Totonac Spiritual Cuisine

We were merely trying to rescue and bring to light what we learned over time, from our grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, nannies and the women who cooked in times past. We saw it, experienced it and learned to love, cherish and respect it.

By Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

Photographs: Alejandra Cerdeño

The "Mujeres de Humo" (Women of Smoke) are masters of the Casa de la Cocina Tradicional Totonaca (House of Traditional Totonac Cuisine), one of the teaching-learning spaces of the Center of Indigenous Arts (Centro de las Artes Indígenas, or CAI). This institution developed its own teaching model based on Totonac wisdom, for the comprehensive transmission of traditional arts.

In 2012, the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) included CAI on the global list of Good Practices for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

On the other hand, given that in 2010 UNESCO recognized Traditional Mexican Cuisine and Ancestral, Ongoing Community Culture on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the legacy of the Mujeres de Humo constitutes a double World Heritage. As part of the safeguarding of these heritages, these pages contain the words, flavors, cuisines, stories, environments and recipes of those who give life to Totonac Spiritual Cuisine. 

Mujeres de Humo en la tierra Totonaca by Alejandra CerdeñoCentro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

Mujeres de Humo

We appreciate, enrich and pass down the ancient wisdom of our traditional cuisine.
We, the Mujeres de Humo, represent over 200 traditional cooks of Totonacapan in Veracruz.

Mujeres de Humo

Here, there are memories, seasoning and the future.

Antojo en cuerpo y alma. by Alejandra CerdeñoCentro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

"We ask permission"

from the animals. They must be asked for permission to sacrifice them. For that reason, we pray and think of beautiful things.

"We ask permission"

from the animals. They must be asked for permission to be sacrificed. For that reason, we pray and think of beautiful things.

Jitomate criollo by Alejandra CerdeñoCentro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

LIVING WITH NATURE

Our ingredients are traditional because we rely on seasonal ingredients. We have a gastronomic calendar that determines our recipes. We developed this calendar little by little. As such, we researched with grandmothers and farmers, as they have the wisdom about planting crops.

Las Mujeres de Humo


We appreciate, enrich and pass down the ancient wisdom of our traditional cuisine.<br>We, the Mujeres de Humo, represent over 200 traditional cooks of Totonacapan in Veracruz.

El Fogón, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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THE STOVE. When the five senses, including taste, are challenged, the deepest meaning of the art of cooking appears: starting with spirituality, passing through intelligence and the sacredness of the rite, always perceptible in the attitude of the officiants who tend to the stove as if it were an altar. Here, there are memories, seasoning and the future.

THE STOVE. When the five senses, including taste, are challenged, the deepest meaning of the art of cooking appears: starting with spirituality, passing through intelligence and the sacredness of the rite, always perceptible in the attitude of the officiants who tend to the stove as if it were an altar.

Superalimentos en la cocina tradicional indígena., Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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©Alejandra Cerdeño

Tamales are made in October and November, with banana leaf, pork and sauces such as mole or picadillo. During this season, bread is made again, there is mole for the offering, and different sweets are produced: pumpkin, sweet potato, pipitorias, jamoncillo. Plantains and traditional chocolate are also made.

Dulces secretos familiares, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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In this case, we grind and toast the cocoa, peel it, and add a little bit of sugar, cinnamon and cloves, which is what gives our chocolate its unique flavor. We grind it in the mill or in the metate and, when the cocoa is ready to go, we make chocolate figures for the All Saints offering.

Mujer de Humo moliendo, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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For Totonac cuisine, there is nothing better than harmony at work and a touch of love in the food, apart from the seasonings we already have, of course.

Marea de la tradición, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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©Alejandra Cerdeño

We are Earth and Corn
And I can tell you that I live because I eat tortillas that your hands make with the corn that comes from our Mother Earth, from the hills and the ravines, and from the deep valleys too. They are the earth, the corn comes from it, and you and I eat it: that is why we grow.

