physical explication of why something caused another thing to occur. Simmel. Hence. the ofrenda. why ﬂavour is a social (and also cultural) aspect of food. when the living eat the food that had been set out. and to the fulﬁllment of the mayordomos’ role for the community. The technical mastery required to cook is also socially learnt and socially salient. 2005. in the example of the Days of the Dead. The explanation for this is no more mystical than the relationship between the cook (culinary agent) and the expected recipient of the food. In this case of food for the dead. 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. as well as yellow fruits. the dead. In other words. 101). Although not everyone says that they believe it. and this is how it has been reported to me by people in Milpa Alta (see also Lok. It is not because of inherent biochemical properties in the foodstuffs themselves. What they prepare is dependent upon their relationship with the eaters.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 117 in the market). and other (usually unmarried) members of the household. that is. they use their culinary agency according to the network of intentionalities in which they are entangled as social beings.
the same kind of food—effectively. and they expect elaborate food and entertainment at these events. but only in relation to how they compare with other dishes in the cuisine. the food was cooked with the intention of feeding the dead. this means that food is involved in interrelating social networks amongst individuals or groups. but they accept the food nonetheless. Mole. relatives and neighbours and thereby maintain community viability.2 Gell’s theory of art uses a conception of a body of artworks as if it were a body of a person. These gifts of food are offered by obligation and their acceptance is obligatory as well. so much so that even those who do not attend are given food in their absence. mayordomos or other guests. though competition and one-upmanship exist as well. neighbours. which are detachable and also exchangeable. 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. and with the social relationships of the cooks and eaters.4 . Whether compadres. In effect. including visual appearance and things he or she produced. and actors expect an ultimate balance of give and take. the same gift. mayordomos. Not only this. in a sort of Maussian social contract. Part and whole. social distance and hospitality amongst the relevant actors. art objects are exuviae. 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. Guests may even be reluctant recipients. 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. related to the cook. towns) to maintain the circulation of value (food/virtue) in the indeﬁnitely enduring cycle of festivity. individual and group. no one need demand to be fed upon arrival at a ﬁesta. During ﬁestas. the same personhood—is awaited on each occasion. Food giving and receiving occurs in different directions amongst individual actors who perform the roles of hosts or guests on speciﬁed days during the year. and 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. Anything that comes from a person. eventually may eat the food. and not to feed the living. The ﬁesta cycle revolves around the religious timetable and notions of respect. Therefore the ﬂavour was cooked in for the dead to take away. is detachable from that person and can be physically touched as well as seen. Competitively bigger and better versions of the same meal are circulated endlessly amongst compadres. individuals act on behalf of social groups (families. This means that special foods are signiﬁcant. is coercively given and received. all assume that they will be.118 • Culinary Art and Anthropology people.3 Hospitality begets further hospitality. Rather. are divisible and indivisible. a ‘distributed person’. or a socially approved substitute. With respect to Mexican cuisine.
As the relational node of a culinary matrix of interrelating social spheres. In the same way children and unmarried adults are not responsible for food provision. But while women are in charge of cooking for feasts. Goody. even after many years of cohabitation and the birth of several children. As should be clear by this point in this book. 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. 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. 1982). including gifts of food. 1985). In the ﬁesta cycle. serving mole. the mole of the feast. mediates the domestic realm with the public sphere. In the wider social context. family honour can be distributed and properly enacted only with ﬁesta commensality. the luxury of barbacoa. 1986). except for the occasional unmarried woman who is asked to be a comadre (cf. becomes representative of the whole distributed object of Mexican cuisine. 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. or the everyday and the ritual. So in other words. similar to how Simmel (1994) allocates value to daily meals. In fact. The dish can be judged as delicious or ﬂavourful because it is accepted with gastronomic awe from the perspective of the eater. The whole cuisine. they are treated as extensions of their families. Munn.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 119 Children and unmarried adults do not formally participate in these systems of reciprocity. A particular recipe is placed in a hierarchical relation to the indexes of other dishes in the corpus of its cuisine (cf. the hosts’ decision to serve these dishes to others in formal hospitality bestows value on their guests. then. fetching or delivering things. current popularly served dishes like barbacoa are prepared jointly by women and men. though they may help married women who are. the value of mole can be understood as effectively equivalent to the value of women in Milpaltense society. Indeed. mole. As an example. Finally. Gell. who can imagine the complexity of the production of the dish from his or her informed culinary knowledge. 1984. When people in Milpa Alta talk of ‘el mole de ﬁesta’. 1998. or ‘el lujo de barbacoa’. the power and value of women (or cooks) are transformed into ongoing social relations. or its substitutes. produced through daily cooking. morally recognized as capable of cooking the mole de ﬁesta and able to legitimately reproduce the next generation. in fact. ﬁesta hospitality and the corresponding food are products of gender complementarity and family cooperation. In short. which all effectively . on whom they depend for their food and on whose behalf they are expected to perform minor duties such as shopping. women’s culinary agency is distributed and shared amongst her family. in the ﬁesta sphere. Sault. although women are thought of as the family cooks. this effect is encapsulated in Gell’s notion of the ‘technology of enchantment’(1996). vis-à-vis the wider public.
According to them. Recognizing the deeply symbolic value of cooking as a part of women’s work. partners. compadrazgo. an understanding of traditions and Mexican culture and. In this way. cooked with culinary artistry (or technical mastery). Other dishes in Mexican cuisine are difﬁcult to make. Equivalently. To recapitulate. the fulﬁllment of gastronomical ideals or desires is central to social life in Milpa Alta.120 • Culinary Art and Anthropology represent the whole cuisine. 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. there are two kinds of human desires: for food and for sex. loved ones. who are ultimately governed by an honour code of giving and respect to their children.5 The teaching of cultural events and Mexican history were included in the curricula of some cookery schools. religious and maternal love. Its complex history involves the invasion of foreigners who brought ingredients and technical knowledge to Mexico. and especially ﬂavour. which represents ﬂavour. Therefore social interaction circulates around women and women’s culinary labours. as a ﬁnal garnish. 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. women are representing the family. 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. which revolve around women and their roles in the family. women in Milpa Alta have two kinds of responsibilities: housework and cooking (production) and family (reproduction). If the preceding are the ingredients necessary to successfully prepare mole (or any other recipe). sexual. and who inﬂuenced the religious and domestic realms. superior ﬂavour could be achieved by technical culinary skill. which represents women. Mole as a special dish indicates celebration. Mole represents salsa. Food and Love. This means that social interaction is effective when food is offered. altering social interaction while simultaneously altering women’s relationship with food and cooking. 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. a sazón de amor (a sprinkling of love). top-quality ingredients. Chiles and albur In different ways throughout this book I have discussed the interconnections between notions of love and food in Milpa Alta. we can take sex into account as part of the socialization of women as members of the community as well as in their relations . although men may be the public or ofﬁcial representatives. land. via women’s culinary agency. In one recipe the interrelating value systems and complex of intentionalities that exist in Milpa Alta are found: ‘tradition’. women. but it is special not only because it is difﬁcult to make. In effect.
Home cooking is highly valued because of the moral value of women. food that is thought of as particularly delicious is food cooked with love. 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. Lomelí. Usually it is obvious why they are chosen. perhaps even more than his mother’s. put another way. Albur and derivative word games can be used in mild to increasingly aggressive ways. 568). in Milpa Alta people use the words salsa and chile interchangeably. Once girls are able to cook. A man using albur plays upon these sensibilities. he argues that the desires for food are linked to speciﬁc food providers. there is ample opportunity for innuendo. and depends on speed and wit. If they do. who are the producers of this food. 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. people use other food metaphors in joking conversation to refer to male and female sexual organs. He can continue to consider himself to be heterosexual. they are ready for marriage. At the same time. Chiles are central to Mexican gastronomy and are arguably the basic unit of the cuisine. though sometimes the analogy is more obscure. those en conﬁanza) in terms of sexually penetrating them without being considered homosexual. rather than the one penetrated. even if there is only a small proportion of chile in the recipe for the salsa. 1996). Thus an individual would be prone to prefer his mother’s cooking over others’. Since chiles come in so many different shapes and sizes. In this way women are understood to be powerful agents within their local social spheres. as a husband should also value and prefer his wife’s cooking. Men are able to speak with their friends (cuates. He continues. One of the central metaphors used is the chile. most used in albur. ‘[R]elationships are predicated on the satisfaction of particular desires experienced by the partners in the relationship’ (p. The marital relationship is both moral and imbued with social obligations. They are also central to a variety of jokes in which the chile is spoken of metaphorically as a man’s penis. 568. However. italics added). In Gow’s (1989) article on the Piro. 20–6). which stands for the penis. As long as a man is the one penetrating. as well as on linguistic twists. ‘systematically related to certain types of social relations’ (p. 1991. This is because there are overt sexual connotations in the speech games in albur. he would still be performing within what is considered normal male behaviour. or. As I explained in Chapter 1. Albur is a kind of wordplay used almost exclusively amongst men (see Jiménez. Yet one other dynamic of food and love is worth describing for a more nuanced picture of how ﬂavour and morality are intertwined.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 121 with men. even macho (see Gutmann. 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 . pp. it is amongst other women (not in mixed company) and is of a milder sort. and yet also are considered funny. It is very rare for women to speak using albur. 1991.
