Maestra Benedicta Alejo Vargas grinds cilantro and mint to prepare tzirita, a deliciously spicy botana (appetizer or snack) based on metate-ground chile seeds and various herbs.
For me, the days leading to the Eighth Annual Encuentro de Cocina Tradicional de Michoacán moved almost as slowly as the days leading to a five-year-old's Christmas morning. This event celebrating the traditional cuisines of regional Michoacán, held annually during the first weekend of December, is the high point of my personal and professional year.
The Encuentro started life in 2004, sponsored by the Secretaría de Turismo and the Secretaría de Cultura del Estado de Michoacán as well as by several generous corporate sponsors. During its eight years, it has grown and changed, evolving into the unique event that so many of us enjoy. Although there are many different food festivals in Mexico, no other has the impact of the annual Encuentro.
Maestra Amparo Cervantes (left) of Tzurumútaro and Señora Paulita Alfaro of Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro are two of several elegant and vital grandes damas (great ladies) of the Michoacán kitchen. They pass their recipes and secrets of the kitchen to their daughters and granddaughters.
In November 2010, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) announced that Mexico, and particularly the state of Michoacán, had been officially inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Since then, Michoacán regional cooks have proudly carried the banner of what is called el paradigma michoacano--the Michoacán paradigm. UNESCO included those words in its award based on miliennia-old indigenous Purhépecha way of food preparation that has been preserved, protected, and promoted up to the present day. The Michoacán paradigm is a model for other regional Mexican cuisines.
Freshly hand-made corn tortillas toasting on a wood-fire heated clay comal (griddle). Note that the tortilla in the foreground is puffed up; this is a key sign of a properly made tortilla. The tortilla will flatten out again as it toasts. There are no tortillas like those hand-made in Michoacán.
Much of Michoacán's regional cuisine is based on Mexico's native corn. These dried ears, hung up to decorate a festive food stand at the 2010 Encuentro, show just a few of the several colors of corn native to this area. The preservation of native corn varieties is crucial to the continuity of the Michoacán paradigm.
This year, the organizing committee gave special honors to a few of the consistent winners of the cooking competition at the heart of each annual Encuentro. These great women of the regional kitchen, now retired from competition, are the soul of this festive event. They are:
- Benedicta Alejo Vargas, San Lorenzo. Her specialities for 2010 were wild mushrooms, traditional churipo (a beef-based soup), rabbit mole, cheese mole, and tzirita.
- Juana Bravo Lázaro, Angahuan. Her specialities were atápakua de kuruchi kariri (dried fish stew), filled corundas with churipo, and two varieties of tortillas.
- Antonina González Leandro, Tarerio. She specialized in fried trout with traditional mole, tomato mole, or in a broth, pozole, and ponteduro (a kind of toasted and sweetened corn snack).
- Esperanza Galván Hernández, Zacán. Her specialties were mole tatemado con arroz (baked mole with rice), quesadillas, corundas filled with vegetables, and blue corn tortillas.
- Amparo Cervantes, Tzurumútaro. For this Encuentro, she specialized in mole con pollo y arroz (mole with chicken and rice), carne de puerco con rajas (pork meat with poblano chile strips), corundas, and uchepos.
A few of Maestra Antonina's special dishes, including (lower right) tortitas de charales, (center, in the molcajete) salsa de chile perón, (back left) nopalitos en salsa de jitomate, and (back right) caldo de trucha (freshly fried Michoacán-farmed rainbow trout in broth).
Sra. Cayetana Nambo Rangel of Erongarícuaro prepared choricorundas, a type of pyramid-shaped corn tamal filled with cooked chorizo, a spicy pork sausage. The corunda is wrapped in a long green corn leaf (not a corn husk) and then steamed. Traditionally, corundas can be either blind (made without a filling) or filled.
Young cook Susana Servín Galván of Zacán entered the food competition with cuchiatápakua en chile verde con frijoles de la olla, a traditional dish from her small town. The dish consists of pork meat cooked in a thick sauce made of highly spicy chile serrano and served with freshly cooked beans and blue corn tortillas. This is my jealously guarded plateful; the dish was stunningly delicious and sold out quickly. I was lucky to taste it.
Mexico Cooks! will keep you informed about the dates for the 2012 Ninth Annual Encuentro de Cocina Tradicional de Michoacán. This unique event, a true look at Michoacán's regional cuisine, should be on everyone's calendar for early December. Come with us and we will introduce you to all of these dishes and more!Looking for a tailored-to-your-interests specialized tour in Mexico? Click here: Tours.