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Culinary Art and Anthropology
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Culinary Art and Anthropology Joy Adapon Oxford • New York .
Madison. Cookery. Includes bibliographical references and index.First published in 2008 by Berg Editorial ofﬁces: 1st Floor. Angel Court. USA © Joy Adapon 2008 All rights reserved. UK 175 Fifth Avenue. Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data Adapon. Food habits—Mexico—Milpa Alta. Berg is the imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) 1. Mexican. OX4 1AW. WI. New York. Title. King’s Lynn www. Joy.com . Cookery—Social aspects—Mexico—Milpa Alta. NY 10010. Oxford. 2.bergpublishers. TX716. Culinary art and anthropology / Joy Adapon. cm. 81 St Clements Street. USA Printed in the United Kingdom by Biddles Ltd. p.M4A35 2008 394. 4. Cookery—Mexico—Milpa Alta. I.1'20972—dc22 2008017019 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-84788-213-4 (cloth) ISBN 978-1-84788-212-7 (paper) Typeset by Apex CoVantage. 3. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of Berg.
Contents Illustrations Preface Introduction Milpa Alta. How to Peel chiles poblanos. 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– . Hospitality and Exchange Flavour and Value Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Barbacoa in Milpa Alta Eating barbacoa Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. DF Organization of the book 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles The Range of Mexican Foods Home Cooking by Profession Cooking Tradition On Learning Techniques Food and Love Recipes Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato. 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.
Batter for Coating Fish.vi • Contents Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal Culinary Agency Recipes Huevos a la mexicana. Barbacoa 4 Women as Culinary Agents The Value of Cooking and Other Work Marriage and Cooking Work. Chiles and albur Daily Meals. Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’— for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home. 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. 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. 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 .’ Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela. Taco placero. Motherhood and Virtue Suffering. Buñuelos de lujo. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa.
1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole 5.2 An Example of Some Interrelations among Recipes. Shown as Families 103 104 34 35 100 – vii – . Arranged According to Type of Celebration Figures 5.1 Terminology Employed by Gell. and Corresponding Food Terms 2.Illustrations Tables 2.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus 5.1 Feast Food in Milpa Alta.
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friend. – ix – . So I went off to read up on Mexico and Mexican food before deciding for myself. if I can focus it on peppers. I visited Alfred Gell in his ofﬁce and told him. Sally Engle Merry ﬁrst introduced me to anthropology and instilled in me an immediate devotion to the subject during my undergraduate years. Back in London. ‘I’m thinking of maybe doing a PhD. He was my inspiration. thoughtful. who taught me that there are ‘tram-line’ people and ‘zigzag’ people.’ ‘Of course you can. Their sensitive comments and insight were invaluable as I waded through the process of writing my dissertation on which this book is based. supervisor and. His advice to enjoy ﬁeldwork and take note of any ‘interesting trivia’ kept me going and looking forward. he repeated that if I was interested in chile peppers. ‘Go to Mexico. I wish I could thank him personally for all his understanding and encouragement. Fenella Cannell was especially helpful in grounding me during the period immediately following Alfred Gell’s death. She shares her and Alfred’s love for life with all those who are fortunate to know her. nor would I have even thought of going to Mexico. In Alfred’s absence.’ he said. Charles Stafford was consistently most reliable. that they all eventually arrive at their destination and that the different routes are equally valid.Preface I love to eat. During a period of culinary experimentation when I was into peppers of all colours and types. I am grateful to Peter Loizos. Peter Gow always provided timely encouragement and helped me to learn how to see. several more people helped me to bring this project to completion with incomparable patience. guide. Through her patience and understanding I discovered a new ﬁeld of study as well as a different direction for my academic life. kindness and academic rigour. then Mexico was the place to go to. thorough and frank.’ Despite my hesitation. So I had to learn to cook. She gave me my ﬁrst opportunity for ﬁeldwork and supported my initial shaky steps into anthropology. Looking back. especially for taking me seriously whenever I came up with odd ideas. Without him I would never have begun this investigation. I was fortunate to be one of his last students before his untimely death in 1997. particularly important to me before my ﬁeldwork. Maurice Bloch was always inspiring and warm. Even just thinking of her is always encouraging and reminds me time and again to live in the present. This book is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Gell. I am grateful for the continued friendship and support of Simeran Gell. most of all.
With his warmth. who offered me valuable friendship and a link into Milpa Alta. and I have missed her ever since. He is now internationally acknowledged as an authority on Mexican cookery and has published ﬁve books of renown. which I would have not found on my own. Ricardo Bonilla. He was the ﬁrst person to really understand what I was getting at when I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time. Juan Carlos López. Antonio Rivera. Fabiola Alcántara. I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. Ileana Bonilla. I was in Mexico City for 24 months from 1995 to 1998 and within a few weeks of my arrival. 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. 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. Abdiel Cervántes. I didn’t know how lucky I was to have met him. especially Yadira Arenas and Luis Enrique Nápoles. Her premature death in 1996 was one of the great shocks that I encountered in Mexico. Even before my tiny ﬂat in Coyoacán became ﬂooded and unliveable. in Manila. constant moral support and generous interest in me and my work. ‘Now I guess you have to move in with me. Other friends of his who were also chefs repeatedly told me that with my interest in traditional Mexican food. we had become inseparable friends. Ma.x • Preface In Mexico I owe a great debt to many whose generosity and presence made my stay both pleasant and stimulating. he helped me to eventually ﬁnd my way during ﬁeldwork. I wish for the time when they can come stay with me. It was he who introduced me to Luz del Valle. Andrés Medina welcomed me to the Institute of Anthropological Research (IIA) in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) with a sense of humour. Their friendship and thoughtful conversations constantly provided me with security and fruitful ideas. Gabriel Gutierrez. he was eager to share with someone his favourite eateries and his love for the cuisines of Mexico. Alejandro Enriquez and Guille Arenas. Leticia Méndez was the second person I met in the UNAM who understood me both academically and emotionally. Berlin or wherever I may be. Conmigo siempre tienen su casa. Other friends in Mexico—Patricia Salero and her family. Primitiva Bermejo. homes and food with me. The people with whom I lived in Milpa Alta. Janet Long-Solís generously shared her books and her contacts with me. It was through him that I met other scholars of Mexican cuisine who inﬂuenced my understanding of Mexican gastronomy. Iván Gomezcésar shared with me thoughtful insight about Milpa Alta as well as several texts. took a strange foreigner into their homes and shared much more than their lives. Juan Manuel Horta and the rest of the staff of the Executive Dining Room in the UNAM—opened their hearts and homes to me.’ he said. Ricardo was my ‘Muchona the Hornet’ of Mexican food. including José Luis Juárez and Ricardo Muñoz. She introduced me to José Luis Curiel in the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. I was eager to learn all I could about Mexican cooking and to taste everything.
I would also like to thank Tom Jaine at Prospect Books for his always quick and witty responses to queries. helped me to reach bibliographic sources that I had difﬁculty accessing. critical when necessary. who showed humanity and equanimity at every blip along the way. And of course many thanks to Hannah Shakespeare at Berg. Anonymous readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript gave me something to chew on. Anja’s editorial eagle eye never failed to impress and amuse me. providing much constructive criticism and tipping me onto certain crucial references that have helped me improve this book immensely. Michael Schutz provided valuable technical support at short notice. like Liese Hoffmann. Yuehping was the ﬁrst and staunchest supporter of my using Alfred’s theory of art in my analysis. Saskia ﬁlled my days with such happiness that working at night seemed a fair enough exchange. David Sutton was endlessly patient. Good friends and peers. His openness and offers to help encouraged me in the academic path that he himself chose not to take.Preface • xi My occasional meetings with Chef Rick Bayless were always inspiring. And ﬁnally. 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. especially Yuehping Yen and Anja Timm. as well as willing eaters of all my culinary experiments. My survival and sanity depended on their constant presence and love. Without his belief in my work this book would not have been published. and for permission to reuse my material published previously in Petits Propos Culinaires 67. have supported me in all possible ways. for all the reasons mentioned above and more. Marilya and Scott Reese supplied me with timely stocks of Mexican ingredients and new cookbooks. Thank you! Uta Raina read through a chapter at a critical time and. Most importantly. even when they did not understand what I was doing. and the Proceedings of the Oxford Food Symposium 2001. commented on drafts of this manuscript at various stages and were immeasurably helpful and intellectually stimulating. . especially my parents and sister. 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. much love and gratitude to Kai Kresse. enthusiastic and supportive. My family.
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crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or de canasto) and a dollop of thick cream (crema de rancho. and that individual dishes could be as meaningful as symbolic ingredients. and it also looked beautiful. The day before he had cut up leftover tortillas into eight wedges each and left them to dry overnight. Chef Ricardo Muñoz. ‘This is a typical Mexican breakfast. that spices were as important as staples. My interest in and knowledge of cooking came mostly from my own research.’ he said. for I have my own story to tell . It is made of fried pieces of day-old tortillas bathed in a chile-tomato sauce and garnished with mildly soured cream. a bit of onion and garlic. was a key ethnographic moment. topping them with thin slices of white onion. and then he lowered the heat for it to simmer with some salt. He arranged a mound of chilaquiles onto each plate. not just preparing or eating it. liqueﬁed the mixture thoroughly and strained it into hot oil. but I am still compelled to begin with chilaquiles. ignoring the fact that food had ﬂavour and was enjoyed and relished by those who ate and prepared it. The salsa sizzled for some moments. 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. One dish that was personally meaningful for me during my time in Mexico was chilaquiles. I was struck by the fact that many ethnographies of food failed to take into account that cooking was a creative. In a pot Ricardo had boiled green tomatoes (tomates verdes.Introduction As a once aspiring chef. experiencing chilaquiles. That morning he deep-fried them till crisp to make totopos and set them aside for the excess oil to drain.1 I will discuss Abarca’s work elsewhere. Before going to Mexico. quickly coating them evenly and warming them up. I had always believed that anthropological studies of food were overly concerned with staple crops. I had never tasted or cooked anything like it. He poured this into a blender with some of the cooking liquid. –1– . where she begins metaphorically with her mother’s chilaquiles. tasting. even artistic process. So for me. When I began this research. (Some readers may be aware of Meredith Abarca’s (2006) recent book on Mexican and Mexican American women and cooking. he tossed in the totopos. When the salsa was ready. Chilaquiles is typical Mexican breakfast food. experimenting. white cheese and onions. ‘I like to keep them crispy. reading. exploring. With or without.) One morning I arrived early at the kitchen of my friend. like crème fraîche). .’ he told me. tomatillos). . it was delicious.
I learned to feel the . Busy families made it a point to have delectable dishes for daily meals.2 I felt that my cooking improved. Many families had their chilaquiles with extra side dishes as well—beans.’ he said (‘The Chinese girl [as he affectionately called me] doesn’t believe me’). and his entire kitchen staff laughed with him. to use up leftover tortillas or simply for the pleasure of eating. I found it hard to believe that something so complex and laborious could be typical for breakfast. 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. My introduction to Mexican cuisine was inevitably by way of recipes and cookbooks. meat. Though it looked easy. and it certainly seemed easier. my ﬁrst attempt at making chilaquiles at home was barely edible. and even insisted on. They all agreed with him that this was a commonly prepared dish that any family might have on a regular day throughout Mexico. The textures and ﬂavours were wrong. Conversely. among professional chefs in the centre as well as among barbacoieros in Milpa Alta at the outskirts. Perhaps. p. Ricardo was a well-known chef who specialized in traditional Mexican cooking. eggs. However. high gastronomic standards. bread. Abarca’s mother is quoted referring to it as the food of the poor (‘la comida de uno de pobre’. 71). and I had not had it or practised enough times to really know what to do. in my body as well as in my mind. Clearly I lacked the skill and knowledge to prepare chilaquiles properly. ‘La china no me cree. 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. and no one thought twice about it or found it particularly difﬁcult to make. the more I got to know Mexico and the more I understood about the culture and cuisine.2 • Culinary Art and Anthropology My immediate reaction was to say. Even those who were not culinary professionals delighted in. This was Mexican home cooking. the food that women prepare for their families on any given day. ‘No way!’ and this set him off laughing. I began to absorb culinary and gastronomic knowledge. I realized that it was true. learning the culinary techniques needed to make Mexican food did not work as simply as following a recipe. Living in Mexico City. and I worked too slowly. after asking several people and later living in different Mexican households. letting the totopos go soggy. and it looked like a sorry heap of nicely garnished mush. even if there was little time to linger over them. Variations of chilaquiles were normal everyday fare. Since I did not have the beneﬁt of growing up in a Mexican home. They were only cooking the kind of food that they always ate. from my perspective. The salsa was too thick and not smooth enough. Eventually. I thought. even if done to the letter. 2006. 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. this was food for restaurants or for special occasions. This event reﬂected my worries—would I ever be able to acquire any true knowledge of or expertise in Mexican cookery. chicken.
rather than ‘taste’. 2003. in Jack Goody’s terms. for thinking as well as for cooking and eating. 104–5). Using Gell’s notion of art as a technical practice highlights the social as well as gastronomic virtuosity that is embodied in skilful cooking. 510. 1950–1982). pp. so I speciﬁcally use the word ‘ﬂavour’. If we think of cookery as art. Stoller. there has been continuous adjustment. In fact. Goody counts Mexican cuisine among other ‘haute cuisines’ such as those found in China. development and innovation of culinary techniques. From what I read. this is not intended as ethnography of Mexican foodways. but what might it mean to take this idea seriously analytically? This study focuses on cooking as a deeply meaningful social activity. pp. Such a situation is what has existed in Mexico since before the Spanish arrived (see Coe. 1981. I had come to Mexico interested primarily in chiles but found that there was so much more to consider. Italy. Alfred Gell’s theory of the art nexus is the theoretical basis of this book. or. 97–9). Chiles could not be examined without the context of the whole cuisine.3 Food-as-art easily rolls off the tongue. Flavour has more sensual than sociological connotations. 1994. Approaching cooking as artistic activity is most salient when what is under scrutiny can be deﬁned as an elaborate cuisine. more often throughout this book. a ‘high’ cuisine depends on ‘a variety of dishes which are largely the inventions of specialists. is the regional food of peasants and the cooking of exotic foreigners’ (1982. enriching the cuisine through the sharing of culinary and cultural knowledge. As he deﬁnes it. throughout Mexico’s history. ‘The imagination at work in the use of local ingredients means that eating is not the domain of the rich in Mexico. 1990. Korsmeyer. on food as a form of art.4 Food in Mexico is a richly satisfying topic. 1997). 2006. in the ﬁrst instance. pp. Culinary tradition here is really peasant food raised to the level of high and sophisticated art’ (Cowal. Corcuera. my aim is to explore how we can use a theory of art to analyze food anthropologically. 2005. a ‘differentiated’ or ‘high’ cuisine (1982. My concern with Mexico is secondary to this consideration of a cuisine as an art form. Cowal. The people we study care about the ﬂavour of the food that they eat.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’. Sahagún. Though my analysis is based on ethnographic practice. Since then. 1–2). My discussion of the art of Mexican cooking is based on the gastronomic . Turkey and India (Goody. 1990. What can be inferred from this is that any good cook is a ‘specialist’. Rather. 514). For the higher cuisine also incorporates and transforms what. and that this art was to be found in everyday home cooking rather than in restaurants. which I prefer to emphasize (see Howes. from the national standpoint. reading cookbooks convinced me that Mexican cooking could be thought of as a form of art. Even before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. Mexican cuisine was also considered a particularly ﬁne art in relation to other cuisines. we recognize the creative skill needed to produce good food. France. new foodstuffs have been introduced and incorporated. But by no means entirely. pp.
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.
chiles are used primarily for their distinct ﬂavours and not only for their heat. In their green. ‘Food and cuisine can characterize a culture. and ours has been and continues to be characterized by our daily and widespread consumption of chiles’ (Muñoz. on which most of this book is focused. To each broth or stew that does not contain chile. the ﬁrst thing asked about me when I was brought to anyone’s home in Mexico was invariably. 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. The chile is the heart and soul of Mexican food. starting with the all-important chile. The Cultural Signiﬁcance of Chiles After the usual introductions. and in my case. The most culturally meaningful of the three is the chile. ripe or dried states they have different ﬂavours which are cooked or combined for different effects. we add some hot salsa at the table. 13) This chapter introduces the cuisines of Mexico in general. ‘Does she eat chile?’ The second question was usually. The Mexican Stove (1973. A very complex dish begins by roasting and/or grinding chiles. ‘And does she eat tortillas?’ Complemented with beans. and it is the chile that gives the peculiar and deﬁnitive accent to –7– . In Mexico.–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. chile and corn (most often in the form of tortillas) are the main ingredients of Mexican cuisine. —Richard Condon. In what follows I describe some of the ways that people think of and write about the cuisines of Mexico. It is in Mexico where the most extensive variety of chiles is used. my translation). 1996. students and researchers of Mexican gastronomy. Food writing colours our perceptions of other cuisines. p. foreword. I became enamoured of Mexican cooking from what I had read prior to my ﬁrst visit.
while the original inhabitants considered them a dietary cornerstone. beans are difﬁcult to digest. p. It’s magic. emphasis added) Mexican cuisine uses many kinds of chiles in diverse ways. Without each other. too numerous to list here. but any Mexican interested in eating would place the chile above the squash in a list of priorities for the dining table. It is part of the landscape. Chile makes the gastric juices run for a dinner of beans and tortillas. beans. beans and squash.1 but even a brief perusal of Mexican cookbooks indicates that chiles are signiﬁcant in Mexican life.3 In the sixteenth century when the Spanish ﬁrst arrived. 10. and we know that even then they were prepared in a number of ways to make them palatable or even edible.2 Diana Kennedy echoes Bartolomé de las Casas. a New York restaurateur. with beans and squash. pp. it fails to adequately describe Mexican cuisine.. (Muñoz. which the outsiders viewed as a mere condiment. 1989. cornﬁelds. The power of the chile in this Mexican ‘culinary triangle’ is wonderfully described by Zarela Martínez. beans and chiles. 38–9) asserts that ‘[t]his triad was invented by foreigners and imposed on the high cultures of the New World. and the proof of this is to be found in the omission of chile peppers. none of the three would be what it is. my translation) Some writings on Mexican cooking state that the ancient Mesoamerican victuals were based on a ‘holy triad’ of corn. Food historian Sophie Coe (1994. p. who wrote in the sixteenth century that without chiles Mexicans did not believe they were eating. The Range of Mexican Foods Since pre-Hispanic times. Corn is an incomplete protein. especially vitamins A and C. ‘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. 1996. the cuisines of Mexico have been based on corn. It belongs to the holy trinity that has always been the basis of our diet: corn. without which food was a penance. It has outlasted religions and governments in Mexico. p. Together they would be good basic sustenance. It is the ingredient that can determine the ﬂavour of a dish. 218. except that with the exclusion of the chile. and not just in their use as ﬂavouring for food. there was agricultural abundance.8 • Culinary Art and Anthropology many meals.’ The possible reason that squash was included is because of the traditional style of planting milpas. It also provides the vitamins they lack. The Aztecs of central Mexico had . (1992.. but hopelessly monotonous. Clearly these three crops are basic foodstuffs in the Mexican diet. The image of a basic culinary triad is tempting. The combination of the three makes a nutritionally balanced meal. 460). literally . and chile. who enthuses that Chile is history.
vegetables. tasted and tested during meals. and this notion is reiterated by writers until today. which added variety and breadth to their diet with comestibles that they did not grow themselves. imagination. ﬁsh. 90–9). including everything that they ate. animals and insects were being sold for food as supplements to the basic diet of corn. They also had military and political power over other groups in the region from whom they demanded tribute. She states that ‘at ﬁrst the civilization was too highly developed and the populace too numerous for the Spaniards to ignore the native cooking. so the variety of foods recorded by Sahagún was actually a result of culinary expertise. There are various accounts of how the Spaniards were impressed with the beauty and abundance of the Valley of Mexico.5 The foods still boiled down to being variations of chiles. used to a modest. adapted to the Mexican diet. Sahagún recorded that along with maize and beans. insects and a wide variety of fruits. mainly of foods. meticulously collected material to describe the Aztec (Náhuatl) way of life. 93). tortillas and tamales. p. and culinary artistry (Corcuera. Food historians assert that Aztec cooking was developed to high art. lentils and a few vegetables. further shows how the Spanish who came during the Conquest were only partially forced to adjust to the foods of Mexico (pp. Those ﬂavours which are favourable are repeated and remembered. and also of the feasts that the emperor Moctezuma offered to them and ate himself. 1981. seeds. a Franciscan friar who came to Mexico in the sixteenth century. small game. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (1950–82 ). beans and chiles. pulses. The Spanish friars were the ﬁrst to learn the local languages for the purposes of evangelization. Without question there was creativity. As the Spanish established themselves in what they called New Spain. and it is through their writings that we have any knowledge of the social and culinary systems of the precolonial period. tubers. they also established ﬁrm roots for the Catholic church. Spanish sources of the period attest to gastronomic abundance. Not all indigenous groups were equally afﬂuent. Soldiers. Cowal’s unpublished study. wild mushrooms. Cuisines evolve as cooks experiment with ingredients and learn new ways to process and combine their raw materials for different occasions and effects. partly out of necessity and somewhat because of taste choice’ (p. but Sonia Corcuera (1981) points out that the basic ingredients were still limited. The settlers eventually accommodated themselves within the existing culture. The repertory of Mexican cuisine expanded with the addition of ingredients and cooking methods which were introduced during the Spanish colonial . bland diet of bread.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 9 sophisticated farming techniques (chinampas4 and milpas) and more sophisticated gastronomy. the ancient Aztecs ate turkey. and culinary knowledge and expertise grow. though there is some disagreement amongst researchers and cookbook writers. but the availability of various foods impressed the conquistadors who came and saw the great markets of Tlatelolco. Food in the History of Central Mexico (1990). New foods and cooking techniques are incorporated. mutton. 30). plants and herbs that they collected or domesticated for food use. where all sorts of plants.
Eight centuries of Arab inﬂuence had left their mark’ (1990. the omnivorous appetites of its inhabitants. made up of different components that have now blended together to form . therefore. Historian Cristina Barros states that contemporary Mexican cuisine is 90 per cent indigenous and 10 per cent other inﬂuences. the Mennonites. 62) or of ‘baroque cuisine’ comes directly from the convents. which integrated the new ﬂavours and foodstuffs. What exists in Mexico is what food historian Rachel Laudan deﬁnes as a local cuisine. The convents were wealthy laboratories of gastronomic experimentation where the sharing of culinary inﬂuences ﬂourished during the colonial period.. the later Spanish refugees from the Civil War. That is. the bases remained Mexican. p. Mexican cooks sought the essence of their art in popular traditions rather than in formalized techniques (Pilcher. the process of mestizaje is not a simple fusion of Indian and Spanish. personal communication) By the nineteenth century. These popular traditions partly consist in the culinary techniques and gastronomic knowledge that have been passed down the generations through the family kitchen. They also brought onions. the basis of Mexican cuisine remained the same as it had always been—corn. Not just the Spanish but the French.. 1998). (Rachel Laudan. 1994.7 Given the sophistication of both the native and foreign colonial cuisines. milk and its products were unknown.8 Cowal points out that ‘Spanish cooking was already a mixture when it got to the Americas. cows. 1995. the Lebanese. 1995. 113). ‘The excesses and inventiveness of convent cooking reﬂected Mexico’s diverse ﬂora and fauna. 63). 90). ‘The most delicious cuisines [in Mexico] are those with more indigenous inﬂuence. The Spaniards introduced pigs. as were cooking methods using fats. a new and coherent cuisine . cinnamon. within the convents. not by the gradual evolution of some original cuisine rooted in the soil (though that does happen) but by the shocks and changes of immigrants . the Italians. the power and wealth of its religious orders’ (Valle and Valle.10 • Culinary Art and Anthropology period.. The idea of an ‘emerging mestizo cuisine’ (Valle and Valle.. chickens and sheep to Mexico. Spanish nuns had to learn to use the local products. cloves and many other herbs and spices that are widely used in Mexican cookery today. beans and chiles. have all had much more impact than the usual indigenous/colonial story would lead one to believe. such as frying. Before the arrival of the Spaniards. Juárez López (2000) argues that the bases of much contemporary . above all. There were few Spanish who arrived during the Conquest. garlic. coriander. and though they did inﬂuence the local cuisines. p. Yet in spite of this.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. as much of what they were used to cooking could not all be imported from Spain. the Germans. On the other hand.’9 She asserts that the indigenous cuisines of Mexico did not undergo the miscegenation that most people claim.. p. p.. and. At the same time.
Diana Kennedy. There were two thousand single-spaced pages describing what people cooked. Kennedy. out at street stalls. 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. as well as culinary tools. Much later Ricardo told me that he was miffed that I did not seem too impressed. 2000). Indeed. techniques and customs related to food from all over the country. About thirty different recipes were covered. and he had already devoted seven years to travel. Gilliland and Ravago. p. Gabilondo. What did impress me. because Ricardo believed that there was so much about Mexican gastronomy that people in Mexico and abroad should be aware of. 1987. Ricardo had had a modest upbringing in southern Mexico in Tabasco and Veracruz. and Laudan (2004) makes a strong case for Persian inﬂuences. in small eateries. Zaslavsky. the most well known writer on Mexican cookery. and collected and what they ate at home. He grew up with a passion for food because of his mother. Middle Eastern and French. and this was only a sampling. xiii). research and writing for this book. whose edible skin tastes subtly of anise) to complex stews or preparations made of dozens of ingredients (like moles and stuffed chiles). was when we next met and Ricardo showed me the ﬁrst draft of the Mexican gastronomic dictionary he had written (now published.g. 2005. 1996. There are subtle as well as forceful ﬂavours. This was because I expected there to be dozens of beans and ways to prepare them in Mexico. Aﬁcionados travel to Mexico just to discover the richness and variety of the local cuisines. Kraig and Nieto. in restaurants and on regular days or during ﬁestas. 1995). after having read so much about Mexican food before my trip. 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.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 11 Mexican cuisine are European. planted. a fascinating and many-faceted world’ (1989. have worked hard to dispel the idea that the foods of Mexico are anything like the food of popular Tex-Mex restaurants abroad. Bayless and Bayless. many restaurants in Mexico offer home cooking as their specialities. such as the Chinese. very much. Home Cooking by Profession Soon after I arrived in Mexico for the ﬁrst time I met Chef Ricardo Muñoz. who is an excellent . as well as other cookbook authors. states that ‘[t]he foods of regional Mexico are in a gastronomic world of their own. The project was a self-motivated labour of love. ranging from the simplicity of ingredients best eaten raw (like pápaloquelite or small avocados criollos. encompassing all kinds of ﬂowers (like ﬂor de izote) and local vegetables (like huauzontle). He was teaching a class on beans in traditional Mexican cookery. Regardless of a recipe’s origins. hunted. 1986. many non-Mexican (e. Muñoz. At the time.
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’. watching his mother cook. By the time he moved to Mexico City as a young adult and began formal culinary training. The latter suggested adding a bit of this and that. discovery or rediscovery of these things. After following these suggestions. To be able to afford to send her seven children to school. ‘I just told you how to make a traditional green mole!’ was Ricardo’s response. ultimately expanding. where one of his sisters had migrated. without the experience of growing up in a pueblo as Ricardo had done. But even without books. Dissatisﬁed with a complex green sauce that he intended to serve with duck. then in turn is re-reproduced in people’s homes. she set up a fonda. One friend of Ricardo’s was a chef at a sophisticated Mexico City restaurant serving nueva cocina mexicana. and there he took a course on international cookery. recommending other cooking tips. Mexican nouvelle cuisine. he has been actively inﬂuencing others to share his appreciation of Mexican gastronomy.11 To me it seems he is like a contemporary Sahagún. 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. sopa de ﬂor de calabaza or sopa de milpa. he was attuned to the subtleties and diversity of Mexican regional cooking. and later also his teaching and publications.12 • Culinary Art and Anthropology cook. This was part of what instigated him to embark on his intense research of what and how people eat and cook in all the pueblos10 of Mexico that he could visit. on such a small scale that they remain local and unknown even in other areas of the country. occasionally lending a hand. Despite his training as a chef that taught him the basics of French cuisine. The soup . a small local eatery selling popular home-style dishes. he was continually drawn back to the ﬂavours and culinary cultures of home. 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. He had had a relatively afﬂuent urban upbringing. 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. He recognized that many delicacies of Mexican gastronomy are wild ingredients or dishes produced only in people’s homes. For a couple of years he lived in California. redeﬁning or reﬁning the cuisine. and with his delicious cooking. he asked Ricardo for advice. sometimes home cooking is reproduced in restaurants. An example is a traditional soup from central Mexico known as squash blossom or milpa plantation soup. Ricardo grew up hanging out in the fonda. Ricardo became recognized for his knowledge of traditional Mexican cookery. often shopping for their supplies. in his data collection and awe of the foods of Mexico.
Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 13 is made from the products of the milpa. courgettes. 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. p. and huitlacoche (corn fungus). the food of the pueblo or of the market.15 Etymologically. Whether they were specialists of French cuisine or California cooking. some of whom had trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris or the Culinary Institute of America in New York. then. The soup may be thickened with masa (nixtamal ). Ricardo’s work slots into this movement. still under way. In relation to gastronomy and ﬂavours. directly related to the growing interest in reclaiming a sense of what is Mexican. There were many more Mexican food festivals aimed at wealthy urban mestizos than ever before. but it is now also served in posh restaurants serving nueva cocina mexicana. Traditions are the ‘habits and values [of a culture that are transmitted] from one generation to another’ (p. dough for making tortillas. The number of restaurants in Mexico serving Mexican cuisine has been rising in the past twenty-ﬁve years. ﬂavourful. This was set up by a group of women who were distinguished chefs or otherwise specialists in Mexican culinary culture. they often talked about Mexican food. squash blossoms. in spite of their support of experimentation and fusion. traditions should not be thought of as static or frozen in the past. the herb epazote. and of the new and exciting Mexican cookery that was emerging. Moreover.13 Long and Vargas (2005. and an awareness that their cuisines are unique.14 Hountondji (1983) reminds us that the root word of ‘tradition’ is the Latin word tradere. In the 1990s professional cookery had become as fashionable and prestigious as it was in the USA and UK. which included international cooking skills and culinary history among other subjects. I had considerable contact with professional chefs in Mexico City. to transmit. of recuperating and renovating (or even reinventing) ‘traditional’ foods and practices. The cooking schools in Mexico City were growing. culinary traditions were self-consciously being revived (p. was formed in Mexico City. of the pueblos. 139). This soup is home cooking (comida casera). which implies movement. However. green beans. poblano chiles and sometimes nopales. they still had great appreciation for what they sometimes called the ‘simple’ food. recovering the recipes of their grandparents. which may seem very personal and ephemeral. 138). that is. with fresh maize kernels. As a nationalistic reaction to foreign inﬂuences on Mexican food. 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. the greatest interest amongst young student chefs was in studying traditional Mexican cookery. . and the remote (‘authentic’12) recipes of the provincial towns. 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). and more and more books were being published about ‘real’ Mexican food. and it was even possible to obtain a university degree in gastronomy. something to be proud of.
tomatoes. 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. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions’. Miguel proceeded to relate how his mother would slaughter the hens. and these dishes are often thought of simply as being ‘traditional’. Certainly most people’s vast culinary knowledge is never written down. from consulting with others. 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. 2006. the curds made from the colustrum of a cow. These habits and values. 361). it ‘develops with the growth of the organism’ (2000. 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. p. pp. saving the blood and tripe to cook with the huevera. chile and epazote.14 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it is difﬁcult to pin down what precisely is transmitted. These unlain eggs are called the huevera and my friends were able to tell me about different ways of preparing them. Sutton. 2001. 106).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. with a little imagination. if they are labelled at all. For now. came home one day with calostros de vaca. My friend Yadira. hands.d. quoted and discussed in Sutton. but her friend who had given it to her told her to prepare it with onions. or as Ingold describes other kinds of skill. La Merced. She herself had never tasted or cooked it before. they improvise with the food they have at hand. Knowing how to make certain dishes or how to combine foods is learnt by repeated observation and practice. noses and mouths. will affect the outcome of the dishes cooked. in addition to gleaning what we can from books and other means or media (cf. Rather than strictly following a recipe. This is how culinary knowledge is often passed on— without recipes or precise measurements. not usually articulated. Once I mentioned to friends in Milpa Alta that in the main market of Mexico City. in Milpa Alta. hearts. when people need to do things quickly. Rather. from the experience of growing up within a particular gastronomic culture. . n. p. the recipe for which he described in detail. combined with creativity. social and/or professional sense. cooking is something that is enacted and embodied. it was explained to me. Doña Margarita and Primy told me how they would usually make tamales with them.16 Unlike artefacts in an ethnographic museum. 128–30) that is stored in their heads.). ‘it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. culinary knowledge and skill. We learn gastronomic habits and values by growing up within the contexts that give rise to what we later deﬁne as ‘traditional’. They were cut open down the middle and their unlain eggs were on display. traditions are dynamic living practices that are ‘inﬁnitely adaptable’ (Sutton. As with any other sort of skill. I had seen egg-laying hens for sale. fellow cooks are expected to be able to draw upon a ‘stock of knowledge’ (Keller and Dixon Keller. 2006.
I bought or read a number of Mexican cookbooks. then grinding them on a metate.18 Sauces had to be prepared with the stone mortar and pestle called the molcajete and tejolote. The grinding action of the stones produces a more even. the ingredients. ﬂat round cakes. in spite of industrialization). On Learning Techniques Before my ﬁrst visit to Mexico. it is. and much effort and time are needed to prepare almost anything that people eat daily. skinned Achiote Rub (see recipe for Cochinita Pibil) Cebollas Rojas en Escabeche (see separate recipe) (Gilliland and Ravago. or basalt grinding stone. recipes for which are found on other pages of the book. to say the least. women had to spend several hours a day boiling dried maize kernels. As one cookbook aptly expresses. Before industrialization (and now. The rice and beans would be the most common accompaniments for this ﬁsh in the Yucatán where the recipe originates. 2005. Some cookbooks suggest sample menus or traditional accompaniments. (Thank goodness we can ask the ﬁshmonger to ﬁllet and skin the ﬁsh for us!) . p. 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.to 7-ounce red snapper ﬁllets. even more so if such a thing were possible. in some households. these are the three ingredients of their recipe for Pescado Tikin Xik: 6 6. Fonda San Miguel. Some restaurants even serve salsas from molcajetes whether or not they actually make the sauces in them. Most people I came across in Mexico would still insist that a salsa made in the molcajete tastes better than one made in a blender.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 15 Some traditional Mexican cooking techniques are complex or involve long processes. which are helpful. Often recipes looked deceptively simple. for people who like to cook’ (Condon and Bennet. 134) In addition. they recommend serving the ﬁsh with arroz blanco (white rice) and frijoles negros (black beans). or with chipotle mayonnaise. is necessary to cook well. This is one reason that a sincere interest in cooking. p. rather than grinds. the raw materials and the ﬁnished dishes. textured salsa than an electric blender. and baking them one by one on a comal. ‘The pervasive fact about Mexican food is that it is not only for people who like to eat. making a choppy and more watery sauce. 16). but in fact they were full of parenthetical references to other recipes or basic techniques. so it is good advice to follow. Inspired by a recipe from Diana Kennedy. It was intimidating. to make a soft dough before patting them out into tortillas. 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’. a metal or clay griddle. 1973. which slices. hoping to try out some recipes. in the ﬂavours.
after all. and material). or were side dishes or basic preparations that ultimately constituted an ingredient for another recipe. assessed by sight. and it is this type of discernment that also needs to be learnt. According to Ingold (2000). approximately. approximately. 1989. kept hot rajas of 1 large chile poblano (see page 471) 4 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco or añejo (Kennedy. 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. an artefact (or . kept hot. broiled (see page 450) 5 chiles serranos. expertise is enacted as a symbiosis between a skilled practitioner and his or her environment within a system of relations (in our case social. My impression was that short recipes were either composites of several others. Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs). but a full meal. texture and smell. But home cooks surely did not think in terms of recipes. or 1⅓ cups salsa de tomate verde. 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. I recognized that I needed to reach a comfortable level of self-conﬁdence when I thought of chiles or of making a Mexican salsa. it lists the following ingredients: 2 garlic cloves. Ingredients are chosen. p. 318) Turning then to her recipe for salsa ranchera on page 338. 338) What appeared straightforward at ﬁrst glance seemed actually more like the endless subordinate clauses of a German sentence. broiled (see page 472) 2 tablespoons safﬂower oil 2 heaped tablespoons ﬁnely chopped white onion ½ teaspoon (or to taste) sea salt (Kennedy. tasted and savoured. which are. p. 1989. cocida (page 337). these are the ingredients of Diana Kennedy’s recipe for one of the most well-known dishes outside of Mexico. Once in a material or physical state. touched and manipulated. along with the culinary techniques. They were only some of the essential components of a complete or proper meal. A cook needs to make myriad decisions before ﬁnally producing not just a dish. peeled and roughly chopped 2 pounds (about 4 large) tomatoes. 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).16 • Culinary Art and Anthropology For another example. abstract formulae that need to be selfconsciously recorded. gastronomic.
