Mexican cuisine and history: The food of the viceroyalty

It could be said that culinary fusion never ends because over time food customs from other countries are always adopted in Mexico.

Mexican cuisine and history: The food of the viceroyalty
Mexican cuisine and history: Elotes. Image by Rick Bella from Pixabay

During the 300 years of the viceroyalty, the main mix is between the indigenous and the Spanish; from there comes Mexican food, sprinkled with Arab flavors that arrived at the Iberian Peninsula and from there to Mexico, with black flavors brought by the African slaves and with Asian flavors that followed the route of the Nao from China or the Manila Galleon. From the Asian Far East came not only spices, but some exotic fruits such as mango (in many varieties) and tamarind, which developed here just like at home.

The mixture of the Spanish and the indigenous was walking from Mexico City towards the north, as the military forces and the evangelists advanced, a process that lasted the three centuries of the Colony. In the regions where there were developed indigenous civilizations, such as the Aztecs, Zapotecs, or Mayas, for example, the mestizaje was more fruitful and richer than in the remote areas of the north, where nomadic nations of indigenous people predominated, whose very wandering condition was not conducive to the fertile mixture. Rather, the Spaniards and the generically called Chichimecas (equivalent to the redskins of the United States) dedicated themselves to exterminate each other and barbarians; it is already known that the victory was finally for the invading gunpowder.

During the viceroyalty, the culinary crossbreeding is conformed in the diverse levels of the social scale, but mainly in the most popular ones, from the modest homes, inns, markets, taverns, and inns, to the tables of the nobility, passing of course by the men's convents (frequently outstanding centers for the excesses of the gluttony) and by those of nuns, that were true gastronomic laboratories of stews, candies, and rompopes.

From such religious enclosures of sober confinement emerged the great exponents of our haute cuisine, such as the mole poblano. Because that is our haute cuisine, not the cloying stews of recent years that some supposedly Mexican restaurants prepare with the use and abuse of mango, guava, tamarind, and other ingredients that, although delicious, are not orthodox of our salty cuisine.

The Spanish hospitality in terms of food -which brought much from the Arabs or Moors- was combined with that of the indigenous peoples, the former abundant, the latter more frugal and austere. In any case, foreigners were surprised by the tables of the Mexicans, who ate up to four times a day: a relatively light breakfast (chocolate and sweet bread), a substantial lunch, a hearty meal, and a well-served dinner. The habit of making eleven o'clock consisted of intaking, in addition, another chocolate at that hour of the advanced morning. Sometimes it was also enjoyed in the mid-afternoon, as the equivalent of 5 p.m. English tea.

With the wheat came a great variety of loaves of bread that here adopted an incredible number of shapes, flavors, and colors in the diverse regions of Mexico. Likewise, the pastries that had arrived in Spain through the long road from China (their place of origin) and Italy, where Marco Polo took them, took root in Mexico. Slices of bread and plates of pasta, especially noodles, now belong to our popular culture.

The Spanish olla podrida of the viceroyalty subsists today in our puchero or beef stew and there is no market in the republic where it is not sold daily.

On the other hand, Mexico's fervent love of chocolate drink had clear origins in the pre-Hispanic era; during the three centuries of New Spain, the custom not only continued but increased notably.

With regards to alcoholic beverages, the pre-Hispanic pulque was joined by sugar cane liquor, beer, and imported grape wines, although sometimes they were from the country, produced here illegally, against Spain's monopolistic dispositions. Distilled liquors, such as mezcals -one of their tequila-, were fully developed until independent Mexico.

In the cities of the viceroyalty, street vendors swarmed and many of them were food vendors. In the capital's street cries there were roasted ducks and chichicuilotes from Lake Texcoco, baked lamb's heads, tamales, and candies, to name a few examples.

Source: National Coordination of Institutional Development