or mondongo (a dish made of tripe. explicitly relating it to sex. 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.e. culinary way. Home Cooking and Street Food I have already explained at length that food prepared at home (i. especially the chile. homestyle food. 575) Sexual food metaphors may therefore reveal notions about oral and sexual desire— or I would rather say ‘appetite’—and not so much about the relations between speciﬁc fruits or vegetables. The use of food metaphors in joking. that is because they are not used in an alternate discourse to encode another arbitrary symbolic structure. camote (sweet potato). Rather. pp. Jiménez. I would agree. continuously draws attention to the metaphoric relationship between oral and sexual desire. 1991. they travel to the centre of Mexico City. names for the genitalia. The signiﬁcance of albur is that food. partly because of the belief that food prepared at home is better. even random. 82. On the other hand. The use of foods as metaphors for the genitals occurs only in joking. … these metaphors are not structured simply by direct reference to the objects themselves. ejote (young corn on the cob) and zanahoria (carrot. but at the level of desire. These restaurants serve comida casera.122 • Culinary Art and Anthropology papaya. 201). too lazy to prepare a meal at home. whether foods or genital organs. or. with some pride. p. Daily Meals. for native people have standard. mamey (a type of fruit). (1989. A few Milpaltenses told me. panocha (crude sugar). 202). and is explicitly related to eating and ﬂavour. with love) has connotations of being tastier and better for you (nutritionally and socially) than food prepared commercially. pescado (ﬁsh). p. Having established that the values and virtues of women are materialized in home cooking. more generally and among women. Local Milpaltenses go home for their meals. and they cater mainly to outsiders (from Mexico City) who work in the municipality rather than to locals. 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. Some other food metaphors for the penis are longaniza (a type of sausage). Though not speciﬁcally . tacos or tamales. I was told that eating out in the street indicates that the women of the house are lazy (‘son fodongas’ ). is subject to linguistic and conceptual manipulation by men. rather than that between food objects and genitals as objects. as Gow argues. Eating out in Milpa Alta is uncommon. 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.. If these metaphors appear unsystematic. non-euphemistic. if they really wish to eat out. that there are only two restaurants in Villa Milpa Alta. the chile is manipulated in another.
92–3). The food sold by the vendor might be particularly delicious.’ In other words. Mexican street food is one of the broadest-ranging parts of the cuisine. pp. A social activity by nature. huaraches. she most likely will buy it to take away. 93) also emphasizes this point. food preparation entails an emotional commitment from cooks and eaters. ‘Vamos a chinaquear’. garnachas and various other snacks. most women know how to make many of the foods that can be bought in the streets. too busy or indeed too lazy to cook for her family. because we could have or should have prepared food for ourselves. Cooking is almost never done for the sake of the cook alone. like different kinds of tacos. In Milpa Alta there is a speciﬁc verb for this idea of eating out that is used only in the region: chinaquear. Abarca. or even womanly. Some things are not easily made at home. keeping all the ﬂavour to herself. for instance. tamales. nor would this be normal behaviour in Milpa Alta. A complete Mexican meal requires much time and effort and is difﬁcult to prepare in single servings. referring to Silva. The words envidia and envidioso are used to describe a range of characteristics from envy to greed to being overprotective over family . Chinaquear means to eat snacks in the street and it encapsulates shirking one’s household. too cumbersome for the domestic kitchen or for daily cooking. 2006. however. duties. effectively failing to fulﬁll her obligation to feed her family or guests. Another instance when Milpaltenses might eat in the streets is when they eat alone or with only one other person. she would suggest to me that we eat in the market.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 123 investigating Mexico. She also notes that some street foods take longer to make than some typical daily meals. At the stand she chatted guiltily with the food vendors as if they shared a naughty secret. In Milpa Alta. Sometimes when Doña Margarita and I were on our own. she may be teased as being envidiosa. She would have a mischievous glint in her eye as she said. 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. 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. quesadillas. So although there may be times when a woman is too tired. perhaps could not be the same if made at home. Perhaps there is also an element of taste involved in the decision to buy food in the street. or was more work to prepare than we wished to do. such as barbacoa. so that busy housewives or working women will avoid this effort by feeding their families street foods’ (p. if a woman forgets to place salsa on the table. If she decides to buy ready-made food in the market. 55). pambazos. part of the social signiﬁcance of a meal prepared at home stems from the caring involved in cooking food with ﬂavour for speciﬁc eaters. Abarca (p. she tries to be discreet about it. In Milpa Alta. Tinker (1987) observes that ‘[i]n most countries the traditional foods eaten at home take a long time to make. Another eater makes a cook more willing to go through the trouble of preparing the several parts that make up a meal (cf.
at least not until many years later in old age. family relationships are characterized by love. on a daily basis. Within the family. Ideally. and then all of it is eaten. I think that that is far too long-term to establish an exchange relationship via food. but if they do. a cook’s . enticing the family and ritual kin to maintain their ties to the cook. love and hospitality of home. in daily meals food is not circulated. but because of the centrality of the marital bond as the source of social (and sexual and gastronomical) fulﬁllment. Appetite. Failure to feed their husbands can be judged as shirking marital as well as womanly duties. I have used the word love to explain how culinary technical mastery is achieved. like family. Parents do not expect anything from children in exchange for feeding and raising them. It also then follows that when the relationship between cook and eater is very close. He or she lacks conﬁanza. Raising children is more simply a moral obligation and. I have already described how the full artistry of Mexican cuisine is explored daily in the family kitchen. food in this case is not actually exchanged between culinary agents and recipients. women prepare food for their husbands and children and other members of the household. as I mentioned earlier. For daily meals. it is only within the domestic realm. and it is not exchanged for an expected return of food reciprocity on another occasion. and I have also described how love is the instigation for culinary activity. the eater is more likely to judge the food as tastier and better because of the social relationship that exists between them. 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. husbands and in-laws. This is partly because of the asymmetrical relationship between parent and child or married woman and her in-laws (see Gell. Morality and Taste In a perhaps simpliﬁed way.7 Unlike in the ﬁesta cycle.6 A person who is envidioso/a refuses to share or lend food or other material belongings. given and received. and in this way good cooking works like a well-designed trap. Once they marry. someone who somehow displeased another was often described as being envidioso. not because of some deep-seated subordination of women to men. a woman supplies it. In Milpa Alta. though of course. While community relationships are characterized by respect and social expectations. Envidia is conceptually opposed to the notions of generosity. food is demanded by children. Gow. moral obligation and gender role expectations. Flavour and variety are sought after for everyday meals. Daughters rarely take full responsibility for meal provision. However. all different kinds of food are demanded and supplied. women’s culinary agency becomes directed to their husbands and their new households.124 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members. children are considered as extensions of their parents in the community-wide systems of (food) reciprocity and exchange that do exist in ﬁestas. 1989). 1999a.
Mexico. Applying the same logic to cooking. economic ends. loyalty and appreciation of family members. hence the importance of a home-cooked meal. Munn. whereas commercial cooking would then generate antisocial (individual) ends. socially sanctioned sexual desires. Yet street foods are known to be desirable. 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. marketable. As I described in Chapter 4. there is a moral obligatory force involved in giving and receiving food. and not for a return of yet undetermined food hospitality in future. 1986). She also observes that many women who sell home-cooked food in the streets are unwed . Vázquez discusses the domestic economy of ﬁrst and second wives in both monogamous and polygamous unions. In other words. 171. the ﬁnal product’ (p. home cooking generates positive social ends. this food may seem to taste better in the streets. somehow. She notes that men inherit land and women receive kitchen equipment upon marriage. A home-cooked meal should then taste better and should also be better than snacks bought in the street. This being the case. among family and friends. I dare say that home cooking is offered in a most complex bounded way. is meaningful in a different way. as a sophisticated culinary trap couched in the ideology of generosity and the virtue of women’s suffering and sacriﬁce. instrumentalized for the production of legitimate members of society. but men depend on women for the tortilla. as socially controlled. this extends to the gastronomical and sexual loyalty of potentially unfaithful husbands.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 125 talent must also be considered. 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. Vázquez García (1997) describes the marital relationship as reciprocal in a Nahua community in southern Veracruz. 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. Since giving food is as much an obligation as receiving it. other cooking. presumably prepared for selﬁsh. Among other writers. the food is exchanged for the love. Understanding this. my translation). it makes more sense that the appeal of home cooking is based upon its intrinsic meaningfulness. Conversely. This implies that in the case of home cooking. 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. 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. We can think of food-giving as generating positive social meaning (community viability) and eating as correspondingly negative (cf. 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. Rather. commercially viable and delicious.
there are no social relations involved to complicate one’s enjoyment of the ﬂavours. There is quantitative equivalence.8 Recall now that cooking is an activity like building a trap-as-artwork. Both the vendor and the home cook wish to attract and appease the appetite of the same consumer. In fact. is how Gell (1999a) dismantles the idea that commercial activities should be less moral than non-commercial/gift-giving and gift-receiving. In Chapter 3 I also mentioned how Primy would proffer special treatment to regular customers. with the intention of constructing bait in a particular way to ensnare the loyalty of kin and ritual kin. The goal of this and other kinds of commodity exchange is a simple transaction. the food is transacted in a mercifully simple. as the vendor-client relationship can blur over time to approximate friendship. however. then. though each leaves the transaction happier with his or her newly acquired money or food than before. A customer hands over money and the vendor hands over ﬂavourful food. This immediate-return exchange is instant gratiﬁcation. rather than being an unethical commercial venture in opposition to the ethical food-giving at home. To conclude. If we follow Gell’s (1999a) logic about commodity exchange. then. without any moral obligation on the part of the buyer or the seller. What is given is not a gift. 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. completed on the spot. and so the vendor directs her agency to this competition. with respect to her agency.126 • Culinary Art and Anthropology mothers or ‘second wives’ of men whose legitimate wives exert domestic (marital and gastronomical) rights. and its appeal lies in the link between eating and sex. Both the customer and the vendor indeed ‘sacriﬁce’ something of value (money/food) in exchange for something that they value more (food/money). What is given over is a thing that the giver values less than what is received. satisfying way. Home cooking has the status of the highly moral marital bond. akin to the pleasures of sex without the entanglements of love (amongst social relations). there are two ways of experiencing food as delicious. and the value of food sharing. Yet more pertinent to this point than Gell’s discussion of artworks as traps. 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. Indeed. especially if one eats alone at a street stand. Brieﬂy put.9 It is as delicious and clandestine as an illicit love affair. There will always be differences in a cook’s activities depending on her speciﬁc intentions. food in the street provides the ﬂavour of Mexican cuisine without the effort or social investment. nor is it obligatory. Street food is commoditized cooking. . or her intended food consumers. I can choose to buy food from this or that vendor. So the culinary agency involved in preparing food for sale or for loved ones is actually one and the same. and neither I nor the vendor I choose engage in any realm wherein either of us can be judged to be generous or envidiosa. buying and selling street food would constitute a food transaction of supreme reciprocity. Things are exchanged for things. wherein each actor values the other thing more than the thing he or she gives up.
to snack in the streets is considered a pastime.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 127 even if under a coercive system. as has been shown to exist in other Latin American societies (e. Eating in the streets is thus an illicit pleasure. married women prepare food for their husbands and the rest of the household as part of their domestic role. Chinaqueando is an occasional delight. eating to satisfy appetite without emotional entanglements. 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. food that is not cooked at home is also considered to be delicious in a different. an individual practice more commonly engaged in than openly admitted. she is chinaqueando. 1997). Please note that this is just a sampling of recipes. and some things do taste better when prepared at home. naughtily enjoying someone else’s cooking as she shirks her own duties to cook. the meal is heavily emotionally laden. it would be naive to suggest that sex is solely for the sake of procreation. McCallum. 2001. To summarize. In contrast. rather than there being a power struggle between genders (Gregor. Descola. if a woman does not cook at home for her family. to eat in the street is equivalent to having an illicit love affair—equally or arguably more delicious food prepared by others. Neither are necessarily offered for the purpose of nourishment or the propagation of society. to join in the activity. and quantities can vary with every cook’s taste. Likewise. and men and women are known to have extramarital affairs. 1991. she can be criticized. without the social signiﬁcance attached to eating in someone’s home. there is no contradiction if it is accepted that we have preferences and opinions about food. not one’s wife. being seen in the streets invites digression and the potential for extramarital love affairs. 1985). A man should ﬁnd the greatest pleasures with his wife.g. but of course. just as we have preferences for and opinions about people with whom we socialize. Vázquez García. primarily for their husbands). I invite readers to experiment with some variations on the theme of basic dishes in Mexican cuisine. Because of the meanings attached to home cooking (food prepared by women. . Though different vendors produce different qualities of ﬂavours. Milpa Alta society is characterised by gender complementarity. Gow. in Milpa Alta. but they both provide temporary satisfactions of desires fulﬁlled for the sake of pure pleasure. 1994. there are deviances from the norm. More speciﬁcally. almost sinful sense. given that I have been arguing throughout this book that we do not eat solely for the sake of nutrition. it is an act of freedom. and if she chooses to eat in the streets. Because of the many rules of greed and generosity surrounding home cooking. After all. Recipes: Variations on a Theme Despite the apparent impossibility of learning to cook Mexican food with only recipes. or to cook tradition. Furthermore. as Ricardo says. interrelated with the social systems of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. Likewise.
this is the classic salsa mexicana.2. ﬁnely chopped (optional) salt to taste coriander (cilantro). roughly chopped 2 small green chiles. In any case. 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.2 Guacamole Raw red salsa with mashed avocado added. This is a perfect accompaniment for guacamole and tortilla chips as well as for eggs. grilled meats or ﬁsh.128 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1 Variations on Salsa 1. cut into pieces ½ medium onion. • The ingredients can be more mashed or liqueﬁed and other ingredients added. chopped salt to taste • Chop all ingredients and mix well. as with raw red salsa 1. or anything.1 Salsa roja cruda (Raw Red Salsa) 2 large ripe red tomatoes.1 Guacamole 2 large ripe avocados 1 small tomato. Blend to desired consistency. • Mash in a mortar with a pestle or put all in a blender with a little water if necessary. ﬁnely chopped (optional) lime juice (optional) . Variations or optional ingredients. this is a table salsa. ﬁnely chopped ¼ white onion. 1. ﬁnely chopped 1 small green chile (serrano or jalapeño). raw salsas are nice left chunky. which is often used to accompany grilled ﬁsh or meat or eggs. If left chunky. • Fresh.
1. chiles.3 Salsa Verde (Green Salsa) Substitute green husk tomatoes (tomates verdes or tomatillos) for red tomatoes. smooth cooked salsas or caldillos. fresh coriander. 1. You may need to add a little water. • With dried chiles and spices. Use some of the soaking liquid in the blender. not cassia). as the charred skin contributes a nice smoky ﬂavour.5 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Other Ingredients Often meat. epazote. onions. Variations are endless. Heat oil or lard in a saucepan. black pepper. vegetables. • Tomatoes. to roll into tacos or use in sandwiches. soak them in hot water for a few minutes after roasting. be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter. 1. • Add herbs (use one): dried oregano. Cook until it changes colour and the ﬂavour changes. allspice. • Serve as a dip with tortilla chips (totopos) or alongside grilled or fried meat or ﬁsh. • 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. about 10 to 15 minutes. onions and garlic should be roasted unpeeled until the skin blackens (green tomatoes should have papery husk removed). marjoram. using some of the boiling broth in the blender. roast tomatoes. • If using dried chiles. omelettes or vegetable or ﬁsh tortitas (croquettes) are cooked into or served heated in thin. pour in the liqueﬁed salsa.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 129 • Mash all together with fork. • Boil tomatoes (peel husks off green tomatoes ﬁrst) and fresh chiles before liquidizing. cinnamon (‘true’ or Ceylon cinnamon sticks.4 Cooked Salsa Blend salsa ingredients until fairly smooth. cumin. with soft thin bark. and when the oil begins to smoke. Variations for Cooked Salsa • Add spices (use all): cloves. It is not necessary to peel tomatoes or chiles after roasting them. stuffed chiles. garlic and spices on a dry griddle. and proceed as for raw red salsa. • Before blending. fresh chiles. . to soften them. Examples follow. comal or frying pan.
salsa. Break fried pork rinds into pieces. then topped with refried beans and things like crisply fried crumbled longaniza. 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. lime.1 Chicharrón en chile verde (Fried Pork Rinds in Green Salsa) This is very common in Milpa Alta. large or small. beans and corn tortillas. keeping them ﬂat—these are now called tostadas. 2 Tortillas Tortillas can be made by boiling corn with lime (CaOH). avocados.1 Gorditas or Tortillas Pellizcadas These are fat tortillas which have been pinched on the thin side to make a rough surface. 1. onions and cream.2 Calabacitas con queso (Courgettes with Cheese) Cook cubed courgettes and panela cheese in red tomato caldillo with fresh epazote. The rough.130 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1. Well-made tortillas puff up as they bake and have two different sides.5. and patting out by hand. 2. They are served alongside pozole (hominy soup) with crema espesa. Tostadas are also eaten on their own. or putting masa through an industrial tortillería machine. This is usually served with white rice. grinding it to a soft dough. long or short. topped with a variety of different things. pressing out with a tortilla press. Heat in cooked salsa verde until soft. a front and a back. always with some kind of salsa or chile on the side. masa. Serve with boiled beans and warm corn tortillas. grated or shredded cheese . 2.2 Tostadas Fry whole day-old tortillas until crisp. shredded lettuce and chopped coriander. onions. sliced radish. pinched side is smeared with melted lard. Tortillas can be thick or thin.5.
4. Top with cooked salsa. They are usually bought in the market or in a street stall.1 Huaraches Huaraches are like tlacoyos but are much wider. The next morning. 2. oblong tortillas from fresh masa so that the ﬂautas will be long like ﬂutes. Before pressing out the tortillas.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 131 chopped coriander crumbled. cut leftover corn tortillas into 8 triangles each. crisply fried longaniza or chorizo (sausage) 2. place a length of beans in the centre of a ball of masa and press it out into an oblong shape. The beans should be encased in masa. 2. Serve drizzled with salsa and cream and with chopped onions.4 Tlacoyos This is typical street food in Mexico City. chopped coriander and cream.3 Tacos dorados Roll shredded chicken in corn tortillas. thinner and crisper. Leave them out to dry overnight. Secure each roll with a toothpick and deep-fry. 8 cm wide. extra-long. . • Make thin red or green salsa in any way you wish.1 Chilaquiles • The night before. You may use chicken broth or water to thin it out further. Bake on both sides on a hot comal. 3 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Tortillas 3. dry frying pan or griddle. Prepare masa for tortillas and refried beans.1 Variation: Flautas Make tacos dorados using shredded barbacoa de borrego as ﬁlling. about 10–15 cm long. cream and grated white cheese. 2.3. chopped onions. 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. Señoras sell them on street corners and outside metro stations in Mexico City. fry them in hot oil till crisp. coriander and grated white cheese (all optional). grated cheese. and 1 cm thick. Make sure to liquefy it long enough to get it very smooth. Flautas de barbacoa are sometimes served alongside a bowl of consomé de barbacoa.
and put on toppings and side dishes before serving.132 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Strain into hot oil. Then pass it through the hot oil to soften it a bit and make it pliable. • One by one.2. dip each tortilla in the pan of hot salsa and pass it through to quickly coat it. place about a tablespoon of ﬁlling in the centre and roll into a cylinder. lay tortillas on a plate or ovenproof serving dish. see below) bolillos or teleras (crusty white bread roll) 3. • One by one. • Sprinkle with chopped onions and grated cheese. 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. 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.1 For Enchiladas suizas Use green salsa. sliced into very thin wedges.2 Enchiladas corn tortillas thin cooked salsa. Arrange rolls side by side. When they are well coated. as for chilaquiles shredded boiled chicken. pork or beef ﬁlet (milanesa) fried crumbled Mexican longaniza (sausage) shredded boiled chicken frijoles refritos (refried beans. Typical Toppings white onion. place on plates. queso fresco. fry and cook the salsa with epazote. Arrange in ovenproof dish and bake till heated through and cheese has melted. shredded chicken and yellow melting cheese and drizzle over crema espesa or sour cream. • Toss the tortilla chips in the hot salsa. 3. . rings or half-rings shredded or crumbled white cheese (queso oaxaqueño.
3 Enfrijoladas Use thin. If water needs to be added.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 133 3. and top with sliced onions. very smoothly liqueﬁed beans ( frijoles de olla or frijoles refritos) instead of salsa. Adding cold water will temporarily halt the cooking process.2. a small clay olla with water is placed on top of the big clay olla where the beans are cooking. the ﬁlling can be shredded chicken. 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.2. They do not need to be soaked. The other layers: shredded boiled chicken. and either corn or wheat ﬂour tortillas (ﬂour tortillas need not be passed through hot oil). use leftover mole that has been thinned down with water or chicken broth. Only after they are very soft may you add salt. They are also served together with the main course or with rice as well. cover and simmer over medium heat with some onion and lard or vegetable oil. or with any sauce that remains on the plate after the meat or ﬁsh of the main course is ﬁnished. and after at least 2 hours the beans should be soft. Stir occasionally. crumbled white cheese and crema espesa. • The beans—black turtle or Veracruz beans. add hot water.2 Enmoladas or Enchiladas de mole For salsa. They also taste better after they have settled. use shredded chicken as ﬁlling. pinto or any other beans—should be rinsed and all stones and empty beans removed. If you add salt too soon. 3.4 Pastel azteca Arrange tortillas in layers in an ovenproof dish like lasagna. • Beans are often eaten after the main course. • If you need to add water. . 3. Traditionally. • Beans are best prepared in advance since you cannot be sure how long they will cook (this depends on how old they are). the beans will never soften. • Put beans in a pot with about triple the amount of water. crema espesa.2. the water in the small olla is at the same temperature as the cooking beans. thin refried beans. ham and/or cheese.
add some sliced white onions. When it begins to smoke. • Beans cooked like this go well with any dish with a sauce and are also used to spread into sandwiches made with crusty bread. or you can scramble them into eggs. They are also often served with crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or queso añejo. • Only then add the beans with some of their broth. most people add a sprig of epazote to the pot toward the end of the cooking time. a slice of avocado. 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. • You can serve these with scrambled eggs and salsa. Mash them continually in the lard and incorporate the onions until a smooth paste is formed. Chopped coriander also goes well with any beans. Stir these and cook them until they are dark brown and almost burnt. some pickled chile and cheese and/or cured or roasted meat to make tortas. 4.1 Frijoles refritos (Refried Beans) • Over a medium ﬂame.134 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • For black beans. red. 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. 4. or substitute feta or white Lancashire). Optional ingredients to add. 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 .