343). In my case. When a Mexican friend told me that to make enchiladas I had to ‘pass the tortilla through hot oil’. The women of Milpa Alta and the chefs of the centre differed in social class and social context. This is because ‘the artefact engages its maker in a pattern of skilled activity’ (p. Yadira insisted that it is better to use too much oil to fry rice well before adding water or broth. boiled beans. a dish or meal) does not actually come into being in the exact way that it was previously imagined (Ingold. After some weeks watching and helping people cook in Mexico. rather than use too little oil and sacriﬁce the ﬂavour and texture. and that it is important to allow foods to take their own time to reach their optimum points. I rarely cooked on my own. even though I comprehended the words individually. Even watching my friends cook on occasion was not enough for me to pick up the skills in a short time. participate. and to my understanding each group held the other in great respect for their presumed culinary mastery. When two cooks prepare food following the same recipe the food comes out differently. He said that he learned to cook by watching his sister cooking as he grew up. frijoles refritos. 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. Yet when it came to the way in which they talked about Mexican cuisine. practise and articulate my questions about Mexican culinary techniques so that some of the cooking skill could grow within me. Though she did not set out to teach him to cook. They serve as reminders so that a cook can prepare a dish using previously learnt skills acquired through experience (see also Sutton. 345). Because of these very individual actions. Making raw salsas and different kinds of cooked or part-cooked salsas with fresh chiles or dried chiles requires different methods. too. the coming-into-being of any product (artefact. preferably by demonstration and practice. That is not to say that the techniques of one group were any more or less sophisticated than the other’s. Sutton (2001) notes that written recipes are ‘memory jogs’ that cannot actually teach someone how to cook. The hands of the cook and other bodily sensory factors play a role in the outcome. Before going to Mexico for the ﬁrst time. even if you must drain off the excess oil. 2000. I stopped thinking twice about it. he loved to watch her.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 17 in our case. showed me how he makes refried beans. p. but I had plenty of opportunities to observe. Another friend. To prepare basic Mexican dishes some unique culinary techniques need to be learned. they used a very similar discourse. following a Mexican recipe required learning culinary skills to which I had had no prior exposure. food. Among chefs who specialized in Mexican cuisine. I garnered knowledge of technical terminology and processes much more systematically than I did from women in Milpa Alta. 2006). It took him almost forty-ﬁve minutes to fry and mash onions with the frijoles de olla. I had to confess that I did not know what that meant. Toño. meal) is as much a part of the creative process as its pre-conceptualisation. In all my time in Mexico. and he noticed how she respected food. who used to cook for a fonda in Veracruz. .
But my banker friend was not the only person I met who talked of food in this manner. Different kinds of culinary specialists subscribe to this popular discourse on the connection between love and cooking. knowing how or why certain things are used together. Professional chefs have a technical language in which to express themselves about gastronomic matters. when I complimented people on their cooking. because of a love of cooking. but I believe the prevalence and variety of its expression is pertinent. loving way to bring out each ingredient’s best qualities. Throughout my ﬁeldwork I was confronted with these statements—both from trained chefs and from home cooks. 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. which I did often. This love may be interpreted as an affection for the people who will be eating or as the desire to eat well. The rhetoric of love is not something that is unique to Mexico. what ‘marries well’ or not. good cooks from any culture might say that the reason they cook well is because of some kind of love. This was a phrase they volunteered. of course. they refer to many facets of love. Friends from different backgrounds have told me their culinary secret. él que ama’ (‘Mexican cuisine is for he who feels. Relating food to love in Mexico may not be unique. 1992). including the attention and care that goes into cooking well. ‘I cook with love’ (‘Yo cocino con amor’ ). ‘What’s your secret?’. but oftentimes.18 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Food and Love There is a rhetoric of food and love in Mexico. Knowing how to develop the ﬂavours of a food depends on an interest in understanding it and how it reacts with other foods. and I was unable to elicit a clear explanation from him. If pressed. It may also be that a good cook cares about following a recipe or doing a technique properly. It also appears that you need not be born Mexican in order to feel so strongly about their cuisine. A young banker once tried to explain to me his relationship to food. There are three types of orgasms. he who loves’). The latter often added that love was the ‘secret ingredient’ that made their dishes special. which is exempliﬁed by novels such as Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel. saying. When people talk of love (amor). they almost always took up this popular discourse of love and gave an emotional value to the topic. At some point I wondered whether this might be a clever culturally sanctioned means of hiding culinary secrets. And of course there is the correlation between food and romance. Wooing couples of different cultures often practise courtship or romance with private meals (out or in) as preludes to other things. It involves understanding the history of a dish or an ingredient. saying. he told me—the carnal. the cook sometimes dictated me a recipe. and the gastronomical—and these three are encapsulated in mole. I never asked anyone directly. but when we talked about Mexican cuisine. Richard Condon . This comment may sound exaggerated. and sometimes said that her secret was ‘love’. the spiritual. It may be that a good cook treats ingredients in a particular. ‘La cocina mexicana es para él que siente.
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
I have abridged it only a little as I translated it. All kinds of chiles are stuffed and are served in people’s homes. it separates artists from craftspeople. Because of his training as a chef. instructions are meticulously written. though in sazón they are not mutually exclusive. and in market stands and fondas. The picadillo ﬁlling for the chile recipes . In other words. Abarca writes. They are guided by their memories. ‘Stuffed Chiles a la Mexicana’. I provide recipes throughout this book to give readers an idea of Mexican home cooking (comida casera). but what is most commonly found in Mexico City. I have heard people describe sazón as something like a blessing or a gift. and it is possible to have sazón even when cooking with modern appliances. that the sazón is what differentiates a good cook from a particularly ﬁnely talented one. personal histories and taste. She describes women who have good sazón who avoid pressure cookers and grind their moles on their metates. it is not only a recognition of their culinary knowledge. When someone has sazón. embodied or otherwise. I hope that Ricardo’s detailed explanations will compensate for the lack of his presence. 54). I suggest. or sazón. to more challenging dishes such as pipián verde. but in a fonda or at home. stuffed chiles would be served with a thin tomato sauce. For my part. Los chiles rellenos en México (1996). without recipes. This can range from something as common as boiled beans in their broth. ‘to know’ at a sensory epistemological level rather than ‘to know’ in a technical way. In the market the chiles are sold wrapped in a tortilla like a taco. Similar to what Abarca notes. or cheese. instead.20 Drawing from the work of Giard (2002). are poblano chiles stuffed with chopped or minced meat ( picadillo). ‘captures the notion of saber rather than conocer’ (p. and to this I now turn in the chapter that follows. as well as by their internal embodied knowledge.22 • Culinary Art and Anthropology their sazón in their ability to prepare particularly delicious food. un don. I would hesitate to connect sazón too much to ‘traditional’ kitchen equipment. The recipes and cooking tips in this chapter are taken from Ricardo’s ﬁrst book. that is. yet also very humble and everyday dish. Sazón. 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. 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. When cooks are singled out for their ability. caldillo. It is precisely this inexplicable quality that sets some cooks apart from others. that someone is rarely able to pinpoint what her actual trick might be. Her grassroots theorists tend to cook without measuring. Recipes Though I have just explained at length that it is difﬁcult to reproduce Mexican cooking without demonstration and practice. When I ﬁrst began my own research. frijoles de olla. my working title was Chiles rellenos a la mexicana.
They should be cooked but not very soft. stirring from time to time to separate the lumps and to avoid it sticking to the pan. • Heat the oil until it smokes lightly and fry the onions until soft and golden. Chiles 15 chiles poblanos.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 23 here can be substituted with cheese. below. ready for stufﬁng • See ‘How to Peel chiles poblanos’. Formal classes of authentic Mexican cooking are never taken. María Elena was born in Coahuila. especially the kinds that melt. Add the garlic and as soon as it is fried. peeled and cut into ½-cm (⅛-inch) cubes ½ cup corn or canola oil 1 cup white onions. Chiles rellenos de picadillo sencillo con papa Chiles Stuffed with Simple picadillo with Potato (Muñoz. Panela. freshly ground. to taste • Blanch the potatoes in water and set them aside. 1996. and everyone learns to cook according to the regional style. Cook until the meat is crispy. ﬁnely chopped 300 g (11 oz) minced beef 350 g (12 oz) minced pork sea salt to taste black pepper. but a mother or mother-in-law knows that her daughter or daughter-in-law should someday inherit her culinary secrets. stir in the beef and pork. 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. and she soon learned to make local dishes. but she came to live in the capital when she was very young. Few families have recipe collections. just by watching. pp. . Oaxaca and Chihuahua cheeses are commonly used. Picadillo 3 cups potatoes. ﬁnely chopped 1 tablespoon garlic.
and season with salt and pepper to taste. Capeado 8 eggs at room temperature. chopped ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds sea salt to taste black pepper to taste • Heat the oil in a pan until it smokes lightly. • Serve the chiles with this sauce. p. Adjust the salt.24 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add the potatoes and pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. liquefy the garlic. • Allow the caldillo to cook for about 15 minutes. 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’. separated sea salt to taste ﬂour. 1996. as necessary ¼ cup corn oil sugar to taste . Strain the mixture and pour it over the onions. below. Alternative caldillo ( from picadillo especial recipe. Munoz. peeled 1 cup tomato. chopped roughly 6 cloves garlic. tomato and cumin. sliced into thin segments 4 cloves garlic. • In a blender. accompanied with white rice and/or brothy beans and corn tortillas or bread. and fry the onion until golden. • Leave to cool and stuff the chiles. Caldillo ¼ cup corn oil 2 cups white onions. peeled 6 black peppercorns sea salt to taste chicken broth or water.
This is best done with your ﬁngers. . With the tip of a knife cut a slit down the length of each chile. immediately transfer the chiles to a plastic bag and close it. because if they are peeled too far in advance they may become too soft and lose their texture and visual appeal. Check that the part attached to the stem is completely clean because some veins and seeds often remain. heat the oil until it smokes lightly. 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). The inside of the chiles should be cleaned with a damp cloth. Try to peel the chiles just before stufﬁng and coating them in batter. almost falling apart. Cook until the tomatoes are totally cooked. • This same technique may be used for other fresh chiles like the de agua of Oaxaca. making the chiles hotter. This can also be done on a griddle (comal ). keeping the stem facing upward. pepper. but if you have very sensitive skin you may wish to wear rubber gloves. • Place the chiles on a chopping board. • In a deep pot. but this makes the chile lose some ﬂavor. When the skin is charred well and evenly. Leave the chiles to rest for around 15 minutes so that they can sweat. • Pour it all into a blender jar and liquefy to form a smooth sauce. starting 2 centimetres (¾ inch) from the stem. garlic. Strain it. It is necessary to dry the chiles with a dry cloth or to drain them very well. How to Peel chiles poblanos (pp. • Place the chiles directly over the ﬂame on the stove. If the cut is made from end to end it may be difﬁcult to stuff and then close the chiles. • It is unnecessary to scrape the chiles. Pour the sauce into the oil and let it cook about 10 minutes. and chiles ixcatic. Taste and adjust the seasoning. and salt in enough broth or water to completely cover them. and the skin will slip off more easily.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 25 • Boil the tomatoes with the onion. because they may break. Many people ﬁnd it easier to remove the seeds under cold running water. Set aside to serve with stuffed chiles. with their respective differences. It is at this stage when the chiles are most easily broken. add a little sugar. If they are not to be battered. These are the most common ways. so it is good to roast and peel a few extra chiles. or over hot coals or a wood ﬁre. jalapeños. you may return them to the ﬂame to burn off any remaining skin. and stopping at least 1 centimetre (⅓ inch) before you reach the bottom tip. If it is a bit sour or tart. If they will be coated in capeado it is all right if some bits of skin remain. 48–9) Almost every family has their own technique for peeling and cleaning chiles. • Remove all the veins and seeds from the chiles.
If the eggs have been in the refrigerator it is necessary to remove them two hours before using them. if not. To determine whether they have reached this point. • Never beat egg whites in plastic bowls. even if it has previously been strained. This also helps the egg to adhere to the chile and not slip off when you fry it.26 • Culinary Art and Anthropology How to Achieve a Perfect capeado (Muñoz. and with a spatula. Do not heat it too much or the batter may burn. because these bowls retain ﬂavors and odors and often cause the egg whites to collapse. 1996. overturn the bowl. . avoid overstufﬁng them. • The stufﬁng should be cold or at room temperature. since it helps the whites to reach the required or ideal point. • As soon as the whites have been beaten to the required point. the chiles should be totally dry inside and outside. At this stage you may add salt. • When placing the chile in oil. • The eggs must always be at room temperature because cold egg whites do not rise sufﬁciently. • Coat the chiles in the batter quickly. • The ﬂour should be sifted because lumps remain raw and give a bad taste to the capeado. they are not yet ready and should be beaten some more. but not too much because it is easy to overbeat them. • Beat the egg whites only until they form soft peaks ( punto de nieve. just stiff ). • If you need to coat large amounts of chiles. if the egg whites move or slip. prepare the batter in small amounts. pp. • When stufﬁng the chiles.21 A copper bowl is ideal. • Roll the chiles in sifted ﬂour (make sure to shake off the excess). Pay special attention to drying the inside very well. it should smoke lightly. Afterward. Metal or glass bowls will also give good results. incorporate the yolks one by one with folding movements. make sure that the oil is hot enough. 112–3) • For the egg to stick well to the chiles. turn the chile to cook the other side. moisture will deﬂate the stifﬂy beaten eggs. lay it with the opening facing up. though copper bowls are expensive and difﬁcult to ﬁnd. the batter will separate. • Before placing the chiles in the oil. Add one or two tablespoons of sifted ﬂour if you wish to have a thicker batter. They very easily collapse or separate. use a spatula to push it back to stick to the chile so that it remains uniform and without drips. • If the batter spreads beyond the sides of the chile. because they are difﬁcult to handle if they are too heavy. It should also be dry so that no liquid will spill out. It is very difﬁcult to beat many egg whites stiff at the same time. • Do not stuff the chiles too far in advance since the juices of the ﬁlling may spill out. splash the oil over the top of the chile to seal it. in stages.
it is possible! • When frying small chiles and those that do not have a heavy ﬁlling. You may need to change the paper towels two or more times as you continue frying. though the bottom part will always be a little darker. you may need two spatulas to turn the chiles without breaking the egg coating. place them on paper towels to absorb excess oil. though it may be better to turn them by holding the stem. . you can hold them by the stem to turn them without using a spatula. • If you are inexperienced. • The batter should cook until it is lightly golden (never brown). 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.Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine • 27 • With practice. • Once you remove the chiles from the pan. Yes.
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for a fruitful anthropological examination of food and ﬂavour. consumption and exchange of foods within social networks. identity or symbolic staple foods.2 Though much has been written about food in anthropology. who focused primarily on class distinction and social hierarchy. I then move on to examine Gell’s broadly deﬁned notion of art.–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. and a point of departure. Chefs acquire skill by professional training in schools or working with masters. or to describe and discuss ﬂavours. Yet many people. 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. Food and Culinary Art in Anthropology Chefs and gastronomes talk passionately about food. This is because of the perceived skill involved in its execution. for my approach to food differs from that of Bourdieu and Goody. see Brown and Mussell. delicious. 1997a.1 This may be why there are few attempts to analyze ﬂavours anthropologically. and often in the context of ritual occasions (e. in the sensual/social relations (Howes. Though the results are comparable. Counihan – 29 – . I develop these ideas by ﬁrst establishing how food has been treated previously.g. In this chapter I put forth the argument that we should think of food as art in order to analyze it productively anthropologically. 1985. 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). which ultimately results in their producing food (artwork/artefact) that is successful in its rendition (that is. including culinary professionals. the ‘technology of enchantment’ and his notion of the ‘art nexus’. by taking into account the production. poverty. Caplan. I use Gell’s theory of art as a model. often ﬁnd it difﬁcult to articulate their reasons for preferring some foods over others. creativity and agency. Chefs and home cooks both perceive and appreciate the knowledge acquisition of each other. 2003) of life in Milpa Alta. there has been more focus on issues such as gender. cookery and cuisine. and second. memorable). meaningful. the means by which each of these groups acquires this skill are completely different.
Malinowski. It is what matters most immediately to us when we eat and is difﬁcult to isolate as a subaspect of food. perhaps because. which is largely a matter of privileging the ‘symbolic’ at the expense of the more immediately communicable dimensions of social action … a neglect of the ‘surface’ in favour of the ‘depths’. Wiessner and Schiefenhövel. p. even food. Without the consideration of such related areas. sex and sacriﬁce. Lupton. 1998. Lentz. anthropologists are not used to thinking of it as art. and not food as a means of deﬁning what else it can be used for in the social order (e. Whilst we may subconsciously appreciate very good food as superior craft. 1998) but also more generally in anthropology and sociology (see Highmore. 25) Strangely enough. especially from the perspective of the anthropology of art. than if they simply pleased those who were doing the cooking and eating’ (1996. The distinction between art and craft is a question of skill. 1996). Instead. he supports the observation and study of cooking at the domestic level. or.3 The topic of food in anthropology has historically been subsumed into these other areas and contexts. In Goody’s (1982) analysis of hierarchy and the development of elaborate cuisines. stating that there is a tendency to spirit away the more concrete aspects of human life. it is considered to be subjective and too personal for scrutiny. Counihan and van Esterik. In fact. 2002). is a connection that is so easily made in societies where most anthropologists come from. There is a growing trend to consider the everyday. bafﬂed him. 1997. constitutionally. Mintz encourages anthropologists to study food in its social context as a ‘cuisine’. it has ﬂavour and the taste is important to the people who eat and cook the foods.30 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and Kaplan. Yet it cannot be denied that whether food is discussed in ritual or quotidian occasions. the artistic aspect of food production has often been ignored in favour of its shock value. p. little is written about cooking as a form of art. But his interest is in comparative analysis over a broad historical. 1996. albeit lightly. comparison and contrast within and between cuisines lacks an essential dimension. he discusses ‘the art of cooking’. or were ceremonialized. 3). 1935). Macbeth. arising from the fact that social anthropology is essentially. using this label without questioning its meaning. food and eating ‘were more interesting [to anthropologists] if they offended the observer.g. 40). as Sidney Mintz put it. see Sutton. which are deemed of higher theoretical relevance.g. 1999. Yet thinking of a cook/chef as an artist. by locating their interpretation only at the ‘deeper’ level.4 In other words. The same could be said about ﬂavour in food. not only in food studies (e. especially in areas as closely tied to the whole domestic domain as that of cooking.. anti-art’ (1996. analysing cooking in its domestic quotidian context is as important as studying food in ritual contexts. . discussed further below. However. taste in terms of ﬂavour seems to be particularly resistant to sociological analysis.5 Gell observes that ‘the neglect of art in modern social anthropology is necessary and intentional. (p. like aesthetics. 1997.
p. fully trapped under some kind of gastronomic spell. combined with the fact that raw materials need to be bought or collected from different places and then prepared and combined well. from his topic of enquiry it seems logical to observe ‘the art of cooking’ itself in the context of its social dimensions. that is. I was surprised to ﬁnd that real Mexican people. simply did not have a clue about what I was getting at when I talked about culinary manipulations of chiles and other foodstuffs. And power and meaning are always connected’ (1996. meaning is temporally extended and extendable. hence power. there is no ‘language of food’ which can be learnt via a grammar of eating habits or cooking techniques. meaning can be said to effectuate behaviors of certain kinds. I was interested in learning the ‘language of chiles’ that I had been led to expect existed from reading Mexican cookbooks. an example from my ﬁeldwork is helpful. The communicative aspects of cooking and eating lie in the meanings that actors (or agents. 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. which are powerful enough to lead to social changes in other levels in the matrix of cultural forms. if you wish—or a socially developed system which is employed in the preparation of foods for consumption. While it is true that Mexican eating habits can be placed into classiﬁcations and then encoded. ‘Because people act in terms of understood meanings. As Sidney Mintz says.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. . ‘[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. Furthermore. To illustrate this point. At least from my ﬁndings in Mexican cuisine. within the complex of intentionalities that Gell talks about in his work (1998. 30). 1982. 30). like the Mexican. that make good food meaningful and thus give cooks greater social value. p.8 an artistic approach may provide greater scope for an analysis of an elaborate cuisine. both professional cooks and women in Milpa Alta. The active agency of art is the conveyor or mediator of social meanings. yet in his own work he neglected the aspect of preparation. therefore. It makes more sense. within the constraints of a cook’s daily life. to this ‘enchantment’.6 Nevertheless. preparation and consumption of food’ ( p. myself. Having succumbed. 2). When I ﬁrst went to Mexico. Some cookery writers. Although I do not contest the analytical advantages of a structural framework. 1999b).Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 31 political and economic framework. He argues for the need to contextualize social theory in ‘the total process of production. the creative activity. It is the active element in food preparation. 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. It allows women to change their social spaces and thereby expand their social network outside of the home. to talk about a body of knowledge—a culinary corpus or art corpus.
1999b). 6). emphasis added) which . Rather than direct metonymic expressions of foodstuffs standing for other social structures. or repository of social meaning. intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it’ (1998. the social meanings or meaningfulness of foods can be better understood if we analyze cuisine as a whole. essential to the reproduction of human societies’ (p. 6 –7) Put into context.g. therefore. 43. Thinking of food as art which is based on action (Gell. and therefore meaning ful. p. p. Instead. and recognizing this puts due emphasis on the ﬂavour of food. To help in thinking about food anthropologically. Thus I avoid analysis of semiotic relations such as corn with blood or chiles with penises (in the wordplay albur). Another way of looking at it is Munn’s deﬁnition of meaning. as being the relational nexus that enters into any given sociocultural form or practice (of whatever order of complexity) and deﬁnes that practice. the cultural meanings of culinary activity as part of women’s work is different from a semiotic analysis of foodstuffs. ‘as a system of action. I mainly draw upon Alfred Gell’s theory of art. What Mexican cooking actually appears to ‘mean’ is a harmonious family and socio-cosmological life. weekly. Women do the cooking. Gell’s Theory of Art Gell (1996) suggests thinking of art as a ‘vast and often unrecognized technical system. the perspective of food as art may help us understand some of the meanings that foods carry. as he developed it in several publications (e. So. Thus. 1998. and the cuisine demands a certain discipline and lifestyle which partly structures the daily.32 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Technical mastery is what deﬁnes the art object. and social interaction and hospitality in ﬁesta and quotidian occasions. but also acknowledge the artistic quality of the act of cooking. and my approach attempts to respond to such a gap. and yearly timetables of women as well as men. I am taking cuisine as art in the way that Gell sees art. 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. 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. (1986. my research focuses on the meanings of interrelating cultural forms—the corpus of cuisine. women’s domestic and extradomestic roles. If foods are full of meaning. which is the efﬁcacious aspect. pp. 6). These are important points which could lead to further investigation. monthly. 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. focusing on culinary practice. rather than trying to explain why one foodstuff may ‘stand for’ something else. then.
43. art objects are those that are ‘beautifully made. sometimes via the index/artwork.1 is also caused or put into effect by intention or the network of intentionalities in which it is enmeshed. every ‘agent’ has a corresponding ‘patient’. Although many objects may be thought of as beautiful. The capacity of the art object to inspire the awe or admiration afforded it is a direct result of this active agency. 7) provide an example that illustrates how a cook’s agency affects eaters abducted by . which is seen as artistic excellence or exemplary craftsmanship. the index as the food. gastronomic bliss. 68ff). or as a social actor. or (eventually) the development of personhood. produced by an ‘artist’. affects the spectator in a way that may be called aesthetic. It is art as an activity. This may be effected and experienced as aesthetic awe. 84) succintly glosses Gell’s theory as ‘a social anthropology of how objects. If we transpose this terminology to the study of food. the doing of art rather than the simple observation of semiotic meaning. the person or thing depicted in the artwork.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 33 performs an aesthetic effect by what he calls ‘the technology of enchantment’. p. This value is given to them by humans because of a perceived superiority. and recipient as eater (see Table 2. or both. There is another sense in which the nature of art production is active. original emphasis). ‘demonstrate a certain technically achieved level of excellence … as made objects. or made beautiful’ (p. sometimes through art-objects. based on a ‘prototype’ (whatever is depicted). Foodwriters Dornenburg and Page (1996. The solution to this problem. 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.10 David Parkin (2006. Some objects of art are produced with the intention of capturing the viewer’s (eater’s/recipient’s) attention. and how these processes are part of the larger process we call society or the network of social relations’. in particular. for instance. Put very simply for visual art. meal or dish. become personiﬁed and persons become objectiﬁed. p. Likewise. what Gell calls captivation (1998. we may think of the artist as cook. acting as the nexus of interrelating social networks. the prototype as recipe. consumer.9 Art objects. upon which/whom agency is exerted. or the mastery of the artwork itself as an entity. which thereby facilitates a perceptual change in the recipient. Each of these entities exerts agency upon others. as products of techniques’ (p. including art-objects. would be to take on Gell’s emphasis on agency and intention in the social milieux of works of art. whether from the position of producer. The agency of the artist. and viewed or consumed by a ‘recipient’ (spectator). The action performed by any of the four variables in Table 2. 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. The index ‘abducts’ agency within its social milieu to mediate social interaction. sometimes directly. Gell emphasizes action. We as art lovers are enchanted by our perception of the technical virtuosity entailed to produce these works of art.1). p. therefore. the artwork is an ‘index’. They also are thought of as having higher value. 43). in Gell’s terms.
which will become clearer as this book progresses. however. replacing the corresponding terms that Gell uses with food-related ones. depending on which is the primary agent (with the sufﬁx ‘-A’) and which is the primary patient (with the sufﬁx ‘-P’). meal Recipe Eater the food consumed.1 Artist Index Prototype Recipient Terminology Employed by Gell. the notion of culinary artistry remains elusive. 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. in the way that I use the term ‘culinary artistry’. An artwork has the power not only to inspire awe. and these interpretations can change with time or the position we take in relation to the social actors involved. The relations directly involving the index (in our case. we can think of the art nexus as a food nexus. It is an extension of a person whose biography can be traced via the whole body of art. following Gell (1998. 153). They categorize cooks as ‘burger-ﬂippers’. p. which chefs/culinary artists are able to manipulate to make the eater’s experience transcend the moment. lineages and so on. For my purposes. By its artistic nature. the artist’s technical mastery gives the object of art this social ability. This allows us to construct a table based on his (see Table 2. patron Cook Food.34 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Table 2. that means that the construction of an artwork is like the construction of a person. its lineage). an object has the power (agency) to act. sight. The perception that ‘Life is wonderful’ would be something that eaters would experience through their senses. smell. hearing and that extra-special something (sazón?). a social agent. Of course. wherein he demonstrates the differing relations among the previously mentioned four entities. Thinking of it in this way. to produce social effects on or conduct social relations with other social beings (patients).’ Therefore we recognize culinary artistry by the power of the food to perform a perceptual change in the eaters. encompassing taste. What is important to keep . ‘accomplished chefs’ or ‘culinary artists’. Crudely put. difﬁcult to describe. and Corresponding Food Terms Artist Artwork Object or person depicted by artwork Spectator. texture. even extra-sensorially. dish. the art corpus (its family. It is the ﬂavour of the food. 29) of what he calls the ‘art nexus’. food) are the primary transactions. Our interpretation of a food event depends on the perspective we take. which belongs to families. In effect. Gell constructs a table (1998. Food prepared by a culinary artist makes diners feel that ‘Life is wonderful’ rather than ‘That was delicious. though examples can be given for the other instances of when agency is abducted via the index. physically enhancing their experience of life. This is because. p.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. and their effects.2). 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.
g. diner in awe eater-A→recipe-P Rejection of food. meal Food-A→Cook-P Food dictates cook’s action with it. host eating food prepared on his/her behalf Source: Table 1 from Gell (1998).g. e. eats own cooking. controls cook’s action Recipe-A→Food-P Recipient Eater Eater-A→Cook-P Hired cook prepares food. e. and affected by food/ingredient. as witness to act of preparing food Cook-A→Food-P Basic act of cook making/preparing dishes.2 The Art Nexus as Food Nexus Agent→ Patient↓ Artist Cook Artist Cook Cook-A→Cook-P Cook shares meal. food-A→recipe-P Recipe constrained by physical characteristics of food/ingredient. By permission of Oxford University Press. making barbacoa bestows prestige Food-A→Food-P Prototype Recipe Recipe-A→Cook-P Recipe dictates what cook does. dish. e. meal ‘tamales needing special care Recipe dictates form taken by not to anger them so dish/food that they can cook’. dish. . ‘tamal as.‘Life is wonderful’ effect by chef. Modiﬁed/Adapted. avocado. e. © Oxford University Press. following tradition Index Food.g.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. 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.a made thing’. 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. eater dislikes food or does not ﬁnish what is served Eater-A→Eater-P Hiring a cook.Table 2. barbacoa/mole as feast food Recipe-A→Eater-P Concept of mole controls eaters’ experience.
and being known as a good cook is socially valued in Mexico. therefore. cookery is commonly spoken of in terms of artistic practice. p. and the hired cook is overlooked (recipient/eater-A→ artist/cook-P). Whether the special meal is prepared at home or not. who were legendary cooks. So. now dead. though within this relationship there may be several subrelationships of action. we are in a patient position in relation to the cook-agent (cook-A→eater-P). and their daughters and daughters-in-law. Such women gain fame in the community. he poses the example of the work of an (anonymous) artist commissioned to produce a likeness of a ruler or a religious ﬁgure. 52). Working with or for a ‘master’ (or culinary artist).36 • Culinary Art and Anthropology in mind is that objects and persons are connected in a nexus of intentionality. In Milpa Alta and other parts of Mexico City. whose renditions of classic recipes were equivalent to art. The practice in itself is not restricted to publicly acknowledged culinary masters. Learning to cook is actually part . In fact. A similar effect occurs when a person hosts a catered dinner party gets the credit for the quality of the food. 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. Part of the requirement for a proper wedding is a proper feast. a woman hopes that some of her magic/skill will rub off on her as she observes. it is offered to guests in abundance. food is often the subject of conversation among all kinds of people. and this directly affects the families of the bride and groom (food-A→eater-P). and close women friends. For our purposes it is sufﬁcient to focus on the simplest and most direct relations of agency and intention. is based on practice which can be learnt. Culinary knowledge or skill. although those who stand out as particularly talented are given recognition. in public feasts such as weddings. hence the focus on the agent-patient relationship. and many times I found myself listening to grandmothers telling stories about other women. the celebration loses some of its meaning. ‘[T]echnical virtuosity is intrinsic to the efﬁcacy of works of art in their social context’ (Gell. ingests. This can also be observed in Milpa Alta.12 When we as eaters perceive of food as art. try to learn their craft by proximity. Without a sufﬁciently elaborate or festive dish. cooking is an ‘art’. Mexico. The spectator’s perception of the person whom the image represents is directly related to perception inspired by the artistic quality of the art object. I am not assuming this only for the purposes of analysis. the agency of the artwork can be mobilized by another person for social relational inﬂuences. to explain the mediation performed by an artwork. and a particularly skilful cook is casually thought of as an artist. Gell details how each relationship occurs. and employs those skills on her own. but put simply. Regardless of who actually did the physical labour. enhancing his or her social relations by means of the occasion and its success. 1996.
the formal qualities of a piece of sculpture or music are signiﬁcant. Also. Like any other type of skill. Nevertheless.13 Not all of a master’s apprentices produce equivalent works. and economic matrix in which the object has been produced. substance to art. It is a talent or ﬂair which is physically exhibited but not copied. such as food. within an artistic dimension of their own (within an ‘art world’. When food is transformed (artistically. the ﬂavour of love. via the ‘aesthetic’ that comes from meal sharing. such as the works of Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo. She begins to learn by observing her mother. Another way of looking at this is by thinking of Simmel’s notion of the ‘sociology of the meal’ (1994). ritual and economic dimensions. or funeral song— indicates an awareness of a social. the ﬂavour changes. between art and craft. but what is learnt is a bodily discipline like other artistic skills (cf. ‘This is because when. But from an anthropological standpoint. art objects are produced within social. but it also causes the togetherness of the social actors. Firth’s (1996. but also the former [the community] rather than the latter [the individual] is its [the aesthetic level’s] rightful carrier’ (p. But the learning process is not simply a matter of imitation and reproduction of the same. a sazón that works to produce spectacular ﬂavours is commonly called un sazón de amor. this signiﬁes a transformation of the carnal to spiritual. The ‘egoistic’ and individual act of eating in fact unites people when they come together to share a meal. since he considers eating and drinking as unfortunately necessary lowly activities that ultimately culminate in ‘society’. or anthropomorphic ﬁgure. or the sazón. then. Although cooking can be conceived of as artistic practice from a native point of view. not only can a community of several afford more easily the necessary effort than the individual. 1982).’ In other words. In trying to deﬁne what art is anthropologically. Becker.) As he puts it. Thus. Culinary knowledge. 15) characterization of art can lead one to interpret food as a form of art: ‘To an anthropologist. even the simplest naming of an object—as mask. p. 347). the difference between great food and good food. can be developed with practice. 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. and later also from her mother-in-law and other women. ‘High’ qualities such as culture or society can almost only develop out of the ‘low’ ones. individual to society. who are usually other women in the community. cf. 1999). In other words. food is not necessarily thought of as art in the same sense as Mexicans or Milpaltenses would think of visual arts. Gow. I might add) into the meal shared. ritual. all of which interrelate to make up the texture of social life. is attributed to the hand of the cook. ‘Socialization’ of food consists of cooking it into a delicious meal enjoyed by a discerning group of . (I will return to this idea below. good cooking is learnt by training and imitation of masters. in addition to the satisfying of the appetite. Simmel describes what in his terms would be a gastronomic paradox. la mano. With a change of the hand that prepares the dish.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 37 of every girl’s domestic training as she develops into a grown woman. thinking of food as art makes it easier to understand why it is that ﬂavour and cooking mean so much to Mexican people. an aesthetic satisfaction is also expected from eating.
the pot or steamer. The meal presents a subset of the cook’s culinary knowledge. but what is important is his or her presence in the house. At the same time. banana leaves). and there is no doubt that complex belief systems surround matters of cooking and eating. onions and cheese. convictions. as the hunter’s intentions and ingenuity are present in his handiwork. must also . where he convincingly argues that traps can be artworks and. Second. There are many kinds of tamales: sweet ones. food does not have quite the same powers. family warmth and. Gell’s anthropology of art does not focus solely on analyzing works of art as deﬁned by an art public per se. history. with red salsa. 7). and the food itself is the outcome of the cook’s intentions to provide nourishment. independent of the relational context’ (Gell. Without a ﬁlling. nopales. It has no “intrinsic” nature. ﬁlled with meat. and other kinds of intentionalities. green salsa or mole. He or she may or may not be a member of the family. savoury ones. This is the sort of play of ideas that Laura Esquivel used in her successful novel and ﬁlm. Like Water for Chocolate (1992). empowerment.38 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members of society. and the food as a social meal both has more ‘aesthetic worth’ and is more meaningful because of it. Gell’s deﬁnition of an art object is perhaps easier to grasp from his essay ‘Vogel’s Net’ (1999b ). Using folk remedies. p. typical sayings with culinary themes. and recipes. ‘The nature of the art object is a function of the social-relational matrix in which it is embedded. the person who arranges the tamales in the earthenware pot or aluminium steamer may not leave the house until the tamales are cooked. People in Milpa Alta continue to believe that ‘angry’ tamales will never cook (food-A→food-P). though it can be personiﬁed. and unverbalized intentionalities are infused in her cooking and later are literally embodied in those who eat her food. in other areas. or with strips of roasted chile. 1998. on any occasion. such as the mediation that a work of art performs in Gell’s terms among social beings. and are also made for nearly every ﬁesta. beans or ﬁsh. If we think in terms of food. artworks act as traps to the viewers/victims. Potentially almost anything can be considered as an art object. A tamal is a steamed bun made of coarse maize meal beaten with lard and enveloped in corn husks (or. for example. so long as it fulﬁls certain prerequisites. the hunter constructed this particular trap for that particular animal. at the same time. Esquivel’s novel constructs a Mexican world in which the heroine’s emotions. ﬂavour. using the knowledge he possesses about his victim’s habits and sociality. potentially. 350). depending on her relationship to the people she cooks for. ﬂavoured with fruits. In Milpa Alta I learned certain rules which must be followed so that the tamales will cook properly. In real-life Mexico. confronting a meal can also be thought of as confronting a person. with sometimes alarming physical effects. called a tamalera. they are called tamalates and are a traditional accompaniment to mole. hospitality. and many others.14 Confronting a trap is like confronting a person. Tamales are eaten for breakfast or as a snack for supper. Socialization is ‘mediated’ by eating a meal together (p. First.
