Frijoles boil in a clay pot placed on a creative fogón (on-the-ground cooking fire). The fire ring is the wheel rim of a truck, the wood is what was available. The clay pot ensures old-fashioned flavor and Mexico Cooks!' interest in the cooking process ensured old-fashioned hospitality. "When will the beans be ready?" I asked. "Come back at 1:30," the cook told us. "They'll be ready, and I'll make some tortillas."
Twenty or more years ago, Mexico Cooks! ate a once-in-a-lifetime meal in Mexico. Simplicity itself, the comida (midday meal) consisted of steamed white rice piled with home-grown sliced bananas, homemade fresh cheese, frijoles de la olla (beans in their pot liquor, freshly cooked as in the photo above), and hand-patted tortillas, hot from the comal (griddle). That meal, served in an outdoor kitchen, was our introduction to Mexican tradition, authenticity, and hospitality, all on a level we had never known before.
Food, shared with friends and acquaintances, brings us together in elemental hospitality. Food and the sharing of it in Mexico have, since earliest times, given rise to wonderful dichos (sayings) from the kitchen.
This hand-embroidered tablecloth was made for display at Pátzcuaro's Museo Regional del Arte Popular (Regional Folk Arts Museum). Every one of its many, many sayings stiched into the cloth is a dicho de la cocina. The one closest to the bottom of the photo says, "Del plato a la boca, se cae la sopa." ("Between the plate and the mouth, the soup spills"--which means "between one's intention and one's accomplishment, a lot can go wrong".
Quoting a dicho de la cocina always brings a smile. Here are a few favorites:
- Mujer que guisa, se casa a prisa. (The woman who cooks is soon married.)
- A comer y a misa, a la primer llamada. (To eat and to Mass, go at the first call.)
- Mejor llegar a tiempo que ser invitado. (It's better to arrive on time than to be invited.)
- Al que nace para tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas. If you're born to be a tamal, your corn husks will fall from heaven.
- Come a gusto y placentero y que ayune tu heredero. Eat what you like and at your pleasure--let your descendants fast!
- Cuando el ratón está lleno, hasta la harina le sabe amarga. When the mouse is full, even flour tastes bitter to him.
Red pozole, made with pork, chiles, and nixtamal de maíz cacahuatzintle (a type of processed dried corn), is one of Mexico's most comforting meals. For a wonderfully rich recipe, try this one from our friend Rolly's favorite cook, Doña Martha.
- Desayunar como rey, comer como príncipe y cenar como mendigo. Eat breakfast like a king, eat at midday like a prince, and have supper like a beggar.
- El hambre es la buena, no la comida. Hunger is the good thing, not the food.
- El que parte y comparte, se queda con la mejor parte. The one who cuts and serves the food gets the best part.
- Fuchi… ¡quiero más! It's AWFUL...give me some more!
- Gástalo en la cocina y no en medicina. Spend it in the kitchen, not on medicine.
- Invierno buen tiempo para el herrero, el panadero y el chocolatero. Winter's a good time for the ironworker, the baker, and the chocolate maker.
Mexican caldo de pollo--traditional chicken soup--is hearty with shredded chicken, carrots, calabacita (similar to zucchini), potatoes, and chayote. Dressed and seasoned at the table with a spritz of jugo de limón (Key lime juice), roughly chopped cilantro, minced onion, and a spoonful of spicy salsa, it's absolutely essential to one's comfort and well-being.
- La comida entra por los ojos. Food comes in through the eyes.
- La paciencia es amarga, pero sus frutos son dulces. Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet.
- La venganza es dulce al paladar, pero amarga para la garganta. Vengance is sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the throat.
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