Chayotes,cucharas y zacuhales by Alejandra CerdeñoCentro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

Wisdom from the Mountain

We practically consume 100% of our food from the mountains. We can still find everything there. We have a farm with backyard animals that we feed with grass, tortilla and corn, and that is how we truly show the traditional food, so that others see that it can be done.

Raices de la carne, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Chawila gallina de patio, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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The Joys of Meat

Giving thanks and making offerings so that everything goes well. We give thanks and ask for forgiveness from the animals to sacrifice them, so that the dish has a good flavor and good seasoning, because they say that when you don't do things that way, they always go badly. They say that "death grabs you" when you're doing things grudgingly. When you see that, you do the sign of the cross seven times and stoke your tamales so that they cook well. Spirituality cannot be forgotten.

Mother: You smell of tortillas, hot tortillas that you make yourself.
Mother: You smell of smoke rising from the cedar wood.
Mother: You smell of earth, of soil from the field where the corn is sowed. Mother: You smell of a spring, of a river of nocturnal waters with its flowers of the night.
That's how you smell.
Mother: You make me breathe so that I can continue
Jun Tiburcio

Ahumado, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Smoked products have traditionally been cured in the cuisines of various cultures throughout the history of mankind. In Traditional Cuisine, the animal to be slaughtered is asked for permission. One way of thanking it is to use all its parts, and curing it with smoke preserves the meat for a long time.<br>

Perfiles del humo, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Seeing how they cooked, the respect they gave to it, the arrival in their kitchen, asking for the blessing of God and the elements: earth, fire, air and water, so that they could cook, is an example of respect. By consuming food made by Totonac women, you're not only being nourished physically but also spiritually. If we continue to think that way, we'll revive what was done in times past and we'll be doing it how it should be done.

_HAS7392, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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SWEET POTATO: Some researchers claim that it was one of the first domesticated plants in the world, and was consumed by the Mayas and the Incas. The Nahuas called it "camohtli," which means "edible root," and its name varied according to its color.<br>In fact, its has a higher nutritional value than potatoes.
Currently, white, orange, yellow, purple and reddish varieties are grown in Mexico. It can be consumed in many ways: puréed, mashed, sweetened, etc.

It prevents stomach cancer, liver diseases and slows down aging. Some claim that its leaves and roots are used to treat leukemia, hypertension, diabetes, anemia and hemorrhages. It can also be used as a protein supplement for people suffering from malnutrition.

Marta Atzin, fundadora de Mujeres de Humo, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Marta Gómez Atzin, Founder of Mujeres de Humo. We are part of Mexican Cuisine, recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

WOMEN OF SMOKE AND MY LAND, a spring of cinnamon-colored natives covered with rags, laden with flowers and draped in a vanilla-scented cloak. The ground kisses their bare feet and the air caresses their faces while smiling lips sing melodies only understood by the wind and the nightingales.

Their home is the site of eternal sun rays, the navel of the world linked to the womb of the universe, a temple of joyful women who await, with open arms, the men who descend from the heavens as the four winds blow, dancing with the exquisite plumage of birds that are reborn with the song of flutes and drums.

Entrada sagrada, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Women who perfume their skin and dye their hair with smoke

Cacao
It is believed that the Olmec culture was the first in the world to prepare cacao as a beverage. They ground it and mixed it with water, adding spices and herbs. They were also the first to cultivate it. Later, the Mayas used the pod to prepare it.

It is also said that the Aztecs used it to prepare a bitter drink called techocolat. This could only be consumed by people who occupied the high ranks of society, because cocoa was worth more than gold, so it was used as currency.
It was also used in rituals dedicated to various deities and was a symbol of abundance.

Frijoles el agkchuchut con orejitas de pipian, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Somos tierra y maíz, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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RECIPE: Beans with pipián. 
Cook the beans with the salt; crush the tomato, chiltepín and garlic. Add them to the beans. Set aside. Toast and grind the pipián until the oil comes out. Make small balls with the pipián. Add them to the beans. Chop the cilantro and add to the broth.

Cazuela al fuego, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Sweet family secrets

TRADITIONAL COOKING also seeks to reclaim respect for grandmothers and family unity. Grandmothers have been relegated in recent years and are no longer important for the family: I tried to make my grandmother the most important thing until the end, but there are some people who suffer.

Cocina totonaca, guiso en acción, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Nixtamal mill

They taught us how to make tamales called "bollitos de anís." For this, we have to grind the masa in the mill, because it's a dry masa, but it can't be done in a mechanical mill. It has to be done in the hand mill to ensure the masa is dry.

The nixtamal, in other words, the corn, is brought to a boil, washed, rinsed and once cooked. It is ground in the mill to make the masa for the tamales. It is lightly ground with honey and lard, and the ingredients are then added: baking powder, lard and honey.

Preparando capitas, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Totopo

Vivir con la naturaleza, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Wisdom from the Mountain

Chiltepín
This small chili is mainly found in the state of Sonora and grows in bushes that reach up to six feet in height. Its blooming occurs from July to September and it grows near streams, in desert and thorny scrubland, and in oak groves. Due to its high commercial value and its color, it is known as "red gold".

In addition to its gastronomic use, it has also been used in the field of traditional medicine and in various ceremonies and rituals, which is why some cultures consider it a symbol of strength, bravery and courage.

Maíz bendito, maíz sagrado, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Corn
It is Mexico's most important crop. White corn is used to make tortillas and tamales, and to produce oil and raw materials to manufacture varnishes, paints, artificial rubbers and soaps. Yellow corn is used for human and livestock consumption and to produce starches.

The corn plant is similar to the sugarcane plant. It can reach up to 13 feet in height and its leaves are long and lance-shaped. To grow, it requires a temperature between 77 and 86ºC, lots of sun and plenty of water. It adapts well to any type of soil.

It is sown manually: the seed is deposited in the holes at a depth of two inches. In addition, a space of between 8 and 10 inches should be left between one plant and another so that it can grow freely. 

Frijol, Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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Wisdom from the Mountain

BEANS
They form part of the enormous legume family, which consists of approximately 19,400 species, including peas and lima beans. In Mexico, there are more than 150 species of beans, and they are one of the main foods in our country's diet. It is believed that they were domesticated in the Mesoamerican region about 8,000 years ago.

They have a high protein content, as well as fiber, carbohydrates, minerals and B complex vitamins, among others. Their plants are climbers and they grow in an edible pod. The most commonly consumed varieties are: azufrado, peruano, mayflower and flor de junio.

In 2012, beans were the third largest crop in Mexico, with 1,700,513 hectares. Their main producers are Chiapas, Coahuila, Durango, Nayarit, Sinaloa and Zacatecas.

Mujeres de humo y de mi tierra., Alejandra Cerdeño, From the collection of: Centro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo
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An envelope of emotions

Pan de muerto (bread for the deceased) is also special for its natural yeast: later we put flowers or figures on top to make it look pretty. Sometimes we even put the initials of the deceased.

The offering is hung because our grandparents say that the dead have no feet, that they are souls. For that reason, it is hung so that they can easily eat their food. They are tied with four ropes, which represent the four cardinal points.

Our Mother Earth (Fragment)
Mother, Mother Earth. I have come before your face.
I have come to discover my face before yours, here on high where you dwell.
It is true that on your face I walk daily, it is true that when I rise, you have already built a path of flowers for my walk, flowers that will give me light and strengthen me.
Eneida Hernandez.

Credits: Story

Tradicional masters: Marta Atzin, Minerva Malpica, Josefina Hernandez, Adela Simbrón, Isabel Simbrón, Eloy Nuñez, Teresa Nuñez, Juliana Malpica. <br>

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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