Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

Planning a party in Mexico

Mexico loves to celebrate! You’d be hard pressed to find a family that hasn’t shared their life events with the friends and family in the form of a fiesta! And really, why not? Life events from christening to funerals, all have their own form of celebration.

 

More often than not, parties are not held at the celebrant’s house, but at a rented Salón de eventos (party hall) or cabaña (cabin). The owner will provide electricity, bathrooms and a clean-up crew, but usually not much else.

So the next party stop is to make arrangements with a place that advertises Se renta sillas y mesas (tables and chairs for rent). You’ll request a certain number of chairs and tables and sometimes tablecloths to be delivered to the rented venue shortly before the event. You’ll need to ask specifically whether the chairs and tables will be set up for you, or if you’ll need to have that done by the nieces and nephews an hour or so before the party. Just so you know, most often the chairs are flimsy metal contraptions with not nearly enough seat for your rump marked with the Corona logo.

A lot of people have the decorations made, which adds a personal touch to the event. Weddings and Quinceañera especially have adornments from florerías and tortilla servilletas (napkins) hand embroidered with names and dates from those ladies that sit in the market. Be aware that these are meant to be gifts for attendees, along with the larger table decorations, so if you want one as a memento, set it aside BEFORE the party otherwise you might just find there’s not a single one left.

On the other hand, there are places that rent themed decorations for events. These are NOT meant to be taken as souvenirs. The decorator will charge you for missing items so make sure your guests know the decorations are rented. You might be able to rent nicer tables and chairs from these party planners as well.

 

You will be able to hire a DJ (sonido) and servers (meseros) at places that advertise those services. Often the chair and table renters can refer you to a cousin that will be able to meet your music and serving needs.

The food is ordered from an establishment that specializes in that particular food preparation. Carnitas are the most common party fare so you would make arrangements with one of the regular carnita sellers to fry you up some pig during the day so that it will be sizzling hot when lunch/dinner is served. Usually, the food preparer will make arrangements for delivery, but it’s best to check. The same is true for cakes from the pastelerías.

Tortillas are also ordered ahead of time from a Tortillería. My sister-in-law often gets orders of 30 kilos or more for events. The host (or person in charge of the food for the event) places and pays for the order and she makes arrangements for her ladies to come at a specific time so that the tortillas will be piping hot for the event. She wraps them in tin-foil and keeps them hot in a cooler. She doesn’t deliver, so someone needs to make sure someone picks up the tortillas at her establishment before the party.

More luxurious parties might have a hired bartender or maybe el primo de su tía handling drink orders. Most parties have 2-liter soda bottles scattered along the table and people serve themselves. Many party guests bring their own alcohol as well, occasionally bottles are provided by the host in the spirit of self-serve.

Plates, cups, napkins, and eating utensils, even at most fancy dancy parties, are desechables (disposable) and purchased in bulk by the host, not the meal preparer at stores that sell desechables.

If your party calls for a piñata, make sure you fill it up with a mixed selected from the Dulcería (candy shop), otherwise, the whackers will be sorely disappointed when nothing but confetti falls out.

Many salones de fiestas (party halls) have a children’s play area. You can also rent inflables or brincolines which are those inflatable slides or jumpy castles to add to the fun. Make sure you have an extension cord long enough to power the inflator.

Make sure to book a videographer for pictures and a video montage of the event. Most foto estudios offer this service.

Make-up and hairdressing are done at a salón de belleza (beauty salon) or you can hire a beautician to come to your home prior to the event for some beautifying. Manis and pedis can be set up at places that offer Aplicacion De Uñas (nail application).

While women often buy their party outfits, men often have the option to rent their suits or mariachi costumes. These however often require tailor fittings beforehand, so check with the establishment on making arrangements.

Financing an all-out shindig comes from the pockets of the padrinos (godparents). Take, for example, the Quinceañera. Every aspect of the event has a specific madrina/padrino.  It’s important to acknowledge the contribution of each and every madrina/padrino publically so as to avoid offense. In fact, best to thank them several times in front of an audience over the course of the event. For the most part, these “contributions” make up the “gifts” to the celebrant rather than a pile of wrapped boxes. If you are asked to stand as madrina/padrino for a life event, make sure you know exactly what you will be responsible for.

I’ve seen a few invitations for events but for the most part, attendees are invited personally or brought along by someone who was invited personally or is a madrina/padrino for the event so don’t be alarmed if there is a sizable section of people you don’t know at your party. There’s always enough food and drink and if not, there’s always someone willing to go find more.

If you are dead set on invitations, you can make a master copy and have them printed out or copied at a place that advertises Se Hacen Copias (Copies made here). I wouldn’t recommend printing them on your own printer because printer  ink is extremely expensive.  Then you can spruce them up with sparkles or colors.

Parties quite often last long into the night and maybe part of the early morning. Somebody will bring the Café de olla (pot coffee) to keep you awake. The important thing is to remember is that you are making memories commemorating these transitional life events and not to be too fussed about those little annoyances (or that loud-mouth sister-in-law) that come up. Now go and have fun!

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Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Mexican Holidays, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Small Business in Mexico

Eateries in Mexico

I know you’ll find someplace delicious to eat with the money jingling around in your pocket in Mexico. Eateries abound. It helps to know what type of food each type of establishment specializes in, in order to satisfy that craving you have though.

