Listening to: John Legend – Who Did That To You
“Mexico is the next big thing!” Mr. “Best Restaurant Of The World” for 2007, 2010,2011,2012 and 2014 ( aka Rene Redzepi, NOMA ), in one of his interviews in New York Times. Mexican cuisine, after many years of having a bad rap isfinally unveiled! Believe me it’s gonna be loud! Just as Mexico’s history, filled with intensity.
Today, with great joy I write about one of the most exquisite cuisines, that of Mexico. Mexican cuisine has a long history of 9000 years. However, it is a hodgepodge of ancient and modern culture. Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and Olmecs, and later on the Spanish and different other conquerors, even though they never met, they have coincided in a common geographical area. The result of this was the creation of this exquisite cuisine that we experience today.
Until the 16th Century, which was the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the Mexican diet was based mainly on corn, which was called Kana, (our mother). For some cultures, it was so important, that lack of corn caused the feeling of “cultural hunger”, even though many other foods were available. There was a reason why corn was so important; corn is a very fertile and a completely nutritious plant, able to provide plenty of calories and nutritional value. When corn is combined with beans, another characteristic of Mexican cuisine, it provides a series of amino acids similar to animal protein. Apart from corn they also used various other ingredients, mainly local vegetables and fruit, such as avocadoes, pumpkins,sweet potatoes, chili peppers, beans and so many more. Recent studies also show the wide use of chia seeds and amaranth, known to all of us as superfoods. As far as animal protein goes ,those came from fish, game and turkey.
In the 16th Century, with the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, local cuisine become more rich as a new ingredient entered Mexican the scene, the tomato. Along with the tomato, the Spanish also brought spices, chicken and duck. Rice, pork and beef were introduced a lot later, as, whoever passed by there, always dropped something off (of course at some cost!). Mexican cuisine is one of those that could be combined, if not with all, with most cuisines in the world. The combination that really made a difference was that of the Spanish. As mentioned in various studies , the Spanish could never have imagined how much these two cultures shared the same flavors. Even though the Spanish were the conquerors, they copied and implemented Mexican cuisine, techniques and ingredients into their own. And then along came Texas.
Or even better, along came cheddar!
The term Tex-Mex that is used today to describe the combination of local Texan and Mexican cuisine, comes from the abbreviation of the railway between Texas and Mexico. It is a different kind of cuisine with its own characteristics based on the ingredients and techniques that were used in Mexico. Here, we see the use of wheat, yellow cheese, canned goods, fried foods, sour cream and many others (I am only mentioning the basics). Burritos, Fajitas, nachos with melted cheese and hard-shelled tacos are American inventions and not Mexican. As you realize, the differences between the two are many and according to my opinion, huge, especially in flavor.
Unfortunately though, and for quite a while, most people knew Mexican food through Tex-Mex. Things got even worse when a huge fast food chain offered its own version, combining Mexican cuisine with low quality food and to top it off it was characterized as the best “drunk food” (food for drunks). Personally, although I prefer Mexican cuisine to Texan, I have to say that they are two very different approaches, two different cuisines, and each one with its own characteristics. After all fusion is a phenomenon that can actually evolve local cuisines towards something better, as long as it is done in a very clear way.
“The Next Big Thing!”
I have left an extremely important topic for the end. In the future you will hear and read about, if you haven’t already, many statements such as “Peru. The next big thing”, “Columbia. The next big thing”, “Brazil. The next big thing” and many more, always pertaining to gastronomy. As you have noticed, this is how I began this particular article. The reason for Peru, Columbia, Brazil and all the countries that are close to the Amazon are the next big thing, is due to the fact that we now have access to ingredients that we never knew existed or used until today.
However this brings us to a huge issue, that of exploitation. Such statements are extremely dangerous and we should be very cautions as to who makes them. They are extremely dangerous because they create trends where in history have proven to be fatal, for a large amount of ingredients and foods. The best example is the excessive fishing of Tuna in Japan. Large food companies that enter the local farming has proved to be more harmful than useful to the local communities and consumers, for the reason that flavor and seasonality are sacrificed for the sake of availability.
On the other hand if these statements were given by a chef such as Rene Redzepi, Alex Atala and Sean Brock (the list is long), then things would have been different. Luckily there is a large list of serious chefs all over the world that really do fight for protection of farmers of quality of ingredients. Burgers and thin crust pizzas are not the new trend. The new trend is the return to heirloom cuisines and fresh ingredients and sustainable growth. This is the future of food. This is also the title of National Geographic’s amazing project. “The Future of Food: How to Feet a Growing Planet.”