It should not be soft and milky like risotto. chopped 1 clove garlic. • Cover the lid of the pot with a tea towel before placing it over the pot to absorb excess moisture. usually served as a ﬁrst or second course. Keep the heat high for a few minutes so that the veggies cook.2. soaked in hot water. • Stir well and allow to cook. Add vegetables and salt and top up with enough water or broth to cook the rice well. cubed potatoes (soaked in hot water) (all optional) 2½ cups water or chicken broth salt sprig of coriander or epazote (optional) 1 whole green chile (optional) • Heat the oil until it begins to smoke. 5 Sopa seca (Dry Soup) This is rice or pasta without broth. 5. Add to rice. peas. with separate grains. epazote or chile to the top of the rice toward the end of the cooking time. • Add coriander. Note: This rice should be dry. rather it should be more like pilau.3 Enfrijoladas See 3. drained well ¼ cup oil ½ white onion. cover and let simmer until the rice is cooked. Sometimes.3 above. Add salt to taste. often eaten on its own with salsa on the side. . It is served after a vegetable soup or meat or chicken broth with hot corn tortillas. then lower the heat to a very low ﬂame. if you wish. and sometimes avocado and lime. corn kernels. • Blend onions and garlic with a bit of water until smooth. rice is stirred into the broth or eaten with the main course or with the beans after the main course. chopped ½ cup each carrots (soaked in hot water). salsa. Fry the rice (and carrots) until it is lightly golden.1 Arroz blanco (White Mexican Rice) 1½ cups long-grain rice.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 135 4.
g. The pasta should remain dry. guavas. Allow the fruit to cool in the syrup and then refrigerate. before stirring in the salsa and water to cook. and other fruits that do not disintegrate (e. tejocotes. When the syrup is ready. without a sauce. when it is done. Variations combine 2 or more types of fruit stir in chopped mint before serving serve with crema espesa/de rancho (crème fraîche) . salt and water or chicken broth. pineapples). To make red rice. This is good for pears.136 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 5.2 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. Fry a bit before adding the optional vegetables. Serve cold. Sometimes dry pasta ‘soups’ are served with cream (crème fraîche) drizzled over. You might want to add a bit of lime juice so that it is not too sweet. 5. peaches. frying the dry pasta in oil until it browns a little. 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. 6 Frutas en almíbar (Poached Fruits in Syrup) Make a light syrup by boiling and simmering sugar in abundant water with some grated lime rind and a stick of Ceylon cinnamon. like a smooth red salsa. add 1 or 2 tomatoes to the garlic and onion mixture and blend well.
there are certain things which non-natives notice that natives may not immediately see or may take for granted. though it occupied 19. gender and cultural studies and is herself a native Mexican. .102 for Milpa Alta and 8. 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. ‘Where .489. sense of adventure and discovery of an outsider or tourist. 3. of course. food as art. her experience was intellectualized before she revalued and reevaluated her appreciation of the Mexican kitchen. She grew up with the creative artistry of Mexican cooking as part of her normal daily life. At the time of my research in the nineties. pp. The people of Milpa Alta rarely – 137 – . I approached Mexican cuisine with the curiosity.Notes Introduction 1. Abarca draws from literary. food production depends on the skilled handling of tools. So for her. Our different perspectives can only further enrich our understanding of food and cooking and Mexican gastronomy. 4. and cooking as a source of women’s agency and empowerment. Most of this land was put to agricultural use. the population was only about 1 per cent of the Federal District (81. and indeed of an anthropologist. and indeed of one’s own person. and 1 per cent was used for urban buildings and other purposes (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografía e Informática 1997. sazón. This is very well explained by Wilk (2006. p.2 per cent of its area. The regional cuisines of the Middle East. 3. In my case. The mixing of cuisines and culinary culture is far from a simple matter. in fact her approach is necessarily different. Yet while her treatment of these subjects appeared to overlap with mine.5 per cent was inhabited. and vice versa. given our different disciplinary training and personal backgrounds. Chapter 6) in his discussion of the creolization of Belizean food. 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. 2000. the productive forces appear as the embodied qualities of human subjects—as their technical skills’ (Ingold. 5. .007 for the whole city). 2. Any researcher of Mexican food would ﬁnd them to be part of the reality of Mexican culinary culture. As can be expected. India and China are comparable in their complexity of everyday cooking. 318). 21–2).
esp. even neighbouring. 96. p. 9. A comparative study of another group in a different. See Sophie Coe’s brilliant book. p. When unfermented. a mildly fermented viscous drink made of the maguey sap. Lomelí. Lynn Stephen describes similar differences between how women describe their occupations as recorded in the national census and what they actually do (2005. . His own work focuses on production and consumption. pp.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. Martínez (1992). 1997. so my data here is reliant upon personal communication with Enrique Nápoles of Barrio San Mateo. or honey water. 8. 38). See Long-Solís (1986). and van Rhijn (1993).138 • Notes emigrated. America’s First Cuisines (1994). Villa Milpa Alta. I draw my main conclusions from my data of the local system of Barrio San Mateo in relation to the rest of Milpa Alta. for the barrio level there are no demographic ﬁgures in print. 33– 49. and acknowledging that there is insufﬁcient space for me to include a comparative analysis with other cuisines or other cultures. to name a few. The maguey is the source of pulque. (1991). it is called aguamiel. as Milpa Alta has. 2. Kennedy (1989. Andrews (1984). or another community of central Mexico with Náhuatl roots. distribution (political factors. (1996). Bayless and Bayless (1987. see Muñoz (2000). 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. 459 –84). 6. while I have been unable to treat the topics of food production and distribution at a level beyond the barrio. 205). market. 3. Muñoz. Pulque used to be a common drink in this region. would surely provide a broader perspective than my limited research allowed. These are production (economic factors). community of Mexico City. and it had religious signiﬁcance during Aztec times. Unfortunately. Also. pp. For an idea of the variety of uses of chiles in Mexican cuisine. Chapter 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine 1. based on household and class. 7. and Muñoz (2000). among others. esp. 328–38). preparation and consumption. ‘the arts of cooking and the cuisine’ (p. and on a comparative perspective of cuisines since cultures must be situated within the world system. and also Coe (1994). Goody (1982) highlights four main areas of investigation for studying food. allocation). 15).
‘The cooking of corn in Mexico with all its elaborations and ramiﬁcations is. She argues that depictions of traditional recipes as rural and natural is romantic nostalgia. 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. 6. 1981. See also Cruz Díaz (2000) and the regional ‘family cooking’ series published in 1988 by Banco Nacional de Credito Rural (Banrural). For an excellent discussion of culinary blending. 29 September 1997. See also Wilk (2006) and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). See also Long and Vargas (2005). In Mexico City. 4). Mexico City.). Rachel Laudan (2001) questions the meaning of ‘authentic’ cuisine. 13. 8. For a lighter account. Coming from a pueblo implies a connection with a community of people who share a common hometown. 29. . beyond that of any other country’ (Kennedy. 11. 9. Public talk in Universum. Pilcher (1998). my trans. I am grateful to Kai Kresse for pointing this out to me. within the realm of the highest culinary art. 5. Furthermore. 12. in spite of work-related movement and interaction with other parts of the city. which is made up of several residential districts. See also Long and Vargas (2005) for an excellent overview of food in Mexico. In a thought-provoking article. see Wilk (2006). and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). See Wilk (2006). 2005. industrial global economy that supporters of the ‘authentic’ criticize. See Pilcher (1998). and on the edges of the city the divisions of the municipalities are called pueblos (which may be further subdivided into barrios). 10. National pride and identity are qualities which a people’s cuisine can sometimes help determine. 1989. culture contact and creolization. p. analyzing the texts carefully. see Long (1996). and that the foods we think of as traditional and authentic actually depend upon the modern. inaccurately referred to as a ‘ﬂoating garden’ (Long and Vargas. 15. p. that the variety [of foods] was not as great as it ﬁrst appears at ﬁrst sight’ (Corcuera. 14. 3). Diana Kennedy’s work would fall into this category. The word pueblo refers to a small town or village. and always has been. ‘The culinary merit is perhaps more if one considers.Notes • 139 4. see Sokolov (1991). and Brown and Mussell (1985). Using the word pueblo to describe the residential area where you live actually has other connotations that living in a colonia does not. For a comprehensive compilation of papers on different aspects of the cultural/culinary inﬂuences between the Old and New Worlds. usually in a non-urban context. more urbanized areas. Appadurai (1988). A chinampa is a very fertile type of artiﬁcial island. one’s life can easily be contained within the boundaries of one’s pueblo. these are called colonias in the central. p. 7.
There are some exceptions. There is much to say about Ingold’s theories of habitus. Babb. 2006. Khare. ‘The Aesthetics of Kitchen Discourse’). 47–70).). see Sutton (n. and Richard Wilk (1999. Chapter 2 Cooking as an Artistic Practice 1. see Fine (1996. Mennell et al. For a description of how impoverished our language is to describe our experience of ﬂavour. 17. She suggests. Imitar las cocinas famosas no sirve. 1966. globalization and local identity in Belize. Chapter 7. see Abarca (2006). 1976). who questions the linear transmission of cooking skill. Entonces.. For a critical discussion of how culinary knowledge is transmitted. My friend Primy also overturned her bowl to check if the whites were ready. livelihood. pp. See Vizcarra (2002). como en la casa de la abuela. p. Deben prepararlos bien de principio. see also Warde (1997). For a detailed overview of the treatment of food in anthropology and sociology. 2. In some communities this is still the case. claro. 3. (1992. Abarca emphasizes what she calls the ‘sensory logic’ or ‘sensual.g. which she also describes as a ‘discourse of empowerment’ (2006. sin el sazón del amor. 1993) or are more about economic issues and gender than cuisine itself (e. 21. Alicia María González (1986) does not write . which focus interest on cuisine or on eating particular foods for (gastronomical or other) pleasure. p. As I explain in Chapter 2. debe utilizar los ingredientes mejores. 10 –39). pero en restaurante. see Goody (1982. Peter Gow (1989) analyzes the desires for food and sex in the construction of social relations in Amazonian Peru. 1989). en vez de tratar de copiar el modelo europeo. 51). Lenten. Jonaitis provides an excellent discussion of how the sense of taste has been neglected in ethnographic writing. y debe ser un currículo en las escuelas de cocina. ‘Approaching food without considering taste is like studying a mask without referring to its dance. especially chapter two on sazón. of course. or analyzing a drum without hearing the music it plays’ (Jonaitis. 2006) examines food for understanding cultural change. I rather prefer to avoid applying metaphorical. Some also base analysis on religious taboo or hierarchy and classiﬁcation (such as Douglas.’ 20. 1–19).g. corporeal knowledge’ of sazón. In Milpa Alta I have seen women beat their egg whites in plastic bowls and the capeado still worked. 18.d. tal y como es. For a discussion of cooking without written recipes. 162). which I am unfortunately unable to develop fully here. 19.140 • Notes 16. textual or language-based models to food and cooking. But see Sutton (2006). Caplan (1997b). 4. pp. Beardsworth and Keil (1997. ‘Hay que trasladar la cocina casera a la cocina restaurantera. semiotic. pp. Food-related ethnographies often privilege development issues (e. knowledge and skill in relation to the topic of culinary knowledge and skill.
and his craftsmanship in making bread with particular names and shapes. Gell was not the only one to emphasize the technical aspect of art. See. Douglas (1975). aesthetics and body rituals among women. baker. This is possibly because the two cultures in which he did ﬁeldwork. although not on cooks as artists. 6.Notes • 141 about art. see Weismantel (1988).g. 1996. 1981. but her thesis analyzes the symbolic meanings of Mexican wheat bread. 52). This conclusion may seem unsatisfying. for example. 14. including perfumes.. see Hugh-Jones (1979). and the prey animal. and beauty is pleasing to Allah. focusing on the panadero. 1993. historical associations and people—who give things names and relationships’ (2005. by its very nature. Chapter 3). See also Abarca (2006. 2000). Bayless and Bayless. the LoDagaa and the Gonja. 285). For them. p. Kanafani’s (1983) ethnography of women in the United Arab Emirates focuses on the culinary arts. because the aesthetic cannot be isolated from (Islamic) social or cultural values. the hunter. 1973. 9. As Andrew Martin describes Latour. because a trap. 7. for a particularly effective and convincing ethnographic analysis. and therefore creates a social relation between them. See Chapter 4. Dornenburg and Page (1996). She emphasizes the artistic nature of foods and personal adornment. E. Chapter 3). Ingold. 1996. ‘[A]nimal traps … might be presented to an art public as artworks. 11. but at least there is an attempt to understand the artistic notions attached to cooking tasty food. describing the interconnections among sensory experience. and is also used to avoid pollution and to restore oneself to a state of purity. 1996. p. 8. See Sutton (2006). 12. Lévi-Strauss (1966. Layton. nor was he the ﬁrst. who specializes in so-called traditional or authentic Mexican cooking (see Bayless. It is a received notion that one cannot assess art without looking at techniques (see Bateson. 1994). which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (Gell. Her analysis locates the source of aesthetic meaning on the recommendations of the Prophet Muhammad. convey meanings. and Mintz (1996. 2003). She argues that aesthetic satisfaction enhances the experience of the senses. . Firth. the main difference between feast food and daily fare was abundance rather than special preparations of dishes. both had ‘simple’ cuisines. 1987). 13. is a transformed representation of its maker. Gell was also neither the ﬁrst nor the only one to ascribe agency to objects or artworks (see Latour. These devices embody ideas. its 5. ‘Objects are really the end result of a long process of negotiation between the material world. ‘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. and for a successful use of semiotics in analyzing cuisine. It is also interesting to note that one of the chefs represented as culinary artists in this book is Chef Rick Bayless. 10.
she explained. In a talk at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana on 3 June 1996. 1991. Abarca (2006. determined by man’s social existence. which. Raymond Firth recognizes art in a comparable way. p.142 • Notes victim. is because ‘the ancestors’ had more contact with food and so their wisdom must be respected. but only when the form is mobilized for human purposes. p. In fact. 20. For the general theme of invention of tradition. as having human involvement with the material: ‘Art is a product of human commitment. and of their mutual relationship. . questioning the dichotomy between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. the transaction may continue if a customer becomes a regular and then becomes recognized by the vendor as deserving of occasional special favours. maize. in that she has built up an ecologically friendly oasis in her home in Michoacán. can one properly speak of art’ (1996. The ancient Aztecs used chile smoke as a punishment for naughty children (Coe. 17. 1999b. She said that you must sing to moles in the same way that you must talk to your plants. 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. 1994). p. pp. which. is a complex. Cf. Diana Kennedy said that she herself believes in these culinary methods. 18. The reason. render superior culinary results. among hunting people. They made them breathe it to remove their anger as well (Clendinnen. 23. quintessentially social one. 203). p. Kennedy’s outlook and attitude toward cuisine is more holistic than many other cookbook writers or culinary investigators. 57). when put into practice. 19. That is to say. 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. these traps communicate the idea of a nexus of intentionalities between hunters and prey animals. In a way. ‘It is in the nature of food to be shared out. Her love of the art of Mexican cookery eventually led to her greater understanding of and care for environmental issues. via material forms and mechanisms’ (Gell. it is to destroy it both for oneself and for others’ (Mauss. It is essentially form. given meaning in human terms by comparative associations. See Lok (1991) for a discussion of sacriﬁce and exchange. There she raises bees for honey and grows her own wheat. 22. 1990. see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). 18). 53). Wilk (2006) discusses the construction and recuperation of ‘traditional’ cooking and other practices in Belize. Not to share it with others is “to kill its essence”. hospitality can be thought of as a form of sacriﬁce. mushrooms and all types of plants from the whole country. 21. 16. 92–3). The case of the cook as eater is discussed below. with speciﬁc regard to the Days of the Dead.
Ingold also considers practical knowledge to be embedded in a social matrix of relations. 31. 24. for art. 25. Very little material is published on the history of barbacoa in Milpa Alta or elsewhere. ‘Es una tradición que le va dejando a la nueva generación. Recall that going to university is a luxury only recently acquired with the increased economic prosperity in Milpa Alta. 5. 2. See Miller (2002) on expressing love through food shopping. E. many families who hold large celebration banquets serve carnitas. 27. The food product transacted remains the same. which literally means lace. 3. 28. Stoller (1989. 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.e. Aztec children were disciplined by being made to inhale chile smoke as punishment (Coe. Cf.g. 30. mixiote or barbacoa. locally reared sheep. though Bourdieu argues a different point. where he writes of the social meanings behind serving a bad sauce among the Songhay in Niger. 63 – 4). In other parts of Mexico the caul is also called encaje. For a clearer understanding of attachment to land. 8. and the menu rarely varies beyond these three choices. Chapter 1). Chapter 4). but perhaps with some ridicule at times. 26. they mutually imply one another (mole ↔ ﬁesta). which is used to make mixiote. In a way this seems to echo Simmel. 32. If a husband moves into his wife’s house. p. 29. These dishes are also technically difﬁcult to prepare. 7. He is met not with disapproval. As explained in Chapter 4. As mentioned previously in Chapter 2. Cf. . Also adobo. Discussed further in Chapter 5. for barbacoa. see Gomezcésar (1992). 9. See Chapter 5 for an examination of ﬁesta food. However. 289). borregos criollos. 1994. 4. instead of mole. Nowadays (within the last 20 years). since mole is to ﬁesta as ﬁesta is to mole. 1999b). Gell (1996. so the ‘sociality’ produced is of the kind that McCallum (2001) describes. i. 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).’ 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. pp. Chapter 3 Barbacoa in Milpa Alta 1.Notes • 143 with food portions. 6. as ‘links in chains of personal rather than mechanical causation’ (2000.
