The History of Mexican Cooking


Mexican cuisine has its own distinct character over other cuisines. Based in its value on the vast number of ingredients used in its wide range of flavors, colors and textures, the presentation of the dishes and authentic cooking techniques.

This group of qualities comes from the richness of regional cuisines within the country. These, in turn, are the product of three factors. One is the natural environment in which the ingredients are obtained (in the technical classification there are thirty-three different natural areas in the country). The second is the diversity of cultures that select and collect ingredients, both domesticated, cultivated and processed into food. In Mexico, there are sixty-two native groups; cultural production of each kitchen is related to the particular way in which each ethnic and social group understands and gives meaning to life, and the universe, that is, their particular worldview. The third, the appropriation has been made of ingredients, techniques and tools come from other cultures without Mexican cuisines lose their essential character.

What we know today is Mexican cuisine is rooted in the high cultures that populated the country (Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Huasteca, Purepecha, to name a few). Since then the qualities that gave the character and which are the foundation of modern cuisine are present.

The kitchen as part of a culture is dynamic and changing, as with the community that produces it. Each generation makes contributions that enrich and maintain it; we can say that as with the culture that created it, the kitchen is the product of continuity and change. So far it is clear that in Mexican cuisine is what has remained; many of the changes that have occurred over time, are fad. This shows a clear cultural continuity.

Archeological evidence, such as polychrome vessels, structures, objects of everyday life, codices where there are representations of food, and in later times, archival materials and historical documents and written testimonies of all kinds, paintings and photographs and especially living culture, they show the richness of Mexican cuisine.

Common denominators in the regional cuisines of the country

The most important are:

  • The use of corn and chili.
  • The close relationship with rural dwellers with nature, allowing them to grow and harvest great diversity of food at different times of the year.
  • The integrated use of various plants.
  • The possibility of achieving, from the plots generically called milpa, household food self-sufficiency.
  • A wide range of ingredients, seasonings combinations and cooking techniques, which constitute a complete entity in itself.
  • The union between the everyday act of eating and aesthetic sense.
  • Ritualism and ceremony

In addition to the daily food, native cultures have generated specific foods for the party, for the special ceremony and collective, to travel, to take the field, or in relation to health. There are special foods for quarantine or for convalescence, and certain preparations with ingredients from the kitchen, are used as medicines and as digestive and worming among others. The holidays, traditions, ceremonies and everyday life are intertwined and enriched with food.

Mexican cuisine is autonomous while featuring ingredients and cooking techniques of its own. He gathered from its pre-Hispanic origins all the elements that requires a refined cuisine: animal ingredients and vegetable variety, salt, both sea and land, sugar and honey (there were sugar cane, corn and maguey honey and native insects), condiments : chile, epazote, annatto, or acuyo santa leaf, Tabasco pepper, vanilla. They have been used throughout centuries, flowers, pods, roots, stems, leaves, fruits of very different plants.

Some Mexican cooking techniques have given rise to industrial processes that have revolutionized the food industry. Trapping is the case of cereals, for the prehispanic Indians invented the technique native grains such as corn and amaranth.

Other techniques that are used, frying and tatemado; roasted, steamed, cooked in underground pits (barbecue), baked, cooked fish with red-hot stones, placed in water. The steamer or teconitamalli, was used before the arrival of Europeans and steam continue cooking the most diverse tamales. The comal is one of the first dishes that existed in the world; metate to grind and pestle (a mortar) were invented.

Food with salt, by smoking, condensing honey's are preserved. It dehydrates, enchila, to flash and then rehydrate, flours are made, dried apricots are made, and fermented even using germinated seeds. And we could continue.

Each ethnic group has it's zoological and botanical systems of classification, and some of the different indigenous languages are related to agriculture, the whole kitchen. This is another cultural expression parallel to the cuisine, which deserves to be protected. Songs, proverbs, literature and artistic expressions as pictures of colonial caste, still lifes nineteenth century as well as numerous works by contemporary painters Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Olga Costa, among others, showing fruits, market stalls , kitchen scenes are other cultural events around the culinary field.

One of the most important celebrations of the annual cycle, all these elements the Dead days (Dearly Departed), shows to what extent are present. The colorful bows for offerings, made with flowers, the scent of copal set in beautiful clay pots, candles often decorated casseroles that are cooked and have food, the presentation of these dishes itself, the various forms of bread and decoration, the variety of tamales, the presence of sweet and salty, the use of which produces the field in the fall, the scent of the flowers of the season.

Renewed tradition, creativity and collective work, scientific and technological contributions, diversity of culinary techniques and ingredients and combinations that will impress friends and strangers, and crafts ... such is the current Mexican cuisine ranging from complex creations from the kitchen of each population (an example would be the sauce made of bone mamey, after the complex preparation of the seeds), to the dishes prepared in restaurants with the influence of nouvelle cuisine.

Their wealth realizes investigations daily: regional cookbooks and family, anthropological studies, ethnobotanical and historical facts medical works by nutrition experts, and the growing interest in its various aspects, it is perceived even in research centers and higher education.

Globalization threatens regional cultures

However, regional cultures face a challenge in the world of so-called globalization, which seeks to standardize the market with the consequent pressure on local economies and cultures. There is the possibility of turning to local producers of culture, consumers of products coming from outside.

There are also currently in Mexico, a drastic decrease of the surfaces of forests, the disappearance by habitat destruction of wildlife, and an accelerated and irrational exploitation of natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.

The kitchens in each region can make contributions to the world through new flavors and preparations; they will have to be given once to ensure benefits for communities whose culture created, and with the view that natural resources will be exploited intelligently, without endangering the stability of the natural base.

The disappearance of an ecosystem component that causes cultural losses, which are in turn a loss for humanity. It is, therefore, essential to be aware of the need that exists that is valued and strengthen regional cultures and cuisines of Mexico, as well as natural and social environments in which they develop. As the owner of El Maguey restaurant, I believe it is essential to preserve our cultural kitchens as a sign of identity and heritage and understand them as world heritage.