The Little Mexican Cooking School: A Case of Mistaken Identity

July18

This is the second installment of our time at The Little Mexican Cooking School in Puerto Moreles.  Sista #3 here again……

Most people in North America do not realize that when they talk about “Chinese Food” they are actually referring to an Americanized rendition that has very little in common with the food found in the various culinary regions of China.  Mexican food is similar.  A trip to Taco Bell does not compare to a meal of tik’n xic (grilled fish) or cochinita pibil (pork slow roasted in banana leaf and marinated in sour orange). These delectable dishes are native to the Yucatan Peninsula, where my family and I travel each winter.

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Chef Christobal, our instructor that day at The Little Mexican Cooking School, hails from Oaxaca (pronounced – wa-HA-ca). Our class started with a review of the foods of Mexico and how they got there.  Prior to the arrival of Spanish the food in Mexico included; squash, corn, beans, turkey, fish, insects, cactus and various fruits, veggies and chilies.

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The ingredients for dishes like the colorful Pico de Gallo (translation: beak of the roster) of tomato, cilantro, onion where nowhere to be found before the arrival of Columbus. The Spaniards brought things you would expect; livestock, wheat and vegetables that grew well in their homeland.  The Spanish had also spent some time in Asia, so also had with them things like rice, spices and citrus fruit. The perfect storm for the birth of a very tasty, cuisine.

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Mexico has a diverse geography including 6,000 miles of coastline, the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, deserts, rain forests and of course islands! So it makes sense that the food of different regions would be based on the agriculture of that area.  Chef Christobal explained that this is why you find wheat tortillas in the north and corn tortillas in the south. Many of the chilies are the same species that have different characteristics dependent on the climate where they grow.

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Like we tend to do with many aspects of culture, we have over simplified the food of Mexico.  Here’s an example.  Think of mole and you are likely to envision mole poblano, a sauce with many ingredients including chocolate that is native to the Puebla region. But travel to Oaxaca and you will find a variety of seven other moles. You see mole is simply the Aztec word for sauce.  The same concept applies to salsa, the Spanish word for sauce.  So you can see why people are confused when they read “papita salsa” on a menu and a green pumpkin seed sauce tops their dish.

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Mexicans have much national pride and their food is one way they express it.  If you pay attention you will see the red, white and green of their flag in many of their dishes.  They are a resourceful people, good stewards of the land and animals and gracious hosts.

There is much to learn about all the cuisines of Mexico. I haven’t even mentioned food Meccas like Cabos, Tabasco, Baja, Guadalajara, or Mexico City.

Kath’s quote: “Mucho para cocinar, y no hay mucho tiempo para cocinar. – So much to cook, so little time.”-Sista #3

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Love-that is all.


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