(‘to feed them’). González Montes and Tuñón (1997). The doble jornada. 1982). Note that most of their ﬁndings were based on white middle-class Americans or Europeans. 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. that they are supposed to stop making barbacoa! 11. Mole probably ranks as the highest. 3. 2. 12. those social relations that lead to sociality may be not only characterized by food generosity. and not all social relations lead to sociality. Alternatively. The works of Ohnuki-Tierney (1993) and Rutter (1993) are examples of studies that deal with more symbolism and the power of speciﬁc foodstuffs to incorporate individuals into society. 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. but also by food quality. however. McCallum deﬁnes sociality as ‘a temporary product of morally correct engagement in social relationships’ (1989. Note that she describes how men believe that the only responsibility of women to their husbands is ‘dar de comer’. 4. This is an indication that people tend not to make gastronomic compromises. Melhuus and Stølen (1996). Most women who worked as domestic help in Milpa Alta were not natives. I recognize that I tread on the tenuous border between portraying culinary life as simply rosy and lovely and the dire reality of others. culinary technical superiority or culinary artistry. where they were not only underpaid. Likewise. . But because of the demands of culinary ideals. p. McCallum (2001). This does not necessarily mean. There are (immoral) actions that can lead to anti-sociality. that is. 13. Gutmann (1996). Puebla and Veracruz. but migrants from the poorer states of Oaxaca. 6. or ‘double workday’. 11) which is characterized by generosity with food as a central virtue among the Cashinaua of western Amazonia. arguably. although they do lead to social organization. This term has been used to criticize women’s entry into the capitalist labour force. but had to do another full day’s work at home for their families or husbands. 5. hierarchical relationships may be useful for effectively pursuing these ideals. Chapter 4 Women as Culinary Agents 1. I did not know anyone who had live-in domestic help. Alejandro hoped that one of his sons would become a trafﬁc policeman and Primy hoped they would study medicine. but only cases where a woman was hired for a few hours a week or on an occasional basis. González Montes (1997). See Vizcarra (2002) for a comparable account of women and food in an impoverished community in the State of Mexico.144 • Notes 10. For example.
para guardar las apariencias. Stephen (2005. a los hijos. 8. p. Almost everyone I met still maintained that handmade tortillas taste better than factory made. Una mujer se hace tonta por pendeja. decorated. In other words. the response is not so clear. Si no sufren. See Levine (1993. Debe a su familia. wherein planning the food is foremost. Yet in practice. Roseman (1999) describes a similar ambiguity in rural Galicia. In Milpa Alta the stereotype of self-sacriﬁcing women exists: la mujer abnegada is a woman whose husband controls family decisions. This is a large topic that goes beyond the scope of this discussion. ‘La mujer es el eje conductor. Like communal land. J. women’s culinary agency gives them their ritual power. . ‘Regularmente cuando un hombre se hace tonto es por tanto amor que le tiene para su mujer. 13. 1996). 15. The power of human artistry hinges upon the crucial aspect of making something artistic. where there is a discourse of gender hierarchy and women’s submissiveness but also of egalitarianism. conducted in Zapotec. Gell. Ejido land is distributed by the government in accordance with the law on agrarian reform. Martin. Chapter 3). but see. Chapter 7) describes for women in Teotitlán. ‘special’ and ‘extra-ordinary’ (cf. 10.’ (See also Melhuus. 1990). esp. 11. In an article called ‘¿Quién manda? … ’. and I also agree. el timón de la familia. no son buenas personas. y tiene que sufrir. for example. 16.Notes • 145 7. it is not privately owned and it cannot be sold. para que la gente no habla mal de ella. Chapter 9) explains that unlike in business. 12. A comparative case is what Stephen (2005. 1992. Son persinadas. this relative freedom can be seen as problematic in regard to relations between jealous husbands and wives. Lulú’s words were. naturally selected. Mummert (1994). which is conducted in Spanish and requires mathematical skills. chapters 2 and 3) for more on courtship and marriage. 9. Women had restrictions on their movements outside the house as any errand could be construed as an excuse for an illicit rendezvous. practice which aided the survival of the species. Zapotec women play a strong role in ritual decision making. ¿Quién es él que manda? (‘Who is in charge?’) is a rhetorical question the answer to which is supposed to be ‘the husband’. see Levine (1993. Dissanayake (1995) argues that human artistic behaviour is a necessary. In some cases. For a vivid comparative account. There was apparently also a compromise on taste. Mujeres trabajan el doble de sus maridos.’ 14. Chapter 5 Mole and Fiestas 1.
This idea of homemade products being better than their commercial counterparts is prevalent and put into practice more by suburban. 4. In Milpa Alta. also see Adapon (2001).’ 10. 9. hot tamales verdes and atole champurrado. furthers social mobility and economic advancement. 1987). as central ﬁgures in ritual community life. Their ﬁestas are occasions when they can socialize freely when the residents of the barrios ritually visit one another bearing salvas. for members of the public who attend the singing event at this cold. 3. this is commonly done at home for breakfast the day after a ﬁesta as part of the recalentado. 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. Stephen (2005. 5. especially the excesses of food given to compadres to take home. ﬁestero. early hour. ties amongst barrios are strengthened and aggression can be averted when mayordomías bring promesas to other town or barrio ﬁestas. and affords a magic symbolic protection against latent personal aggression’ (1977. is pleasure-seeking. For a thorough history and description of the cargo systems in Milpa Alta. 6. For a town or barrio ﬁesta in Milpa Alta the unmarried youths are organized to get involved in preparing for the ﬁesta. This is comparable to what Stephen (2005) describes occurring in Teotitlán. where some women spend their money on their compadrazgo gifts and obligations rather than on their daily meals. 11. San Mateo and Santa Martha are rivalling barrios from within which there is much intermarriage as well as competition. p. and elsewhere in Mexico. For more on compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpa Alta. For a theoretical analysis. see Lomnitz (1977). Y es por eso que es un pueblo tan ﬁestero—para mostrar a los demás que sí tiene dinero para festejar y hacerlos bien. They begin at around half past four in the morning of the feast day (21 September for San Mateo). see Martinez R. Chapter 1). see Greenberg (1981. 7. juggle their ritual responsibilities with quotidian needs. rural or lower-middle-class people than central urban or upper-middle-class to upper-class people. Because of how guests are fed during ﬁestas. In urban . (1987). For example.146 • Notes 2. porque no hay tiempo. The dictionary deﬁnition of this word. Sault (1985. fond of parties. For thorough analyses of compadrazgo as a principle for networking and reciprocal exchange. The señoritas are also expected to provide typical breakfast foods. Chapter 9) also describes how relationships of compadrazgo are ‘inherited’. women. ‘La gente de Milpa Alta es muy trabajadora porque la naturaleza no les dió tanto. and Stephen (2005). Just as Lomnitz argues that ‘compadrazgo strengthens social ties between equals. entonces es un lujo quedarte a comer en la casa. 8. 160). Hay que trabajar desde la madrugada hasta la noche para salir adelante.
arguing that ‘reciprocal favors are critical to survival. This relates to an anecdote I mentioned in Chapter 1. and … in the long or short term these favors should somehow be balanced. 1998. p. 2. more ﬂavourful and of higher quality. made for wealthy customers who did not eat it regularly and who were detached from it. I once went to a barbacoa restaurant in the city. interest and disinterest are all merged. Stanley Brandes analyzed the ﬁesta cycle in Tzintzuntzan. 122). These messages. whether in the public ﬁesta domain or the private daily domain. As Parry (1986) explains it. though as a means to another end.Notes • 147 centres this is starting to change. when I was told. where the spirit of the town ﬁesta is reproduced for tourists or urban dwellers. things. See Sutton (n. p. the whole family was unanimous in their opinion. 4. 13. They . ‘[T]o write about art … is … to write about either religion. 16. it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. The meal concluded with the opinion that this was a commercial barbacoa. See Wilk (2006.d. 18. This is what Munn calls the ‘relative extension of spacetime’. She was one other person who conﬁded in me that her culinary secret was that she ‘cooks with love’. Michoacán (Mexico). ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions. In my opinion the barbacoa that Primy and Alejandro made was much better. 3. Chapter 6 The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life 1. This is a notion that Mary Douglas (1983) and David Sutton (2001) have both explored in different ways. When we warmed it up and ate it. which was double the price per kilo that they charged in their market stall. strengthen one another. as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ Mexican cuisine is growing in popularity. Wilk also notes that consistency is just as difﬁcult to maintain as innovation (2006. 97). Apart from this. I brought the leftovers to Milpa Alta for my friends to try it and compare. Chapter 6) for a convincing attempt to deﬁne the style of Belizean food. 17. 15. 12. Primy’s young son said that they must have used goat meat instead of lamb.) for a thought-provoking article on how culinary knowledge and apprenticeship are not necessarily passed from mother to daughter. and which I consider to be useful. 14. although the restaurant barbacoa was quite good. The barbacoa was ﬁne. but it just was not as good as what they made themselves at home. If she were making mole poblano she would also sprinkle sesame seeds on top. persons. or the substitute for religion which those who have abandoned the outward forms of received religions content themselves with’ (Gell. they were also appalled at the price charged at the restaurant.