For the purposes of this analysis. difﬁcult. A food. which seems to lie in the realm of aesthetic pleasure. 211). like other works of art. If anyone in the house loses his or her temper the tamales will not set because they will be angry. teleras). Without it the tamales will not cook. that food is eaten. Gell’s insight into decoration is pertinent at . because I witnessed these rules followed whenever we made tamales in Milpa Alta. Hospitality. many said that they are never full unless they have eaten tortillas. 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. 211)18 He also wrote. and. The ﬂavour aspect is analogous to artistic decoration. p. and Exchange One of the main differences between food and visual art is.16 Some people also told me that certain foods cause stomach upsets (food-A→ eater-P). allusive. This is a piece of corn husk which needs to be tied on the handle of the tamalera. To remedy this. of course. p. that means that artworks can also satisfy hunger or fulﬁl gastronomic desires. as the smoke emitted removes anger. or that they need their chilito (chile. salsa) in order to fully enjoy eating (also food-A→eater-P). since his anthropological deﬁnition of an object of art is as follows: objects that are scrutinized as vehicles of complicated ideas. intended to achieve or mean something interesting. like other art objects in theory. 1999b. hard to bring off. the angered person has to spank the tamalera and then dance around it to make the tamales happy again. People swore that these methods were true. I think Gell would agree that his theory could be applied to Mexican food. ‘Artworks can also trap eels … or grow yams. (Gell. it is a physical thing which.15 I never saw an angry tamal myself. such as too much rice or the soft centres (migajón) of crusty bread rolls (bolillos. In a similar way. Third. demanding of attention and perhaps difﬁcult to reconstruct fully. I would deﬁne as a candidate artwork any object or performance that potentially rewards such scrutiny because it embodies intentionalities that are complex. Another option would be to throw dried chiles into the ﬁre so that their seeds burn. which is in itself a social system within a matrix of other interrelated social systems. 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.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 39 have its bow. a social nexus embedded within a culinary system. On Edibility. no one in the house must get angry. a meal or a special dish can be thought of as an art object. as well. can be owned and exchanged. Food that is considered as artwork happens to have two fundamental qualities—it has (superior) ﬂavour (as opposed to bland or mediocre). although no one could give me an explanation for them. and so on.17 For this reason. An angry tamal opens up or the lard drips out of the wrapping.
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. but vehicles of personhood. which is what makes it analogous to a work of art. in fact. 113. it contains his or her ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’ by nature of being the product of a cook’s invested and creative labour. and in the case of food. and also sometimes socially. 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. the functional and ‘decorative’ aspect is its ﬂavour. although there is a different quality to commensality that seems not to ﬁt with art ownership and display. for the family or for non-family members who are guests. This is not to say that the decorations are not important. resulting in a literal communion of persons. and tying this with its artistic nature. They depend on them sometimes gastronomically. p.20 If it is an object of exchange in a Maussian sense. then we can think of ingesting food as equivalent to the consumption/acceptance/possession of a work of art. If we account for that. from eater to artist). exchanged and displayed’ (1998. Display and food presentation (how it appears on the plate) can be seen as equivalent. food is cooked for more than one person. these decorations perform an important function. Recognizing the sensory aspect of food. This aspect of food giving and receiving implies an element of exchange. then it is an extension of a person.40 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this point: ‘[Decorated objects] are not self-sufﬁcient sources of delight. 346) from which its aesthetic and meaning arise. which will be reciprocated in some unspeciﬁed way at an unspeciﬁed time in the other direction (that is. 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). as David Howes explains for kula shells. does this mean? The eating of the food implies that the ‘spirit of the gift’ that Mauss describes is ingested as well. although Mauss argues that they are all homologous. Abstracting the process of food hospitality ignores another fundamental aspect of food that is offered to others. reveals to us. which the eater recognizes (as art) by experiencing its ﬂavour. original emphasis). This is its (the food’s) necessity of having a good ﬂavour and being made with culinary technical mastery. In hospitality. to be owned.19 Generally. p. Food has particular physical and sensual qualities which differ from other types of objects which are exchanged. a crucial element of sharing is involved. It is rather as if they were the agents of their own circulation’ (2003. then. but the ownership needs further explanation. This product is then materially ingested by the recipient. It must also be remembered that when it comes to food and eating.21 What. Eaters remember who prepares superior ﬂavours in certain dishes and return to those cooks. . Following Simmel. 81). it is precisely the communal ingestion of food that ‘releases a tremendous socializing power’ (1994. that ‘they are no mere “objects” of exchange. But I think that food is not merely an object of exchange in the same sense. p.
If we further accept that these things are extensions of the agent’s personhood. the act of eating) can be thought of as a negative act (cf. ‘[T]he shared meal lifts an event of physiological primitivity and inescapable commonality into the sphere of social interaction and thereby suprapersonal meaning’ (Simmel. unless one is sharing the food. knowing how to cook. prepared by vendors (señoras) to serve commercially. vendor) and a patient (eater. This is food which follows the logic that it should be prepared for an other. Food sharing is dynamic and self-extending. Mauss’s time lag). So cooking is an inherently social act. therefore. eating what one cooks oneself is antisocial. p. Munn explains that in Gawa. there is an immediate exchange between the social actors. For example. whereas eating is socially static and self-collapsing.22 Within the corpus of Mexican culinary culture exists a vast subset of street food and market food. and as mentioned previously. customer).g. and thus also ensures community viability. how to make tortillas and salsas. is the opposite of sharing food with others (cook-A→cook-P). The . Eating food on one’s own. with the expectation of future reciprocity of a similar or different kind (e. 1994. or the warmth of home cooking. This notion of cooking and eating also explains why a lone person in Mexico almost never cooks for oneself to eat alone. the act of sharing is a value-enhancing. they are material repositories of that person and that person’s intentions. a girl is said to be ready for marriage when she demonstrates culinary mastery. As in food hospitality. whether it is a special ﬁesta. If we think of the things (artworks. If sharing is a positive act. then not sharing (that is. Food is shared with speciﬁc others as a means of exhibiting respect for an existing or future relationship of reciprocity. and so. p. The skill that the cook reveals through the food likewise reveals other things of social salience. conversely. 346). 1986. positive extension of the agent’s ‘spacetime.’ which transforms the patient’s relationship with the agent. The offering of a meal is a spatiotemporal event transacted by the host to the guest with an underlying intention of reciprocity at another level within the nexus of transactions that make up social life. and condition which underlies kula shell exchange between partners’ (1986. though. Simmel perceives of eating as negative and ‘low’).Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 41 What the eater also recognizes is the socially meaningful network of intentionalities surrounding the meal. since food transactions are inherently social activities. As Nancy Munn describes for kula exchange in Gawa. Food is exchanged for money. ensuring an ongoing relationship which may be based on exchange at another level of social interaction. Munn. a meal at a restaurant. just as neglecting to offer food when hospitality is pertinent is considered to be selﬁsh and greedy (envidioso/a). ‘[T]he exchange of comestibles in hospitality is the dynamic base. this infers that corresponding to the agent (donor) there must be a patient (recipient). dishes) that a person makes as the products of her agency. there is an agent (cook. In this vein I must emphasize that food giving is a basic form of generosity in Milpa Alta. 56. some of which is the same as home cooking. which are given. shared and distributed to others. In this case. original emphasis).
and perhaps also having the possibility (or controlling this possibility) of eating it again. Now the ﬁnal problematic issue to explain is its possession. and who solely produces these dishes within the family sphere (cook-A→food-P). Munn. the eating of it makes it disappear. and having enjoyed it very much. yet it can be reproduced ad inﬁnitum. A heightened awareness of artistic or culinary expertise does not in itself constitute possession or ownership of the work. or within the same transactive nexus. As the outcome of a recipe. 1990. once the dish is produced. so the agency actually lies with the customer. We remember once more that as soon as the supply of the food is depleted it can be constantly renewed. makes it seem ludicrous to try to pinpoint any ‘owner’ of a dish. does not really make an eater the ‘owner’ of that dish. nor is it like the intellectual possession of a famous painting beyond a consumer’s (ﬁnancial) capacity to take it home and own it. With this perspective. Having eaten something once or twice. or at least to know where to go in order to reproduce it (to know how or where or with whom to eat). 1998. for example. with his name labelling the cuisine he produces. 80–1). we can think of food as both a work of art as well as an object of exchange. It also is inapplicable to the anonymous cook who cooks ‘traditional’ foods. which provides the cook with an agency that contains the powerful potential to demand social reciprocity. The possession of food-as-art seems to take the form of having eaten it. 1986). remains the owner of that dish (cook-A→recipe-P). rather than self-consciously ‘invents’. But this is only a perspective among many possible ways of interpreting this situation. and this can in turn affect the kind of product that the cook produces (eater-A→cook-P). The fact that most women in the community know how to prepare similar dishes following similar recipes (with the same ‘index’). a cook or chef. either. Possession is a more complex issue because the dish can be reproduced.23 Also. it can never truly be completely consumed. and therefore it can never be truly owned. Perhaps it is also possible to say that the ‘inventor’ of a dish. but it does not carry the fundamental persuasiveness of food giving. or its reproduction may depend on the actions of a speciﬁc cook.42 • Culinary Art and Anthropology transaction begins and ends there. an index of . On two levels. the cook prepares food to the taste of the eater/customer. therefore. but it may not necessarily be reproducible in exactly the same way or in the same context. even temporarily. opening an exchange relationship by offering food to a guest or family member likewise opens the possibility for reciprocity in some form (Mauss. 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). Possession of food-as-art is not anything like the possession of an object which sits on the mantelpiece for personal admiration. food hospitality consists of ‘unﬁnished business’ which is the essence of the endurance of social relations (Gell. pp. Parallel to this. Food selling is a social activity. In one sense. Not only this. its true possession can be thought of as possession of the know-how to be able to reproduce it (to know how to cook). as Gell has described (1996).
but is always in the process of becoming possessed’ (p. and it classiﬁes the classiﬁer’ (p. ‘[T]aste classiﬁes. 7). I mentioned that art. However. for example. Along with this cultural capital. I would like to explain how the two can in fact be thought of as one and the same. Recall that the artistic quality of an object is not inherent in the thing. or wrapping tamales does not necessarily mean that the results are always uniform from cook to cook. a person learns the kind of taste that he needs for social belonging. making tortillas. since food is eaten and virtually disappears. and yet it can be cooked again and regenerated. What we learn to discern as valuable is due to our accumulating ‘economic capital’ and ‘cultural capital’ which is learnt via social class. cooking and eating certain foodstuffs. to fulﬁl a social function of legitimating social differences’ (p. a part of habitus. At the beginning of my discussion of Gell. This is the capacity to recognize artistic characteristics in anything. ‘history turned into nature’. whether a purposely made work of art or not. A person’s taste becomes the mark of distinction between social classes and is revealed by an individual’s possession of an ‘aesthetic disposition’. This would explain why an element of prestige and (class) distinction is involved in the choices of serving. should be thought of primarily as a technical system. its social value is derived from its social use. and technical mastery appears to be more objective or scientiﬁc. In other words. . I turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of taste judgements. Although judgement of ﬂavour seems to be an aesthetic judgement. food is an object of exchange. it ‘is never fully possessed at all. 81). Flavour and Value This brings us back to ﬂavour. This means. To begin. 6). he can be distinguished among others of different classes who would value other things. which in Milpa Alta translates as girls learning to cook from their mothers and other women. 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.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 43 the dish/work of art. Taste is a sociological phenomenon rather than a question of a person’s passion or individual discernment. Cooking techniques are learned by apprenticeships to masters. Taste is a subconscious kind of knowledge. What distinguishes an extraordinary cook from an ordinary one is perceived as technical skill which can be judged by its ﬂavour. here cuisine. possession of food-as-art is a dynamic of eating that is dependent upon the social relational matrix in which it is embedded. ‘[A]rt and cultural consumption are predisposed consciously and deliberately or not. 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. As Bourdieu puts it. so by his choices of what deserves value. Knowing the proper techniques for peeling chiles. education and upbringing.
or to taste better. (p. in fact. rather than beginning with social classiﬁcations. In a sense. and not just the isolated dishes (see Chapter 5). and then considering the audience and how this informs an artist to modify an artwork.25 He separates form from function by associating ‘art’ with form (and luxury). Following Gell. and as Goody has argued. 190) Thus. that is embodied. In an analysis of taste and aesthetics. Because of his deﬁned concern with judgement. aware that he deliberately ignores the cooking aspect of cuisine. In contrast. which it manifests in several ways. he is. physiologically and psychologically. The skill required in culinary labour is the kind of technical mastery which Gell refers to as necessary for the production of an artwork. this should also be observed. He explains. how it comes about that a society places value on an object and judges one thing to be in better taste. Focusing exclusively on classiﬁcations. Bourdieu approaches artworks by arguing that value is allocated through the ‘stylization of life’ or ‘the primacy of forms over functions’ (p. helps to shape the class body. a class culture turned into nature. It is an incorporated principle of classiﬁcation which governs all forms of incorporation. therefore. he does not analyze particular ‘works of art’ in relation to their own ‘art world’. So in the case of food. then some constituting artworks should be discussed as well. But the cooking is crucial to the achievement of its artistic status.24 Although I cannot determine exactly where or when it began to be served during ﬁestas. judgement of something cannot be separated from an understanding of the process of its production (for food. This can be explained more fully after an examination of the social dynamics surrounding the cuisine. Taste. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste. if form is constituted by ﬂavour. cooking). at least in Milpa Alta (food-A→cook-P). in other words. choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates. having observed its widespread use I found that its acceptance is related to the prestige attached to barbacoieros. that is. which he describes as a dimension of habitus and systematic choices produced in practice. I argue that form is necessarily related to function. and ‘life’ with function (and necessity). it also has limitations. and if the topic is an ‘art world’. class and hierarchy. as he approaches art from another perspective. the link between form and function can also be concluded from Bourdieu’s own concept of habitus and self-presentation. I suggest focusing primarily on the art world (cuisine) and the artists.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). then ﬂavour is socially functional. So although Bourdieu’s perspective can be applied convincingly to the context in Milpa Alta. form and function are merged when externally exhibited in bodily action via the ‘aesthetic’. and also for the homologous . than another. 5). Perhaps this is better explained with Gell’s method of analyzing art.
different from the daily fare. but at least she has the intention to provide good food somehow. Invariably. Mintz. Women as well as men value ﬂavourful food and what they consider to be ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ methods of preparing it. many everyday dishes are complex to prepare. actually reveal the high value placed on women’s chastity. ultimately. 1996). such as a birthday. Preparing what is considered a proper meal is analogous to proper nurturing. however. therefore. With regard to Mexico. Control over feeding the family becomes the nexus of meaning regarding women’s social and moral values. This is . She does not have to cook herself. If cooking is artistic practice.27 Skilful cooking does not lead to social empowerment so directly. As I will discuss further in chapters 4 and 6. which is also complex to prepare. this is very much like what is considered to be men’s restrictions on women.26 This is illustrated by his example of the Anga eel traps (1999b). wedding or funeral. The trap. 2001). spouse. 1996). a complex-ﬂavoured sauce made of up to two dozen or more ingredients. André. Related to this. her children and. friends). In Mexico. and this is empowering in the sense that family ties are tightened when food is shared. for example. A good wife would then strive to cook well for the sake of her husband. 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. tying women to home when they would rather be out (also cf.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 45 technical systems which bring about the (re)production of society. the trap is a repository of eel-power. often glossed as machismo. Serving an elaborate dish commemorates an occasion as special by transferring its value (recipe-A→recipe-P). there are marked dishes. which has been suggested to be a means of containing and curbing women’s power over men (Melhuus and Stølen. her own satisfaction. In Chapter 4 I discuss how women talk of their skill in cooking in social situations where their power and value are questioned.28 Mole may be considered one of the culinary treasures or works of art of Mexican cuisine. this used to be mole. and they are deﬁned by the sauce rather than by the meat or vegetable which is in it. 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. The social efﬁcacy of an elaborately prepared meal performs a similar function. then a cook has the creative freedom to make decisions at this level. her in-laws. at ﬁrst glance. culinary artistry or agency may be a source of women’s power over men (see Abarca. which may have wider signiﬁcance at other social levels. Thus. 2006. the requirements to cook dishes from an elaborate cuisine may appear oppressive. These traps are constructed to be far more sturdy and complicated than is actually necessary to trap an eel. Strict regulations of women’s movements. which are served when there is a special occasion. and at the same time is the source of the eel’s power. 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 fact. reveals the Anga belief that the eel is so powerful that its trap must be particularly clever.
Munn. for there to be salsa. Mexicans do not believe that they are eating’. The preceding discussion should help as a guideline for thinking about the social processes which revolve around food preparation and food sharing. or ingredients which are grown or bred on local land. ﬂavour. theatres or any other public venue of entertainment other than the market. because it lies within another social dimension of family eating (see Chapter 6). I describe in Chapter 4 how in Mexico the ideal relationship between a man and a woman is that between husband and wife. What I hope to have conveyed here now is the idea that ﬂavour is actually the most functional aspect of food. food that is thought of as ‘very Mexican’ are usually dishes which use autochthonous utensils or ingredients. and also the family sphere which is based on love (discussed further in chapters 4.29 A famous quote is: ‘Without chile. and one of my informants also spontaneously told me the same: ‘Sin chile no come uno. elaborate sauce (mole) rather than a regular salsa.31 In particular.’ This appears to contradict the value placed on home cooking. meat). This. There must be a salsa or at least some chile on the table for people to enjoy their food (tortillas. beans. the culinary matrix of intentionalities involves the planes of social organizations such as the mayordomía and compadrazgo. Since women’s virtue and moral value are also attached to her ability to suffer for her loved ones. the ideal food is a meal cooked by a woman (wife and mother) for her husband and children. I was told. highly valued. one is eating a meal prepared by someone caring or is eating a meal with particular social signiﬁcance.’ Good food means good ﬂavours.32 In a way. It is also important for it to be palatable. it is not enough for the food to provide nutrition and to be edible. but in fact.46 • Culinary Art and Anthropology why salsas are the most important part of a Mexican meal. Mexican street food is another highly valued part of Mexican cuisine and is also considered to be ﬂavourful. 5 and 6). vegetables. good food ﬁxes the eater’s mind to the cook (or host). both men and her children (Melhuus. in . which results directly from the culinary mastery that a skilful cook possesses. If it has superior ﬂavour.30 This is why a special occasion meal is served with a ﬂavourful. Chile is equivalent to salsa. and its nutritive beneﬁts are secondary. by extension. 1992). that is. In Mexico. Also. In Milpa Alta. 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. and in many ways this depends on women (good cooks) who make good sauces. 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. makes eating tacos in the market a major source of fun: ‘La mayor diversión es ir a comer tacos en el mercado. 1986). there are no cinemas. the logic of love and lovers symbolically makes street food an illicit delight. these dishes are considered to have the best ﬂavour. Rather than being fed. It is also expressed in the importance and the forcefulness of hospitality in Mexico (or in Milpa Alta. which is also equivalent to mole (see Chapter 5). the efforts of her labours (her cooking) are also highly valued. For all meals in general.
that is. The relevance of ﬂavour is evident because whether or not a cook is successful. [the spectator] is obliged to posit a creative agency which transcends his own and. Food and eating constitute such a domain wherein social settings exist for people to eat together. For this reason. the power of the collectivity on whose behalf the artist exercised his technical mastery’ (pp. The food transaction takes precedence over the particular food served. 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. p. 347) of the meal manifest in ﬂavour is part of the social nature of food transactions. In turn. foods prepared with the highest technical skill possible. This actually recalls Simmel’s gastronomic paradox mentioned earlier. a cook tries to serve only foods of superior ﬂavour to a guest. Accepting food offered to you. however. a concept which is taken to be the opposite of loving in Milpa Alta (see Chapter 6). whether you like it or not. Conclusion: The Meaningfulness of Food Food carries meaning. and persons and persons via things’ (1998. it is an insult to the host. a host/cook serves what there is at home. 12. hovering in the background. This suggests that ﬂavour is irrelevant to proper social behaviour. and foodstuffs can be social or cultural symbols. p. and what is served at home also is prepared with technical mastery and love. prestige is allocated to a cook and her family when she is known to be an extraordinary cook. 51–2). If a guest leaves food. original emphasis). Failing that. neither the artwork and the ideas and meanings surrounding . making social relations between persons via the meal. Furthermore. indicating that the food had poor or no ﬂavour and was therefore inedible (eater-A→ cook-P). some good cooks hide their culinary secrets viciously. 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. that is. and with the food literally ‘merging’ with these persons as they eat it. is so important in Milpa Alta that many people attend parties with a plastic bag or piece of Tupperware hidden in their handbags. the emotional outcome of keeping culinary tricks or recipes secret is that a cook would be considered to be ‘greedy’ (envidiosa). if it must be received regardless of personal taste. but in fact it is most relevant. 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. if a guest comes without warning. the cook continues to aim for the ideals of ﬂavour. so that they can take home whatever is served to them that they are unable to eat.Cooking as an Artistic Practice • 47 particular). By thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. that the ‘aesthetic stylization’ (1994.
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. externally controlled activity. ‘[T]he anthropology of art cannot be the study of the aesthetic principles of this or that culture. securing a husband. and this liberty extends beyond the walls of the kitchen. With this in mind.48 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. their communities. including barbacoieros) are willing to make sacriﬁces which others may not understand. herself. society. their families. . women also have license to move beyond their restricted spaces. we can effectively investigate the social relational matrix surrounding the achievement of ﬂavour and the development of cuisine. through the technical processes of cooking as well as the technical processes of social life and social reproduction. but the one in control is the artist. are ignored. actively mediating between social members to make (proper) social interaction possible. Mexican. By nature of being artistic. or the cook. and they have the autonomy to make important decisions for their family’s social life. Thus. In pursuit of this goal. In short. In pursuit of culinary ideals. nor the social relations that are generated. This means that it is not a predetermined. women exert power over their men. in this case. 4). Easier or cheaper alternatives seem to be unacceptable when superior ﬂavours are the goal and this goal is attainable. attracting others to the food and to the cook. cooking is creative. A work of culinary art can act as a trap. 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 their (proper) cooking. Thus. It is controlled. it is possible to explore a cuisine. women (and culinary professionals. It may seem irrational for a family to hold large-scale ﬁestas when there is not enough money to ﬁnish building the house. with the perspective of cooking as an artistic practice.
Depending on the region and tradition. There is usually space for at least 400 diners. including the head. Since the whole animal is used. 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. typically eaten in the streets. Eating barbacoa Whilst it is more commonly prepared as a cottage industry by families called barbacoieros. Customers can order traditional snacks such as gorditas or chalupitas as their starters. but the corresponding cooking methods used all over Mexico are based on the Mayan pib or earth oven. labour-intensive preparation and cooking process (described below). Although these are antojitos. Urban families who avoid eating in the marketplace frequent these restaurants for family celebrations such as birthdays or anniversaries. It is common to start with a bowl of the consomé de barbacoa.or 2-year-old sheep). there also are restaurants in Mexico City which exclusively serve barbacoa with its traditional accompaniments. reserved for special celebrations or weekends. although smaller parties are welcome. 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. Ordering them would be indulgent. chicken. These barbacoa restaurants offer a complete celebration with the meal. and because of its long. turkey. pit-barbecued in a cylindrical clay. pork or goat (kid).or brick-lined oven. The word barbacoa is of Caribbean origin. it is considered to be festive food. herbs and spices. In the central states the meat is ﬂavoured with the ﬂeshy leaves of the maguey. The meat typically used is lamb (borrego.–3– Barbacoa in Milpa Alta In this chapter. beef. A cultural show with dancing and singing of ranchera music gives the place the festive air of a cantina or countryside ﬁesta. however. usually 1. restaurants offer them because a large part of their clientele rarely eat street food. there are also barbacoas of other meats such as rabbit. a ﬂavourful broth consisting of the meat drippings which have amalgamated with herbs and spices – 49 – . Barbacoa refers to a preparation of pit-roast meat which has been used in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. because barbacoa is tasty and complete enough the way it is normally served and requires little more to be satisfying.
Around three thousand sheep are slaughtered and prepared in Milpa Alta each week. Customers ﬁnd a space in front of the stalls and order consomé de barbacoa and tacos or ﬂautas. and salsa borracha made especially for barbacoa. Others order the meat to take home with a small plastic bag of the accompaniments. The meal is served with warm corn tortillas and can be eaten as a late breakfast (almuerzo). and the eater has the option of squeezing in a little lime juice and adding chopped onions. Flautas are long tacos that are rolled closed and fried. which are ordered by the piece. or sliced avocado may be served). The salsa is served in a bowl decorated with crumbled fresh white cheese and green olives.50 • Culinary Art and Anthropology during the long cooking process in the pit. As already mentioned. This is served with boiled rice and chickpeas stirred in. chopped onions and coriander. oregano or coriander leaves. but they regularly prepare several animals to sell in markets every weekend. 1997. crema espesa. the main provider of barbacoa (as served in the markets) is Milpa Alta. Cooking styles and ﬂavourings vary regionally. Salsas are offered on the side. 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. 22). usually a red and a green one (often either a typical guacamole or one made with avocado and green tomatoes. tomatoes. as the main meal at lunchtime or as dinner. Barbacoieros can be commissioned to slaughter and cook the lambs that another family has bought or reared. For eating barbacoa in the market. The salsa borracha. Villa Milpa Alta. In Milpa Alta. meaning ‘drunken sauce’. Sometimes there is also a side dish of nopales compuestos. but the methods are basically the same. cooked prickly pear cactus paddles dressed with onions. is a black sauce whose colour comes from pasilla chiles. as I have already mentioned. sliced limes. and it is drunken because it is traditionally made with pulque. coriander leaves and salsa to mitigate the richness of this intense soup. are nopal . many families prepare barbacoa de borrego for a living. p. but the vast majority of residents are still somehow involved in the family trade. Other areas in the region famous for making barbacoa are Texcoco in the state of Mexico and parts of the state of Hidalgo. and sometimes dried oregano. a mildly fermented drink made of maguey sap. although the livestock are raised elsewhere (Departamento de Distrito Federal. Barbacoa Makers in Milpa Alta Many Milpaltenses have middle-class professional jobs or higher education. and a sprinkling of grated white cheese. Stalls typically offer bowls of both red and green salsas (but not the black salsa borracha). usually served with a drizzle of green salsa. the particular trades in Barrio San Mateo. the busiest time of day is the late morning. For the Federal District of Mexico. The soup is followed or accompanied by tacos or ﬂautas of the succulent meat. salt and vinegar or lime juice.
the dung could be easily collected for use as fertilizer. and those who remain behind are at home preparing for the sales of the following day. Almost all nopal growers now use cow dung to fertilize their ﬁelds. On Friday nights the streets of the barrio are infused with the aromas of the meat and spices which manage to escape from the sealed pit ovens in the backyards of barbacoiero families. to accommodate an extended family. . and thus is valued higher. Because of this. the higher its value. and barbacoa ranked higher in prestige than carnitas. This way. The modern stoves were used more for heating up food and tortillas. In Milpa Alta over the decades the barbacoa business boomed. Economically. (This is an example of Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’. Since most of the houses are surrounded by walls. 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. She had memories from the 1940s of how the Jurados brought their ﬂock down from the mountains once a week. but most people looked up to barbacoieros. although locals know which families live in which houses and what their trades are. The smell begins to fade as the sun rises and the barbacoa is transported to markets in all reaches of Mexico City. pp. The barbacoieros built corrals around these watering taps so that their sheep could graze there and leave their droppings. 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. a barbacoiera with whom I lived. Now that few people cultivated maize and fewer still reared their own sheep. In those days there was no running water in the houses. this practice has died out. The ﬁrst family in Milpa Alta to produce barbacoa for a living in the 1930s was the Jurado family. when water was needed for the ﬁelds. but also because of the ﬁnancial prosperity associated with its sales.) Barbacoa became the trade of highest honour (above butchery and nopal farming). it is impossible to see what is going on behind the gates. carnitas and barbacoa grew in popularity as typical ﬁesta favourites. told me that they raised their own sheep which they would leave to graze in the mountainous pastures of Milpa Alta. They had modern kitchen appliances but often had an extra outdoor kitchen with simple industrial gas hobs. pork butchery (tocinería) and especially the cooking and selling of barbacoa de borrego.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 51 farming. barbacoiero families could afford to build their own houses. the greater the difﬁculty of access to an object [of art]. as running water has become normal in most homes. As mole became more and more expensive to prepare for large ﬁestas. not only because of the value of the product. where they did most of the actual cooking. 46–9].2 Preparing barbacoa is more laborious and also has more ﬂavourings. The barrio appears almost deserted as most people are busiest during the weekend. [1996. 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. sometimes quite large.1 Doña Margarita. They scattered the whole street with salt from one end to the other and fed the animals with salt and water.
By this time Mario’s older brothers had married and set up their own households in land that their father had given to them. she was expected to help her husband in his line of work: ‘Siendo profesionista. He tried to supplement the family earnings by getting a part-time job in accounting but had to give this up. for a woman to give up her job and dedicate herself to housework and children or to change her profession to match her husband’s. some men learn the trade of their wife’s family if it is more lucrative. la mujer tiene que ayudar a su esposo. Mario. Wednesday and Thursday (see detailed description of barbacoa work below). It was not that they no longer belonged to their natal households. She added.52 • Culinary Art and Anthropology It was still common in Milpa Alta for three generations to live in one household. such as barbacoa. although they might resettle in a different barrio or town. After Mario’s father died. When women married.3 Some built their houses adjacent to the husband’s parents’. as the generations passed the pieces of land inherited became smaller and smaller. but she had no regrets. ‘A woman always changes her profession or trade (oﬁcio) to that of her husband. but when his father took ill he decided to help with the family barbacoa business. as some women are already working in a similar sort of business as their husband’s before they marry.5 Doña Margarita’s compadre was a barbacoiero and his wife was a primary school teacher. Elena got a job in a primary school and Mario continued studying accounting. for example. Mario’s father decided to divide his share of . he did. Though there used to be a lot of land in the family. they usually moved to their husbands’ house and lived there until they could afford to build their own. Upon marriage. An elderly lady told me. although many young couples aspired to build their own houses separately from their parents or in-laws. he was occupied from Friday to Monday. Also.’ This is not exactly true. ‘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. Despite having her own profession. but on Saturdays she sold the barbacoa in the market because he had to stay home to prepare the meat to sell on Sundays.4 Families remain close nonetheless and visit often. but his priority was his barbacoa. The ofﬁce often wanted him to come in on Fridays. Since he chose to dedicate himself to the barbacoa. it is acceptable and even expected. when she was 18.’ Elena was a similar case in point. Mario was left to take over the business. but he had time for other work on Tuesday. Doña Margarita said. but oh! surprise—I was pregnant!’ She never ﬁnished her degree because of the baby. but rather that they must try their best to assimilate to and prioritize their husbands’. and they eventually married when she was 22. the business was his main inheritance. at least to the husband’s family. whilst others bought a new plot of land in another area of Milpa Alta. women were expected to loosen their ties with their natal families. studying to be a teacher. He told me that he earned more working in barbacoa than by being an accountant. It was rare for Milpaltenses to buy land outside of Milpa Alta. Whatever the precise statistics may be. at times. Although she had not wanted to get married until she ﬁnished her studies.
so they become knowledgeable specialists early on. and a few years later they learn to kill.6 In other words. Boys learn by helping their fathers to remove and clean the entrails (despanzar). but with his business he maintained a comfortable lifestyle. Until they marry into the family. children learn the process of preparing barbacoa from their parents. In his own family. This was men’s work. Already as children. but they also wanted land so Mario could work on it during his free days midweek. barbacoa market stall and business. At 15 or 16 they begin to cut the raw meat. Until then she did not want more children. As the girlfriend of the son of a barbacoiero. and she chopped vegetables for the business. but they usually go to university or might take on another job elsewhere. 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. and to Mario. it is not uncommon for young men to set up their own barbacoa business apart from their parents’. but few men start out in a new business like this at an older age. Elena worked doubly hard so that they could save up enough money to invest in land. Until they marry. Not only was land of high value in Milpa Alta. but Elena and Mario truly desired a plot of land of their own. She rarely had anything to do with the meat or with stacking or unloading the oven. He was illiterate.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 53 land among the older siblings when they married. The trade has been described to me as ‘a tradition that one passes down to the new generations’. a woman might sit with her future mother-in-law as she . buying more tortillas when they have run out or helping to wash up the plates and cookware at the end of the workday. This arrangement worked reasonably well. however. Alejandro told me that he taught his compadre how to prepare barbacoa when he was 39. From the age of about 5 or 6. She taught two shifts at the primary school and also helped with the barbacoa when she was at home. She had most of her free time on Saturdays. it is rare. Single men do not make barbacoa for a living. but not to slaughter. 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. Their new wives then begin apprenticing themselves to their mothers-in-law. and so he taught his younger brothers the process. thus beginning the tradition in their family. Alejandro’s grandfather’s brother ﬁrst learned to make barbacoa. To reach this goal. young men might help their parents with the family business. when she did housework and laundry (although I suspect that she hired help for this as well). although I know that she could do the same work and sometimes helped Mario with the oven when necessary. Typically. Their skills are built from a young age.7 After marriage. she told me. these women never get involved. children are taken to the market to help in the sales. though not unheard of. he left the house. 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. as in the case of Mario. however. the business (or technical skill) is left to one’s children as an ‘inheritance’. the youngest. for men to learn the trade from non-family members.
this was all wrong.54 • Culinary Art and Anthropology is busy cleaning or chopping vegetables. Milpa Alta Primy and Alejandro used to farm nopales. The following section is a rundown of how barbacoa is prepared at home by professionals in the trade. The matador-workers are in charge of the matanza. even if she has no sons. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live with a family who took pride in the ﬂavour of their product. she can still carry on with the business. depending on availability and price of ingredients. though. With Primy and Alejandro. This. They are also responsible for washing the entrails and chopping them. playfully called matadores or otherwise referred to as trabajadores (workers). the slaughter. In barbacoa preparation. elicited a positive response. The Process of Preparing barbacoa in Barrio San Mateo. she must take over as much of her mother-in-law’s work as she can. but nothing is expected of her. She continued explaining the cooking process before she interrupted herself and said that no. the traditional means of food preparation are generally preferred over modern shortcuts in spite of modern conveniences and new regulations. but a few years before the death of Alejandro’s father in the early 1990s. She described different forms of service. the rastro. but they tended to always return to the traditional. They sometimes varied their methods of preparation. 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. 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. different dishes that can be made with barbacoa meat. Should a barbacoiero wife become widowed or abandoned. There are men who dedicate themselves solely to slaughtering animals. and then invited me to watch her remove the meat from the oven the next morning. as well as for many other culinary techniques. 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?’). as always. It illustrates some of the compromises that might be made for the sake of the business. ‘¡Este es como empezar con el postre y terminar con la sopa!’ (‘This is like starting with the dessert and ﬁnishing with the . they began to help with the barbacoa to carry on the family business. ‘What would you like to know?’ she asked me. This is the same work that is done in the ofﬁcial slaughterhouse. The description that follows is based on the ﬁrst time that I witnessed the entire process. but it is representative of how families make barbacoa at home. and she might lend a hand. and Primy embarked on a detailed description of the salsas that she made to serve with barbacoa. but also how daily meals can still be rather elaborate. As soon as she is married. I learned to prepare barbacoa in what they considered the traditional manner.
