Food and Drink
Some travel to Mexico for the food. True Mexican food is old-fashioned, homestyle fare requiring many hours of loving preparation. Such food is short on meat and long on corn, beans, rice, tomatoes, chilies, spices, onions, eggs, and cheese.
Mexican food is the unique end-product of thousands of years of native tradition. It is based on corn—teocentli, the Aztec “food of the gods”—called maíz (mah-EES) by present-day Mexicans. In the past, the typical Mexican woman spent much of her time grinding and preparing corn: soaking the grain in limewater (which swells the kernels and removes the tough seed-coat) and grinding the bloated seeds into meal on a stone metate. Finally, she would pat the meal into tortillas and cook them on a hot, baked mud griddle.
Sages (men, no doubt) have wistfully imagined the gentle pat-pat-pat of women all over Mexico to be the heartbeat of Mexico, which they feared would someday cease. Fewer women these days make tortillas by hand. The gentle pat-pat-pat has been replaced by the whir and rattle of automatic tortilla-making machines in myriad tortillerías, where women and girls line up for their family’s daily kilo-stack of tortillas.
Tortillas are to the Mexicans as rice is to the Chinese and bread to the French. A Mexican family meal, more often than not, is some mixture of sauce, meat, beans, cheese, and vegetables wrapped in a tortilla, which becomes the culinary be-all: the food, the dish, and the utensil all wrapped into one.
This most Mexican style of meal usually includes one or two of a number of specialties known by Mexicans as antojitos and known to everyone else as “Mexican food.” These are the familiar burritos, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, guacamole, nachos, quesadillas, refried beans, tacos, tamales, and other combinations of beans, cheese, corn, eggs, meat, sauces, and spices that make up the menus of Mexican restaurants in the United States and Canada.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition