MODO: the Museo del Objeto del Objeto (Museum of the Object of the Object), on the lovely corner of Calle Colima and Calle Córdoba, Colonia Roma Norte, Mexico City. The museum has no permanent exhibits; each temporary exhibit is normally on display for several months. Photo courtesy Animal Gourmet.
One might think "Museo del Objeto del Objeto" is a strange name for a museum, but consider how far beyond simply seeing an object the name and the museum take us. In the space of this very manageably sized museum, we are given the vision of each object exhibited in the context of its time, of its place, of its fellow objects, and in the context of the entire exhibit. In other words, we come away with the sense of the object of the object: the purpose and the grace of each. MODO shows us how these familiar objects both interpret and relate to our very lives.
The current exhibit, which opened on September 20, 2016, is perfect for all of you who love everything related to food and its preparation. Del Plato a La Boca (from the plate to the mouth) is entirely about the kitchen, its utensils, and its design. The earliest piece in the show is from the late 1800s; the most recent is as new as this year. This exhibition will run through February 26, 2017. Mark it on your calendar and don't miss it! All photos copyright Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
First: what does the title of the exhibit mean? Mexico is famous for its thousands of refranes or dichos--folky sayings. The title of the exhibit is part of one of literally hundreds about only the kitchen, the dining table, and the art of eating. The complete saying is, "Del plato a la boca se cae la sopa"--from the plate to the mouth, the soup spills. In other words, there is no such thing as a sure thing; from one moment to the next, things change.
Ana Elena Mallet, the internationally acclaimed curator of Del Plato a La Boca, looks justifiably delighted with the initial response to the show. The museum graciously invited Mexico Cooks! to a press conference and a private guided tour, held just hours prior to the exhibition's September 20th opening to the public.
Here's a very modern kitchen from 1950s Mexico. It's the first room of the exhibit and it excited everyone on the tour. It's enormously gratifying to see such a beautifully mounted exhibit, nothing overstated, nothing wasted, everything just so. Last week, a friend, a member of Mexico City's food world, told me, "This exhibit is so wonderful! I've been twice, I can just stand there and look at just a few things for an hour. I can't wait to go back again." I agree, and will go again soon.
Del Plato a La Boca features every aspect of the Mexican kitchen. Well-used, well-loved, cherished through generations, Mexico's utensils range from the tortilla press to the pressure cooker and from the upper crust to the garbage bin.
A late 19th-early 20th century handwritten family recetario (cookbook). The page on the left is a recipe for bread pudding made from pan corriente ('ordinary' bread); the page on the right is a recipe for meatballs with bread.
Part of a wall of various types of metal moulds: for gelatin both sweet and savory, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and candies. My favorites? See those two rabbits about a third of the way down from the top? Those!
A rare paperback 'people's cookbook' from the Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares, known by its acronym, CONASUPO. CONASUPO, founded in 1961 as a Mexican parastatal entity with the goal of regulating prices--particularly for corn--to enable Mexico's most marginalized citizens to supply their families with the canasta básica (basic food basket). This cookbook featured recipes made with harina de maíz (corn flour). Other recetarios featured dried beans, fresh eggs, whole milk, dried fish, chiles, tender fresh early corn, and even desserts. CONASUPO operated its stores in Mexico's areas of deepest poverty. The government closed the agency in 1999, but subsequently morphed into a similar, if smaller, organization called DICONSA (Sistema de Distribuidoras Conasupo, S.A. de C.V.) It's highly unusual to see a cookbook from the CONASUPO era, much less a utilitarian cookbook with a lovely cover design--it's papel picado, in the deeply colorful rosa mexicano!
Even kitchen toys make an appearance in Del Plato a La Boca. Here, a miniature and obviously well-loved stove. My question: what's in the oven? It looks like something is cooking, doesn't it?
It's easy to see that many kitchen items travel across internationally boundaries: the old enameled coffee pot is ubiquitous, as are the glass jars. Other things, like the metal spice container marked canela (cinnamon) to the left on the top shelf, might be different from those where you live. And that charming nesting hen dish at the bottom? She's probably a foot long and eight inches high, made of clay, and completely Mexican.
I looked at this for quite a while without recognizing it for its utility. The first thought that came to my mind was, "it reminds me of Petite Maman, the spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois...". But of course you know what it is: a juicer! What terrific design. Photo courtesy MODO.
Apart from the sheer joy of seeing Del Plato a La Boca, one of my day's highlight moments: an opportunity to talk and laugh for a few minutes with the award-winning and long-admired author of Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel. Ms. Esquivel formed part of the invited press conference's panel who discussed a bit of Mexico's culinary history prior to the museum tour. That panel included Ana Elena Mallet (the exhibit curator), Ricardo Muñoz Zurita (Mexico's most prominent food historian and restauranteur), and Ms. Esquivel. She has expanded the reach of her brilliant novel of early 20th century life and the kitchen along the Mexican border--her next book will be out in the not-too-far-distant future. We'll keep you posted.
Even the desk at MODO's exit featured the design of old-time milk bottles and their delivery crate, exquisite in their simplicity.
Don't miss Del Plato a La Bocas at the MODO. You believe there's plenty of time to get here: the exhibition is on until February 26, 2017. Just remember: from the cup to the lip, there's many a slip. Life changes in a heartbeat.
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