Apart from the slaughter. he deftly punctured its throat with the tip of his knife. It bucked its hind legs once in a while in silent protest. starting from la matanza. the workweek begins at seven o’clock every Thursday morning. The space was about 3 by 6 metres in area. He sharpened his knife once more and after feeling for a soft spot in the neck joint. Only after I have seen it all can we talk about salsas and chiles. Primy took the steel and sharpened her own knife. She stood by the decapitated animal and felt for the soft cartilage in the joint of the other hind leg. its head resting on the stool. Alejandro placed a large aluminium basin in the centre of the space. allowing it to bleed into the basin. One cannot learn about barbacoa without seeing everything from beginning to end. and along one wall there was a low concrete-lined drain. la matanza could also be interpreted to refer to all the proceedings of the day. Alejandro then went to get another lamb among the group huddled at the far end of the slaughter area. I must come. he sawed off its head and set it aside. allowing all the remaining blood and whatever may be left in the oesophagus to drip out onto the ground. She cut off the other three feet and tossed them toward the drain. Alejandro led a young sheep to the centre of the covered concrete and brick slaughter yard behind the house. it consisted of taking apart and cleaning the animals. The slaughter area was separated from the rest of the patio by a low wall reaching halfway up toward its roof. and the process was repeated. Alejandro and Primy dressed in old jeans. Although the actual killing was ﬁnished. Then she cut . in one corner there was a water tap with a long hose attached. work which is shared between husband and wife. scraping away the fur to reveal the bone with its characteristic hole. Beside this he positioned a rough-hewn wooden stool. He then proceeded to saw off one lower hind leg. She scraped away the fur of the other hind legs so that the carcasses could be hooked through and hung by both legs. and then he hung the body by the leg bone on one of the ceiling hooks. Thursday: La matanza (The Slaughter) For the family whose trade is to make and sell barbacoa. They were prepared for a physically demanding and dirty job. From the ceiling hung eight large hooks fastened to a wooden beam with thick twine. He then sharpened his knife with his sharpening steel and lay the lamb on its side. For about ﬁve minutes he squatted by the lamb. This is almost considered a late start by Milpa Alta standards.m. she continued. It must have been around 10 degrees Celsius outside but they knew they would not feel cold. Holding its muzzle shut.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 55 soup!’) she exclaimed. Hanging the carcass this way makes it easier to clean the whole animal. she insisted. and stay with them to observe the whole process. While Alejandro continued to slaughter the rest of the livestock. short-sleeved shirts and long rubber boots. since most people are up and working by 5 a. The ground was paved in concrete. so Alejandro held its body still until it stopped bleeding and lay limp.
and she pulled them out as if she were measuring yarn. ‘como una telita de grasa’. He slung each hide on the low wall and carried on with the slaughtering. and she began to pull out the entrails. She tore off about a half metre’s length and carefully wrapped the pescuezo with the gauze. From the pail she pulled out a rectangle of gauze and wrung out the excess water. Then she squeezed out any waste that may have remained before tossing them into the aluminium tub with the panzas. There she emptied the stomach. . This can ruin the meat. the caul. The panza was much bigger than I expected it to be. she proceeded to slice a long vertical hole through the centre of the skinned carcass. A soft popping noise was made as the body separated from its skin at the neck. so she stood aside and waited for her husband. This is the start of the real cleaning process. Primy hosed the panza inside and out and tossed it into another aluminium tub before returning to the carcass. squeezing out the part-digested fodder and gastric juices. These were at least 12 metres long. la tripa delgada. pulling it inside out with all his strength and using his body weight for the ﬁnal yank. and she carried the panza to the far corner of the slaughter area where there was a large metal rubbish bin. First Primy pulled out the stomach. which Primy described as being like a cloth. The panza is one of the most important parts of the sheep. It is tied closed and cooked in the pit oven along with the meat to be later served in tacos. Having clariﬁed this. the blood and bile that may remain in the throat attract large ﬂies which enter the pescuezo and may become embedded there. Primy brought a small plastic pail of water toward each animal and washed the blood from the neck. Primy warned me to get out of the way. but in any case the pescuezo must be protected with gauze. keeping grip of the other end. covering the hole and tying it well. Primy proceeded to unravel the small intestines. It was covered with a layer of fat. catching each arms’ length in either hand. When Alejandro was ready he tugged the coat off each animal. giving it a bitter ﬂavour. The odour was rancid and repulsive as the contents of the panza splashed onto the ground. and in fact it looked like a square of pale pink lace8 and could be peeled off the stomach in one piece. el pescuezo. and it was a grey-green colour. but Primy and Alejandro told me that this job was not for me and recommended I keep my distance to protect my clothes. securing them to keep them under control lest they slip away and get tangled and lost amongst the rest of the innards. swaying from side to side. 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. about half a metre long and 20 centimetres wide. She knotted them together at the centre. The hide is heavy and toughly attached to the ﬂesh. la panza. It is cleaned and later stuffed with the tripe and other innards mixed with herbs and spices. thus holding the centre of several separate lengths of intestine. el redaño. She explained how important this was because when the meat is still fresh. despanzar. As soon as she had all the tripe looped in her hands she cut one end. I offered to help.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.
Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 57 Next to remove was the large intestine. then it was time for breakfast. la vejiga. heart. otherwise it is impossible to reach the inner folds of the meat. Pregnant sheep are particularly special because usually when the stockbreeder knows that a sheep is pregnant. The ﬁnal step was to slice open the hearts and lungs to remove all traces of blood from the veins and arteries. business). This is extremely important because when blood is cooked it becomes a dark. Primy positioned the pail in front of the animal and pointed the large intestine toward the pail. dirt. Any dirt that remains gives an unpleasant bitter ﬂavour to the meat and panza when cooked. where he hung each by one leg to dry the meat overnight. and so must be expunged. corazón. it may put customers off. it is not sold for slaughter as it will eventually provide young (i. lungs. . because pregnancy causes the uterus to develop. 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. to an airing room. Each part of the animal was systematically removed in its turn—the uterus. The meat needed hanging so that it matures a little and can be cut cleanly. el hígado. While Primy was completing this process. 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). cleaning must be done with bare hands. The developed uterus forms nutritious pink bolitas (these ‘little balls’ actually look like tiny pink donuts). pulmones. unappetizing colour and although this does not affect the ﬂavour of the meat. Primy rinsed everything quickly. the gall bladder. Such a ﬁnd is considered lucky. Primy then cut it off and dropped it into the pail with the rest of the offal. The heads are left to soak and the panzas must be blanched so that the bitter stomach lining can be removed. the liver. Without this gush of running water it is more difﬁcult to extract the waste products from the intestine. The uterus was quite small.e. Alejandro placed the hose in the anal passage at the top of the animal and sprayed a strong stream of water. which went straight through the intestine and ﬂushed out most of the suciedad. la matriz. After saving the foetus Primy rinsed the uterus inside and out and then threw it into the tub of entrails. Only then were we free to sit in front of the television to watch the football. Primy slit open the uterus to show me the foetus. now referred to as being en canal. Later each offal meat was cleaned thoroughly with cold water to remove all traces of dirt. They are attached to its inner lining and make the stuffed panza tastier and juicier. the bladder. la tripa gorda. la vesícula billar. 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. Alejandro carried the cleaned carcasses. Cold water must be used even if the weather is freezing because using warm water risks spoilage. 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. Primy stressed to me that each section must be well cleaned individually.
one for the panzas. and almost all of this work was done by Primy. Alejandro was at his butcher block chopping all the menudencias. Doña Margarita made a green salsa with the chiles and green husk tomatoes (tomates or tomates verdes) that are also used for the barbacoa. the other two for the green and red salsas that she would make. 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). about waist height. the maize dough used to make tortillas. Primy returned from her shopping with sacks of white onions. and Primy was already away at the market while her mother-in-law was at home preparing breakfast. When this was done it was time to pick up the children from school. Primy put all the tomatoes to soak in a plastic basin to soften the husks for easier removal. chiles.) Primy rinsed out the coriander and epazote and left the herbs to soak in water. a small shop selling machine-made tortillas. Meanwhile. Primy went to the market to buy vegetables. (I do not think he did much else that day. so that we could make gorditas pellizcadas when we got home. Indeed it is the most labour-intensive because all the preparations for the cooking and serving of the meat are done on Fridays.m. but Primy was in charge. the innards. as usual. we made thick tortillas. At the same time. Primy separated them into the three containers. made of a metal frame. Primy kneaded the dough and with the help of a tortilla press and her two small sons. her mother-in-law and herself. we got back to work. After baking them on . where a simple industrial gas cooker was set up. As we walked home from the school we passed by a tortillería. 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. We were having chilaquiles verdes for breakfast that day. She brought out three little painted wooden chairs with wicker seats for me. There we bought a kilo of masa. The day began early. coriander and various other foods. chiles and herbs for the cooking process and also to make the salsas that would accompany the meat. Her mother-in-law helped as well. removing stems from the fresh and dried chiles and just chatting away.58 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Friday: Mise en Place (Preparations). Primy and her mother-in-law began to prepare lunch. carrots. chopping onions and carrots. that the women had cleaned so thoroughly the day before. sancochando la carne (Pre-cooking the Meat) Alejandro told me that Friday is the heaviest day for women in the barbacoa trade. green tomatoes. For green chilaquiles. that supports two large gas rings that can accommodate very large pots and pans. The cooker was like those found in food stalls in the market. We carried on preparing the vegetables. I stayed and helped make breakfast in the airing room. I arrived at their house before 7 a. Alejandro asked Primy to prepare them for me so that I could taste as much typical Mexican food as time allowed. These gorditas (also called sopes) are a type of snack food that is often eaten in the street. After breakfasting on the chilaquiles with teleras (a type of bread roll) and hot milk with coffee or chocolate stirred in.
Preparing the panza is always the women’s responsibility. but nowadays. they used an electric blender for making sauces and for larger tasks. For the green salsa we peeled avocados. then breaded chicken with boiled carrots with cream. and beans in their broth at the end. unless there was a power failure. chopped coriander and combined them with the green tomatoes. onions. I had heard that some people still used it. few people did so because of the effort and physical force that was required. Alejandro pounded chicken breasts to make milanesas and his mother hauled out the heavy stone metate to make breadcrumbs for the chicken. Men in the barbacoa trade are responsible for the slaughter and preparing the meat. she preferred the effect of crushed crackers to that of breadcrumbs. árbol seco.9 The red salsa was more popular than the green in the stand where they sold barbacoa. there was a lot of work to be done after eating. a short walk away. 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. She used saltine crackers instead of bread because. She then proceeded to make the red salsa in which she used three types of dried chiles—chile morita. We returned to the vegetables we had been cleaning and divided the tomatoes and chiles for the salsas. she would use it. The meal was washed down with an agua fresca de limón. Otherwise. we took the pail to a salsa mill. as are chopping and cleaning vegetables and herbs. She told me that for small tasks. we pinched them several times on one side ( pellizcar means to pinch). green salsa and crumbled white cheese. chiles serranos. especially in cities. 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. When we returned home Primy had to prepare the stufﬁng for the panzas. such as grinding these crackers. Lunch was a feast for me. far beyond the capacity of a domestic blender. She ﬁlled the pail with the tomatoes and chiles along with salt and other ingredients. water ﬂavoured with a variety of sweet lime that they picked off the tree in the garden. crisply cooked crumbled longaniza (a type of sausage). We had gorditas to start. Since she needed to make a larger amount. This was our starter for lunch on that day. She knelt on the ground behind the grinding stone and in a matter of seconds reduced the crackers to ﬁne crumbs.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 59 a hot comal. like making the panza ﬁlling and the salsas. there were tortillas and a lovely tomato-chile-based salsa to accompany. Women look after the softer and more complex cooking. and topped them with refried beans. in a busy barbacoiero household such as this one. Primy processed them in the blender in stages because she was making large amounts for the business. and rajas con crema. Although I would have the tendency to linger over such exquisite food. rubbed them with melted lard. a tool that dates to pre-Hispanic times. and pulla or guajillo angosto. molino de salsas. so Primy had a 30-litre pail for this. She also had procured some pork fat to add to the ﬁlling mixture so that the panza would not get too dry during . garlic and salt. although it was standard fare for them. She boiled green tomatoes and put the toasted chiles to soak in the cooking water. as well as ﬁlling and unloading the oven. I asked her if she always used the metate. she said. As always.
one for Saturday’s sales and another for Sunday’s. espaldilla. For the sake of ease. This is used to steam the meat over a gas ﬂame. but on Sundays. pierna. and she beat all of these together with her forearm (in the same way that one beats lard for making tamales). ribs. the shoulder. and the perol is closed and left over a strong gas ﬁre for about twelve hours. most people these days ﬁnish cooking the barbacoa in the perol rather than use the traditional pit in the ground or brick oven (horno). a notable difference in ﬂavour between the barbacoa de perol and barbacoa de horno. On Saturdays they sold barbacoa de perol. She also prepared the herbs and spices that go in the tub for the consomé. Next. epazote and onions. 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. Then an iron grille is positioned above the tub with some special cooking ﬁlm to prevent bits of meat from falling through. 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. At the same time she had been boiling rice and chickpeas. to parboil the meat). and the neck. so water is added to the basin at the bottom. espinazo or lomo. He lay these out on the work table in the middle of the room and decided which pieces would be cooked for Saturday. Then she stacked the perol. The perol is a large aluminium bin. 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. When these were well incorporated she added powdered chile guajillo and salt and beat it some more. the panzas are set down. sancochar la carne (literally. the backbone or loin. Into the mixture she threw chopped green tomatoes. Whilst Primy was doing all of this detailed work. and which for Monday. The panzas were now ready to be stuffed.60 • Culinary Art and Anthropology the cooking. mixing the grains. Alejandro pulled out his chainsaw and cut the lamb into pieces—the leg. however. pescuezo. There is. She checked that there was sufﬁcient consomé and that .5 metres tall. around 75 centimetres in diameter and 1. costilla. First the tub for the consomé is placed at the bottom so that the juices drip down into the herbs and spices. then the heads and necks. Mondays and special occasions they prepared the barbacoa de horno. She drained and separated them into two containers. which for Sunday. To save ﬁrewood. The pieces of meat must be arranged in a speciﬁc order so that they cook properly. In the perol the meat is steamed. which are traditionally served with the consomé de barbacoa. 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. a method developed because of the shortage of ﬁrewood in recent years. since these all take longest to cook and need to be nearest to the heat source. The rest of the parts are stacked in accordingly.
which she made of sliced bread ( pan bimbo) spread with cream and ﬁlled with ham. and different varieties are used for tequila and mezcal ). have been used extensively and have been exploited all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. Then they must be toasted to mellow their ﬂavour and bitterness. So we proceeded to light the oven by the side of the house. When a bright ﬁre was smoking in the oven we laid the fresh pencas across the top. 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. and there were beans to follow if anyone wanted some. crude sugar. We had sopa casera de tallarines con crema. They are essential in the preparation of this type of barbacoa as they both protect the meat from burning. Each of these leaves. By the time I got up at seven o’clock. because Mexican food was thought to be notoriously difﬁcult for foreigners . Then she asked me to accompany her to do her errands. By ﬁve o’clock the meat should be ready. a typical homestyle soup with short noodles in (red) tomato broth. She accompanied me with a sandwich of her own. Alejandro had brought home pencas de maguey. a (red) tomato-based stew with chicken. weaving cloth. This step took a good hour or so. served with a swirl of cream. tapering to a ﬁne point like a needle. if available. Before all this. as well as add ﬂavour and help to seal in moisture. To follow was a guisado de jitomate. we attended to the oven. the succulent leaves of the maguey plant. This time it was less elaborate than on the Friday before. both pencas and sap. The pencas must ﬁrst be shaved at the base so that they are evenly thick and pliable. Saturday morning may be spent doing any sort of tasks and chores. Alejandro’s mother gave me a sandwich for breakfast and a pint of hot milk in which I stirred some café de olla. This last point seemed particularly impressive to them. piloncillo. 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. turning them and even hanging them halfway into the oven so that they roasted evenly. and meanwhile we carried on with other household chores. All of this was served with warm corn tortillas. Primy came home and prepared the comida quickly. coffee boiled with abundant water and ﬂavoured with cinnamon and. all parts of different varieties of maguey plants. They are thick and spiny at the edges. avocado and pickled jalapeño chiles. Doña Margarita lit the coals that had remained in the pit with scraps of cardboard and burnt pencas. I helped Doña Margarita wash the dishes from Friday and we went to buy food with which to prepare lunch. 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. In fact. or pencas. For women in the barbacoa trade. courgettes and strips of roasted and peeled poblano chiles. and even making alcoholic drinks (like pulque. While waiting for Primy and the boys to return home. however. y además come ¡con gusto!’). can reach up to 2 metres in length and about 30 centimetres wide at the base. for preparing food.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 61 it had not overﬂowed and the meat was cooking nicely.
Alejandro’s stall had been in the family for three generations. more toasted pencas were lain. an old cover and empty basins were arranged on the edges to secure it and weigh it down.62 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to eat. but he told me that he was dying to go. Alejandro sold meat. It was 5. we unloaded the meat. and by now the logs were reduced to red-hot embers. Then we left the barbacoa to stew in its own juices all night. On a Sunday the children considered this to be a special treat. Then we checked the oven. She ﬁlled the cavity with dry logs. Their second son was still too young to accompany them. It was time to stack the oven. With this she ignited the wood and left it to burn while we ate. and then they slid the heavy steel cover over the opening. separating the meat into plastic crates lined with wax paper and the toasted maguey pencas from the oven. la pura brasa. which had been pre-cooking in the perol for a few hours. The two women pulled out a square of canvas ﬁlled with sand to shroud the cover. She placed the heads and pescuezos into separate pails and when she ﬁnished pulling out the panzas. Each panza is placed individually in the centre of a toasted penca. The sides are folded inward and the lot is tied with string with the edges turned in so that none of the panza is exposed. Primy was already unloading everything. Primy lit the pit-oven with ﬁrewood. Finally. otherwise the meat would fail to cook properly. they were on their way to their barbacoa stall in a market near the centre of Mexico City.m.30 p. or at least hoped.10 Already they took their 7-year-old son with them to sell. now full of consomé. only this time the sides of the oven were lined with pencas. Sunday: Sacando la carne (Taking Out the Meat) At ﬁve in the morning I was awakened for the ﬁnal stage of preparing barbacoa. Both Alejandro and Primy would go to the market together as it was always their busiest day. that both of their sons would maintain it when they came of age. and he and his wife expected. Just before lunch. and therefore understand the ﬂavours. 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. 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. made me seem less foreign to them and more easily assimilated. no cooking ﬁlm was necessary and no water was added for the consomé. Last. she waited for Alejandro to come and reach into the oven for the tub of drippings. She picked the meat from between the neck bones . They loaded everything into the back of their truck and by 5. heads and panzas by the kilo. When all the meat was properly arranged.30 a. and with old newspaper she grabbed a ﬁstful of tallow that she collected every week from the meat. while Primy made and sold tacos and consomé and also usually acted as cashier. la carne sancochada. Afterward.m. 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.
all the barbacoa stalls open. could not increase at similar speed because wages failed to keep up with the falling peso. Whilst the supply of barbacoa might remain the same. their selling price would be beyond the reach of their customers’ spending power. she noticed that some of her regular clients no longer came every week as they used to. though. Discussing the vendor-client relationship with me. Primy explained that certain people become regular clients and thus are given special treatment. or if they ordered to take away. 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. The best days for selling barbacoa are Saturday and Sunday.11 In this way. because of the unstable Mexican economy (la crisis). In the mid-1990s. few people eat it in the market midweek. Otherwise. economic constraints weigh heavily. If a holiday such as Christmas or Easter happened to fall on a weekday. When they did come. Primy. Sunday and Monday: A vender (to sell)—How Lucrative is barbacoa? Monday is usually a fairly light day for selling in the market. and there is good business for barbacoieros. but rather it decreased the frequency of their visits. they retained the same consumption pattern as before. Sometimes she gave them slightly larger tacos. but several barbacoieros sell nevertheless. She would recognize them and know what they usually ordered or consumed at one sitting. 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. however. as the value of the Mexican peso fell to a fraction of its worth against the US dollar. Preparing it every day would be too much work to be worth the earnings. The market price of barbacoa. Since barbacoa is a heavy dish and is expensive. 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. barbacoieros ﬁnd themselves in a competition of ﬂavour. the price of livestock multiplied. however. After the economic crash in 1994. like other wives of barbacoieros. however. So if barbacoieros charged a fair price for their product. To increase their sales.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 63 and used any other loose meat to ﬁll tacos. Saturday. the price increase affected sales. the demand would decrease considerably in that fewer would be able to afford . This depends on her mood and other commitments. she would give them a pint of salsa without charge. Thus customer spending reduced and luxury goods such as special foods became less frequent expenses. To improve the quality of their product. might or might not accompany her husband on these lighter sales days. particularly since much of it is imported live from Australia and New Zealand or from the US. These are the days when most people decide not to cook at home. taking into account the rising prices of their raw materials.
Most of the money they needed to build their houses came from high barbacoa profits. she pointed out. making it less commercial. several houses were left unﬁnished. Sometimes Primy. In the meantime. Few raise their own livestock since land and labour have become more scarce in recent . Tuesday: La limpieza (Cleaning) and a marcar el ganado (Marking Livestock) Tuesday is when women do the major cleaning of the oven ( perol ) and all containers. Tuesday is dedicated to cleaning and returning everything to normal. 1960). did not make the most sense ﬁnancially. Barbacoieros will not stop making their product. the husbands go to the ganadería. there are many big houses in San Mateo. as it is their trade and means of livelihood. They might lose some of their regular clients who were accustomed to a superior product. as did many others. On the other hand. Until the eighties. thus reducing the proﬁt margin for producers and forcing them to tighten their belts. the ranch where the livestock is sold. Still. 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 choose and mark the sheep that they will later buy for slaughter.64 • Culinary Art and Anthropology it. naturally. In the 1950s most families lived in simple one. they were unwilling to produce an inferior product. Doña Margarita told me that her husband used to make barbacoa in the perol. hired another woman to help. They did so despite the increased physical labour and expense required when using ﬁrewood rather than gas. as that would be lowering their standards. Though using the perol would greatly increase their proﬁt margin. Primy explained to me her perception of how household spending had changed since the crisis of December 1994. but by the 1980s many families began to build larger houses as they became more prosperous from selling nopales and barbacoa.or two-room dwellings (Madsen. This has forced the price of barbacoa to remain low despite higher production costs. This attitude. although it was likely that newer clients would not mind the difference. they were not willing to compromise anymore and go back to making barbacoa de perol. but it was Alejandro who insisted that they switch to the pit oven because the resulting ﬂavour is so much better. 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. 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. During my last visit to Milpa Alta. This is why. more of a luxury good and of course more expensive. Their greater investment of work and money increased the quality of their product. as well as all the work areas and utensils used.
splinters of bone or irregular cuts. But if the lambs are too thin. and they render less cooked meat per kilo of raw. most barbacoieros ﬁnd goats more difﬁcult to work with. Wednesday: Rest Wednesday is the day of rest for barbacoiero families. They also have a singular odour. as Doña Margarita described it) even after cooking in the perol. Also. although it disappears when it is cooked in the oven. resulting in less kilos of meat to sell. This is indisputably the tastiest and best-quality barbacoa that can be made. in which case they would prepare more barbacoa to sell on these special days. clients prefer meat to be less fatty. During the cooking much of it melts away. Whilst both male and female goats and sheep may be used. with a similar preparation process. It is also cheaper to buy the animals that are brought over live from the US or Australia. she always stressed how the meat must be physically appealing. and later scrubbing down the work areas and the regular weekly cleaning indicate how essential this step is. some compromises are necessary to increase the proﬁt margin. For the sake of business. and they must be neither too fat nor too thin. Since they are much smaller. For the sake of ﬂavour. These graze freely and eat what they wish instead of enriched industrial feed. When I talked with Primy about the desirable qualities of barbacoa. unless there is a major holiday midweek. To uphold this value and control quality. This is spent like a typical Sunday for anyone else. which remains if the meat is steamed in the perol. all barbacoieros prefer pit-roast borregos criollos. however. She also insisted on absolute cleanliness. they need to be treated more gently. The meticulous elimination of all the suciedad from the entrails of the animals. The local sheep are smaller and leaner than foreign livestock and also have better ﬂavour because of how they are raised. Otherwise they are free . but all barbacoieros agree that they are worth it. the meat does not come out well after cooking. many families in San Mateo slaughtered their own livestock themselves in a walled area in their yards rather than at the rastro (slaughterhouse).Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 65 years. It becomes too dry and does not look good. For personal consumption. some barbacoieros are willing to pay a little more to buy borregos criollos. meaning ﬁve kilos less proﬁt. They are more difﬁcult to prepare because of their size and expense. locally reared sheep. If they are too fat there will be a huge lump of fat behind the kidney or distributed throughout the meat. Although goat meat can be used as successfully as lamb. sometimes male goats retain their odour (‘the smell of a man’. Up to ﬁve kilos of fat can be extracted. vendors prefer sheep. Thus. Other women married to barbacoieros emphasized this to me as well. without unappetizing dark spots. The quality of the meat depends on the quality and cleanliness of the ingredients.
Since Milpa Alta is ofﬁcially an area of Mexico City of relative poverty.66 • Culinary Art and Anthropology to relax and hold their own or attend other ﬁestas which mark life cycle events in the family. nor do they share with each other unless there is a particular ﬁesta. Families carefully protect their belongings and social standing. Nothing is wasted. even if it is only a bit of sugar or a few tortillas. when most people are very busy working. cleanliness and frugality are necessary to perform the culinary technique. and the tallow is sold to make soap. they commit themselves to working excessively hard during weekends and having free time in the middle of the week. as mentioned earlier. and wealth in the area is attached to barbacoa. disciplined hours to continue to earn a living and not disappoint their customers. Conclusion From the ﬁrst time that I observed and participated in the preparation of barbacoa I was fascinated with the process. There was a distinct division of labour between men and women. that only married couples prepare barbacoa for a living. Whatever the weather. But I had not realized how much the preparation of the dish affected the way that barbacoieros interacted socially with others. Their work rhythm dictates some of their values as well as their timetables. it was evident that this was an industry that had signiﬁcant social effects. order. The sheepskins are sold to make into jackets and rugs. discipline. It is uncommon to borrow ingredients from the neighbours as they are expected to pay for whatever foodstuff they require. particularly the wife. issues of trust and envy are highly relevant in the community of all those who are involved in the same business. Those from San Mateo are said to be much less friendly than those of other barrios. they have to work long. All other parts of the animal are eaten. The recent prosperity associated with barbacoa has made the wealth of barbacoieros a new value to protect. When I later learned. After slaughtering. This behaviour is attributed to wealth. the bones are sold to make detergents. . The fact that they are concentrated in Barrio San Mateo gives the barrio a reputation of being excessively proud and stingy. it makes sense that people of similar occupation should group together. whilst single men and women only helped their parents but had separate careers. Having the opportunity to socialize at the same times. When a couple decides to dedicate themselves to barbacoa. with the main responsibility lying with the marital couple. 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. This proximity to one another also encourages competition. barbacoieros seem to be both more attractive as well as more cautious when dealing with others. As indicated in this chapter. so unsurprisingly. all parts of the animal are used either in the cooking or for other purposes.
For barbacoa. p. in this case. The matanza seems more than a slaughter. socially malleable. p. both for men and for women. Likewise. Barbacoa ranks high in the hierarchy of dishes in Mexican cuisine. the resulting dish is greater than the sum of its parts. The animals are simply a source of meat. edible object. The goal is to achieve the best possible taste in the most pragmatic way for commercial and gastronomic success. Because of the technical mastery necessary for its production and the acknowledgement of this virtuosity in its consumption. that is. 52). Barbacoieros feel little or no attachment to the animals they slaughter. Food requires ‘decoration’—ﬂavourings or elaborate preparation—just as much as it requires nutrients. because preparing barbacoa is not a ritual. As with any work of art. So it is tempting. however. it seems the beginning of this social transformation. the occasion in which it is eaten. There is a problem with thinking of it in this way. Since barbacoa is an elaborately prepared dish.13 Even so. it is exemplary of how social behaviour is affected for the sake of concerns over taste and economy. and vice versa. though. It was precisely the complexity of the ﬂavours and the preparation which made it more than just meat. ‘The work of art. Meat preparation can be socialized. barbacoa can be thought of as an artwork within the corpus of Mexican cuisine. For example.12 A living animal changes from a natural state to a controlled. the food preparation is a sensual experience. cookery is both a source of prestige from an object (dish) and a source of efﬁcacy in social relations. at ﬁrst. The actual ﬂavouring and . ‘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. economic constraints and technical capabilities. The function of the elaboration is to mark the dish. although consumers themselves are unable to determine the cause of the difference in taste. it is a culinary technique. This is why it is a dish typically eaten at special occasions or weekends. as special. The technical activity of. motherhood is a well-known value in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (1996. as in using the developed uterus for the panza. references to motherhood seem related to the achievement of better ﬂavours. As Gell has argued in differentiating between decorated objects and non-decorated objects. 74). it can be said that the purpose of eating food is not simply for nourishment. Making barbacoa is both a source of livelihood and a pursuit of culinary excellence. it can be thought of as a work of art.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 67 The production of the dish encompasses all aspects of their lives. and therefore creates a social relation between them. Social values and behaviour seem encapsulated in the process of cooking or making barbacoa.’ Gell states. to analyze the preparation of barbacoa as if it illustrates a process of social conversion and acculturation. On small scale. another ingredient. the decoration is just as functional as the object itself (1998. and that it had complex ﬂavours. a craft whose product depends on physical labour. although it is by no means the highest. which is decorated or considered more special or beautiful than other objects/dishes. Before I met Primy for the ﬁrst time I had known that barbacoa was difﬁcult and laborious to prepare. or at least socially interpreted.
and the technical skills they must acquire. As shown in the earlier description of a typical week for barbacoieros. San Mateo was like any other barrio of maize farmers among many. a barbacoiero will have greater economic success. and how the activities prescribed as appropriate for them. More customers will buy the product for their own consumption as well as to share with others. stemmed garlic avocados . raw green chile de árbol. I will describe their roles as wives and cooks. If we accept that the nature of the art object is deﬁned by its social use (Gell. women’s labour. which could be thought of as minor works of art or craft. 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. ideals and relations with men will be explored further. but I could not help being struck by the organized cooperation that I observed during my ﬁrst few weeks there. which could later lead to greater social success. invest measured amounts of time. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez green husk tomatoes. San Mateo became special because of a special dish (or a special ﬂavour). affect the way they socialize with others. If the appropriate pleasurable ﬂavour is achieved in the many parts of the dish. 1998). Before the concentration of barbacoieros and their technical and ﬁnancial success. effort and money in the everyday production of meals. either in small groups or in large ﬁestas. but also in celebration and large-scale sharing). Women. The success of their cooking affects their relations with the people they are feeding. On large scale. or cooks. Recipes Commercial Green Salsa for barbacoa Ma. since they generally are the ones in charge of the panza and the all-important salsas. Daily food similarly inﬂuences adjustments in behaviour. both with themselves and with one another. barbacoa has affected the community of San Mateo in Milpa Alta. women put in much effort and creativity in daily cooking. In particular. 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. Worth noting now is that I did not arrive in Milpa Alta with the intentions of observing gender relations. even though there is little time to relax and savour the ﬂavours of their meals. In the chapter that follows.68 • Culinary Art and Anthropology elaboration is often the responsibility of women.
and chile guajillo angosto ( pulla). fry the garlic cloves until golden. Pass the chiles through the hot oil once. stemmed. 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. then drain. freshly squeezed green olives salt olive oil queso canasto (a fresh white cheese) Heat oil in a frying pan. Salsa pasilla—‘la buena’—for Eating barbacoa on Special Occasions at Home Ma. Blend together chiles. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez 6 kg green husk tomatoes. garlic and orange juice.Barbacoa in Milpa Alta • 69 onion salt Grind all together in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. Mix well. peeled orange juice. Decorate with crumbled cheese. Then one day I decided to try making it and was . stems and veins removed oil for frying garlic. chile de árbol. soaked 3 medium onions 10 small cloves garlic salt to taste Blend all ingredients together. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez chile pasilla. Add olives. boiled ¼ kg each of dried chiles: chile mora. toasted on comal. salt and a drizzle of olive oil to taste. Commercial Red Salsa for barbacoa Ma. cleaned. In the same oil. Pour into a serving bowl.
Use them to line a heavy casserole with a lid. and serve with hot corn tortillas. or until the meat is very tender. chopped onions. herbs and chiles. • Wrap the meat with the banana leaves before securing the lid. but there is no real substitute for epazote.70 • Culinary Art and Anthropology pleasantly surprised that the ﬂavour I achieved approximated the real thing. Meanwhile. since some forms of barbacoa are prepared with them. wash the banana leaves and then pass them over a ﬂame or dry griddle to soften them. Rub the meat with the garlic. chopped coriander. The following recipe was the result of my culinary experiment. limes. where the piece of meat will ﬁt. preferably green (tomatillos). • Sprinkle with salt after cooking is complete. sliced 3 cloves garlic. guajillo) 1 onion. Serves 3– 4 1 metre banana leaves 1 kg lamb shoulder (or leg) 3 bay leaves large handful of epazote handful of coriander. although there was little consomé. sliced 1 leek. chopped roughly • Preheat oven to 180ºC (gas mark 5/375ºF) for about 1 hour. which I do grow on my windowsill. if desired. avocados and salsas. • Combine the rest of the ingredients and place in the casserole. morita. . chopped 6 –8 dried red chiles (de árbol. Banana leaves may substitute maguey leaves. ancho. sliced 2–3 tomatoes. They will change colour slightly and become more pliable. and place it in the oven for about 2 hours. The meat may or may not be raised on a wire rack. and pour a little water into the pot so the meat does not dry out when cooking.
g. home cooking is considered women’s work. The work must be seen as separable from the one who does it. which include cooking and other domestic tasks. and go on to develop my argument in relation to how women and—or via—their cooking are valued in Milpa Alta. they argue. Murcott. 1998. Cooking is a complex and artistic practice. are devalued ‘or not regarded as skills at all’ (Charles and Kerr. Beardsworth and Keil. I hesitate to separate the act and skill of cooking from the cook.2 I begin by describing local social relations and different kinds of women’s work in Milpa Alta.–4– Women as Culinary Agents Although many men in Milpa Alta are involved in food industries. Maintaining the leitmotif of cooking as an artistic practice. ‘The underlying principles of housework must be made visible. 1979. instead of in the traditional way as an expression of love and personality’ (1991. Crucially. 1997. we can think of women’s agency as a culinary agency. is how women’s skills. such as when they hire domestic helpers. it can lead to women’s subordination (e.4 By focusing on meal production as a household chore. Though I agree that feeding a family is a skill and responsibility easily taken for granted in Mexico and elsewhere. In her insightful and critical discussion of how ‘feeding a family’ is a complex. these studies take food production to be directly symbolic of the reproduction of a social order where women. often ‘invisible’ skill that women take upon as ‘natural’. Delphy. as wives. they can also mobilize the agency of others. 1991. their husbands. McIntosh and Zey. p. 1988. DeVault writes. Women are the key actors in the culinary system.3 The Value of Cooking and Other Work Some feminist sociological studies argue that when cooking is regarded as women’s work. 142). This chapter focuses on the role of women in the network of Milpa Alta society. p. referring to the sazón de amor that is responsible for good ﬂavour. The root of the problem. Ekström. 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 – . I would differentiate cooking from other forms of housework. and just as their agency is mobilized by the family during ﬁestas in community-wide sociality1 (see Chapter 5). 47). inevitably play a subordinate role to men. different from other kinds of housework because of the creative component involved. 1983).
cooking is a chore. p. ‘[T]he people see nothing servile in this’. mother and cook whether or not they enjoy it. Though this might be taken as indicative of women’s subordination to men. and not by the wives or daughters of the landowners who prepared food and served it to those men. I would emphasize further that there is also nothing wrong with having deﬁned gendered roles in the family. This was one of the parts of the day that she enjoyed most. when DeVault states that ‘women learn to think of service as a proper form of relation to men.’ 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. I found several women to have such an attitude. marital-compadrazgo alliances. and learn a discipline that deﬁnes “appropriate” service for men’ (1991. Some women in Milpa Alta say they cook to satisfy their own cravings or desires. On the . of course. p. several recent studies document how family and gender ideologies are more dynamic than static. and the like. or when women work away from home.72 • Culinary Art and Anthropology with the existing ideology of Mexican cooking (see also Abarca. 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. In Milpa Alta. although they may hardly cook at all. as I explained in Chapter 1. Ann Pescatello (1973. and whether or not they cook regularly. Thus. and this is not to downplay or ignore ongoing social change in terms of gender relations. 143). therefore. relatives. Many have told me that they enjoy it. 108). this does not necessarily imply a master-servant relationship. As Gudeman and Rivera (1990. For others. but they can ﬁnd other ways to provide a delicious meal whether they cook it themselves or not. Servile status was held by the labourers who worked the ﬁeld. still widespread and potent in countryside and city. In one of the earlier collections of essays published on gender. are not always forced to prepare elaborate meals for their husbands. In fact. women take pride in their cooking. xiv) claimed. Doña Delﬁna told me that before she married she used to take lunch to the peons who worked on her family’s land. although women serve food to their husbands or bring them meals in the ﬁelds. In such cases.5 Rather. if not a talent. knowing how to cook Mexican food is actually thought of as a skill worth learning. p. applied to Latin America. in-laws and comadres. at least. In Milpa Alta cooking is indeed embedded in the domestic realm. subsumed as women’s work or women’s unpaid labour. Women. they meet the challenge of providing good food to their families by depending on cooperation with co-resident women. prestige. The extended family. ‘The Latin American family. leaving the house and socializing a little. It cannot be denied that many women assume the role of wife. 101) write about Colombia. p. affords the female an extensive amount of inﬂuence on the members of her family. 2006. since power need not be publicly displayed in order to be enforced. integral to the historical schema … provides much latitude and legitimization of behavior in terms of social status.
among other issues.6 they speak with pride of how able and productive their women are. The reasons for these competing discourses of power and submission are multiple and complex. Juanita told me.8 Yadira told me that most women around her work hard at home but also invest time in labour that could be better described as extradomestic. Juanita. and get up again the next morning before dawn. Both are also valued as work. said that women generate sustenance.Women as Culinary Agents • 73 contrary. It was as natural for them to portray themselves as mothers and cooks (‘Me dedico al hogar’) as it was to call themselves barbacoieras. I would ﬁnd many women awake. teeming with women setting up their stalls and peeling nopales. Hard work seems to be deﬁned as commerce and extradomestic labour. and likewise. Supposedly. involving changing gender relations resulting from women’s entrance into the labour force. market vendors (vendedoras) or businesswomen (comerciantes). They are the ones who maintain the economic control in the family. 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. checking the barbacoa in their pit-ovens. Indeed. Williams. The example of a barbacoa household (Chapter 3) illustrates how women assume the domestic household duties along with helping in the family trade. Milpaltense women present themselves as having various opportunities for release from oppression. often by means of their cooking. 1985. Her sensitive discussion of feminist kitchen politics is a . que crea el comercio’). told me that if I were to walk around Milpa Alta at 3 or 4 a. Milpa Alta works’ (‘Mientras México duerme. they would say that they were barbacoieras. returning home well after dusk. a single woman in her mid-twenties still living in her natal household. Rather than talk of a doble jornada. Lulú. pp. sometimes deﬁning themselves against this notion of submissiveness. including domestic tasks. Juanita and other women repeatedly told me that Milpa Alta women never rest. 260 –1). they take on extradomestic work and still ﬁnd a way to feed their families (cf. This must be why several women described themselves as ‘housewives’ although if asked again. Even when domestic work may appear to be devalued. women in Milpa Alta are ‘submissive’. they are very hardworking (‘La mujer milpaltense no descansa … es muy trabajadora’). They admirably sacriﬁce sleep and other comforts for the sake of their work. 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. ‘While Mexico sleeps. Stephen.m. They are not simple housewives but are the drive of the family businesses. Women remain at work for twelve hours or more. the cooking and providing of meals is not (cf. and both paid and unpaid domestic and extradomestic work is acknowledged and valued..7 but that is only how it appears on the surface. good womanhood. People commonly say. 2005. on Tejanos). As I discuss further below. a journalist. Milpa Alta trabaja’). proper provision of tasty food reﬂects good motherhood. Women in Milpa Alta have a reputation in Mexico City for being hardworking. By four or ﬁve in the morning the market is alive.
women’s independence and the dynamism of relationships between individuals of both or either gender. one way that they stretch their boundaries is in pursuit of culinary ideals. 1975. Even in cases where women appear to be subservient to their husbands (‘Es él que manda’). but expected. 1985). Williams. whereas they are usually chaperoned for social outings. . and I set off without stopping.. 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. boil and grind more maize (nixtamal ). 2001). but I suspect that it was more unusual not to spend more time chatting with passersby on every outing. their everyday lives are not necessarily limited. Rogers. For culinary errands. or between staying home and being out in the streets. women do not need to be accompanied. They go to particular vendors or even other towns. Roseman. licuado or other snack bought on the street or in the market. Though they live with some social restrictions. Sometimes we would detour for an ice cream. among others). Working hard in the pursuit of ﬂavour encourages a malleable boundary between domestic and extradomestic spaces. she needed someone to go to the tortillería to buy some prepared masa so that we would not have to soak. 1994.9 This is not only acceptable. 2004. I was surprised at her surprise at how quickly I had been. By stressing complementarity between the sexes. Johnsson. Primy mentioned that it was because I walk very fast. because I had done exactly as I was told—go to the tortillería and come back. Once when Doña Margarita was making tamales and her dough came out a little too thin. almost daily trips to the market or to different shops for fresh ingredients. Fowler-Salamini and Vaughan. Many women go to great lengths to collect the right foods for the dishes they wish to prepare. taco. which would take too long.10 Thus. 2006. Since unmarried daughters in the family are often asked to buy fresh bread in the evenings for supper. In Milpa Alta it is normal to make frequent. 1999.g. Trips to the market are as much a social event for exchanging news and gossip as for stocking up the larder. When I accompanied one or another friend or acquaintance on a visit to the market. because Doña Margarita told me not to take too long. Abarca. I offered to go instead of Primy or one of the children. In Milpa Alta. I observed that for women who are interested in cooking well. When I returned to the house. much work in Latin America and elsewhere dismantles the notion of women being in a rigid oppressive condition (e.74 • Culinary Art and Anthropology convincing critique of the kitchen as a site of female oppression (see also André. women are not quite as conﬁned to the domestic sphere as it might appear. 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. Suárez and Bonﬁl. 1986. One of the secrets of Mexican (and any good) cooking is having top-quality ingredients at hand. 1996. Melhuus and Stølen. 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.
This hints at the connections between food. either from her mother. and their husbands are expected to eat what they serve them. she learns as soon as she gets married. her mother-in-law or other female friends and relatives. she said. We can also extend this to say that attaining culinary expertise is equivalent to attaining complete womanhood. If a man is satisﬁed with the way a woman cooks. 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. and those who do. clean and raise their children. With skilful cooking. Yadira told me that a woman can win a man through his mouth (‘Un hombre se conquista por la boca’). In other words. by extension. At the time. Conversely. which I discuss further below. some women begin to dress conservatively and stop wearing makeup. the correlations amongst cooking. Married women are expected to know how to cook. she had been ambitious about her academic and later professional career and had little patience for the kitchen. etc. In other words. they usually help their husbands in their businesses by providing the necessary culinary labour (making salsas. Guille told me conspiratorially that she only learned to cook several years after she got married. homemaking and extradomestic work are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps it is for good reason that married women spend so much time preparing proper meals. although. food with good ﬂavour. 1997). she can entice him to her to fulﬁl his sexual desires. as I discussed in Chapter 2. out of ‘respect’ for their husbands. as I explained previously. Yet far from being housewives who solely cook. It is also not unlike Gell’s notion of artworks as traps. culinary knowledge is not expected of men. Alejandro sometimes . motherhood and family life correspond to ideals of womanhood. she will always have him in the palm of her hand. Since her mother and sister taught her to cook little by little.). but she managed to keep her husband from ﬁnding out. motherhood. 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.Women as Culinary Agents • 75 Marriage and Cooking When a girl knows how to cook. love and sex. If they used to dress seductively when they were single. and proper women prepare food at home from scratch. a woman can trap a man. for not knowing how to cook. Some women quit their extradomestic jobs after marriage. if a woman appeals to a man’s oral/gastronomical desires (taste). She was able to keep this secret from her husband because she used to collect prepared food from her mother’s or sister’s kitchen before her husband arrived home to eat. she is considered to be ready for marriage and. do so largely because of the high value placed on motherhood and family life in Mexico (cf. García and Oliveira. She should have been ashamed of herself. prepared with a sazón de amor. Deciding to stay at home and raise a family is a choice that many (though not all) women make. This is just like how Ricardo told me (in Chapter 1) that a man falls in love with his stomach (rather than his heart). If a single woman does not know how to cook.
he replied. it is often necessary for working-class women to work extradomestically to supplement the family income. 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.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!’). 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. boasting that he could look after himself on his own. Levine (1993) also notes that urban Mexican women in the 1990s were more likely to encourage their children. 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. In fact. Economic considerations play a signiﬁcant role in women’s activities. Miguel and Coty provide another example of the social signiﬁcance of cooking within marriage. motherhood has been suggested to be another cause of women’s subordination. pa’ qué te casaste?’ (‘So what did you get married for?’) Coty taunted him. Many women consider extradomestic work to be detrimental . buy a plot of land or provide things for their children. Working-class women taking on jobs outside the home do not think of this freedom to work as any sort of liberating agency. ‘¿Entonces. At this most basic level. as we drove to the market where they sell their barbacoa. that motherhood does not actually stop women from taking on extradomestic work. married men depend on their wives. Motherhood and Virtue Based on their investigation of motherhood and extradomestic work. although some women also feel ambivalent about their roles as mothers. For women who feel that their duties as mothers are a burden or hindrance. and unmarried men depend on their mothers. Miguel said that he knew how to cook as well as how to clean and wash clothes. García and Oliveira (1997) found that motherhood is still the main deﬁning characteristic or source of identity for women in urban Mexico. Cooking knowledge (and practice) is almost meaningless without a family. ‘Para mis niñas’ (‘For my daughters’). and my ﬁndings in Milpa Alta agree. García and Oliveira demonstrate. and a man needs a woman to bear children. Early one morning. Their study shows how motherhood is considered to be a source of fulﬁlment for women regardless of social class. they talked lightly about their skills and roles as husband and wife. 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. Work. but rather seem to consider it as an unfortunate necessity. especially their daughters. Yet. tying women to their homes and children when they would rather join the labour force.
the way they went to church on Sundays. values and ideals of motherhood and domestic work. such as motherhood and being good homemakers (which includes cooking). a larger percentage of both women and men in Milpa Alta neglected to practise their professional careers in favour of ‘traditional’ Milpaltense occupations. a scarce resource for the community. They did so by emphasizing their exemplary behaviour with respect to other images of womanhood.’ 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. despite problems with her husband. Sara (another member of the group) spoke with satisfaction about how good her sons were. It is helpful to quote at length here to illustrate this point: None [of the women beekeepers] claimed explicitly to be a model housewife.Women as Culinary Agents • 77 to the development of their families despite their capitalist productivity. The virtues. In the community’s reaction against this. with wives who are loose and free). The dominant discourse of male power and female weakness is used often in reference to Latin America. and how she walked kilometres across the . For the sake of their children. but also about her kind and faithful husband. Although some did talk of professional fulﬁlment. and Villareal (p. Eventually the women were able to circumvent and even subvert some of the powerful images of being good women and good wives (or women vis-à-vis men). Women who wish to pursue extradomestic activities can use a discourse of homemaking and cooking to subvert moral and social criticism. illustrates how attempts to restrict women’s social spaces may draw on gender imagery that plays upon male ideals and women’s morality. Villareal’s (1996) analysis of women beekeepers in Jalisco. henpecked and in effect. largely because of the governmental support of the project. then. because they and/or their husbands thought it best for them to dedicate their time to child rearing. but Petra. often boasted about her cooking skills and was proud of the way she had reared her children. or in particular after having their ﬁrst child. who wanted her to spend more time in the house. she describes that the government encouraged peasant women’s participation in an entrepreneurial scheme which required the allocation of ejido land.11 Eventually land was grudgingly given to the women beekeepers. Other women told me without any indication of shame that they stopped working after marriage. 184) argues against this assumption: ‘In overemphasizing “dominant” imagery. including good cooking. free) or their husbands as mandilón (tied to the apron strings. Mexico. women may stop working outside the home or engage in work that can largely be done from home. can also be demonstrated by the following example. the president of the group. researchers tend to assume that ideas pertaining to those in hierarchical positions are oppressing passive victims. Yet women can also use these notions to their advantage. these women were attacked in an indirect expression of community dissatisfaction over giving up this land. The boundaries of women’s accepted movements were threatened by gossip that labelled them as libertina (loose. therefore.
20). there were few divorces and separations in Milpa Alta (though there were other reasons for this as well. The greatest form of suffering for a married . he only hit me once or twice. she suffers through it. Domestic violence rarely results in separation. if she had wanted a daughter. she never felt the desire to have a daughter. Then she added. and since her sons always helped her at home. with them I am happy’ (‘Ni. She proudly showed her sewing and embroidery to her visitors. Villareal’s case study clearly demonstrates that women are not passive. but apart from those occasions. she told me. ya no. p. She then added. Some cases cited in their volume indicate a certain complicity among women. who had two sons. mejor. but it was because I had done something to deserve it. but he never hit her. Socorro bragged quietly about how she cooked for her family. Melhuus and Stølen (1996) argue that gender ideology is in constant ﬂux. as I mention below). which was now composed of only boys. yet it continues to organize and perform functions in society. that women have the tendency to attach virtue to suffering. Suffering. Mexico. They do not necessarily succumb submissively to the dominant discourse. he never hit me!’ Some people spoke so openly about wife-beating that I was led to believe it was commonplace. 195) A similar kind of dynamic exists in Milpa Alta. and thanks to God. Girls grow up to have difﬁcult lives. por conocer que una como mujer sufre. I was also told that if a woman fails to cook or clean. she explained. 1996. as did the topic of physical abuse. her husband may beat her (or at least she fears that he might. (Villareal. When I asked Doña Delﬁna. ‘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. If he does beat her. ‘No. she cried because the child was a girl. but actively use the ideals of cooking and motherhood to avoid forcing direct confrontation. y gracias a Dios. con esos estoy contenta’). then stayed a bit to help out with his chores. at the time of ﬁeldwork. God gave me two sons. They can take an active role in modifying their social spaces. since the girls had married out. and probably in other parts of Mexico as well. which undermines the power of the accepted gender imagery. The idea of keeping their household in ‘good order’ was often conveyed. Melhuus (1992) suggests in her study of Toluca. as well as resistance. better not [to have a daughter]. Women’s suffering came up in conversation in a surprisingly casual manner. Love Affairs and the Morality of the Meal When Yadira’s ﬁrst child was born. even if he never has given her reason to believe he really will). ‘It was better. knowing how a woman suffers. Dios me ha dado dos hijos. she replied that at ﬁrst she had not thought about it. They write. In fact. though I have no hard facts to prove it. An elderly lady told me that her husband was a womanizer and a drunk.78 • Culinary Art and Anthropology ﬁelds to take him a hot lunch.
y esclavas para sus hijos’). and likewise that of their husbands. wore makeup. Women were tempting when they dressed up. high heels and short skirts. As Lulú put it. After hearing of this incident. a husband is thought likely to be unfaithful to his wife. if she becomes submissive. especially if she is young and pretty.12 At some point in marriage. about men who have affairs and why they stay with their wives. 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. Alejandro once said to me very bluntly. He did not know what to do. es porque se deja’). also said that women who are beaten by their husbands for not fulﬁlling domestic tasks (with or without hired help). or for not dressing ‘appropriately’. supposedly to ask for advice. or at least on the surface. so this was why many men forbade their wives to cut their hair or wear makeup—to prevent them from attracting other men. But what it also indicates is the centrality of women in the judgement of both men and women. Motherhood being the centre of domestic life kept men with their wives even if they were tempted by others. si se vuelve sumisa. But my friends. were partly responsible for those consequences. Decent women plaited their long hair and did not use makeup. They allowed their husbands to play the macho role. Not all men are like this. 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. With their appearance. married with children. such as Yadira and Lulú. Doña Delﬁna used to say that only women of the streets wear makeup (‘Sólo las pirujas. las mujeres de la calle. and he had fallen in love with a 25-year-old beauty. Both single and married men found this attractive. Kiko mischievously decided not to respond in the way expected of him. and that this is the source of women’s power. What Yadira interpreted as a sign of women’s subjugation to men’s ideas or tastes Doña Delﬁna saw as a moral issue. and not the other way around. ‘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’). se pintan’). They loved them as mothers. thus relieving Alfonso of his guilt and his ‘problem’. pero como mamás. He said that he was 50 years old. women could protect their morality. A married man may be envied or admired among his peers if he is known to have a lover on the side. and as ‘slaves’ to their children (‘Sí. he is henpecked (‘Él que no pega a su mujer es su mandilón’).Women as Culinary Agents • 79 woman is if her husband is having an extramarital affair. las quieren. it’s because she allows it’ (‘Depende en la mujer. Alfonso approached Kiko. Yadira said that men who had affairs surely did love their wives. The discussion so far suggests that men might have the upper hand over women when it comes to power and permissiveness. He offered to seduce Alfonso’s mistress so that she would lose interest in him. but this is the expected image. though she could not say for sure that Milpa Alta had many machos. ‘It depends on the woman. . and cut their hair or left it loose in the modern fashionable hairstyles. I began to enquire about men’s and women’s love relationships.
‘Se hace güey’ (‘He is acting güey’). So although Doña Delﬁna talked generally of women’s suffering. to act stupidly. this did not imply a lack of authority. But two other terms. she ultimately had the last word when it came to family decisions. A woman described as pendeja is one whose husband has one or more lovers. 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. He arranged a ﬂat for them to rent and only needed Doña Delﬁna’s signature. Her morality is better insulted directly by calling her puta. ‘Es un buey’ (‘He is a bull’). and to the cuckolded husband of the woman who sleeps around. porque se hace tonto’). it is because it seems that he takes no notice. When someone is called pendejo/a. it was explained to me. Melhuus (1992) discusses how women’s actual power over men is subtly hidden by a moral discourse linked to the merit of ‘suffering [as] a way of life’ (p. when you describe a man by saying. These express two key concepts of moral judgement. 80) and men are the ‘guardians of women’s virtue’ (p. a man who is called a güey has horns. Furthermore. since bulls have horns. a man who moves into his wife’s house after marriage or who is henpecked . and she accepts it. and it is women’s behaviour and morality (their shame) which reﬂects upon men. it is because his wife is deceiving him (‘porque su esposa le engaña’). but he is more likely to be called güey. So by cheating on him with another man. She pretends that either she does not know or that she does not care so much. When a man’s wife has a lover. complementary to the labels of puta and hijo de puta. She refused to sign the tenancy agreement. pendejo/a and güey. The word güey is derived from the word buey. because he is acting stupid (‘porque parece que no se da cuenta. 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. are more commonly used in Milpa Alta for insulting men and women. It is one of the biggest insults for a man. Don Felipe was grateful for Doña Delﬁna’s decision in that the family was happy to have remained in Milpa Alta. While men appear to hold honour and represent their families as the household head. he may be described as being pendejo. as swear words are used in English as well. his wife gives him horns (se pone los cuernos). This is why calling a man hijo de puta is a very powerful insult.80 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Doña Delﬁna herself wore her hair in two plaits only after marriage. preferring for her children to grow up on their land. Women are a threat to men as ‘bearers (if not keepers) of their honour’ (p. In Milpa Alta. More speciﬁcally. Of central importance is women’s role as mothers in relation to men. which means bull (toro). it usually means hacerse tonto/a. but though she appeared to defer to her husband on the surface. Years later. the greatest value in society is placed on women. When you say. They are related to the victimized wife of the macho man who has other lovers or more than one family. although it is also used among close friends to profess admiration. 159). 160) or suffering as a female virtue.
the man appears to be acting güey. she would take advantage of her right to demand her husband’s ‘respect’ and full sexual attention. she prepared proper meals for him every day. In retaliation. since it is the norm for the wife to move to the husband’s house. The explanation was phrased to me in this way: ‘Generally a man who acts tonto does so because of the depth of his love for his wife. he was unable to refuse the meal. or a second family. A woman who acts tonta does so because she is pendeja. real or imagined. 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. He allows her to dominate. but her relatives and neighbours told her she simply had to accept that he was a man and that is how men were. She would rush to the kitchen to warm up the food and would purposely give him large servings. if she was not stupid ( pendeja) and was overly concerned with others’ opinions. often cooking his favourites or requests for his comida. Since she had fulﬁlled her duties as a wife by cooking for him. she either couched the story in terms of woman’s suffering or told me of her little revenge. I hinted at the coerciveness of Milpaltense hospitality in Chapter 2 and discuss it further in the next chapter. he had to fulﬁll his duties as a husband by eating what she had so lovingly cooked. When he failed to return home to eat. so that people will not speak ill of her. saying that he must be hungry since he was home so late. 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. regardless of the eater’s true hunger. As a dutiful wife. 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. It was also Doña Marta’s subtle way of insisting that her husband recognize his sexual obligations to her. Most people with whom I spoke made jokes and ‘naughty’ innuendos when they talked of sexual opportunities. Men and women are conceived of as having differing motivations for lenience over the sexual behaviour of their spouses. as he ought to do since it was served to him. she would wait until he got home. in effect. Doña Marta would not allow him to leave the table until he cleaned his plate. Inversely. Although it may not necessarily be the case that his wife dominates over him or that she has an extramarital lover. both extramarital or premarital. to keep up appearances. whatever the time. it frustrated her. and she would insist that he have his comida. Although he would have been very full and quite tired. since he had already eaten a full meal with his lover. as in the following anecdote: Doña Marta told me of her jealousy when she discovered that her husband had a lover.Women as Culinary Agents • 81 may be teased by others as a ciguamoncli or ciguamoncle. by enforcing his gastronomical obligations to eat her home-cooked meals. As one . On the much rarer occasion of a woman telling me that her husband had had an affair.
because people you care about will eat the meal’ (2006. Home cooking is not only the ideal food. it is ideally also the most ﬂavourful. As Wilk describes it. though interpretations may vary. Women. in sum. Therefore. Abarca. She generalized that for men. are portrayed as the ideal providers of sex and food. they support as well as beneﬁt and depend upon their family and children. epitomized in the mother-child bond. and by extension the greater social sphere. the most important point to note is that many women do feel that they are responsible for themselves as well as for their families. 202. For this reason they are willing to suffer and to work twice as hard as their husbands. Yadira said that they prefer to leave their lovers before they are found out. she may still be respected in her own way. 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. 2006). if her married lover acknowledges her (and their children) and thus demands her respect. ‘Metaphorically. Home cooking is always concerned with quality. This is . home cooking means a cuisine grounded in familiar shared history and in common knowledge of places and people. Among those women who have extramarital lovers. Although not common. p. who suffer for the sake of husbands. with the sazón de amor of a talented cook who loves her husband and her children. in Milpa Alta. Women’s power is drawn from the domestic realm. Although a single woman having an affair with a married man ought to be looked down upon. and they also cook for love. ‘A la mesa y a la cama. 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. As Lulú and Yadira often said. The same does not apply for men. in order to protect their virtuous image in the eyes of their children.14 Good women suffer for love of their husbands. to be in love means submission to men or society’s rules (at least in appearance). in multiple ways. a married woman having an affair is usually scolded by her female friends and relatives. children and culinary ideals. una sola vez se llama’ (‘To the table or to bed. Well-prepared and delicious food is food cooked ‘with love’. On the other hand. women are the hub of the family. they would even leave their lovers. Otherwise. divorce and single motherhood is worse than having or being an extramarital lover. They run the family. or with love magic cooked in to ensnare a man or keep him at home. They are ready to make great sacriﬁces for the sake of their children. original emphasis). 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. from the venerated role they play in the family. and for women. Being able to blame themselves for some unpleasant aspects of domestic life indicates that women can be powerful and autonomous agents. to be in love means sex. They can provide for family needs through nurture as well as by wage-earning work. you must come when you are bid’).
Mintz suggests. In contrast. cooking is a creative activity which requires a basic freedom to perform. 1996. Rather than good taste (at least in food) being deﬁned according to the habitus of the dominant class. 2000). some may choose to emphasize cooking as part of their gender identity. That is. the existing ideal of gastronomy makes culinary artistry a possible goal that women may strive to achieve. to develop comparisons. whether or not they consider it the main source of their public esteem in general. Chapter 3) describes how freedom from slavery may have been partly achieved by the development of a local cuisine. Not only this. barbacoieras. who were low in class hierarchy. just staying alive was the sole challenge. McCallum. Melhuus and Stølen. To be sure.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. see also Moore. 1999. By constructing a cuisine of their own. Nevertheless. by focusing on food. it is associated with economic success (economic capital). Ortner. they were able to exercise the human potentiality to taste. Sanders. Whether a woman cooks for her family or has someone else do the cooking. Roseman. or have other incomegenerating activities that keep them busy away from home. 1996. 2001. Women’s culinary agency is not limited to cooking but may also extend to creative methods of meal provision. but that gender is in ﬂux and power is not intrinsic to its constitution (González Montes and Tuñon. women may choose to deﬁne themselves as loving individuals who cook for their husbands or other family members. p. they did so under terrible constraints. Mintz’s ‘taste of freedom’ is in direct contrast with Bourdieu’s. whether or not they actually do so regularly because they are food vendors. she may take the credit for providing a meal (abducting the culinary agency of the food/cook). often. 1994. Furthermore. elaborate cuisines may in fact be a means of escaping the varied existing restrictions that are already embedded in social life. depending on the social or local political situation in which they ﬁnd themselves. In fact. Mintz describes how something judged to be of good taste can emanate from the necessity and poverty of the slaves of the American South. 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. In these differing tasks (and in eating). and they provide good food for their families however much or little they cook. they ultimately attained freedom. Bourdieu deﬁnes the ‘taste of luxury’ as the ‘taste of liberty’ or a distance from necessity (1984. to elaborate their preferences. to compare. This emphasizes the importance of cooking in family life. 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. Yet the ability to render judgements of food. By virtue of its artistic nature. Tasting Freedom. although Mintz does not speciﬁcally engage himself with Bourdieu. as I have described previously. women in Milpa Alta are proud to be known as hardworking. 177). In Tasting Food. 1997.
Abarca (2006. Gradually. it is as a provider of sex and food that women’s power becomes evident. as works of art (Gell. but could not themselves duplicate’ (47–8). Looking more closely at cuisine and the social relations surrounding its production can be illuminating. by a wife or a mother. 1998). pp. While it is arguable that women’s subordination was exacerbated by the demands of the kitchen. p. put another way. by recognizing that cooking is active and creative. pp. 1996. The tasting of freedom was linked to the tasting of food. The elaborate cuisine was not the restrictive factor of their lives per se. morality and domestic power and may even help them to trap a husband. the dependence on ﬂavour. in the case of Mexico. or a devotion to culinary works of art. or as being social actors in their own right. 1998. this was speciﬁcally the demands of making fresh tortillas (see Pilcher.15 With the tortillas sorted out. 37) As I describe for Milpa Alta. 1994). with technological advances and political changes as women entered the extradomestic labour force. gives women the legitimacy to expand their social and physical boundaries. pp. 99–121). 100–6). and because the cooks actually invented a cuisine that the masters could vaunt. 106–10). It is a license for social action in the pursuit of technical or culinary artistry. machine-made tortillas gained acceptance (Pilcher. 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. an elaborate cuisine is not simply a creative escape valve for otherwise restricted women. culinary or otherwise. pp. dishes. In effect. women were left with more time and energy to devote to other activities. (Mintz. because machines produced inferior ﬂavours and quality in comparison to handmade tortillas (Marroni de Velázquez. Although women’s socially acceptable spaces may have appeared limited. she is in control over these two fundamental . Then. and it can even be thought of as a means toward women’s liberation. forms of autonomy.84 • Culinary Art and Anthropology around before freedom itself was. both because the master class became dependent on its cooks. an idea also formulated by Mintz: ‘[W]orking in the emergence of cuisine legitimized status distinctions within slavery. 1998. or. which eventually led to the development of an elaborate cuisine. Both sex and food lead to the continuance (and reproduction) of individuals as well as of society. Before wide industrialization and the spread of mechanical tortillerías. Ideally food is cooked at home. cooking was one signiﬁcant way around it. recipes) should be thought of as having social agency. then. its outcome (food. Mexican women used to spend up to a third of their waking hours making tortillas (pp. 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. A woman should be able to satisfy her husband both sexually and gastronomically. in the way taught by generations of women who nourished their families as wives and mothers. therefore. To summarize. 80–1). there was resistance to machine-made tortillas. At the same time.
This perception hinges on the connection between the value of good cooking—of good ﬂavour—and the value allocated to women. If she is a skilful cook or can mobilize her culinary agency. can be both culinary and reproductive. creativity—in a word. skill. pp. therefore. Women use their culinary agency in the cycle of festivity (described in the chapter that follows). a woman can have actual power over her husband. Taggart (1992. In fulﬁllment of these desires social relations are made or unmade. 1992). 1992. 182). Vázquez García. by extension. 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. for food and for sex (see Gow. 80–1) also describes a link between hunger for food and desire for sex among the Sierra Nahaut of Central Mexico. 1985). in Mexico and elsewhere. 1989. 1989). and many more examples can be given to corroborate this.16 The preceding discussion has indicated how home cooking is highly valued in Mexico. say that no one cooks better than their mothers. artistry. or in the nature of the two most important desires. the only men for whom women prepare food are their husbands. I believe that such a thing as culinary agency. Gow. pp. p. as wives and mothers. ﬁnely chopped 1 large tomato. ﬁnely chopped 1 green chile. when. Furthermore. Many people. Chapter 9) argues. and they use this status in imaginative and subtle ways to assert their power (over men). Women are arguably the most highly valued half of society (Melhuus. is accessible to anyone who cooks (see Chapter 2). ﬁnely chopped 4 eggs salt . And fulﬁllment of these desires requires imagination. 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. the word for ‘to eat’ has the double meaning of eating food and having sex (Taggart. 1997. oil ½ onion. Gregor. the domestic sphere and. 80–1. In fact. it is precisely women’s cooking that is most highly valued. or potential to culinary artistry. Stephen (2005.Women as Culinary Agents • 85 desires (cf. Recipes Huevos a la mexicana A typical recipe for almuerzo. Women’s agency. among other Náhuatl-speaking groups. the greater social realm. in Náhuatl.
and stir until all are well blended. pickled chiles or salsa. Taco placero When there is little time to make a proper meal. some women buy various foods in the market to serve taco placero or tacos de plaza. Serve with beans ( frijoles de olla). add salt. heat oil in frying pan and sauté onions and chiles until soft. raise the heat and cook until well-done and almost dry. When just ﬁrm. 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 . and hot tortillas or bread. Some or all of the following foods are offered for taco placero. 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. Some people buy food and combine it with what they have at home for making any kind of tacos. Break the eggs into the pan. hence its name. Add tomatoes. remove from the heat.86 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Over a medium ﬂame.
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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When a couple chooses their compadres. although not necessarily for economic assistance. house blessings and almost any kind of inaugural or life cycle event.4 . The respect that characterizes compadrazgo relationships implies personal affection. concluding with a discussion of mole. Accompanying heightened respect. To speak with respect. for example. Lomnitz. the actual relationship between compadres may be characterized by competition. and these also extend throughout the families of the compadres. the quintessence of Mexican culinary artistry. 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. both systems function around feasts and hospitality at the levels of the family and the barrio. The way Yadira explained it.90 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Barrio San Mateo and the systems of reciprocal exchange in hospitality. as ‘comadrita’. respectively.2 As already mentioned. By extension. therefore. Both husbands and wives choose their compadres. each family thereafter maintains this bond between them. They are ritual kin. Apart from baptism. the most important aspects of which are the food and the music. mutual admiration and also social distance. Compadres. sometimes jointly. 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. other family members on both sides call one another compadre/comadre or padrino/madrina. The ties bound by shared responsibility over the ahijado (godchild) provide a social assurance which may be necessary in future. which at its most basic is the relationship between a couple and the godparents ( padrinos) of their child. Indeed. Compadrazgo ritualizes these close social relationships between families based on their mutual respect. Compadrazgo and the mayordomía It is helpful to have a basic understanding of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. is natural under these circumstances. are couples married in church with whom they wish to maintain a lifelong relationship. and one would begin to address the mother of one’s comadre. there are other kinds of compadres for marriage. especially baptismal compadres. she said that compadres (and friends) are ‘inherited’ in Milpa Alta. 1977). sometimes singly. though much has already been written by others on these systems of reciprocal exchange. envidia (greed) and initial distrust. Their main responsibility is to organize ﬁestas. Mayordomos also arrange the salvas/promesas (gifts) that their barrio takes to others’ town/barrio ﬁestas. Thus. Compadrazgo Compadrazgo3 is the system of ritual kinship. and the families maintain commitments as of kinship into future generations.
and it is not unheard of to celebrate both one’s birthday and saint’s day. most families in Milpa Alta regularly give whatever economic. These parcels of food are also given to compadres when they cannot attend a ﬁesta. On the whole. We can say that the Spaniards ‘baptized’ each town with a new Catholic name. as large sums of money are needed (cf. thereby continuing to nourish the social relationship despite their absence. the cargo system. it is only called San Mateo. compadres assist in preparing the ﬁestas and are also the most honoured guests. one’s birthday is also referred to as one’s saint’s day (el día de su santo).) Likewise. but nearby pueblos have double names like San Pablo Oztotepec or San Salvador Cuauhtenco. installing a church in honour of that saint in the centre. towns may be referred to solely by their indigenous names. People used to be named after the saints on whose day they were born. Brandes. The mayordomos go to everyone’s houses collecting donations. (Most people are now no longer named after the calendar name. Like the images of saints who ritually visit one another during town ﬁestas. 1988). although this is not the norm. called an itacate. and for this reason. when they leave a ﬁesta compadres are given extra food to take away with them.Mole and Fiestas • 91 In the realm of the family ﬁesta cycle. The names of those who . According to the Catholic calendar introduced by the Spanish. one or more couples (who have married in church) from the barrio/pueblo. compadres are expected to visit one another on occasions of special family events and can expect to be welcomed with a mole de ﬁesta. either ﬁnancially or with their labour. even if it is not always easy. local families are expected to help. to avoid offense they must let their hosts know in advance. The mayordomos. If compadres cannot attend. As will be discussed in greater detail in this chapter. They take on this charge for a determined length of time before passing on the role to other members (married couples) of the community. For the ﬁesta del pueblo. his or her feast day. are responsible for caring for the church. Town or barrio ﬁestas are a combination of feasts. The ﬁesta del pueblo and the mayordomía In Milpa Alta every barrio and pueblo is named after a Catholic saint. In San Mateo the amounts that each contributed are announced one week after the ﬁesta. but they almost always have a Catholic saint’s name as well. material or physical aid that is asked of them. although most pueblos have both Catholic and Náhuatl names. They are organized by the socio-political institution called the mayordomía or ‘el sistema de cargos’. each saint corresponds to a certain day in the year. Mayordomos are like human go-betweens amongst the patron saints of the barrios and pueblos. Throughout Mexico. performances and religious ritual. 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. barrios and pueblos celebrate their saint’s day with a ﬁesta. deserving special treatment.
with the usual accompaniments. but for the ﬁesta . and ﬁreworks. 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. and nearby Morelos. bringing their promesas of ﬂowers and music. it is to one’s personal beneﬁt to give to the community. My observations in Milpa Alta are comparable. life cycle rituals are sometimes combined and celebrated together. apart from funerals. amongst Zapotecs in Oaxaca. they are continually replaced by future mayordomos who maintain the ongoing reciprocal exchange relationships amongst other barrios. indeﬁnite bonds of reciprocity that last a lifetime and beyond. In fact. 2005). the form and content of community-level celebration has been appropriated into life cycle celebrations. . a single mother who washes clothes and does general cleaning for a living.’ Yadira said. Salles and Valenzuela. though they are organized amongst compadres. After singing the mañanitas. 1977. offering the expected ﬁesta foods in abundance. She also argues that women are critical players in ritual life. . Many families eagerly look forward to the ﬁesta del pueblo. who help in cash or kind. [we do]’). and also for the sake of comfortable relations and status within the social network (Brandes. without the ﬁreworks. ‘But you have to contribute to continue with the traditions. until they have children. 1997. and into the night there is dancing. Cata. As Chelita once said to me. barbacoa. 1988. Both compadrazgo and the mayordomía are systems that structure social relations. . However. pero para la ﬁesta . Stephen. standing in for the communities represented by the patron saints. Some host their own private banquets during the barrio ﬁesta. the visiting barrios are hosted by local mayordomos to share in a feast of mole. especially weddings. Weddings are also the largest and most important family life cycle celebrations.5 Family events are celebrated in the same way. individuals representing family groups engage in long-term. ‘No tenemos para el calzón.6 Stephen (2005) explains how. a Mexican birthday song.’ (‘We don’t have enough [money] to buy underwear. Sometimes people give more money than they really can afford. begin to arrive with statues of their patron saints. especially in the role of mayordomos.92 • Culinary Art and Anthropology did not contribute are also made public. Mariachis play throughout the day while people eat. In compadrazgo. because they are the ones who prepare the food. Lomnitz. and they are often ridiculed. the most important aspect of any ﬁesta. closeness and distance in the community among families or pueblos. live bands. . and thus their obligation to provide a wedding feast. When they ﬁnally do have a church wedding. carnitas or mixiotes. planning and saving money months in advance. The ﬁesta ofﬁcially starts on the eve of the feast day when several other barrios and pueblos of Milpa Alta. Though mayordomos typically ‘reign’ for one to ﬁve years in Milpa Alta. some couples delay their church weddings. it can be held jointly with a baptism (when a baby turns 1 year . For example. The mayordomía engages in similar long-term contractual exchange relationships with the corresponding mayordomías of neighbouring barrios and pueblos.
‘¡Adelante! ¡adelante! ¿Qué les ofrezco?’ (‘Come in! Come in! What can I offer you?’). often chicken broth with pasta. What would be unacceptable is to have a wedding or baptism without the mole de ﬁesta to offer to guests. even if it is only a piece of fruit or agua fresca. As I explain in the section that follows. It may be as simple as breaded chicken breasts accompanied by cooked vegetables. because this is all . it is acceptable to celebrate them together with a single feast. as well as agua de frutas. Since each ﬁesta should have the same kind of feast food. All occasions require the same menu for the banquet to accommodate hundreds of people. from around noon to about six it is lunchtime. Since someone might arrive for whatever reason at any time. The main meal of the day. Hospitality and Food When guests arrive at the house. sometimes refried. 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!’).Mole and Fiestas • 93 old) or presentation (when a child is 3). What is served depends on the time of arrival. and/ or sopa seca (dry soup). The main course is often meat served in a sauce or with some other hot salsa on the side. or it may be something rather more complex such as mole verde con pollo (green mole with chicken). however long overdue the wedding may be. which is either pasta or rice ﬂavoured with onions and garlic and sometimes tomatoes to which carrots. Before noon a guest is offered breakfast. In the evenings a guest may be served leftovers from the main meal or perhaps some sweet rolls accompanied by café de olla or hot milk into which one is invited to stir instant coffee or chocolate and sugar. something to eat or drink must always be available. teleras and hot milk. or chicharrón en chile verde (pork crackling in green sauce). young corn kernels. is usually served between two and ﬁve in the afternoon. or may be held on the day of the barrio ﬁesta. 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. or perhaps enchiladas or thinly sliced beef steaks with a salsa and potatoes sautéed with onions. la comida. This would be followed by beans and all accompanied by tortillas. peas and/or potatoes may be added. Whatever is for breakfast is served along with beans. the ﬁrst thing that a host says is. such as a bowl of pancita accompanied by tacos of broad beans or nopales compuestos. In the mornings a guest may also be served leftovers from the day before. It starts with a soup or sopa aguada. there are forceful fundamental rules of food hospitality in Milpa Alta. live music and dancing. however infrequent. in both ﬁestas and everyday settings. which are crucial to social interaction. If they have run out of milk the hosts apologize and ask if coffee would be all right. a complaint expressed with derision toward the subject of conversation. and after six is suppertime. sweetened diluted fruit juice. and there is an abundance of food.
So with difﬁculty we cleaned our plates. This was what they had eaten for lunch the day before. but Primy. and the guest must accept the food offered. then we were offered apples and bananas. After visiting San Francisco and walking around the fair. 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. she had only one egg. we went to visit Yadira’s compadres. which they sell in the market already prepared with onions. . Since their nopalera was in that area of Milpa Alta. and then Yadira and Kiko left. and then were pushed to have more.94 • Culinary Art and Anthropology that they have left. Yadira and Kiko then took me back to Primy’s house. After eating. fresh sprigs of coriander and slices of avocado. but Doña Margarita insisted. but our hosts insisted. Yadira protested that she had already had breakfast and that Doña Margarita should eat. which by this time were simply impossible to force in. beans and tortillas. saying that she really did not feel like having two eggs that day. Doña Margarita immediately passed her plate to Yadira and said that she was not very hungry. Alejandro and Doña Margarita would not accept this and again insisted we eat. Since Primy had not yet touched her eggs. The host must share whatever food is at hand. and she heated some barbacoa in the same sauce and served it to him with some beans. one uses whatever one has at hand. we were served some sweet rolls and coffee. we were each given a plate full of milanesas with a simple cucumber and avocado salad and fried plantains with cream. where we just had breakfast. so they gave us the fruit to take away with us. and I was staying in Primy’s house. as the following anecdote illustrates: It was the feast day of Saint Francis. Since Doña Margarita had served herself last and there was an odd number of eggs. accompanied by a tomato and pasta soup. We were breakfasting on chilaquiles served with two fried eggs each and teleras. They were taking me to visit the town ﬁesta of nearby San Francisco Tecoxpa. There we were offered tacos dorados de pollo. she passed one of them to Yadira’s plate. We told them that we had just that moment come from Primy’s house. This was a very informal and impromptu meal and Chelita. just one!’). ‘Un taquito. she said. Since we arrived just in time. So we each had one. whose son was ill. Yadira and Kiko came to pick me up for the day. we returned to the compadres’ house and helped them cook nopales.30. She would normally prepare a new sauce to make chilaquiles. at around 9. their compadre’s sister. tomatoes and herbs. 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. We explained that we had just come from eating and that we were very full. We were invited to have a few tacos of nopales with cheese. so Yadira should have her share. and they had several left. It was four o’clock and they had just served their comida. she and Kiko needed to pay their contribution to the local mayordomía. 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. but. He accepted the offer. cebollas desﬂemadas con rajas de chile jalapeño (sliced onions tamed with lime juice and salt and mixed with strips of jalapeño chiles). After this. Just as we started to eat. ¡nada más uno!’ (‘One little taco.
This implies a willingness to engage in reciprocal exchange because of perceived parity in an ‘equality of wants’. p. In this way food embodies the agency (of welcome. although if family members live physically far apart. 258). it is like being part of the same family. Food offered in hospitality appears to be treated as an extension of the host and/or cook (if they are the same person). When one family is particularly close to another family. ‘[A]s part of this behavioral model. and a food parcel (itacate) will be sent to their home after the ﬁesta is over. ‘[I]nvitations to life cycle rituals cannot be turned down’ (p. If. Lomnitz (1977) deﬁnes the Latin American concept of conﬁanza as more than just ‘trust’ or ‘conﬁdence’. gift) of the host in a material form. Attendance to a party is a social commitment. both for the hosts and for the guests. what she calls ‘psychosocial distance’. As soon as his plate is near empty. Especially when there is a certain closeness between host and guest. People would talk and say that the offenders . For this reason the social pressure to eat everything placed in front of a guest is high. gifts require counter-gifts. The concept still applied in Milpa Alta in the 1990s. this is ﬁne. however. ‘Es que no te gustó’ (‘It’s because you didn’t like it’). Lomnitz shows that psychosocial distance is a more important factor in reciprocal exchange networks than blood ties. physical and economic proximity. It is a trusting relation between two individuals in social. This same basic system of food giving and receiving is also in action when families are invited to large-scale ﬁestas. ‘No desprecias a la comida’ (‘Don’t undervalue food’) or ‘No desperdicias la comida’ (‘Don’t waste food’). the host offers the guest a reﬁll. such as the town ﬁesta or a birthday. Also inherent is Mauss’s notion of ‘the gift’. If a guest leaves food on the plate a host may say disapprovingly. 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.Mole and Fiestas • 95 The preceding description demonstrates that hospitality is a coercive system. uttered in an offended tone of voice. eats it all with relish and possibly asks for more. it can be interpreted as a breach of trust. 85). Rejecting food is tantamount to rejecting the host. The perfect guest accepts everything offered to him gratefully. a guest should not be surprised if his refusal is answered with. they have spoken to the hosts to let them know they cannot make it. and lending a hand at work obligates the recipient of the favor to reciprocate in kind at some later date’ (Brandes. She states that the obligation is so great that one risks being disowned by one’s compadres if one skips a private ﬁesta. They know that they are always invited to any family celebrations. when there is conﬁanza between two families. While people are sometimes too busy to attend public ﬁestas organized by the mayordomía. they must expect not to receive an invitation. Stephen (2005) describes a similar coerciveness in ﬁesta hospitality amongst compadres in Teotitlán. in appreciation of the superior ﬂavours of the food. invitations to meals beget counter-invitations. Thus. and if they fail to show up on a special day. An invitation to a ﬁesta must be honoured with its acceptance and also requires reciprocity in the form of future invitations to family ﬁestas. which allows for the continuance of social relations. 1988.
because there is no time. So it is a luxury to be able to stay home to eat. or carnitas. profession. Nevertheless. she can surreptitiously take it away to eat at home later. As I . I observed a similar sense of this in Milpa Alta. 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. but the deepest pleasure. Amongst the seven barrios and eleven pueblos of Milpa Alta. And it is because of this that the community is so festive—to show others that yes. especially when one tries to juggle family. Holding large parties. compadres and community come together to socialize and exchange news at greater leisure. 1991). To go from one party to the next. 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. 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’). therefore. they do have money to celebrate. serving mole.96 • Culinary Art and Anthropology think they are too important to attend or that they think they do not need others in the community. Every month there is at least one ﬁesta at barrio level. More importantly. In Milpa Alta there are so many ﬁestas that Doña Margarita told me that sometimes when she has a craving for mole. Yadira told me. Yadira said. is socially enjoyable and beneﬁcial. Since her wedding day.9 Her statement is telling in that she mentions eating well at home as a ‘luxury’. and explained: The people of Milpa Alta are very. barbacoa. of highest value. It is necessary to work from dawn until late at night in order to progress [ﬁnancially]. can become tiresome (llega a aburir).7 but this does not mean that the people of this barrio are idle. as shown by the case of Barrio San Mateo in Villa Milpa Alta. and to do it well. is eating a meal at home. are pressured food events. surrounded by loved ones (close family members). As Yadira explained. Fiestas. she respected the importance of the festivities. Barrio San Mateo is the most ﬁestero. where parties are taken so seriously and where hospitality requires a guest to eat everything she is offered. 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. ﬁestas are the primary occasions when kin. Parties and festivals in San Mateo are more than simple seasonal markers partly because of their frequency and also because of their obligatory force. This was mainly because she then moved to Milpa Alta. All the ﬁestas could be thought of as a sort of diversion from the monotony of daily labours at a social or community level. If a guest cannot eat it.8 One’s energies are easily depleted. she had gained quite a lot of weight. making ﬁestas a source of social cohesion (Perez-Castro and Ochoa. education and traditional industry. There are private parties every week. Yadira told me. very hardworking because nature gave them few resources.
Some cooks say that the mole poblano is distinguishable by the chiles used— mulato. then diluted with broth and cooked.’ draws upon this common knowledge about festive food in Mexico. such as paintings.Mole and Fiestas • 97 mentioned in Chapter 2. Mole is the dish that usually deﬁnes a feast. In other words. Even in artistic images. seeds and starches (like bread and tortillas). ancho and pasilla. and chocolate is not an essential ingredient. it is a breach of the spirit of the gift (of food. thick sauce which incorporates up to thirty ingredients. The name for this dish is a Hispanicization of the Náhuatl word for sauce. ‘Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. which I will discuss in the remainder of this chapter. it is a richly ﬂavoured. The word now connotes a combination of dried chiles. nuts. both native and non-native to Mexico. crucial to these ﬁestas is a proper feast. Leaving food is a great insult. The most important thing is never to leave anything on the plate. photographs. or they wrap food in tortillas and tie it into a napkin to take home. Considered to be the ultimate Mexican dish. Others believe it is particular in its incorporation of chocolate. formerly called mole de olor. but generally speaking. although it is commonly included. although many other moles may contain chocolate. the festive life ultimately sustains community life. herbs. or the sculptural sweets made for the Days of the Dead called alfeñiques. catalyzed by the food. molli. but it is more complex. the mole poblano is recognized as the thick dark brown sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top just before serving. It is often misrepresented as a combination of chiles and chocolate. Some also use the plastic cups on the table which are there for serving drinks. 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. Each ingredient requires individual preparation before all are ground together into a paste. a culinary work of art) which allows for ongoing social relations. mole of fragrance (Bayless and Bayless. Since during the ﬁesta cycle people regularly reunite over special meals. Since . some people attend parties with a plastic bag or Tupperware in their handbag so that they can unobtrusively take home the food they are unable to eat. The popular Mexican saying above. it is eaten primarily for celebrations.) —Mexican saying The most famous dish in Mexico is the mole poblano. There is some disagreement about what makes a mole poblano distinct from other moles. Mole and mole poblano Eres ajonjolí de todos los moles. There are several different kinds of regional recipes for mole. the Pueblan mole. spices. (You are the sesame seed of all moles. fruits. 196). 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
mole was also described as a ‘gastronomical orgasm’. It is a good example of an object of art within the art corpus of cuisine (following Gell.11 and these extra little attentions made quite a difference to the outcome of the dish. The changing or loss of such tradition may seem to indicate a decreasing signiﬁcance of mole. This way the chiles would toast gently and were in no danger of burning and therefore becoming bitter. spices may be old and ﬂavourless and nuts may go rancid if the weather is warm. but Doña Delﬁna proudly told us that she had made the mole herself. p.’ The ﬁrst time I went to Milpa Alta and met Yadira and her family. is a complex and socially powerful dish. and that she had some of the chiles sent over from Puebla. 1998. the food served is what is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ or ‘traditional’. This change in the traditional menu for feasts had probably begun to occur only since the 1980s. but for personal ritual events and the Days of the Dead. carnitas or mixiotes. 1999b). the eaters are succumbing to an enchantment grounded in their knowledge of what it takes to make a mole. its replacement as ﬁesta food emphasizes and even reinforces its social meanings. her mother-in-law. whether they are festivals of Spanish or indigenous origin. But as I will explain below. Mole. Chiles and seeds are easily burnt. it was better than moles from San Pedro. So what Gell (1996. had prepared mole for us as a special welcome.12 Almost everyone I met had a commentary or opinion about mole. and. She also showed me another detail which indicated her special care in producing a good mole. What is interesting is that Spanish or Catholic customs of avoiding meat during Lent and Advent are adhered to. rather than detract from its meaningfulness. after pouring a generous amount of mole over the piece of chicken. fruits may be underripe. which have their roots in pre-Hispanic customs. in short. I understood that since this mole was not commercial. On another occasion. as I mentioned in Chapter 1. so cooks need skill and practice to prepare it well. Several women gave me culinary tips. and a sprinkling of this added a sheen and extra ﬂavour to properly garnish the dish. When it is so delicious that it impresses the eaters as a gastronomic climax. Doña Delﬁna. No doubt mole deserved its status as quintessential ﬁesta food. 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. 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.Mole and Fiestas • 101 Mole and tamales of different kinds are associated with speciﬁc ﬁestas and seasons. The value attributed to mole is related to an awareness that it requires a certain technical mastery to prepare well. Mole is never made in small amounts. When serving. It was the time of the Feria del Mole in San Pedro Atocpan. . she said it was important to take a little of the oil rendered on top of the mole. Yet my observations in Milpa Alta showed that it was more common for ﬁesta food to be barbacoa.
At other times. There are also some women who are well-known in the community for their cooking. let us consider salsas in Mexican cuisine. such as tamales. therefore. We can begin by thinking of a cuisine developing in a linear progression from simple to complex. wrapping and stufﬁng. It is not meat in green chile only. compression (a simpliﬁed classiﬁcation of foods. how what is now considered ‘traditional’ came about through the complexity of culture contact that existed. carnitas and mixiotes are usually made at home. They offer it for their guests to eat with tamales and beans. 2006. Examples from current conceptions of the ‘traditional’ cuisines of Mexico can easily be found that ﬁt into Wilk’s categories of culinary methods. and perhaps other chiles as well). or by relatives or compadres who know how to make it. usually de árbol or sometimes serrano) which accompanies a meal. in Milpa Alta. which I ﬁnd entirely convincing. substitution of ingredients with local or available ones. To explain why this is so. A prototypical salsa (chilmolli in Náhuatl) is one made of chiles ground into a sauce. 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. many families still prepare a small amount of mole to serve as a second main course after guests have ﬁlled themselves with barbacoa. to be bitten into whenever desired. as I have been promoting it in this book. 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. a salsa can be a mole. As an example. mole is not served. In Milpa Alta. 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. Carne en chile verde refers to meat in green salsa (which usually includes green husk tomatoes.102 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Like mole. pickled chiles. it is necessary to understand something about the role of social memory in how a cuisine or any other traditional art develops. Mole and its accompaniments. and spices. submersion (absorbing a foreign/global ingredient into a local dish). salsa is conceptualized as a whole green chile (in Milpa Alta. the words salsa and chile are often used interchangeably. Even when mole is not the main course of the ﬁesta meal. lumping together categories with emblematic dishes) and alternation and promotion. pp. and they can be hired to prepare certain dishes for the ﬁesta. but the meal remains sufﬁciently festive. 113–21). but a small portion is given to special guests (family and compadres) as an itacate. There may or may not be mole. These methods are blending. salsas and vegetables. onion. Wilk explains how a ‘Belizian’ style of cooking emerged from the particular history of Belize. At its most complex. . were still almost always present during any sort of celebration in Milpa Alta. barbacoa. At its most basic.
1. or different types of barbacoas). such as salsa mexicana cruda (pico de gallo).1 guacamole 2.1). but what of other dishes with different ingredients? It is not surprising. an artwork (or salsa.2 (green chile + tomato + onion (green chile + tomato + salt + avocado + lime juice) + onion + salt + avocado + pipicha + guajes) | guacamole 3 (green chile + tomato + onion + salt + avocado + lime juice + coriander leaves) | guacamole 4 (green chile + tomato + onion + salt + avocado + lime juice + coriander leaves + garlic + olive oil) Figure 5. there are extensive families of recipes (different types of guacamoles.2. Although chile is no longer the main ingredient of the salsa called guacamole. that a linear progression or family tree is an inadequate means of mapping out all the recipes in a cuisine. or a lineage of guacamoles. Reasoning that one recipe develops into another makes sense. Following Gell’s theory of art. of course. I illustrate a simpliﬁed plan of this in Figure 5. for example. it can still be seen as a precursor to the development of the recipe. and adding more ingredients makes varieties of guacamole of increasing complexity (see Figure 5. others seem to have nothing to do with one another as they are completely different and do not mix. onions and salt. it can ‘marry’ and ‘have offspring’. 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. red tomatoes. Conceived of in this way.Mole and Fiestas • 103 A green chile can be elaborated on to develop it into a simple salsa. the arrangement of recipes may look very much like a family tree. Some of these are related to each other. It has relations with other persons (salsas).1 Linear Progression from Green Chile to Complex Guacamole . Adding avocado to this mixture makes the salsa into guacamole. In Figure 5. which is a mixture of roughly chopped green chiles. and thus forms a lineage. This is not accidental. in this case) should be thought of as just like a person.
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 .
in essence. This. its history (or ‘biography’) can be understood as having come into being by the work of many persons (mostly women) simultaneously in separate households. leading to further innovation and growth. one body of cuisine made up of many recipes. and somewhat like Levi-Strauss’s culinary triangle/tetrahedron).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.14 who may have greater skill in using the ‘traditional’ knowledge of the culinary arts. As far as Mexican cuisine is part of Mexican tradition. and other members of the same category of artworks. 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. and from this.Mole and Fiestas • 105 develop at the same time or how similar recipes may develop in different regions. constructed by the efforts of individuals who prepare dishes based on recipes. as individuals. Traditional cuisines appear to develop as spatio-temporal wholes that change and move forward historically. or they learn them from other individuals in the community. It continues to be modiﬁed and improved as each cook prepares each meal every day. Thus. we can observe the interrelations of this level of meaning (culinary) with other levels of meaning in social life (much like Munn’s value transformations. As a single unit. and their signiﬁcance is crucially affected by the relations which exist between them. The recipes are drawn from their memories. they are members of categories of artworks. This quality is what Gell calls ‘style’ (1998.4/1. and the relationships that exist between this category and other categories of artworks within a stylistic whole—a culturally or historically speciﬁc art-production system. A cuisine is actually an ideal example of a ‘distributed object’ as deﬁned by Gell. 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. it is a set made up of many parts. made with chiles and other ingredients). each of the varied recipes which make up a cuisine may develop in its own way. both are salsas. 153) Pinpointing exactly what it is that makes barbacoa like mole. As a distributed object. is not as obvious as the similarity between a basic salsa and a mole (that is. from the perspective of the present looking back toward all past developments. and who are in turn . 1998. although this quality may not be easily deﬁneable. (p. Figure 9. Each part can be very different from the others. or even in different households in the same community. p. spread out over space and time (see Gell. 166). But my purpose here is not to examine the deﬁning style of what makes one dish Mexican and another not Mexican. is how all traditional arts develop. [A]rtworks are never just singular entities. Cooking is activity in two ways. a cuisine is a collective work. 235. ‘The Artist’s Oeuvre as a Distributed Object’). but put together the parts make sense as a whole. for example. p. Each part has some quality which deﬁnes it as belonging to the whole.
Meal structure is another area which requires analysis and incorporation. It is ﬂavoured with oranges and garlic. may be planned or can happen by accident. to produce similar but different dishes. It is always served with particular salsas accompanying it. In Gell’s terms. or herself. Also. green chile and salt. 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. implementing for themselves the changes I made. Historical and social factors play a role in how and when ingredients and techniques are incorporated. I may take note and repeat what I have done on another occasion. and eventually this may become a regular part of my recipe repertoire.106 • Culinary Art and Anthropology drawing from their own memories or inﬂuences. mole is prepared at home even though it is available commercially.17 Dishes have a recognizable quality that can be thought of in relation to the cuisine. and it is always made as a special effort for . nuts and spices) are expensive. The high-quality ingredients for mole (chiles. At the same time they incorporate new inﬂuences. or add garlic. a recipe is the prototype of a dish that is prepared. Mixiote is made of meat (rabbit. 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. One kilo of mole costs more than one kilo of barbacoa. it is always served with salsas and tortillas. like barbacoa. therefore. I am aware that the development of cuisine cannot be fully explained by focusing solely on recipes (see Wilk. the skin of the leaves of the maguey (the same plant used to line the pit for making barbacoa). in a way similar to Becker’s ‘art worlds’ (1982) or Gell’s notion of ‘style’. it is ﬁrst interesting to note some of the similarities amongst these dishes. Eventually this particular combination of ingredients may become widespread and embedded in local/regional cooking and thought of as ‘traditional’. then is wrapped in a mixiote. to make another salsa that still tastes as Mexican as the salsa that I ﬁrst learned to make. they may try making a similar salsa. 2006). individuals maintain their own creative input. and then tomorrow try out using dried chiles. Carnitas is made by stewing a whole pig in its own fat. there is also repetition and constancy. The relative costs of preparing these dishes are also relevant. Innovation. onions. If others like my salsa. into which they introduce variations on what they have learnt. pork and/or chicken) which is rubbed with an adobo (a mole-like) paste. or a combination of chiles. If the salsa is successful. carnitas or mixiote. I may learn to make salsa with tomatoes. Fiesta Food To return to the question of how barbacoa. ideas and ingredients as well as experiment and improvise.15 Within the limits of the style of cooking that one learns by imitation of masters/mothers. carnitas and mixiote came to be accepted as ﬁesta food. We may also think of recipes developing into the dishes that make up a cuisine as ‘variations on a theme’. and.16 yet as much as there is innovation and change.
when the value of the peso dropped phenomenally in relation to the US dollar (see graph on the exchange rate in Meyer and Sherman. In effect. which is the time of great economic crisis in Mexico. In addition. Barbacoa is a luxury food.400) for barbacoa. it would seem more logical to serve mole during a ﬁesta.Mole and Fiestas • 107 a special occasion.. The adoption of these other dishes as suitable festive foods must have been gradual. Mx$15. serving barbacoa became prestigious for ﬁestas because of the prestige (or ‘distinction’) associated with being a barbacoiero in Milpa Alta. the fact that mole is made as a paste and then diluted. The aesthetic point of view or aesthetic intention is ‘what makes the work of art’ (p. but also because of the social values. 54). it would then make more sense to serve mole rather than barbacoa at a wedding banquet. the menu of a feast had been more or less consistent over time and space. technically difﬁcult and valuable. Since the costs of hosting a ﬁesta are high. and can replace mole in value as a tasteful alternative. p. 1991. Not only because of the costs. He continues that ‘[I]n fact. one kilo of mole is enough for more people than one kilo of the meat dishes. carnitas or mixiote for ﬁve hundred people. the more an object resists our possession (because. as mentioned previously.000 (£1. In spite of its status as an appreciated artwork in the cuisine. it can be considered to be in good taste. many people delay holding their weddings until they have enough money to hold a proper feast. for example. But if the prices of all the accompaniments are added up and put in relation to cost of food per head. 91). and Mx$20. in that it bestows value on the occasion being celebrated. a dish like barbacoa becomes more desirable as festive food. In 2000. It appears that the substitution of mole with these three other dishes occurred only since the 1980s. within the region. It is therefore deﬁned as appropriate. the greater its social value. i. For this reason. . Recalling that honour and value are sometimes related to Simmel’s notion of resistance as a source of value. 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 . ‘only because choices always owe part of their value to the value of the chooser.. In short. 29). although it has a different ‘taste of luxury’ from how Bourdieu deﬁnes it.e. So if barbacoieros in Milpa Alta have the greatest economic capital locally and constitute the dominant class. and because to a large extent.050) for carnitas. if they decide to serve barbacoa during their ﬁestas.000 (approximately £700) to make mole for ﬁve hundred people. p. the acceptance of barbacoa as feast food can partly be explained by Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘aesthetic disposition’.’ (p. Before then. So in money and in labour mole is more expensive. But barbacoa or carnitas can be bought already made. The aesthetic disposition is associated with economic capital (Bourdieu. it is very expensive). and on one’s guests. to prepare mole for ﬁve hundred people costs less than it would to prepare barbacoa. Since mole is feast food par excellence. this value makes itself known and recognized through the manner of choosing’ (p.000 (£1. it cost around Mx$10. or it may be the family business to prepare these dishes anyway. 29). 1984. as far as I know. 687).
in either preparation or ingredients). there is no denying that they are equally valid parts belonging to the same whole. My analysis of mole indicates its social salience as a nexus of the interrelating social. as described previously..108 • Culinary Art and Anthropology this is not enough to explain why mole is still served during ﬁestas. barbacoa—as culinary works of art are imbued with meaning as they form the nexus of the social networks of normal food hospitality. to create potentialities for . 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. Then. mole continues to be described as having the ultimate ﬂavour. that is. To understand this. whether or not there is mole for the rest of the guests. 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. resistance (Simmel) and the aesthetic disposition (Bourdieu). Yet because of the notions of style (Gell). which. There must be another reason why barbacoa has become acceptable feast food in Milpa Alta. mixiotes) have become socially salient as acceptable substitutes for mole in Milpaltense ﬁestas. that is. Others can be offshoots of preparatory recipes. as a conceptual whole. as modiﬁcations of previously successful (ﬂavourful and pleasurable) dishes. synecdoche. cuisine is an ‘object’ which can be divided into its constituent parts. as being the ‘mole de ﬁesta’. Still others may have been born of improvisation. carnitas. 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. If. I have examined mole as an artwork within the context of the art world to which it belongs. To reiterate. ritual and economic systems within the matrix of Milpa Alta social life. Mexican cuisine. Though mole is the quintessence of Mexican cuisine. Some recipes can be shown to have developed directly from others. So while a simple part-for-whole synecdoche does not exist. there is perfect sense in barbacoa (or carnitas or mixiote) acting as its replacement at feasts. 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. they are of the same style (Mexican). Although not all the parts of the whole cuisine are similar (a salsa has nothing in common with a tortilla. there is an apparent contradiction in mole being necessary for ﬁestas and yet not being present. cuisine must be thought of as a distributed object. produce another dish or innovation. 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 . which are different dishes of varying kinds and complexity.. especially to the hosts’ compadres. as is the case in Milpa Alta. compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpaltense society. other speciﬁc dishes (barbacoa. in the cases when mole is not served.
the meat used is expensive. therefore. Recipes Tamales de nopales for the Barrio Fiesta Doña Margarita Salazar Fry chopped onions in butter. when served as the meal of a ﬁesta. 11). after barbacoa’ to only ‘barbacoa’. because of its deep social signiﬁcance. 1986. barbacoa is made able to effectively carry similar meanings to those of mole. provided that there is a little bit of ‘mole de ﬁesta’ offered as a second main course to complete the social transaction of value. The menu gradually shifts from a festive meal being deﬁned as ‘mole’ to ‘mole after barbacoa’ to ‘mole as itacate for compadres only. the meal structure could be modiﬁed by the preparation of a smaller amount of mole and accompaniments for a ﬁesta. In fact. Barbacoa is special enough to be a Sunday treat for the family. each of which requires a relatively high level of technical skill for its preparation. although it may not rank as high as mole. Its actual presence or absence does not indicate its conceptual absence. barbacoa is a luxury to be indulged in with the family. what occurs is Gell’s ‘halo effect of technical difﬁculty’ (1996) so that the dish can be designated as special. . The menu transformation reveals a transfer of value from mole to these three speciﬁed dishes. and the family as a unit hosts ﬁestas on grand scale. Steam. whether or not it is actually served to them on their plates. mole is present at the ﬁesta in people’s memories. Thus it makes sense that barbacoa could be served at a ﬁesta.18 Provided that a dish is conceived of as needing a certain amount of technical mastery in order to prepare it. In effect. Mix chiles with nopales and queso oaxaca. and it is somewhere in the range of special dishes. Eventually. only to give as an itacate to the hosts’ compadres. placing a stick of double cream cheese in the centre as if it were a piece of meat.Mole and Fiestas • 109 constructing a present that is experienced as pointing forward to later desired acts or material returns’ (Munn. or special enough to commemorate a special occasion. Since any recipe can be representative of the whole cuisine (synecdoche). close friends and family. mole is still omnipresent in ﬁestas. Add chopped nopales. With time. In effect. Toast chile de árbol in lard and crush roughly. barbacoa can be taken as a representative of Mexican cuisine (as a distributed object) and can be demonstrated to have some equivalence to mole. p. Fill prepared corn husks as if they were tamales but without masa. 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. it requires labour and skill to prepare.
Drain on absorbent paper and allow to harden. adding enough orange juice to make an elastic dough. Makes 50 to 60 buñuelos. and do not worry about it breaking. in a large bowl. making sure to press the centre into the oil so that it cooks evenly.) • When the dough is elastic. Place the circle of dough on the rounded surface and very gently pull the dough from the edges in small increments. If the dough breaks easily it is not elastic enough and may lack kneading. freshly squeezed 2 ﬁstfuls of lard 3 cups of sugar abundant oil for frying • Combine all the ingredients. cover your knee with a clean tea towel. Sitting down. The dough can be stretched to a very thin disk about 25 cm in diameter. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez In Mexico buñuelos are broad. boiled in a little water 2 kg plain ﬂour 9–10 eggs ¼ kg butter. ﬁnely grated orange juice. Knead it well to develop the glutens. Do this several times and make sure that you hear a loud slapping noise with each throw. The measurements are approximate because. ﬂour a work surface and pull off walnut-sized balls. dribbled with a light ﬂavoured syrup or honey. They are served at Christmas parties or during posadas and are said to represent the diapers of the Baby Jesus Christ. Primy just throws in whatever amounts ‘feel’ right to her. Turn to brown the other side. like most home cooks. occasionally throwing the dough forcefully onto a metate. crispy fritters served in stacks. except for the oil. 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.110 • Culinary Art and Anthropology Buñuelos de lujo Ma. This is how Primy always makes buñuelos. • Fry each circle in hot oil. . Easter or Carnival. melted zest of 2 oranges. (Primy said that sometimes she would ask Alejandro or any available man to do the kneading for her because it is physically quite difﬁcult. Flatten or roll each ball into a rough circle. as the dough is strong. 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. a pinch of aniseed.
combine the rest of the ingredients with the cubed beets and cooking water. Pescado a la vizcaína al estilo de la abuela Chef Abdiel Cervantes ¾ kg salt cod (bacalao). 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. stirring frequently. ﬁnely chopped To serve: 1 jar green olives 1 tin chiles güeros (or any pickled yellow chiles) crusty bread (teleras or bolillos. Allow to cool. sliced in ½-cm rounds. sauté onions until golden. with their peels ¼ –½ iceberg lettuce. This is a very refreshing dish that people prepare only during Lent and Advent. in 1. In a large bowl. When cooked. adding the bananas half an hour before serving.25-cm slices. about 20 minutes. . • Add ﬁsh and almonds. ﬁnely chopped 2–2½ cups (about 4 large heads) garlic. peeled 5 oranges. soaked several hours. peeled. 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. cut into thick sticks 200–250 g peanuts. until the oil surfaces.Mole and Fiestas • 111 Ensalada de betabel ‘sangre de Cristo’ Yadira Arenas Berrocal ‘Sangre de Cristo’ means the blood of Christ. ﬁnely chopped 1½ –2 kg tomatoes. peel them and discard the skins. ﬁnely chopped 300 g almonds. leaves removed and well-scrubbed 500 g (1 large) jícama. blanched. about 3 minutes. Add garlic and let brown. Cook 5–10 minutes. 1 kg beetroot. or baguettes) • In abundant olive oil. ﬁnely chopped 1½ cups parsley. Serve in bowls with abundant broth. drained. Serves 8–10. cut into cubes and reserve the cooking water. Add tomatoes and cook over high heat. represented by the water in which the beetroot is boiled.
she liked them so much that she had seconds. Most recipes for torrejas are reminiscent of Spanish torrijas. Torrejas Ma. like the capeado for chiles rellenos. To serve. or use an aged white cow’s milk cheese like Romano or Sardo 3 eggs. Fill each space with cheese and proceed with the capeado as for stuffed chiles. . Doña Margarita. When Doña Margarita was persuaded to try these torrejas. cut into 6-centimetre slices 250 g queso cotija.112 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Add parsley and mix well. and it probably would not matter if the bread used was very fresh. Serve in low bowls with lots of syrup. or 1 baguette. This is something that she rarely prepared because her mother-in-law. 4 slightly stale teleras. Primy’s version contains no milk. Serves 12. separated vegetable oil for frying Hollow out each piece of bread by removing some of the central crumbs. each cut into 3 pieces. which is a bit unusual in that they are coated in the egg batter called a capeado. warm the fried bread pieces in the syrup to impregnate them with the ﬂavours and to heat them through. This is the way Primy makes them. like French toast. 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. Serve with crusty bread. Primitiva Bermejo Martínez Torrejas are a Lenten dessert typical of the state of Michoaca ΄n. cooking until ﬁsh completely falls apart into small bits. • Let rest until cool and decorate with olives and chiles. leaving an open pocket. did not like the idea of a sweet made with spices.
are interlinked. It is not a superﬁcial. is always a concern. 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. 1986). and whose operation thus has the effect of making sure that a natural creature is at one and the same time cooked and socialized. This means that we can understand different social levels (family-compadrazgo-mayordomía) by analyzing food in terms of cooking. Given that any kind of cooking – 113 – . p. 1996). 1998). from everyday hospitality to ﬁesta hospitality. but ﬂavour. observing cooking shows how actors are acted upon by their actions (following Munn. situating this in the context of Milpa Alta. its artistic nature.–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 the mobilization of different ﬂavours in a cuisine. and social organization can be understood as a social-relational matrix with food as indexes within the active art nexus (following Gell. gender is not intrinsically hierarchical (cf. that ﬂavour is the most important and functional. Rather than as an aid to help humans ingest nutrients. form and function. surface and depth. cultural and social reasons that people eat and drink certain foods. McCallum. 336. active element of food. I argued in Chapter 2. In other words. 2001) and women are able to use cooking to exert power and enact their social value (Abarca. Melhuus and Stølen. via cooking. In the following sections I will explain these conclusions. ﬂavour is achieved via love (the sazón de amor necessary for good cooking). it is decorative. If food. or a dish. —Lévi-Strauss (1994. effectively creates social relations. whose normal function is to mediatize the conjunction of the raw product and the human consumer. original italics) In this book I have approached Mexican cuisine by thinking of cooking as an artistic practice. The Function of Flavour There are many physiological. is thought of as an artwork. and this decoration is precisely what makes food powerful or meaningful. the presence of ﬂavour. physical characteristic which carries semiotic meaning. 2006. the ﬂavour is not simply the decorative aspect—or rather. and in other ways throughout this book.
and street foods like sopes. as producers and reproducers. Many dishes are deﬁned by their sauces or chiles rather than the accompanying meat or vegetable that is eaten with the sauce. using family recipes. so much so that sometimes foreigners are warned that they may not like it when they try it for the ﬁrst time. who are highly valued in Milpaltense society as wives and mothers. and by extension. moles. and chile is salsa. food/artwork is ‘the crystallisation of activity within a relational ﬁeld’ (2000. rojos. compadres and the wider community). ﬂavour constitutes the surrounding social relations of the actors (cooks and eaters.114 • Culinary Art and Anthropology and eating are food transactions. 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. tlacoyos. there are also many Mexican dishes that are inconceivable to eat without an accompanying sauce. is the ultimate recipe. as it is. Otherwise. as well as by their sexual behaviour. or they may never learn to like it. or by the salsa’s absence (tamalates. women’s morality is circumscribed by their knowledge of cookery and their domestic and extradomestic labour. Examples of this are chicharrón en chile verde. combining more ingredients and culinary techniques than most others. especially a whole hog’s head) are differentiated by colour (red. It is one of the most laborious and technically difﬁcult dishes to prepare. for instance. Otherwise foreigners are expected to like it right away. Mole epitomizes some of the best qualities of Mexican cuisine. In Milpa Alta. mole acts as the . and hence value is added. 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). enchiladas. p. When mole is served to guests. chilaquiles. but when combined with chile or some sort of sauce. When women prepare mole from scratch. borrowing Tim Ingold’s deﬁnition of an artefact. 345). entomatados. like mangoes. This includes all sorts of tacos. In the case of Mexican cuisine. and pineapples. and for family ﬁestas. It also carries other meanings when it is served or eaten. jícamas. gorditas and sincronizadas. bananas. Or. and also soups (including rice and pasta dishes). As I described in greater detail in chapter 4. It is considered to be ‘very Mexican’ and ‘very traditional’. Even fresh fruit. Mole. or a pickled chile or fresh green chile to chew on at the side. ﬂavour is added. pipiánes. and not only in terms of ﬂavour. sweet tamales). adobos or adobados. The varieties of pozoles (hominy soups made with pork. and the variations are prepared by the addition or omission of a red or green salsa in the cooking process. A foodstuff can be eaten on its own. and to fully appreciate the honour bestowed upon them if they are served mole in someone’s home. The cooks are speciﬁcally women. barbacoa. ﬂavour is chile. family. The same can be applied to most tamales which are differentiated by the salsa used in the ﬁlling (such as tamales verdes. thought of as representing the best of Mexican cuisine. de rajas or de mole). or it is an example of excellence amongst other salsas. are sold with a sprinkling of powdered chile piquín and lime juice. and chiles rellenos. white and green).
