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Understanding a Culture through Food - What food means in Mexico

MEXICO | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [302] | Scholarship Entry

Speaking about Kim Jong-un days ago, I told a friend all the leader needs is a beer and some tacos.

Understanding a culture through its food? Kim might. So do us. Culinary expressions are inherent to Mexican genes. Perhaps too much, or we would not have such a disproportionate rate of obese and diabetic population, unfortunately. Or agua de Jamaica wouldn’t have been served at the reception for Queen Elizabeth, per order of our then-First Lady. Or we wouldn’t have watched president Calderon munching tacos de carnitas at some opening ceremony in Michoacan.

Mexico is a country that manages itself from whatever resources available. Cuisine reflects that fact. Mole, a signature dish, was born out of the need to make up something immediately, as unexpected guests arrived and cooks only had the ingredients that ultimately became the hallmark of culinary art, legend says.

Tacos too, have their cumulus of social symbolism. Perceptions here and there have it that Mexicans are lazy, simple, or ignorant. Much of that could be seen in a taco. No more than a tortilla and a filling –of endless variety- are together in what is undoubtedly the crown jewel of Mexico’s food array. But the social cumulus goes well beyond.

Weeks ago in Tijuana, while having her 3rd taco, my mother was approached by a 6 year-old, hungry, asking for money. She decided to buy him instead 2 tacos, and handed them to the boy. The boy had littler brothers, not far from the place, who were overlooked by an older sister; he went up to them, and divided the food, so each could have some. Lesson is, at least a taco could breach such barriers.

Foreigners can notice without much effort the prevailing inequality that still plagues the country. For the quintessential Mexican treat, however, there’s no such thing. Tacos are eaten by everyone. People in extreme poverty are said to eat a tortilla with nothing but beans or chile; the average citizen can find in street vendors tacos at 5, 10 or 15 pesos, depending on which corner of Mexico City you stand. The more affluent in San Pedro Garza García –the nation’s richest town- can order 3 grilled meat tacos with cheese for the sum of $145, an amount the vast majority of Mexicans find unaffordable.

It is certainly impossible to dissociate the concept of Mexicanhood from food. What we eat has literally shaped ourselves. From the Aztecs to our days, what we eat has been the basis and most solid element of Mexican identity.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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