The fusion of Mexican cuisine

José N. Iturriaga retraces the history of Mexican Gastronomy

By Google Arts & Culture

José N. Iturriaga

Typical Barbacoa tacos (2020-12-10) by Gabriela Lavalle (photographer)Colectivo Rokunin


Traditional Mexican cuisine is a fusion, and likewise, its history is a story of fusion. Even its Indigenous cuisine is fused with numerous ingredients not native to the American continent.

There are even pre-Hispanic dishes, such as tamales and barbacoa, that are fusions (those with lard and the latter with lamb).

Chiles y frijol (2016) by Alma Alejandra Martínez LópezSecretaría de Cultura

Indigenous roots:

After the conquest in 1521, Indigenous cuisine based on the corn/bean/chili trilogy and complemented with many other ingredients, especially vegetables, began to mix with the foods brought by the Spaniards. 

In the 21st century, this trio continues to be the food base of most Mexicans.

Dining Room Picture (Tureen) (ca. 1858) by Agustin ArrietaColección Blaisten

Spanish contributions:

The foods brought by the Spanish—which themselves were a fusion from several centuries before the Conquest—came from the most diverse origins of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Cochinita Pibil (2007)Conservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Wheat, rice, onions, garlic, sugar cane, various fruits and vegetables, and notably pork (both meat and lard), beef (meat and dairy products), chicken, sheep and goat, which enriched the Indigenous cuisine.

Cocina callejeraConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Other Spanish contributions:

With pig lard and olive oil, the Spanish brought over the culinary technique of frying, which had not existed previously in Mexico. 

Surtido de frutas cristalizadoCocina Cinco Fuegos

In addition, they introduced the production of sausages, beer and liquor distillation, as well as the drying and crystallization of fruits and their preparation as preserves, using sugar or brown sugar-based syrups.

Colores del maíz criollo de la serie De mi hogar (Otoch) a la milpa y de la milpa (Kool) a mi hogar by María Fernanda Ávila QuinteroSecretaría de Cultura

Mexico's gifts to the world:

Global gastronomy was enriched with Mexican foods, starting with corn (in polenta, flakes, oils), beans (in stews) and chilis (in curries, paprika, bell peppers), followed by others of Nahuatl origin: tomato, chocolate, avocado and turkey, as well as vanilla and other fruits.

elaboracion de dulcesMuseo del Estanquillo

Convent pleasures:

Convents created recipes and recreated other Hispanic or Indigenous recipes. Some examples of these include moles, pipianes, adobos and almendrados, and of course desserts.

Guajolote en el patio (2020) by Jesús CansecoSecretaría de las Culturas y Artes de Oaxaca

Convent rules were relaxed with so many delicacies that induced gluttony, and even more so when liquors, such as rompopes, were involved.

Mesa poblana con tortillasCocina Cinco Fuegos

The Baroque era in Mexican cuisine:

In the 18th century, the first stage of culinary fusion culminated with Baroque expressions emerging mainly from convents, such as mole poblano.

This mole can have as many as 25 ingredients: chilis, chocolate, tomato, Mexican tostadas and turkey, onion, crackers, European lard and garlic, Asian almonds and spices and African sesame seeds.

Sope con pico de galloConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

A two-way fusion:

Although both are part of Mexican cuisine, some Indigenous foods were mixed with Spanish cuisine (such as corn sopes seasoned with salsa, cream and sprinkled with cheese)

Tlacoyos by Andrés LobatoCocina Cinco Fuegos

Other Spanish foods were mixed with Indigenous dishes (such as leg of lamb or pork jerky marinated with dried chilis).<br>

La comida de casa en días de pandemia (parte 1) 1 (2020)Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Other Spanish foods were mixed with Indigenous dishes (such as leg of lamb or pork jerky marinated with dried chilis). Likewise, noodles took root after a long journey to reach Spain from China (their place of origin) and Italy.

Trigo, molinos y panaderos: fisonomía de una región 2 by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril A.C.Cocina Cinco Fuegos

The fusion with wheat:

In the 16th Century in Mexico, wheat began to be used to create several types of bread, which adopted an incredible number of shapes, flavors and colors in various regions of the land. 

Puebla Kitchen (1000) by AnonymousMuseo Nacional de Arte

Fusion in the 19th Century:

With the independence in 1821, the country opened to foreign visitors, especially Europeans and the French in particular. Throughout the century, colonies of people from Italy, Germany and the US were formed, as well as many others.

La comida de casa en días de pandemia (parte 1) 3 (2020)Cocina Cinco Fuegos

French influences in the 19th Century:

The French influence is present in even the most modest of places, even among Indigenous communities. Look no further than the Gallicisms used there: consommé, restaurant, mayonnaise, menu. Other less used, but still prevalent terms include: omelette, champiñón (mushroom), croquette, crepe, brochette, baguette, canapé, vol-au-vent, mousse, souffle and buffet.

Puebla Kitchen (1000) by AnonymousMuseo Nacional de Arte

Immigrants brought along with them their cultural baggage, especially their culinary customs, which further enriched the fusion of Mexican cuisine.

La comida de casa en días de pandemia (parte 2) 11 (2020)Cocina Cinco Fuegos

The surge of restaurants:

The Spanish names for different types of pastas (<i>espagueti, tallarines, macarrones, ravioles, canelones, lasaña</i> and <i>fetuchini</i>) are all of Italian origin, as well as the word for sausage ("salsicha," from the Italian "salciccia").

La comida de casa en días de pandemia (parte 2) 9 (2020)Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Anglicisms that made their way into the Spanish vernacular include bísquet, panqué, bistec, budín o pudín, pay, coctel, ponche, rosbif and paste (biscuit, pancake, steak, pudding, pie, cocktail, punch, roast beef and paste). Milanesa (schnitzel) refers to northern Italy, but Milan was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire so the food is is therefore Austrian.

Tortas Super Astro (2021) by Adrián de Ita, Alejandro RodríguezAlcaldía Cuauhtémoc

Popular expressions of gastronomic fusion:

We see this fusion present in taquerias with tacos al pastor (which uses Greek and Near Eastern technique); in torterias with sausages, schnitzels and mayonnaise; in taverns with rice and steaks;

Doña Vero (2021) by Adrián de Ita, Alejandro RodríguezAlcaldía Cuauhtémoc

In Indigenous towns with lamb barbacoa and consommé; in altars of the dead with mole, beans and tamales; on national holidays with pambazos and pozole; in the Mérida market with kipe bola, in the Tapachula market with chop suey or in the Guadalajara market with misoshiru soup.

NixtamalizaciónCocina Cinco Fuegos

The only purely Indigenous food:

Of all the Mexican foods out there, the only one that has not undergone any sort of fusion and has remained the same is the corn tortilla. This is despite the fact that the nixtamal is now ground mechanically instead of in a metate, and that tortillas are no longer "thrown" by hand, but are made in tortilla machines. However, the ingredients and the process remain the same.

Cocinera tradicional Rosario Santa FeConservatory of the Mexican Gastronomic Culture

Mexican cuisine: Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

In 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It was the first cuisine in the world to receive such a distinction. 

The recognition is for the traditional cuisine of the people, of our grandmothers; not the new trends (which, on the other hand, occasionally hold their own merits).

Credits: Story

Texto: José N. Iturriaga para Google Arts & Culture

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