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. that of husband and . Of course there is no denying that mole is a complex and sophisticated dish. the production of particular ﬂavours is the primary concern in food preparation. but in an area like Milpa Alta its preparation is common knowledge. Yet in spite of this. as well as the most ﬂavourful dish in a woman’s culinary repertoire. we can make sense of the culinary system of Milpa Alta only in relation to other local social systems. Together chapters 3. or the moral notions surrounding cooking. it is in a deeply meaningful way because there is a sophisticated gastronomic technology that actors learn and can mobilize via their cooking. and how Milpaltenses use their cuisine. That is. 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. Conversely. It also requires cooperation within the primary social unit. 1998). more speciﬁcally. and therefore more culinary agency and freedom in daily life. the nuclear family. 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. Depending on who cooks what.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 115 quintessence of women’s hard work. 1984). I showed that the production of this culinary work of art is an all-encompassing social activity. ﬂavour is a central and active element. 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. Discussing barbacoa in Milpa Alta. or. The traditional methods to prepare barbacoa involve a commitment to a way of life that is ordered by the demands of the market economy and the elaborate recipe. Rather than an incidental characteristic of food. This discussion indicates that there is greater creativity involved in domestic cooking. By preparing particular dishes for personal or commercial reasons. 4 and 5 addressed this topic. in their social interaction. This value was achieved only by means of skilfull production of a socially desired ﬂavour that ultimately produced successful business and sociality. They might prepare mole for a ﬁesta. Gell. Not everyone is considered a good cook or has the same range of culinary expertise which is fully explored only in the familiar sphere. Particular ﬂavours are not just the guiding principles of social events and their organization. barbacoa to sell in the market or family favourites for loved ones. cooks deliberately produce certain ﬂavours (chile/salsa/mole) for their own social ends. cooked in for speciﬁc reasons and for speciﬁc others/eaters. though some moles are better than others. when and why. the ideal relationship between a man and a woman. Everyone knows how to make mole.
This occurs unless he remarries. women are related as much to men as wives (or lovers) and mothers as they are related to the preparation of food. which is more likely than it would be for a barbacoiera widow to do. but (previously married) women without husbands are also able to prepare barbacoa.1 The preceding and my discussion in Chapter 4 indicate that cooking is not part of housework as invisible labour. ‘not only engage in action but are also “acted upon” by the action. The cuisine is a material embodiment of a woman’s role in the family. For women it includes cooking. ‘[A]gents.’ Practices form types of social relations and also form the actors who engage in them (1986. it is not accidental that women are expected to perform these tasks. pp. as a sexual partner for her husband and as a mother and nurturer for the next generation. as individuals or groups. 14 –15. Since one of women’s domestic roles is to be a cook. on the value placed upon the home. Perhaps he needs the support of a wife’s loving touch to produce salsas for a successfully ﬂavourful barbacoa. but it is a creative task based on culinary agency and skill. good cooking can lead to the development of a ‘traditional’ cuisine as much as the production of social relations. I was told that generally a barbacoiero widower’s business does not ﬂourish the way it did when his wife was alive. These are the most culinary activities of the whole process. 2000). They are not necessarily causally linked. It must be reiterated that the wife’s basic role in preparing barbacoa is to prepare the salsas and the panza. A ﬁnal observation is that only married men prepare barbacoa. she may continue to rely on barbacoa as her means of livelihood. as pork or lamb butchers and/ or in another professional job (such as teaching). Culinary creativity can therefore be seen as the outcome of quotidian domesticity and the social dynamics of men and women. As my material on Milpa Alta shows.116 • Culinary Art and Anthropology wife. When widowers do continue with their businesses. 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. cf. some hire women to help them with the salsas and anything else that their wives would have normally done. It is said that only then does his business regain similar success as with his late wife. For men this includes working in the ﬁelds. and on women as lovers and mothers. Ingold. In this way. but which also allow them to achieve social and material ends through complementary action. by hiring men to perform the slaughter and disembowelling for her (the ‘matador’ already mentioned). as providers. The production of barbacoa provides a good example of what Munn refers to as ‘intersubjectivity’. housework and caring for children. as a loving dimension of women’s (house)work. But though cooking is embodied and gender is embodied (McCallum. What is less common is for a man to continue to prepare barbacoa without his wife. If a woman’s husband dies or abandons her. Women and men have roles and expectations which seem to dictate the limits of their behaviour.’ she writes. 2001). cooking is not an activity of performative gender roles per se. which is represented by the preparation of salsas/chile/ﬂavour. as well as extradomestic labour (such as selling .
150). The technical mastery required to cook is also socially learnt and socially salient. The idea of a cook/artist’s intentions can be better understood when applied to feast food. What they prepare is dependent upon their relationship with the eaters. it is thought to occur in this way. They also cook particular dishes during ﬁestas for compadres and the wider community. ‘[I]ntentions cause events to happen in the vicinity of agents’ (1998. In this case of food for the dead. it no longer has any ﬂavour. The dead are believed to eat the essence of the food when they come. Hence. 1991. Although other living . and other (usually unmarried) members of the household. 101). why ﬂavour is a social (and also cultural) aspect of food. So this is why food has ﬂavour. they use their culinary agency according to the network of intentionalities in which they are entangled as social beings. and to the fulﬁllment of the mayordomos’ role for the community. the dead. in Milpa Alta. In other words. Rather than searching for a chemical or physical explication of why something caused another thing to occur. 101). in the example of the Days of the Dead.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 117 in the market). the food loses its ﬂavour because of the presence of the dead who come to eat its essence. The explanation for this is no more mystical than the relationship between the cook (culinary agent) and the expected recipient of the food. sweets and some favourite foods of the dead. this unit is also thought to be at the core of business success. Mole with chicken is always present. Married women cook for their husbands and children. is offered to the dead relatives of the family. women cook with particular eaters in mind. 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. and afterward. when the living eat the food that had been set out. p. Although not everyone says that they believe it. Whilst the unit of wife and husband is crucial to the establishment of links of compadrazgo. they still are cooking with the intention of feeding (or offering food to) someone else (a recipient). It is not because of inherent biochemical properties in the foodstuffs themselves. Simmel. ‘[T]he explanation of any given event (especially if socially salient) is that it is caused intentionally’ (p. Food set out on the family altar. 2005. tamales. rather it is in the deliberately induced reaction of foodstuffs when cooked or combined in a particular way. 1994) as much as for making food edible or tastier. Gell’s conception of intentionality is based on deﬁning the nature of causation. 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. and this is how it has been reported to me by people in Milpa Alta (see also Lok. Although the way that they prepare some dishes may be nuanced by their own taste and pleasure. that is. Long and Vargas. p. the ofrenda.
social distance and hospitality amongst the relevant actors. the same gift. this means that food is involved in interrelating social networks amongst individuals or groups. and they expect elaborate food and entertainment at these events. no one need demand to be fed upon arrival at a ﬁesta. the food was cooked with the intention of feeding the dead. the same kind of food—effectively. Guests may even be reluctant recipients. Mole. all assume that they will be. related to the cook. With respect to Mexican cuisine.3 Hospitality begets further hospitality. and actors expect an ultimate balance of give and take. and not to feed the living. are divisible and indivisible. 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. is coercively given and received. eventually may eat the food. This means that special foods are signiﬁcant. relatives and neighbours and thereby maintain community viability. including visual appearance and things he or she produced.4 . Part and whole. and with the social relationships of the cooks and eaters. Therefore the ﬂavour was cooked in for the dead to take away. In effect. but they accept the food nonetheless. but only in relation to how they compare with other dishes in the cuisine. neighbours. 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. mayordomos or other guests. the same personhood—is awaited on each occasion.2 Gell’s theory of art uses a conception of a body of artworks as if it were a body of a person. a ‘distributed person’. During ﬁestas. though competition and one-upmanship exist as well. These gifts of food are offered by obligation and their acceptance is obligatory as well. which are detachable and also exchangeable. Anything that comes from a person. Competitively bigger and better versions of the same meal are circulated endlessly amongst compadres. Rather. art objects are exuviae. The ﬁesta cycle revolves around the religious timetable and notions of respect. is detachable from that person and can be physically touched as well as seen. in a sort of Maussian social contract.118 • Culinary Art and Anthropology people. towns) to maintain the circulation of value (food/virtue) in the indeﬁnitely enduring cycle of festivity. 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. 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. individuals act on behalf of social groups (families. Whether compadres. mayordomos. 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. individual and group. Not only this. or a socially approved substitute. so much so that even those who do not attend are given food in their absence.
As an example. though they may help married women who are. although women are thought of as the family cooks. 1982). In short. mole. As the relational node of a culinary matrix of interrelating social spheres. Finally. The whole cuisine. But while women are in charge of cooking for feasts. In the wider social context. family honour can be distributed and properly enacted only with ﬁesta commensality. 1986). So in other words. Gell. the hosts’ decision to serve these dishes to others in formal hospitality bestows value on their guests. serving mole. produced through daily cooking. or the everyday and the ritual. 1998. on whom they depend for their food and on whose behalf they are expected to perform minor duties such as shopping. In fact. 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. this effect is encapsulated in Gell’s notion of the ‘technology of enchantment’(1996). 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. except for the occasional unmarried woman who is asked to be a comadre (cf. Munn. As should be clear by this point in this book. the value of mole can be understood as effectively equivalent to the value of women in Milpaltense society. In the ﬁesta cycle. the power and value of women (or cooks) are transformed into ongoing social relations. current popularly served dishes like barbacoa are prepared jointly by women and men. then. A particular recipe is placed in a hierarchical relation to the indexes of other dishes in the corpus of its cuisine (cf. which all effectively . even after many years of cohabitation and the birth of several children. 1984. morally recognized as capable of cooking the mole de ﬁesta and able to legitimately reproduce the next generation. or ‘el lujo de barbacoa’. including gifts of food. Indeed. When people in Milpa Alta talk of ‘el mole de ﬁesta’. 1985). they are treated as extensions of their families. In the same way children and unmarried adults are not responsible for food provision. fetching or delivering things. the mole of the feast. vis-à-vis the wider public.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 119 Children and unmarried adults do not formally participate in these systems of reciprocity. mediates the domestic realm with the public sphere. or its substitutes. Goody. The individual actors who take responsibility as ofﬁcial representatives are highly respected church-married couples. becomes representative of the whole distributed object of Mexican cuisine. similar to how Simmel (1994) allocates value to daily meals. women’s culinary agency is distributed and shared amongst her family. 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. the luxury of barbacoa. who can imagine the complexity of the production of the dish from his or her informed culinary knowledge. in the ﬁesta sphere. in fact. ﬁesta hospitality and the corresponding food are products of gender complementarity and family cooperation. Sault. The dish can be judged as delicious or ﬂavourful because it is accepted with gastronomic awe from the perspective of the eater.
top-quality ingredients. Its complex history involves the invasion of foreigners who brought ingredients and technical knowledge to Mexico. women. there are two kinds of human desires: for food and for sex. the fulﬁllment of gastronomical ideals or desires is central to social life in Milpa Alta. but it is special not only because it is difﬁcult to make. which revolve around women and their roles in 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. partners. superior ﬂavour could be achieved by technical culinary skill. 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. Therefore social interaction circulates around women and women’s culinary labours. 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. we can take sex into account as part of the socialization of women as members of the community as well as in their relations . Equivalently. compadrazgo. loved ones. Chiles and albur In different ways throughout this book I have discussed the interconnections between notions of love and food in Milpa Alta. and especially ﬂavour. 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. sexual. and who inﬂuenced the religious and domestic realms. which represents women. This means that social interaction is effective when food is offered. Food and Love. religious and maternal love. an understanding of traditions and Mexican culture and. as a ﬁnal garnish. In this way. land.5 The teaching of cultural events and Mexican history were included in the curricula of some cookery schools. Other dishes in Mexican cuisine are difﬁcult to make. In one recipe the interrelating value systems and complex of intentionalities that exist in Milpa Alta are found: ‘tradition’. a sazón de amor (a sprinkling of love). Recognizing the deeply symbolic value of cooking as a part of women’s work. According to them. altering social interaction while simultaneously altering women’s relationship with food and cooking. who are ultimately governed by an honour code of giving and respect to their children. women in Milpa Alta have two kinds of responsibilities: housework and cooking (production) and family (reproduction).120 • Culinary Art and Anthropology represent the whole cuisine. Mole represents salsa. women are representing the family. via women’s culinary agency. although men may be the public or ofﬁcial representatives. Mole as a special dish indicates celebration. cooked with culinary artistry (or technical mastery). If the preceding are the ingredients necessary to successfully prepare mole (or any other recipe). To recapitulate. which represents ﬂavour. In effect.
Lomelí. Men are able to speak with their friends (cuates. Usually it is obvious why they are chosen. ‘[R]elationships are predicated on the satisfaction of particular desires experienced by the partners in the relationship’ (p. italics added). 1991. he argues that the desires for food are linked to speciﬁc food providers. In Chapter 4 I discussed the kind of sexual/gastronomical reciprocity that exists between husbands and wives. he would still be performing within what is considered normal male behaviour. there is ample opportunity for innuendo. As I explained in Chapter 1. put another way. they are ready for marriage. For the vagina there are words such as . Once girls are able to cook. people use other food metaphors in joking conversation to refer to male and female sexual organs. As long as a man is the one penetrating. though sometimes the analogy is more obscure. At the same time. who are the producers of this food. as a husband should also value and prefer his wife’s cooking. even macho (see Gutmann. 20–6). Since chiles come in so many different shapes and sizes. 1991. It is very rare for women to speak using albur. in Milpa Alta people use the words salsa and chile interchangeably.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 121 with men. and yet also are considered funny. and depends on speed and wit. He can continue to consider himself to be heterosexual. 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. it is amongst other women (not in mixed company) and is of a milder sort. or. Home cooking is highly valued because of the moral value of women. Thus an individual would be prone to prefer his mother’s cooking over others’. perhaps even more than his mother’s. 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. 568). A man using albur plays upon these sensibilities. Albur and derivative word games can be used in mild to increasingly aggressive ways. The marital relationship is both moral and imbued with social obligations. In this way women are understood to be powerful agents within their local social spheres. most used in albur. even if there is only a small proportion of chile in the recipe for the salsa. 568. food that is thought of as particularly delicious is food cooked with love. Yet one other dynamic of food and love is worth describing for a more nuanced picture of how ﬂavour and morality are intertwined. Chiles are central to Mexican gastronomy and are arguably the basic unit of the cuisine. as well as on linguistic twists. rather than the one penetrated. He continues. 1996). In Gow’s (1989) article on the Piro. One of the central metaphors used is the chile. Albur is a kind of wordplay used almost exclusively amongst men (see Jiménez. which stands for the penis. However. pp. They are also central to a variety of jokes in which the chile is spoken of metaphorically as a man’s penis. those en conﬁanza) in terms of sexually penetrating them without being considered homosexual. ‘systematically related to certain types of social relations’ (p. This is because there are overt sexual connotations in the speech games in albur. If they do.
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. … these metaphors are not structured simply by direct reference to the objects themselves. pp. Having established that the values and virtues of women are materialized in home cooking. The use of food metaphors in joking. culinary way. continuously draws attention to the metaphoric relationship between oral and sexual desire. more generally and among women. for native people have standard. especially the chile.e. Some other food metaphors for the penis are longaniza (a type of sausage). homestyle food. explicitly relating it to sex. If these metaphors appear unsystematic. camote (sweet potato). and they cater mainly to outsiders (from Mexico City) who work in the municipality rather than to locals. 82. Though not speciﬁcally . 1991. 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. (1989. These restaurants serve comida casera. but at the level of desire. p. the chile is manipulated in another. The signiﬁcance of albur is that food. is subject to linguistic and conceptual manipulation by men. rather than that between food objects and genitals as objects. even random. 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. partly because of the belief that food prepared at home is better. Local Milpaltenses go home for their meals. ejote (young corn on the cob) and zanahoria (carrot. pescado (ﬁsh). On the other hand. Daily Meals. if they really wish to eat out. and is explicitly related to eating and ﬂavour. 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.122 • Culinary Art and Anthropology papaya. as Gow argues. with love) has connotations of being tastier and better for you (nutritionally and socially) than food prepared commercially. The use of foods as metaphors for the genitals occurs only in joking. or. Eating out in Milpa Alta is uncommon.. p. Home Cooking and Street Food I have already explained at length that food prepared at home (i. mamey (a type of fruit). I was told that eating out in the street indicates that the women of the house are lazy (‘son fodongas’ ). or mondongo (a dish made of tripe. they travel to the centre of Mexico City. panocha (crude sugar). 202). that is because they are not used in an alternate discourse to encode another arbitrary symbolic structure. I would agree. A few Milpaltenses told me. with some pride. 201). names for the genitalia. that there are only two restaurants in Villa Milpa Alta. Jiménez. too lazy to prepare a meal at home. Rather. non-euphemistic. whether foods or genital organs. tacos or tamales.
she tries to be discreet about it. The words envidia and envidioso are used to describe a range of characteristics from envy to greed to being overprotective over family . 55). 92–3). In Milpa Alta there is a speciﬁc verb for this idea of eating out that is used only in the region: chinaquear. Cooking is almost never done for the sake of the cook alone. part of the social signiﬁcance of a meal prepared at home stems from the caring involved in cooking food with ﬂavour for speciﬁc eaters. or was more work to prepare than we wished to do. duties. pp. So although there may be times when a woman is too tired. for instance. Another eater makes a cook more willing to go through the trouble of preparing the several parts that make up a meal (cf. Abarca. Sometimes when Doña Margarita and I were on our own.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 123 investigating Mexico. such as barbacoa. nor would this be normal behaviour in Milpa Alta. she may be teased as being envidiosa. A social activity by nature. because we could have or should have prepared food for ourselves. tamales. Tinker (1987) observes that ‘[i]n most countries the traditional foods eaten at home take a long time to make. pambazos. ‘Vamos a chinaquear’. she most likely will buy it to take away. 2006. too busy or indeed too lazy to cook for her family. keeping all the ﬂavour to herself. most women know how to make many of the foods that can be bought in the streets. food preparation entails an emotional commitment from cooks and eaters. she would suggest to me that we eat in the market. or even womanly. Mexican street food is one of the broadest-ranging parts of the cuisine. Abarca (p. however. perhaps could not be the same if made at home. In Milpa Alta.’ In other words. If she decides to buy ready-made food in the market. Some things are not easily made at home. 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. like different kinds of tacos. Chinaquear means to eat snacks in the street and it encapsulates shirking one’s household. garnachas and various other snacks. A complete Mexican meal requires much time and effort and is difﬁcult to prepare in single servings. if a woman forgets to place salsa on the table. huaraches. quesadillas. She would have a mischievous glint in her eye as she said. 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. too cumbersome for the domestic kitchen or for daily cooking. 93) also emphasizes this point. The food sold by the vendor might be particularly delicious. At the stand she chatted guiltily with the food vendors as if they shared a naughty secret. so that busy housewives or working women will avoid this effort by feeding their families street foods’ (p. Perhaps there is also an element of taste involved in the decision to buy food in the street. In Milpa Alta. effectively failing to fulﬁll her obligation to feed her family or guests. She also notes that some street foods take longer to make than some typical daily meals. referring to Silva. Another instance when Milpaltenses might eat in the streets is when they eat alone or with only one other person.
moral obligation and gender role expectations. Raising children is more simply a moral obligation and. This is partly because of the asymmetrical relationship between parent and child or married woman and her in-laws (see Gell.124 • Culinary Art and Anthropology members. While community relationships are characterized by respect and social expectations. women prepare food for their husbands and children and other members of the household. as I mentioned earlier. it is only within the domestic realm. a cook’s . Morality and Taste In a perhaps simpliﬁed way. given and received. Within the family. and I have also described how love is the instigation for culinary activity. 1999a. 1989). the eater is more likely to judge the food as tastier and better because of the social relationship that exists between them. all different kinds of food are demanded and supplied.6 A person who is envidioso/a refuses to share or lend food or other material belongings. not because of some deep-seated subordination of women to men. and in this way good cooking works like a well-designed trap. children are considered as extensions of their parents in the community-wide systems of (food) reciprocity and exchange that do exist in ﬁestas. However. husbands and in-laws. Flavour and variety are sought after for everyday meals. love and hospitality of home. Once they marry. It also then follows that when the relationship between cook and eater is very close. In Milpa Alta. Gow. He or she lacks conﬁanza. enticing the family and ritual kin to maintain their ties to the cook. at least not until many years later in old age. I have used the word love to explain how culinary technical mastery is achieved. but because of the centrality of the marital bond as the source of social (and sexual and gastronomical) fulﬁllment. Envidia is conceptually opposed to the notions of generosity. and it is not exchanged for an expected return of food reciprocity on another occasion.7 Unlike in the ﬁesta cycle. I think that that is far too long-term to establish an exchange relationship via food. women’s culinary agency becomes directed to their husbands and their new households. Parents do not expect anything from children in exchange for feeding and raising them. on a daily basis. Failure to feed their husbands can be judged as shirking marital as well as womanly duties. Ideally. someone who somehow displeased another was often described as being envidioso. but if they do. a woman supplies it. family relationships are characterized by love. food is demanded by children. 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. and then all of it is eaten. Appetite. Daughters rarely take full responsibility for meal provision. For daily meals. food in this case is not actually exchanged between culinary agents and recipients. in daily meals food is not circulated. though of course. I have already described how the full artistry of Mexican cuisine is explored daily in the family kitchen. like family.
other cooking. She also observes that many women who sell home-cooked food in the streets are unwed . 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. economic ends. whereas commercial cooking would then generate antisocial (individual) ends. Among other writers. commercially viable and delicious. This implies that in the case of home cooking. but men depend on women for the tortilla. A home-cooked meal should then taste better and should also be better than snacks bought in the street. this extends to the gastronomical and sexual loyalty of potentially unfaithful husbands. Applying the same logic to cooking. is meaningful in a different way. instrumentalized for the production of legitimate members of society. it makes more sense that the appeal of home cooking is based upon its intrinsic meaningfulness. socially sanctioned sexual desires. marketable. In other words. Understanding this. Mexico. 1986). Vázquez discusses the domestic economy of ﬁrst and second wives in both monogamous and polygamous unions. 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. Conversely. As I described in Chapter 4. loyalty and appreciation of family members. somehow. this food may seem to taste better in the streets. hence the importance of a home-cooked meal. 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. my translation). This being the case. as socially controlled. 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. and not for a return of yet undetermined food hospitality in future. the ﬁnal product’ (p. Rather. presumably prepared for selﬁsh. Since giving food is as much an obligation as receiving it. the food is exchanged for the love. home cooking generates positive social ends. Munn.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 125 talent must also be considered. 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. Vázquez García (1997) describes the marital relationship as reciprocal in a Nahua community in southern Veracruz. I dare say that home cooking is offered in a most complex bounded way. 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. 171. among family and friends. She notes that men inherit land and women receive kitchen equipment upon marriage. We can think of food-giving as generating positive social meaning (community viability) and eating as correspondingly negative (cf. there is a moral obligatory force involved in giving and receiving food. Yet street foods are known to be desirable. as a sophisticated culinary trap couched in the ideology of generosity and the virtue of women’s suffering and sacriﬁce.
Yet more pertinent to this point than Gell’s discussion of artworks as traps. though each leaves the transaction happier with his or her newly acquired money or food than before. I can choose to buy food from this or that vendor. without any moral obligation on the part of the buyer or the seller. What is given over is a thing that the giver values less than what is received. 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). Street food is commoditized cooking. Things are exchanged for things. nor is it obligatory. Home cooking has the status of the highly moral marital bond.126 • Culinary Art and Anthropology mothers or ‘second wives’ of men whose legitimate wives exert domestic (marital and gastronomical) rights. This immediate-return exchange is instant gratiﬁcation. however. buying and selling street food would constitute a food transaction of supreme reciprocity. . rather than being an unethical commercial venture in opposition to the ethical food-giving at home. and so the vendor directs her agency to this competition. If we follow Gell’s (1999a) logic about commodity exchange. is how Gell (1999a) dismantles the idea that commercial activities should be less moral than non-commercial/gift-giving and gift-receiving.9 It is as delicious and clandestine as an illicit love affair. In fact. with the intention of constructing bait in a particular way to ensnare the loyalty of kin and ritual kin. the food is transacted in a mercifully simple. Brieﬂy put. then. There is quantitative equivalence. and the value of food sharing. 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. In Chapter 3 I also mentioned how Primy would proffer special treatment to regular customers. To conclude. satisfying way. there are two ways of experiencing food as delicious. food in the street provides the ﬂavour of Mexican cuisine without the effort or social investment. wherein each actor values the other thing more than the thing he or she gives up. So the culinary agency involved in preparing food for sale or for loved ones is actually one and the same. especially if one eats alone at a street stand. Indeed. Both the vendor and the home cook wish to attract and appease the appetite of the same consumer. as the vendor-client relationship can blur over time to approximate friendship. there are no social relations involved to complicate one’s enjoyment of the ﬂavours. A customer hands over money and the vendor hands over ﬂavourful food. 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. What is given is not a gift.8 Recall now that cooking is an activity like building a trap-as-artwork. and neither I nor the vendor I choose engage in any realm wherein either of us can be judged to be generous or envidiosa. then. completed on the spot. The goal of this and other kinds of commodity exchange is a simple transaction. with respect to her agency. akin to the pleasures of sex without the entanglements of love (amongst social relations). or her intended food consumers. There will always be differences in a cook’s activities depending on her speciﬁc intentions.
she can be criticized. McCallum. as has been shown to exist in other Latin American societies (e. primarily for their husbands). just as we have preferences for and opinions about people with whom we socialize. 1985). Because of the meanings attached to home cooking (food prepared by women. eating to satisfy appetite without emotional entanglements.g. 1994. Though different vendors produce different qualities of ﬂavours. without the social signiﬁcance attached to eating in someone’s home. Because of the many rules of greed and generosity surrounding home cooking. A man should ﬁnd the greatest pleasures with his wife. Gow. if a woman does not cook at home for her family. given that I have been arguing throughout this book that we do not eat solely for the sake of nutrition. there is no contradiction if it is accepted that we have preferences and opinions about food. being seen in the streets invites digression and the potential for extramarital love affairs. Likewise. Neither are necessarily offered for the purpose of nourishment or the propagation of society. After all. More speciﬁcally. 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. as Ricardo says. naughtily enjoying someone else’s cooking as she shirks her own duties to cook. To summarize. 2001. married women prepare food for their husbands and the rest of the household as part of their domestic role. almost sinful sense. Please note that this is just a sampling of recipes. it is an act of freedom. and quantities can vary with every cook’s taste. to eat in the street is equivalent to having an illicit love affair—equally or arguably more delicious food prepared by others. Descola. Vázquez García. not one’s wife. interrelated with the social systems of compadrazgo and the mayordomía. an individual practice more commonly engaged in than openly admitted. and some things do taste better when prepared at home. to join in the activity. In contrast. in Milpa Alta. food that is not cooked at home is also considered to be delicious in a different. Recipes: Variations on a Theme Despite the apparent impossibility of learning to cook Mexican food with only recipes. or to cook tradition. it would be naive to suggest that sex is solely for the sake of procreation. 1991. to snack in the streets is considered a pastime. there are deviances from the norm. but of course. Chinaqueando is an occasional delight. Furthermore. I invite readers to experiment with some variations on the theme of basic dishes in Mexican cuisine. Eating in the streets is thus an illicit pleasure. . and men and women are known to have extramarital affairs. rather than there being a power struggle between genders (Gregor. Likewise. but they both provide temporary satisfactions of desires fulﬁlled for the sake of pure pleasure. and if she chooses to eat in the streets. she is chinaqueando. the meal is heavily emotionally laden. Milpa Alta society is characterised by gender complementarity.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 127 even if under a coercive system. 1997).
128 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1 Variations on Salsa 1.2.1 Guacamole 2 large ripe avocados 1 small tomato. This is a perfect accompaniment for guacamole and tortilla chips as well as for eggs. which is often used to accompany grilled ﬁsh or meat or eggs. this is a table salsa. ﬁnely chopped (optional) lime juice (optional) . • Fresh. 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. raw salsas are nice left chunky. roughly chopped 2 small green chiles. Blend to desired consistency. this is the classic salsa mexicana. 1. • Mash in a mortar with a pestle or put all in a blender with a little water if necessary. as with raw red salsa 1. If left chunky.2 Guacamole Raw red salsa with mashed avocado added. • The ingredients can be more mashed or liqueﬁed and other ingredients added. ﬁnely chopped ¼ white onion.1 Salsa roja cruda (Raw Red Salsa) 2 large ripe red tomatoes. cut into pieces ½ medium onion. In any case. ﬁnely chopped (optional) salt to taste coriander (cilantro). chopped salt to taste • Chop all ingredients and mix well. or anything. ﬁnely chopped 1 small green chile (serrano or jalapeño). Variations or optional ingredients. grilled meats or ﬁsh.
as the charred skin contributes a nice smoky ﬂavour. about 10 to 15 minutes. . to roll into tacos or use in sandwiches. 1. allspice. onions and garlic should be roasted unpeeled until the skin blackens (green tomatoes should have papery husk removed). • 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. vegetables. 1. • Tomatoes. cumin. and proceed as for raw red salsa. cinnamon (‘true’ or Ceylon cinnamon sticks. fresh chiles. • With dried chiles and spices. Use some of the soaking liquid in the blender. with soft thin bark. smooth cooked salsas or caldillos. comal or frying pan. 1. using some of the boiling broth in the blender. stuffed chiles.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 129 • Mash all together with fork. chiles. and when the oil begins to smoke. • Boil tomatoes (peel husks off green tomatoes ﬁrst) and fresh chiles before liquidizing. Variations for Cooked Salsa • Add spices (use all): cloves. not cassia).5 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Other Ingredients Often meat. Heat oil or lard in a saucepan. • If using dried chiles. omelettes or vegetable or ﬁsh tortitas (croquettes) are cooked into or served heated in thin. be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter. soak them in hot water for a few minutes after roasting. to soften them.3 Salsa Verde (Green Salsa) Substitute green husk tomatoes (tomates verdes or tomatillos) for red tomatoes. Variations are endless. black pepper. Examples follow. onions.4 Cooked Salsa Blend salsa ingredients until fairly smooth. fresh coriander. • Serve as a dip with tortilla chips (totopos) or alongside grilled or fried meat or ﬁsh. roast tomatoes. It is not necessary to peel tomatoes or chiles after roasting them. You may need to add a little water. Cook until it changes colour and the ﬂavour changes. pour in the liqueﬁed salsa. garlic and spices on a dry griddle. • Add herbs (use one): dried oregano. epazote. • Before blending. marjoram.
This is usually served with white rice. avocados. shredded lettuce and chopped coriander. grinding it to a soft dough. sliced radish. or putting masa through an industrial tortillería machine. 2. large or small. masa. salsa. Heat in cooked salsa verde until soft.2 Tostadas Fry whole day-old tortillas until crisp. 2. The rough. always with some kind of salsa or chile on the side. grated or shredded cheese . 1.1 Chicharrón en chile verde (Fried Pork Rinds in Green Salsa) This is very common in Milpa Alta. and patting out by hand. Well-made tortillas puff up as they bake and have two different sides. They are served alongside pozole (hominy soup) with crema espesa. Tostadas are also eaten on their own. 2 Tortillas Tortillas can be made by boiling corn with lime (CaOH). onions. beans and corn tortillas. Serve with boiled beans and warm corn tortillas. pinched side is smeared with melted lard. topped with a variety of different things. lime. 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.5. keeping them ﬂat—these are now called tostadas. Break fried pork rinds into pieces. onions and cream.130 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 1. long or short. Tortillas can be thick or thin.2 Calabacitas con queso (Courgettes with Cheese) Cook cubed courgettes and panela cheese in red tomato caldillo with fresh epazote. pressing out with a tortilla press. then topped with refried beans and things like crisply fried crumbled longaniza.1 Gorditas or Tortillas Pellizcadas These are fat tortillas which have been pinched on the thin side to make a rough surface.5. a front and a back.
3 Tacos dorados Roll shredded chicken in corn tortillas. dry frying pan or griddle.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 131 chopped coriander crumbled.1 Chilaquiles • The night before. oblong tortillas from fresh masa so that the ﬂautas will be long like ﬂutes. You may use chicken broth or water to thin it out further. 8 cm wide. The next morning. . Make sure to liquefy it long enough to get it very smooth. 2. Prepare masa for tortillas and refried beans.4. 3 Variations with Cooked Salsa and Tortillas 3. Leave them out to dry overnight. fry them in hot oil till crisp. The beans should be encased in masa. They are usually bought in the market or in a street stall. place a length of beans in the centre of a ball of masa and press it out into an oblong shape. Serve drizzled with salsa and cream and with chopped onions. cut leftover corn tortillas into 8 triangles each.4 Tlacoyos This is typical street food in Mexico City. Before pressing out the tortillas. and 1 cm thick. cream and grated white cheese. chopped coriander and cream. crisply fried longaniza or chorizo (sausage) 2. Many people make thin. Secure each roll with a toothpick and deep-fry. They can be up to 40 cm long and 25 cm wide and are served with the same toppings as tlacoyos. • Make thin red or green salsa in any way you wish. chopped onions. Top with cooked salsa. about 10–15 cm long. extra-long. thinner and crisper. 2.1 Variation: Flautas Make tacos dorados using shredded barbacoa de borrego as ﬁlling. Señoras sell them on street corners and outside metro stations in Mexico City. Drizzle the fried tacos with green salsa. coriander and grated white cheese (all optional). grated cheese. Flautas de barbacoa are sometimes served alongside a bowl of consomé de barbacoa.1 Huaraches Huaraches are like tlacoyos but are much wider. 2.3. Bake on both sides on a hot comal.
place on plates. • One by one. 3. When they are well coated. Arrange in ovenproof dish and bake till heated through and cheese has melted.132 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • Strain into hot oil. pork or beef or boiled potatoes chopped white onions grated cheese • Heat 1 cm oil in a frying pan beside the pan where the salsa is cooking. place about a tablespoon of ﬁlling in the centre and roll into a cylinder. fry and cook the salsa with epazote. • Sprinkle with chopped onions and grated cheese.1 For Enchiladas suizas Use green salsa. dip each tortilla in the pan of hot salsa and pass it through to quickly coat it. shredded chicken and yellow melting cheese and drizzle over crema espesa or sour cream. sliced into very thin wedges. rings or half-rings shredded or crumbled white cheese (queso oaxaqueño. . queso fresco. Then pass it through the hot oil to soften it a bit and make it pliable. • One by one. pork or beef ﬁlet (milanesa) fried crumbled Mexican longaniza (sausage) shredded boiled chicken frijoles refritos (refried beans. and put on toppings and side dishes before serving. lay tortillas on a plate or ovenproof serving dish. Typical Toppings white onion. • Toss the tortilla chips in the hot salsa. see below) bolillos or teleras (crusty white bread roll) 3.2. Arrange rolls side by side. as for chilaquiles shredded boiled chicken. mild feta) crema espesa/de rancho/crème fraîche chopped coriander/cilantro Variations: optional side dishes to place on or beside chilaquiles • • • • • • fried egg fried or breaded thinly pounded chicken breast.2 Enchiladas corn tortillas thin cooked salsa.
use shredded chicken as ﬁlling. crema espesa.4 Pastel azteca Arrange tortillas in layers in an ovenproof dish like lasagna.3 Enfrijoladas Use thin. thin refried beans.2. a small clay olla with water is placed on top of the big clay olla where the beans are cooking. cover and simmer over medium heat with some onion and lard or vegetable oil. Adding cold water will temporarily halt the cooking process. or with any sauce that remains on the plate after the meat or ﬁsh of the main course is ﬁnished.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 133 3.2 Enmoladas or Enchiladas de mole For salsa.2. They do not need to be soaked. use leftover mole that has been thinned down with water or chicken broth. the beans will never soften. Traditionally. Stir occasionally. • Beans are best prepared in advance since you cannot be sure how long they will cook (this depends on how old they are). Only after they are very soft may you add salt. pinto or any other beans—should be rinsed and all stones and empty beans removed. the ﬁlling can be shredded chicken. 3.2. very smoothly liqueﬁed beans ( frijoles de olla or frijoles refritos) instead of salsa. and top with sliced onions. 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. They also taste better after they have settled. • If you need to add water. ham and/or cheese. 3. . the water in the small olla is at the same temperature as the cooking beans. • Beans are often eaten after the main course. and either corn or wheat ﬂour tortillas (ﬂour tortillas need not be passed through hot oil). add hot water. and after at least 2 hours the beans should be soft. The other layers: shredded boiled chicken. place grated melting cheese on top and bake in oven till cheese melts and all is heated through. If you add salt too soon. They are also served together with the main course or with rice as well. If water needs to be added. • The beans—black turtle or Veracruz beans. crumbled white cheese and crema espesa. • Put beans in a pot with about triple the amount of water.
or you can scramble them into eggs. a slice of avocado. • Beans cooked like this go well with any dish with a sauce and are also used to spread into sandwiches made with crusty bread. Stir these and cook them until they are dark brown and almost burnt. add some sliced white onions. most people add a sprig of epazote to the pot toward the end of the cooking time. 4.2 Sopa de frijol (Bean Soup) Prepare beans with a lot of water or add chicken or other stock before liquefying them. 4. Mash them continually in the lard and incorporate the onions until a smooth paste is formed. 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 . red. When it begins to smoke. • You can serve these with scrambled eggs and salsa. before or after blending to a smooth soup: dark or crispy fried onions garlic oregano or epazote roasted or raw tomatoes or cook them into the soup green. or substitute feta or white Lancashire). They are also often served with crumbled white cheese (queso fresco or queso añejo. • Only then add the beans with some of their broth. heat lard or oil in a frying pan. Chopped coriander also goes well with any beans. Optional ingredients to add.134 • Culinary Art and Anthropology • For black beans. some pickled chile and cheese and/or cured or roasted meat to make tortas.1 Frijoles refritos (Refried Beans) • Over a medium ﬂame.
Add to rice. chopped 1 clove garlic. epazote or chile to the top of the rice toward the end of the cooking time. cover and let simmer until the rice is cooked.1 Arroz blanco (White Mexican Rice) 1½ cups long-grain rice. chopped ½ cup each carrots (soaked in hot water). corn kernels. It is served after a vegetable soup or meat or chicken broth with hot corn tortillas. • Cover the lid of the pot with a tea towel before placing it over the pot to absorb excess moisture. • Stir well and allow to cook. with separate grains. usually served as a ﬁrst or second course. Keep the heat high for a few minutes so that the veggies cook.2. It should not be soft and milky like risotto. if you wish. . Fry the rice (and carrots) until it is lightly golden. drained well ¼ cup oil ½ white onion.3 above. peas. then lower the heat to a very low ﬂame. Note: This rice should be dry. rather it should be more like pilau. Add vegetables and salt and top up with enough water or broth to cook the rice well. Add salt to taste. and sometimes avocado and lime. 5 Sopa seca (Dry Soup) This is rice or pasta without broth. 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. • Blend onions and garlic with a bit of water until smooth. 5. rice is stirred into the broth or eaten with the main course or with the beans after the main course.The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life • 135 4. soaked in hot water. salsa. • Add coriander. often eaten on its own with salsa on the side.3 Enfrijoladas See 3. Sometimes.
guavas. add 1 or 2 tomatoes to the garlic and onion mixture and blend well. When the syrup is ready. Sometimes dry pasta ‘soups’ are served with cream (crème fraîche) drizzled over.2 Arroz rojo (Red Rice) Prepare arroz blanco (see preceding recipe). Fry a bit before adding the optional vegetables. Strain this into the hot oil and fried rice. and other fruits that do not disintegrate (e. without a sauce. The pasta should remain dry. To make red rice.136 • Culinary Art and Anthropology 5. frying the dry pasta in oil until it browns a little. This is good for pears. peaches. 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. You might want to add a bit of lime juice so that it is not too sweet. Serve cold. Variations combine 2 or more types of fruit stir in chopped mint before serving serve with crema espesa/de rancho (crème fraîche) .g. 5. like a smooth red salsa. when it is done. put peeled prepared fruits in to poach for about 10 minutes or until they are cooked. tejocotes. salt and water or chicken broth. before stirring in the salsa and water to cook. Allow the fruit to cool in the syrup and then refrigerate. pineapples).3 Sopa de ﬁdeos/Macarrones Substitute vermicelli or pasta elbows (macaroni) for the rice and prepare as for arroz rojo.
3. food production depends on the skilled handling of tools. Chapter 6) in his discussion of the creolization of Belizean food. and indeed of one’s own person.102 for Milpa Alta and 8. I approached Mexican cuisine with the curiosity. 2.Notes Introduction 1. Our different perspectives can only further enrich our understanding of food and cooking and Mexican gastronomy. The people of Milpa Alta rarely – 137 – . 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. of course. So for her.5 per cent was inhabited. 4. the population was only about 1 per cent of the Federal District (81. in fact her approach is necessarily different. Abarca draws from literary. and indeed of an anthropologist. 3. p. sazón. The mixing of cuisines and culinary culture is far from a simple matter. given our different disciplinary training and personal backgrounds.489. Yet while her treatment of these subjects appeared to overlap with mine. ‘Where . Most of this land was put to agricultural use. and 1 per cent was used for urban buildings and other purposes (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografía e Informática 1997. gender and cultural studies and is herself a native Mexican. In my case. sense of adventure and discovery of an outsider or tourist. As can be expected. 2000. 5. food as art. there are certain things which non-natives notice that natives may not immediately see or may take for granted. Any researcher of Mexican food would ﬁnd them to be part of the reality of Mexican culinary culture. 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. 21–2). 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. India and China are comparable in their complexity of everyday cooking. This is very well explained by Wilk (2006. and vice versa. though it occupied 19. The regional cuisines of the Middle East. pp. 318).007 for the whole city). .2 per cent of its area. . the productive forces appear as the embodied qualities of human subjects—as their technical skills’ (Ingold. At the time of my research in the nineties. and cooking as a source of women’s agency and empowerment.
it is called aguamiel. a mildly fermented viscous drink made of the maguey sap. even neighbouring. p. 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. Andrews (1984). ‘the arts of cooking and the cuisine’ (p. 6.138 • Notes emigrated. pp. preparation and consumption. to name a few. market. When unfermented. pp. or honey water. Also. 15). 9. Kennedy (1989. and Muñoz (2000). Lomelí. Unfortunately. Villa Milpa Alta. based on household and class. distribution (political factors. allocation). These are production (economic factors). so my data here is reliant upon personal communication with Enrique Nápoles of Barrio San Mateo. while I have been unable to treat the topics of food production and distribution at a level beyond the barrio. Muñoz. for the barrio level there are no demographic ﬁgures in print. Goody (1982) highlights four main areas of investigation for studying food. among others. .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. See Sophie Coe’s brilliant book. I draw my main conclusions from my data of the local system of Barrio San Mateo in relation to the rest of Milpa Alta. 8. 33– 49. A comparative study of another group in a different. 205). and van Rhijn (1993). 459 –84). Pulque used to be a common drink in this region. Chapter 1 Perceptions of Mexican Cuisine 1. Martínez (1992). and also Coe (1994). Bayless and Bayless (1987. 2. 7. Lynn Stephen describes similar differences between how women describe their occupations as recorded in the national census and what they actually do (2005. 96. The maguey is the source of pulque. 38). and it had religious signiﬁcance during Aztec times. (1991). would surely provide a broader perspective than my limited research allowed. and on a comparative perspective of cuisines since cultures must be situated within the world system. His own work focuses on production and consumption. 3. see Muñoz (2000). p. 328–38). as Milpa Alta has. For an idea of the variety of uses of chiles in Mexican cuisine. or another community of central Mexico with Náhuatl roots. See Long-Solís (1986). community of Mexico City. (1996). esp. 1997. America’s First Cuisines (1994). and acknowledging that there is insufﬁcient space for me to include a comparative analysis with other cuisines or other cultures. esp.
National pride and identity are qualities which a people’s cuisine can sometimes help determine. p.Notes • 139 4. which is made up of several residential districts. 7. 1989. one’s life can easily be contained within the boundaries of one’s pueblo. Furthermore. inaccurately referred to as a ‘ﬂoating garden’ (Long and Vargas. She argues that depictions of traditional recipes as rural and natural is romantic nostalgia. A chinampa is a very fertile type of artiﬁcial island. See also Long and Vargas (2005) for an excellent overview of food in Mexico. See Pilcher (1998). 6. see Long (1996). industrial global economy that supporters of the ‘authentic’ criticize. 14. Public talk in Universum. 8. 5. Coming from a pueblo implies a connection with a community of people who share a common hometown. See Wilk (2006). In a thought-provoking article. See also Long and Vargas (2005). within the realm of the highest culinary art. 29 September 1997. Pilcher (1998). Diana Kennedy’s work would fall into this category. 4). 11. Rachel Laudan (2001) questions the meaning of ‘authentic’ cuisine. ‘The cooking of corn in Mexico with all its elaborations and ramiﬁcations is. culture contact and creolization. analyzing the texts carefully. and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). and on the edges of the city the divisions of the municipalities are called pueblos (which may be further subdivided into barrios). see Wilk (2006). Appadurai (1988). and Brown and Mussell (1985). and always has been. The word pueblo refers to a small town or village. 9. these are called colonias in the central. p. For a lighter account. in spite of work-related movement and interaction with other parts of the city. 15. ‘The culinary merit is perhaps more if one considers. 12. I am grateful to Kai Kresse for pointing this out to me. See also Wilk (2006) and Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). . usually in a non-urban context. For a comprehensive compilation of papers on different aspects of the cultural/culinary inﬂuences between the Old and New Worlds. that the variety [of foods] was not as great as it ﬁrst appears at ﬁrst sight’ (Corcuera. 13. 1981. beyond that of any other country’ (Kennedy. 10. Mexico City. see Sokolov (1991). For an excellent discussion of culinary blending. more urbanized areas. and that the foods we think of as traditional and authentic actually depend upon the modern. 2005. Using the word pueblo to describe the residential area where you live actually has other connotations that living in a colonia does not. In Mexico City. my trans. p. Most people from the more central colonias of Mexico City are not quite as engaged with their neighbours and co-inhabitants in the way that those from the pueblos of Mexico City and other parts of the country are involved in one another’s lives. See also Cruz Díaz (2000) and the regional ‘family cooking’ series published in 1988 by Banco Nacional de Credito Rural (Banrural).). 29. 3).
Abarca emphasizes what she calls the ‘sensory logic’ or ‘sensual. Chapter 2 Cooking as an Artistic Practice 1. which she also describes as a ‘discourse of empowerment’ (2006. ‘Approaching food without considering taste is like studying a mask without referring to its dance. 21. pp. Jonaitis provides an excellent discussion of how the sense of taste has been neglected in ethnographic writing. globalization and local identity in Belize. Entonces. 17.’ 20. 19. Lenten. 1993) or are more about economic issues and gender than cuisine itself (e. como en la casa de la abuela. As I explain in Chapter 2. sin el sazón del amor. 1989). ‘Hay que trasladar la cocina casera a la cocina restaurantera. 162). (1992.140 • Notes 16. 51). Khare. 1966. see Goody (1982. claro. 47–70). Food-related ethnographies often privilege development issues (e. Mennell et al. 2006. 18. livelihood. For a discussion of cooking without written recipes. en vez de tratar de copiar el modelo europeo. textual or language-based models to food and cooking. tal y como es. She suggests. who questions the linear transmission of cooking skill. semiotic.). There are some exceptions. p. especially chapter two on sazón. y debe ser un currículo en las escuelas de cocina. Babb. 4. Some also base analysis on religious taboo or hierarchy and classiﬁcation (such as Douglas. see Abarca (2006). Caplan (1997b).d. see Sutton (n. My friend Primy also overturned her bowl to check if the whites were ready. see Fine (1996. ‘The Aesthetics of Kitchen Discourse’). There is much to say about Ingold’s theories of habitus. Chapter 7. See Vizcarra (2002). But see Sutton (2006). For a critical discussion of how culinary knowledge is transmitted. Alicia María González (1986) does not write . In Milpa Alta I have seen women beat their egg whites in plastic bowls and the capeado still worked. or analyzing a drum without hearing the music it plays’ (Jonaitis.. and Richard Wilk (1999. I rather prefer to avoid applying metaphorical. For a detailed overview of the treatment of food in anthropology and sociology. which I am unfortunately unable to develop fully here. 2. pp. Deben prepararlos bien de principio. pp. pero en restaurante. 2006) examines food for understanding cultural change. p. 10 –39). Peter Gow (1989) analyzes the desires for food and sex in the construction of social relations in Amazonian Peru. 1–19). knowledge and skill in relation to the topic of culinary knowledge and skill. debe utilizar los ingredientes mejores. of course. see also Warde (1997). corporeal knowledge’ of sazón. Beardsworth and Keil (1997. For a description of how impoverished our language is to describe our experience of ﬂavour. which focus interest on cuisine or on eating particular foods for (gastronomical or other) pleasure. Imitar las cocinas famosas no sirve. 1976). 3.g.g. In some communities this is still the case.
. 52). and for a successful use of semiotics in analyzing cuisine. because the aesthetic cannot be isolated from (Islamic) social or cultural values. because a trap. This is possibly because the two cultures in which he did ﬁeldwork. Lévi-Strauss (1966. nor was he the ﬁrst. 12. See also Abarca (2006. Her analysis locates the source of aesthetic meaning on the recommendations of the Prophet Muhammad. 1996. 1996. Ingold. who specializes in so-called traditional or authentic Mexican cooking (see Bayless. for example. and is also used to avoid pollution and to restore oneself to a state of purity. 11. for a particularly effective and convincing ethnographic analysis. baker. 2000). These devices embody ideas. 13. Firth. Chapter 3). See Sutton (2006). Bayless and Bayless. She emphasizes the artistic nature of foods and personal adornment. but at least there is an attempt to understand the artistic notions attached to cooking tasty food. see Hugh-Jones (1979). including perfumes. 1973. 1981. ‘[A]nimal traps … might be presented to an art public as artworks. historical associations and people—who give things names and relationships’ (2005. E. See Chapter 4. its 5. is a transformed representation of its maker. Dornenburg and Page (1996). although not on cooks as artists. 6. 9. For them. 1996. ‘Objects are really the end result of a long process of negotiation between the material world. See. She argues that aesthetic satisfaction enhances the experience of the senses. 285). Kanafani’s (1983) ethnography of women in the United Arab Emirates focuses on the culinary arts. and the prey animal. 14. It is a received notion that one cannot assess art without looking at techniques (see Bateson. Douglas (1975). ‘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. . see Weismantel (1988).g. the LoDagaa and the Gonja. which in turn provides a channel for further social relations and inﬂuences’ (Gell. 10.Notes • 141 about art. 1987). both had ‘simple’ cuisines. 7. Gell was not the only one to emphasize the technical aspect of art. p. 1994). As Andrew Martin describes Latour. This conclusion may seem unsatisfying. and his craftsmanship in making bread with particular names and shapes. Layton. describing the interconnections among sensory experience. Chapter 3). aesthetics and body rituals among women. the hunter. by its very nature. but her thesis analyzes the symbolic meanings of Mexican wheat bread. and Mintz (1996. 8. and beauty is pleasing to Allah. focusing on the panadero. It is also interesting to note that one of the chefs represented as culinary artists in this book is Chef Rick Bayless. 1993. 2003). Gell was also neither the ﬁrst nor the only one to ascribe agency to objects or artworks (see Latour. and therefore creates a social relation between them. p. convey meanings. the main difference between feast food and daily fare was abundance rather than special preparations of dishes.
203). That is to say. 1994). p. can one properly speak of art’ (1996. when put into practice. render superior culinary results. In a talk at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana on 3 June 1996. maize. p. Raymond Firth recognizes art in a comparable way.142 • Notes victim. she explained. 1999b. via material forms and mechanisms’ (Gell. 16. 18. Kennedy’s outlook and attitude toward cuisine is more holistic than many other cookbook writers or culinary investigators. with speciﬁc regard to the Days of the Dead. p. Not to share it with others is “to kill its essence”. Wilk (2006) discusses the construction and recuperation of ‘traditional’ cooking and other practices in Belize. In a way. given meaning in human terms by comparative associations. Diana Kennedy said that she herself believes in these culinary methods. 17. ‘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. The reason. The ancient Aztecs used chile smoke as a punishment for naughty children (Coe. p. is a complex. which. Cf. She said that you must sing to moles in the same way that you must talk to your plants. and of their mutual relationship. Abarca (2006. 20. It is essentially form. 18). 19. among hunting people. In fact. 22. There she raises bees for honey and grows her own wheat. which. For the general theme of invention of tradition. questioning the dichotomy between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. See Lok (1991) for a discussion of sacriﬁce and exchange. but only when the form is mobilized for human purposes. determined by man’s social existence. mushrooms and all types of plants from the whole country. 1990. 1991. 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. the transaction may continue if a customer becomes a regular and then becomes recognized by the vendor as deserving of occasional special favours. as having human involvement with the material: ‘Art is a product of human commitment. 53). 57). 23. in that she has built up an ecologically friendly oasis in her home in Michoacán. 21. They made them breathe it to remove their anger as well (Clendinnen. hospitality can be thought of as a form of sacriﬁce. In this case there is a blurring of the boundary between commercial and non-commercial social reciprocity which is acted out in terms of generosity 15. it is to destroy it both for oneself and for others’ (Mauss. is because ‘the ancestors’ had more contact with food and so their wisdom must be respected. The case of the cook as eater is discussed below. see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1999). quintessentially social one. . these traps communicate the idea of a nexus of intentionalities between hunters and prey animals. pp. 92–3).
Very little material is published on the history of barbacoa in Milpa Alta or elsewhere. 27. though Bourdieu argues a different point. pp. 29. 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). 4. 28. 32. See Chapter 5 for an examination of ﬁesta food. ‘Es una tradición que le va dejando a la nueva generación. as ‘links in chains of personal rather than mechanical causation’ (2000. 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. i. they mutually imply one another (mole ↔ ﬁesta). These dishes are also technically difﬁcult to prepare. 1994. In a way this seems to echo Simmel. Gell (1996.Notes • 143 with food portions. locally reared sheep. Aztec children were disciplined by being made to inhale chile smoke as punishment (Coe. mixiote or barbacoa. 6. Stoller (1989. . Cf. 26. he is often teased for being mandilón (tied to the apron strings) or called ciguamoncli (cf. 1999b). In other parts of Mexico the caul is also called encaje. 5. 63 – 4). Chapter 3 Barbacoa in Milpa Alta 1. many families who hold large celebration banquets serve carnitas. since mole is to ﬁesta as ﬁesta is to mole. He is met not with disapproval. Also adobo. 289). For a clearer understanding of attachment to land. 24. for art. 25. 2. but perhaps with some ridicule at times. Chapter 1).’ Use of this phrase to describe something seemed to indicate its importance in Milpa Alta society. 7. Cf. Recall that going to university is a luxury only recently acquired with the increased economic prosperity in Milpa Alta. where he writes of the social meanings behind serving a bad sauce among the Songhay in Niger.e. and the menu rarely varies beyond these three choices. However. The food product transacted remains the same. for barbacoa. Discussed further in Chapter 5. 31. instead of mole. Chapter 4). see Gomezcésar (1992).g. As mentioned previously in Chapter 2. 9. p. If a husband moves into his wife’s house. so the ‘sociality’ produced is of the kind that McCallum (2001) describes. 8. which literally means lace. 3. E. Ingold also considers practical knowledge to be embedded in a social matrix of relations. Nowadays (within the last 20 years). 30. which is used to make mixiote. See Miller (2002) on expressing love through food shopping. borregos criollos. As explained in Chapter 4.
(‘to feed them’). There are (immoral) actions that can lead to anti-sociality. 11) which is characterized by generosity with food as a central virtue among the Cashinaua of western Amazonia. 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. Most women who worked as domestic help in Milpa Alta were not natives. 12. González Montes and Tuñón (1997). but also by food quality. Alejandro hoped that one of his sons would become a trafﬁc policeman and Primy hoped they would study medicine. The doble jornada. Mole probably ranks as the highest. Note that she describes how men believe that the only responsibility of women to their husbands is ‘dar de comer’.144 • Notes 10. Likewise. Chapter 4 Women as Culinary Agents 1. or ‘double workday’. although they do lead to social organization. 5. however. arguably. This is an indication that people tend not to make gastronomic compromises. that is. González Montes (1997). This term has been used to criticize women’s entry into the capitalist labour force. Melhuus and Stølen (1996). Puebla and Veracruz. and not all social relations lead to sociality. those social relations that lead to sociality may be not only characterized by food generosity. 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. McCallum deﬁnes sociality as ‘a temporary product of morally correct engagement in social relationships’ (1989. but migrants from the poorer states of Oaxaca. Gutmann (1996). where they were not only underpaid. 2. This does not necessarily mean. 13. 1982). McCallum (2001). 6. Alternatively. For example. 4. 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. culinary technical superiority or culinary artistry. that they are supposed to stop making barbacoa! 11. hierarchical relationships may be useful for effectively pursuing these ideals. I recognize that I tread on the tenuous border between portraying culinary life as simply rosy and lovely and the dire reality of others. . But because of the demands of culinary ideals. I did not know anyone who had live-in domestic help. 3. Note that most of their ﬁndings were based on white middle-class Americans or Europeans. but only cases where a woman was hired for a few hours a week or on an occasional basis. See Vizcarra (2002) for a comparable account of women and food in an impoverished community in the State of Mexico. but had to do another full day’s work at home for their families or husbands. p.
8. Chapter 3). y tiene que sufrir. wherein planning the food is foremost. Like communal land. Ejido land is distributed by the government in accordance with the law on agrarian reform. A comparative case is what Stephen (2005. para que la gente no habla mal de ella. The power of human artistry hinges upon the crucial aspect of making something artistic. In other words. Dissanayake (1995) argues that human artistic behaviour is a necessary. 12. for example. a los hijos. Chapter 7) describes for women in Teotitlán. Si no sufren. Debe a su familia. but see. no son buenas personas. 1992. Mujeres trabajan el doble de sus maridos. Zapotec women play a strong role in ritual decision making. See Levine (1993. it is not privately owned and it cannot be sold. J. ‘special’ and ‘extra-ordinary’ (cf. There was apparently also a compromise on taste. Chapter 9) explains that unlike in business. Martin. Chapter 5 Mole and Fiestas 1. and I also agree. 1996). para guardar las apariencias. 1990). Gell. 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.’ (See also Melhuus. Stephen (2005.Notes • 145 7. 13. this relative freedom can be seen as problematic in regard to relations between jealous husbands and wives.’ 14. conducted in Zapotec. p. ‘Regularmente cuando un hombre se hace tonto es por tanto amor que le tiene para su mujer. Almost everyone I met still maintained that handmade tortillas taste better than factory made. Women had restrictions on their movements outside the house as any errand could be construed as an excuse for an illicit rendezvous. el timón de la familia. ‘La mujer es el eje conductor. In an article called ‘¿Quién manda? … ’. 11. In some cases. . practice which aided the survival of the species. which is conducted in Spanish and requires mathematical skills. Lulú’s words were. Una mujer se hace tonta por pendeja. For a vivid comparative account. esp. This is a large topic that goes beyond the scope of this discussion. Mummert (1994). 9. chapters 2 and 3) for more on courtship and marriage. Yet in practice. 10. Son persinadas. naturally selected. women’s culinary agency gives them their ritual power. the response is not so clear. 15. where there is a discourse of gender hierarchy and women’s submissiveness but also of egalitarianism. 16. ¿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. decorated.
is pleasure-seeking. 8. ‘La gente de Milpa Alta es muy trabajadora porque la naturaleza no les dió tanto. Their ﬁestas are occasions when they can socialize freely when the residents of the barrios ritually visit one another bearing salvas. furthers social mobility and economic advancement.’ 10. For a thorough history and description of the cargo systems in Milpa Alta. Chapter 1). rural or lower-middle-class people than central urban or upper-middle-class to upper-class people. For a town or barrio ﬁesta in Milpa Alta the unmarried youths are organized to get involved in preparing for the ﬁesta. Chapter 9) also describes how relationships of compadrazgo are ‘inherited’. porque no hay tiempo. and affords a magic symbolic protection against latent personal aggression’ (1977. Because of how guests are fed during ﬁestas. where some women spend their money on their compadrazgo gifts and obligations rather than on their daily meals. women. 6. This idea of homemade products being better than their commercial counterparts is prevalent and put into practice more by suburban. ties amongst barrios are strengthened and aggression can be averted when mayordomías bring promesas to other town or barrio ﬁestas. fond of parties. 7. For more on compadrazgo and the mayordomía in Milpa Alta. Sault (1985. For a theoretical analysis. p. 5. 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. early hour. Y es por eso que es un pueblo tan ﬁestero—para mostrar a los demás que sí tiene dinero para festejar y hacerlos bien. The dictionary deﬁnition of this word. 160). They begin at around half past four in the morning of the feast day (21 September for San Mateo). especially the excesses of food given to compadres to take home. juggle their ritual responsibilities with quotidian needs. San Mateo and Santa Martha are rivalling barrios from within which there is much intermarriage as well as competition. ﬁestero. see Lomnitz (1977). for members of the public who attend the singing event at this cold. For thorough analyses of compadrazgo as a principle for networking and reciprocal exchange. (1987). see Martinez R. The señoritas are also expected to provide typical breakfast foods. Just as Lomnitz argues that ‘compadrazgo strengthens social ties between equals. In urban . and Stephen (2005). 4. This is comparable to what Stephen (2005) describes occurring in Teotitlán. Hay que trabajar desde la madrugada hasta la noche para salir adelante. 1987). hot tamales verdes and atole champurrado. For example. this is commonly done at home for breakfast the day after a ﬁesta as part of the recalentado. 11. Stephen (2005. 9. see Greenberg (1981. 3.146 • Notes 2. and elsewhere in Mexico. In Milpa Alta. also see Adapon (2001). as central ﬁgures in ritual community life. entonces es un lujo quedarte a comer en la casa.
This is a notion that Mary Douglas (1983) and David Sutton (2001) have both explored in different ways. interest and disinterest are all merged. 12. persons. ‘[T]o write about art … is … to write about either religion. made for wealthy customers who did not eat it regularly and who were detached from it. whether in the public ﬁesta domain or the private daily domain. 122). I once went to a barbacoa restaurant in the city. 18. ‘It is not because we want to stop following traditions. when I was told. p. 97). She was one other person who conﬁded in me that her culinary secret was that she ‘cooks with love’. the whole family was unanimous in their opinion. Apart from this.) for a thought-provoking article on how culinary knowledge and apprenticeship are not necessarily passed from mother to daughter. This is what Munn calls the ‘relative extension of spacetime’. 1998. See Wilk (2006. In my opinion the barbacoa that Primy and Alejandro made was much better.d. p. it is so that we can use up what is in the fridge’. Stanley Brandes analyzed the ﬁesta cycle in Tzintzuntzan. though as a means to another end. and which I consider to be useful. things. as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’ Mexican cuisine is growing in popularity. If she were making mole poblano she would also sprinkle sesame seeds on top. which was double the price per kilo that they charged in their market stall. Michoacán (Mexico). As Parry (1986) explains it. but it just was not as good as what they made themselves at home.Notes • 147 centres this is starting to change. 13. 15. Chapter 6) for a convincing attempt to deﬁne the style of Belizean food. These messages. strengthen one another. 2. 4. Primy’s young son said that they must have used goat meat instead of lamb. or the substitute for religion which those who have abandoned the outward forms of received religions content themselves with’ (Gell. more ﬂavourful and of higher quality. I brought the leftovers to Milpa Alta for my friends to try it and compare. 16. 17. The meal concluded with the opinion that this was a commercial barbacoa. and … in the long or short term these favors should somehow be balanced. When we warmed it up and ate it. Chapter 6 The Centrality of Gastronomy in Social Life 1. See Sutton (n. The barbacoa was ﬁne. This relates to an anecdote I mentioned in Chapter 1. where the spirit of the town ﬁesta is reproduced for tourists or urban dwellers. they were also appalled at the price charged at the restaurant. arguing that ‘reciprocal favors are critical to survival. 14. Wilk also notes that consistency is just as difﬁcult to maintain as innovation (2006. They . 3. although the restaurant barbacoa was quite good.
women still often contributed their labour from home. 5. 6. or at least did not share their income with their husbands. Here I would also classify cookbook writers. His data on Mexico emphasize cooking as part of women’s role and link cooking and eating with the relationship between husband and wife. 9. which he bases on early childhood relationships with parents. Self-critical members of Milpa Alta society pointed out that their attitude to land is also envidioso. 87). emphasis added). Their income was mainly used for their children and school fees. 1992). 7. persuade villagers to live according to prevailing contractual norms’ (1988. p. In these cases. because of the links between Nahuat conceptions of eating and sex. but if a Milpaltense is interested in the land. 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. who are involved in a wider discourse of taste than local Milpaltenses. They discourage non-Milpaltenses from buying property in the municipality by keeping the prices high. As mentioned in Chapter 4. there were religious or customary reasons for this. Taggart (1992) also describes a link between eating and sex in his analysis of the Sierra Nahuat. through frequent repetition. In a study of seven countries in Africa and Asia. See Woodburn (1998) for a view which refutes the idea of (food) sharing as exchange. His study is a comparative analysis of gender segregation in Mexico and Spain. 81. 8. Tinker (1987) shows that in four countries street food vendors were usually middle-aged women (32 to 41 years old). .148 • Notes pervade all of social life and. Women vendors were often in polygamous unions or unmarried and were the primary earners in the family. ‘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. Where vendors were mostly men. they reduce the price considerably (see Flores Aguilar. preparing the food for their husbands to sell.
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50. 108. 2. 10 see also mestizaje. 67. 13. 119 as ﬁesta food. 125 hospitality. 91. Marcel. 117–20 motherhood. 75. 72–4. 32. 113 artworks as traps. 78. 2. 122 see also sazón McCallum. 81. 106. 89–92. 1–2. 21–2 on women’s empowerment. Meredith. See love art nexus. 113. Janet. 29. 46. 127 greed. 42. 80 –5 passim. 121. 8. 29. 105 intentionality. 126 on decoration. 11. 47. 31. 101–5 passim. 2. 46. 113 barbacoa. 126 on sazón. 124 see also greed Esquivel. 98. 124. 113 mestizaje. 119. Raymond. 29. 18. 107. 83. 46. 20 –1. 13. 92. 10 culinary agency. 22. 117 love. Sonia. Cecilia. Rachel. 125 restaurants and. 44. 124 intention and. 30. 117–8 albur. 42. 103. 18–21. 120. 84. 119–25 passim as coercive. 67 distributed object. 37. 90. 41–2. 95. 21 street food and. 4–5. Diana. 16 Laudan. 108 technology of enchantment. 11. 127 conﬁanza. 105. 15. 44 Gow. 124. 76 – 8. 109. David. 122–3. 10 compadrazgo. 7. 37 fusion. 114. 3. 32. 101. 126 intentionality and. 29. 126 on commodity exchange. 14. Jack. 106. Laura. 79. 29– 48. 126 women and. 96. 87. 10. 127 guacamole. 46. 113 agency. 113. 30.Index Abarca. 51. 122. fusion mole. 82–5. 34. 95. 93–7. Peter. 3. 3. 3. 47. 105 intersubjectivity. 113. Wilk. 13 – 159 – . 7–11 passim. 8. Claude. 106. 20. 75. 108 –9. 115–16. 97 Brandes. 67. 119 theory of art. Tim. 118 generosity. 118 mayordomía. 46. 71–6 passim. 39– 42. 21. 17. 106 –8 chefs. Marit. 120 chilaquiles. 123. Ricardo. Sophie. 103. 90. Larissa Adler. miscegenation Gell. 46. 101. 89. 41. 116 intention. 92. 3. Nancy. 9 Cowal. 120 see also agency Kennedy. 121. 32. 41. 89–92. 117 style. 45. 47. 22–7 nueva cocina mexicana. 2. 95. 115 see also technical mastery Firth. 113 Lomnitz. 34. 75. 119 concept of meaning. 31. fusion. 121. 100–2. 123. 40. 95. 123–7 Coe. 7– 8. 102 Lévi-Strauss. 12. 12–21 passim. 82 Munn. 40. 106 –9 Bayless. 125. 113 envidia. 117–20 passim. 118. 45. 116 on sharing. 92. 78 – 82 sex and. 41. 124–7 albur and. 104. 3. 128 home cooking. 121–2 lovers and. 125 Muñoz. 75. 71–2. 108. 9. Victoria. 115–26 passim see also agency decoration. 16. See mayordomía carnitas. 73. 108. 118 Howes. 51. 58. 1. 41. Stanley. 46. 9. 123. 31–3. 127 Melhuus. 1–2. 113. 90. 68. 82. 38 expertise. 95 cargo system. 3. 46. 36. 124–7 value of. 29. 40 Ingold. Rick. 6. 16 culinary. 95 Long-Solís. 10 see also mestizaje. 11–12. 18 –22 passim. 82. 131–2 chinaquear. 113. 124 cookbook(s). 3. 90. 10 see also miscegenation. 39– 40. 85. 116 Mauss. 15. Alfred. 5. 127 Goody. 71. Richard miscegenation. 41. 31 Corcuera. 45. 19–21 recipes. 45. 33. 114. 106. 11. 32– 6. 100. 121. 76. 85. 49–70. 92. 11–13. 35. 38–9 mole and. 5. 71. 41. 114 –15. 89 –109. 45. 94. 42. 89.
David. Jeffrey 10. 21–2. 29–30. 41. 47. 72–3. 71. 92. 45. 113–14. 37. 106. 125 Simmel. 21. 122 economic activity of. 119–22 work. 34 judgement of. 119 boundaries and restrictions on. 4 expectations of. 77 as cooks. 29. 82. 37. 12 sazón. 116. 17. 117 Wilk. 43–7 passim. 67. artworks as. 85 cooking and. 71–2. 30 tamal(es). 121 Stephen. 3. 124 technique(s). 114. 80. 3. 33. 107. 6. 53. 76. 125 Vargas. 106 womanhood. 48. 96. 102–6 traditional cookery. 116 . 120 traps. 126 food as. 67 culinary. 71–8. 12–15 and restaurants. 22. Luis. 46. 116 value of. 82. 98. 99. 14. 109 street food. 98 Sahagún. 98. 15–17. 102. 124. 75. 107. Georg. 89. 14. 45. 53. 41–7 passim. 9. 13–14. 34. 113. 46. 123 taste. 34. 43 see also skill tradition. 77–85. 95 street food. 85. 54. See mayordomía skill. 80. 21. 115 ﬂavour and. 85. 40. 38–9 as feast food. 102. 45. 71. 43–4. 101. 74. 98. 52. 122–7 Sutton. 82–3. 9. 83 technical mastery. 74. 79. 30. 4. 42 Bourdieu. 9. 48. 75. 83.160 • Index Pilcher. 116. 32. 124 power of. 17. 120. 120 women’s. 101. Lynn. 89. 119 sistema de cargos. 38–9. 44. 33. 89. 5. 109 barbacoa. 14–17. 121 roles. 116. 75. 48. 5. 75. 99–104 passim. 120. 123 agency and. 117 angry. 14. 75. 124–7 Mintz. 47. 58–60. 71–2. 85. 82–3. 73. 2. 75 love and. 71–85 barbacoa and. 122. 40–1. 36–7. 3. 84. 108 on learning. 36. 117. 92. 13. 77 see also motherhood women. Richard. 46. 84. 89. 73. Fray Bernardino de. 71. 120 development of.
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