They discourage non-Milpaltenses from buying property in the municipality by keeping the prices high. Where vendors were mostly men. 7. emphasis added). or at least did not share their income with their husbands. Taggart (1992) also describes a link between eating and sex in his analysis of the Sierra Nahuat. 9. 5. In a study of seven countries in Africa and Asia. His study is a comparative analysis of gender segregation in Mexico and Spain. women still often contributed their labour from home. His data on Mexico emphasize cooking as part of women’s role and link cooking and eating with the relationship between husband and wife. 8. Their income was mainly used for their children and school fees. p. because of the links between Nahuat conceptions of eating and sex. which he bases on early childhood relationships with parents. 6. Self-critical members of Milpa Alta society pointed out that their attitude to land is also envidioso. 81. As mentioned in Chapter 4. Here I would also classify cookbook writers. persuade villagers to live according to prevailing contractual norms’ (1988. 1992). In these cases. 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. there were religious or customary reasons for this. but if a Milpaltense is interested in the land. through frequent repetition. Tinker (1987) shows that in four countries street food vendors were usually middle-aged women (32 to 41 years old). Women vendors were often in polygamous unions or unmarried and were the primary earners in the family. . they reduce the price considerably (see Flores Aguilar. preparing the food for their husbands to sell. who are involved in a wider discourse of taste than local Milpaltenses.148 • Notes pervade all of social life and. See Woodburn (1998) for a view which refutes the idea of (food) sharing as exchange. ‘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. 87).
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17. 95. 101. 12. 120. 47. 82. 40. 108. 102 Lévi-Strauss. 113. 89–92. 67 distributed object. 46. 117 style. 46. 124. 119 concept of meaning. 90. 90. Alfred. David. 114. 101–5 passim. 116 intention. 14. 104. 89–92. 106. 39– 40. 113. 16. 82 Munn. 118 mayordomía. 37 fusion. Marit. 120 see also agency Kennedy. Ricardo. 9. 76 – 8. 32. 127 greed. 115–26 passim see also agency decoration. 39– 42. 83. 2. 119–25 passim as coercive. 113. 126 on decoration. 117–8 albur. 46. 32– 6. See mayordomía carnitas. 31. 21 street food and. 29. 9. 19–21 recipes. 106. 122. Sonia. 36. 68. 71–2. 113 envidia. 89. 37. 123. 29. 109. 73. 45. 33. 46. 51. 31. 3. 31 Corcuera. 95 Long-Solís. 87. 118. 106. 92. 3. 67. See love art nexus. 121–2 lovers and. Victoria. 20. Meredith. 123. 29. 72–4. 16 culinary. 76. 75. 105 intersubjectivity. 41–2. 125 hospitality. 81. 113 artworks as traps. 71. 3. 29. 106 –8 chefs. 125 Muñoz. 51. 47. 117 love. 79. Tim. 10 see also miscegenation. 78. 21–2 on women’s empowerment. 38 expertise. 108 technology of enchantment. 41. 1. 30. 40. 106. 45. 3. 5. 108 –9. 94. 120 chilaquiles. 3. 42. 41. 46. 10 culinary agency. 116 on sharing. Nancy. Stanley. Peter. 82–5. 89 –109. miscegenation Gell. 47. 29. 115 see also technical mastery Firth. 119 as ﬁesta food. 100–2. 49–70. 125. 127 conﬁanza. 113. 124. 97 Brandes. 3. 10 see also mestizaje. 10 see also mestizaje. 41. 5. 30. Wilk. 115–16. 123. 1–2. 45. Diana. 85. 127 Melhuus. 125 restaurants and. 75. 95. 2. 58. 13. 113 mestizaje. 124 intention and. 126 on commodity exchange. fusion. 121. 80 –5 passim. 106 –9 Bayless. 9 Cowal. 113 Lomnitz. 71. 11–13. 40 Ingold. Richard miscegenation. 105 intentionality. 108. 127 Goody. 15. 20 –1. 44 Gow. 113 barbacoa. 114 –15. Cecilia. 34. 71–6 passim. 126 on sazón. 29– 48. 16 Laudan. 10. 22–7 nueva cocina mexicana. 7. 75. 1–2. 46. 8. 124–7 albur and. 42. 127 guacamole. 126 intentionality and. 11. Raymond. Rick. 95. 124–7 value of. 67. 117–20 motherhood. 124 cookbook(s). 15. 2. 34. 89. 32. 108. 6. 75. 46. 113. 11. 95. Sophie. 22. 131–2 chinaquear. 18 –22 passim. 4–5. 90. 44. 117–20 passim. fusion mole. 107. 91. 10 compadrazgo. Marcel. 114. 82. 119 theory of art. Larissa Adler. 46. 50. 41. 38–9 mole and. 18–21. 45. 92. 78 – 82 sex and. Janet. 92. 13 – 159 – . 41. 123–7 Coe. 124 see also greed Esquivel. 13. 11–12. 128 home cooking. 12–21 passim. 121. 96. Jack. 118 Howes. 3. Laura. 103. 11. 113 agency. 100. 98. 2. 122 see also sazón McCallum. 31–3. 103. 18. 116 Mauss. 42. 126 women and. 118 generosity. 105. 121. 122–3. 35. 85. 119. 8. 3. 84. 92. 101. 90. 45. 32. 7–11 passim. 95 cargo system. 7– 8. 121. 41.Index Abarca. 93–7. Claude. 21. Rachel.
Fray Bernardino de. 30 tamal(es). 83. 9. 34. 120 women’s. 124 power of. 84. 125 Vargas. 95 street food. 71. 21. 77–85. 36. 48. Lynn. 108 on learning. 101. 113–14. 71. 82–3. 75. Luis. Richard. 29. 121 roles. 30. 74. 120 traps. 116. 107. 52. 84. 80. 89. 75. 34. David. 83 technical mastery. 67 culinary. 123 agency and. 13. 126 food as. 123 taste. 44. 85 cooking and. 41–7 passim. 3. 98. 80. 113. 47. 3. 77 see also motherhood women. 117 Wilk. 38–9. 9. 46. 77 as cooks. 36–7. 116. 122–7 Sutton. 102.160 • Index Pilcher. 45. 71–2. 33. 75. 119–22 work. 99–104 passim. 98 Sahagún. 98. 79. 5. 92. 116 value of. Jeffrey 10. 89. 71–8. 67. 92. 6. 75. 109 barbacoa. 102–6 traditional cookery. 14. 82. 73. 4 expectations of. 43 see also skill tradition. 96. 33. 46. 72–3. 73. 101. 37. 122 economic activity of. 125 Simmel. 116 . 21–2. 124. 17. 14. 14. 89. 46. 15–17. 106 womanhood. 120 development of. 45. 47. 53. 82. 75. 122. 115 ﬂavour and. 9. 102. 124–7 Mintz. 48. 4. 82–3. 117 angry. 13–14. 12–15 and restaurants. 2. 120. 43–4. 21. 48. 99. 53. 116. 76. 43–7 passim. 40–1. 22. 37. 85. 14–17. 119 sistema de cargos. 5. 119 boundaries and restrictions on. 109 street food. 121 Stephen. 117. See mayordomía skill. 106. 40. 98. 114. 3. 124 technique(s). 75 love and. 71–2. 42 Bourdieu. 54. 12 sazón. 41. 71–85 barbacoa and. Georg. 38–9 as feast food. 89. 85. artworks as. 74. 17. 45. 29–30. 85. 107. 71. 34 judgement of. 32. 120. 58–60.
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