Thursday, August 04, 2011

Notes From The Fry Bread Side


Mexican Cuisine is Native
On the Chefs2Chefs site there was a discussion - Post398834 concerning Native American Cuisine. One contributor stated the Southwestern Cuisine, which is recognized as a legitimate cuisine is based, in part, on Mexican Cuisine. That got me thinking and doing some research. I came up with Mexican Cuisine is primarly Native American. The basis of Mexican food was in existence well before the arrival of the Spanish. Tortilla, tamale, taco, pazole, salsa, chocolate, cassava, tomato, corn and chilies all predate Spanish arrival. The Spanish added to the mix wheat, pork, chicken, dairy and beef as well as some spices. Basically the Spanish did not create the dish format but rather their ingredients were added to already existing cooking methods.

Most of the cooks in the era after Spain and Portugal conquest were Native. Spain did not arrive, as the English did, as colonizers as much as to exploiters and conquerors to return their wealth to their families and homes in Spain. Their "Hispanola" was a place to reap riches, not build homes and bring families. Native cooks did not adopt Spanish food to create Mexican Cuisine but rather altered their native dishes with the new ingredients available. The most Spanish added to these dishes and cuisine was their language.

There is also a sprinkling of Caribbean influence in Mexican cuisine, particularly in some regional dishes from the states of Veracruz and Yucatan. The French occupation of Mexico also yielded some influences as well: the bolillo (pronounced bo-lee-yo, with the "o" as in "bore"), a Mexican take on the French roll, certainly seems to reflect this.

Mexican food varies by region, because of local climate and geography and ethnic differences among the indigenous (Native) inhabitants and because these different populations were influenced by the Spaniards in varying degrees. The north of Mexico is known for its beef production and meat dishes; southeastern Mexico, on the other hand, is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based dishes. Veracruz-style is a common method of preparing seafood. There are also more exotic dishes, cooked in the Aztec or Maya style, with ingredients ranging from iguana to rattlesnake, deer, spider monkey, and even some kinds of insects. This is usually known as comida prehispanica (or prehispanic food), and although not very common, is relatively well known.

So we make a distinction between truly authentic Mexican food, and the Cal-Mex (Californian-Mexican) and "Tex Mex" (Texan-Mexican) cuisine. Mexican cuisine combines with the cuisine of the southwest United States (which itself has a number of Mexican influences) to form Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex cuisine. Another southwestern cuisine that is commonly mistaken for Mexican food is New Mexican or Southwestern Cuisine, which can be found in, of course, New Mexico, and is now spreading thoughout the USA. It has its roots deep in the Pueblo and other Native American cultures of the area. But all these cuisines including of course Mexican are basically Native American.

Some Notes on Native American Cuisine of Meso-America
The pre-conquest cuisine of the Native Americans of Meso-America made the major contribution to shaping modern-day Mexican cuisine. The cultures involved included the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and many more (see the List of pre-Columbian civilizations).

Some known dishes
Tlacoyos (gordita)
Champurrado, a chocolate drink
Pejelagarto, a fish seasoned with the amashito chile
Chili Stew

Crops and Ingredients

Maize, beans and squash were known as the three sisters for their symbiotic relationship when grown together by the North American and Meso-American natives. If the South Americans had similar methods of what is known as companion planting it is lost to us today.


Maize Throughout the Americas, probably domesticated in or near Mexico.
Beans Throughout the Americas.
Squash Throughout the Americas.
Sweet potato South American
Potato South American
Tomato South America
Coca South and Central America.
Quinoa South America, Central America, and Eastern North America.
Cassava Primarily South America.
Chile peppers
Bell peppers
Acorn Used to make flour.
Pineapple South America
Ramps wild onion
Maple syrup
Wild honey
Pecans, white walnuts, hickory nuts
Mesquite flour
Papaya South America


Hunted or Livestock
Bison Originally found throughout most of North America.
Wild Sheep
Horse Imported by Europeans
Sheep Another important European import.
Cattle Another important European import.
Hog Another important European import.
Guinea pig Domesticated in the Andes.
Llama Domesticated in the Andes.
Wooly mammoth, extinct
Passenger Pigion. extinct

Hispanic Cuisine
There is also no single Hispanic cuisine. Traditional Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Argentine, and Peruvian cooking, for example, all vary greatly from each other, and take on new forms in the United States. While Mexican cuisine is the most familiar variety of "Hispanic food" in most of the United States, it is not representative of the cuisine of most other Hispanic peoples. The cuisine of Mexico can be heavily dependent on staples such as maize, beans, chile peppers and is greatly indebted to the cuisine and diet of the Aztec and Maya.
Cuba and Puerto Rico, on the other hand, may be dependent on starchy root vegetables, plantain and rice and is influenced by the flavors of Spain, Africa and China. The cuisine of Spain often mirrors the cuisines of its Mediterranean neighbors, and in addition to the abundance of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, seafood and meats, other foreign influences, such as the use of saffron, were introduced during the spice trade. Meanwhile, Argentina relies almost exclusively on red meats, consuming almost everything derived from beef, and is heavily influenced by Italian cuisine. In Peruvian cuisine guinea pigs are popular as a source of meat (derived from the diet of the Inca) and staples indigenous to the region, such as maize and the myriad of potato varieties, are the most utilized there. Rice also plays an important role in Peruvian cuisine.

This diversity in staples and cuisine is also evident in the differing regional cuisines within the national borders of the individual countries. Most groceries in heavily Hispanic areas carry a wide array of specialty Latin American products, in addition to the widely available brands of tortillas and Mexican style salsa.

Sources: Wikipedia Online, Questia Online, Historical Geography Of Southwestern Cuisine By Jeffrey M. Pilcher


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