Mexico Cooks!' dear friends Edmundo Escamilla Solís (L) and Yuri de Gortari Krauss. Between them, Yuri and Mundo know more about Mexico's history and its cuisines than most of the rest of our friends put together. I can't imagine that anyone would disagree. Photo courtesy wradio.com.mx. All photos by Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
Several years ago, mutual friends introduced Mexico Cooks! to Edmundo Escamilla and Yuri de Gortari. Within minutes, we realized that we were in the presence of two of Mexico's treasures. Far from being museum pieces or distant ruins, these men are a vibrant, living storehouse of this country's past and present. Today, my wife and I are honored to count Mundo and Yuri among our dearest friends. We don't see one another as often as any of us would like--they're busy, we're busy--but the moments we spend together are precious.
The double stairway into the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana (Esgamex, School of Mexican Gastronomy), Colonia Roma, Distrito Federal. Since 1990, Yuri and Mundo have dedicated themselves to an in-depth study of Mexico's gastronomy; after running a restaurant and catering company, they founded the school in 2007. Esgamex is unique among culinary schools in Mexico, teaching not only Mexico's regional and national cuisines, but also teaching Mexico's history, art, and culture. Although the school offers no program leading to a culinary degree, it continues to attract students who want to learn traditional recipes from the best teaching team in the city.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I received an invitation from Yuri and Mundo--please come share our tamaliza (tamales party) on the night of February 2, el Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas Day). An intimate circle of friends gathered in homage to a close friend of our hosts, who had passed away. In her honor, we ate tamales--and more tamales--five varieties in all.
First were tamales de cambray, from Chiapas. These corn masa (dough) tamales, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, were savory and delicious.
Tamal de cambray unwrapped. Each tamal was small enough to leave us hungry for the ones that followed.
The tamal de cambray cut open to show its savory filling.
This rectangular, flat tamal de cazón is filled with flaked baby shark meat. It's a specialty of the state of Campeche.
A marvelously spicy salsa made with chile habanero accompanied the tamal de cazón.
The next three varieties of tamales looked almost identical to one another. Each was wrapped in corn husks and steamed--but despite appearances, each was very different from the other. The first variety was a tamal de pollo, frutas, y verduras (chicken, fruit, and vegetables) from the state of Sinaloa. The second was our first sweet tamal of the evening. A tamal from the state of Colima, its masa is prepared with mixed corn and rice flours as well as dried coconut. The sweet filling is a mix of various dried and crystallized chopped fruits.
The last (but definitely not the least!) tamal was a tamal de almendra (almond). The masa contains not only corn and rice flours and sugar, but also blanched, peeled, and finely ground almonds. The almonds both sweeten and give texture to the masa. And sweet surprise!, the tamal is filled with sweet crema pastelera (pastry cream). If we had had one inch of space in our stomachs, we each would definitely have eaten two of these!
Here's Yuri de Gortari, teaching the proper way to prepare tamales de almendra. Even if you don't understand all of the Spanish-language instructions, you'll be fascinated by his teaching manner as well as his techniques. And his lovely speaking voice is simply hypnotizing.
When our group finished eating, we stayed for hours in the sobremesa--the after-dinner conversation that is frequently as delicious and nourishing as the food itself. What better way to enjoy an evening than in the company of precious friends, sharing ideas, feelings, and loving laughter? Next year, have a tamaliza at your home on February 2, invite your friends, and deepen your love and appreciation for one another--and of course for the marvelous cuisines of Mexico.
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