Breakfast is pretty thin fare in my area. The best you can do is head to a juguetería (juice shop) for some freshly pressed juice or licuados (milky concoctions). If you need a bit of umph to your morning, you can get a pajarete (milk and liquor drink). There are a few cafes now, nothing so fancy as Starbucks, but they don’t open as early as I like to have my breakfast. You can also stop by the panadería (bakery) and pick up some sweet breads and carton de leche (carton of milk).

However, around 9, no matter what the season, it’s a good season for soup for breakfast. Yep, hot soup. Friday through Sunday you’ll see people carrying plastic handled buckets with foil which means they’ve gone and picked up their menudo or pozole for the morning.

During the week, the local birriería (place that serves birriria) is the place to be. Consomé (broth) with carne de chivo (goat meat in guajillo sauce) or montalay (vegetables, usually potatoes, carrots and peas, and ground meat bits in also in guajillo sauce) is one of our favorite morning delights.

Around 10, you might be able to find some places that sell desayunos (breakfasts) or buffets (pronounced bu-fet) with servings of huevos rancheros.

After 11, you can stop in at places that specialize in tortas (sandwiches made with bolillo) or huaraches (larger corn tortilla quesadillas about the size of your huaraches –shoe–hence the name). Loncherías or it’s Spanglish variant luncherías serve a variety of items. We even found a place that only serves tacos de canasta (basket tacos)–delicious!

Rotiserías sell rotisserie chicken and the fixings often include rice, mole, some sort of bland pasta concoction and salsa. Fried chicken can be found at places that sell Pollo Familiar and come with pretty much the same fixings.

The pizzería (pizza place) opens around 1. Don’t be surprised if your pizza comes with ketchup and hot sauce. Apparently it’s the way Mexicans enjoy their Italian pies.

A little later in the day and you can stop by places that sell comida corrida which is the Mexican version of fast food. It’s like a buffet setup with a daily set menu. You can order 2 or 3 guisados (servings)or a la carte to go.

Our town has both a Japanese and Chinese restaurant. The food offered isn’t what you might expect. It has a decidedly Mexican flavor. Spicy chili fried rice? No, thank you. However, as they are both run by people from those respective countries, if you know what to ask for, you can get a damn good authentic meal.

You’ll find some seafood dishes at the ostionería or un restaurante de mariscos or marisquería or even a coctelería. Try ceviche or coctel de camarón there. These establishments do brisk business during Lent when beef and pork are prohibited.

Restaurantes familiares often have a play area for the kids, giving the parents a bit more time to enjoy their meals. Cenadurías are simillar to the loncherías but open later in the day.

Taquerías also open late in the day. Don’t expect to get a taco before noon. Some open around 3 pm while our favorite taco guy doesn’t set up his stall until 7 at night. Tacos are served late into the night, but you need to get their sooner rather than later for tacos de tripa in my experience.

A kermés or quermés are those random side-of-the-road tent establishments that aren’t always there. Typically these spots are run by a few families that donate their proceeds for a cause, like one of the children needs a liver transplant or diasysis treatment. There is usually a sign indicating who will receive the proceeds, or there is supposed to be. These are not regular eating establishments and do not require a restaurant permit. They do have to present their cause to the presidencia (town hall) to get a permit to sell food for the day. The menus is whatever the volunteers cobble together.

On the other hand, there are regular roadside vendors which a variety of menu options. Some in shacks, some under lonas (tarps) and some with carts. Check with locals to see who offers the best food and best prices. We have enjoyed many a good meal perched on wobbly plastic chairs along the side of a dusty road.

Some eating establishments have a Servicio a domicilio (delivery service). Remember the tip rate in Mexico is 10% which is expected for this service. When in doubt on whether you should tip, ask a local. Quite often you can find a jar marked propinas (tips) near the register.

Eating out does have its risk. We’ve had mild food poisoning on a few occasions and not from those roadside stands, but established eateries. Allowing the Garcia effect to keep us safe, we no longer those items that have made us sick at any restaurant. Moctezuma’s revenge has never been an issue, however. Water is sold sealed in a bottle. Ice is made from ice vendors and isn’t any dirtier than the ice from soda dispensers found throughout the US.

Should you wish something other than a meal, you can get ice cream from the nevería, popsicles from the paletería, or gaspachos from the gaspachería. Other vendors sell jugos (juices), cacahuates (peanuts), raspados (shaved flavored ice) garbanzos, elotes (corn ears) and esquites (corn in a cup). You can find mobile fruit vendors with tasty cups of in-season fruit, or mangos with chili powder on a stick, churros (fried dough in long bendy tubes covered in sugar), tamales, camotes (sweet potatoes), churros de maíz (long thin fried corn sticks served with tomatoes, cabbage, and hot sauce) and kettle fried potato chips served with limón, salt and hot sauce.  All for just a few pesos. Who needs fast food when you can have freshly prepared delights every single day?

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Alcohol and Mexico–like oil and water

The first alcoholic beverages in Mexico were created from the agave plant which is the source of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, comiteco, curado, Licor de henequén, and pulque.

The story goes that the creation of the maguey (agave) plant was the result of the ill-fated love between Mayahuel, a goddess of fertility and Quetzalcóatl.  Mayahuel’s busybody abuelita (grandmother) sought to separate the lovers so Mayahuel and Quetzalcóatl transformed themselves into a single tree with two branches. Granny sliced Mayahuel’s branch into many small pieces which Quetzalcóatl buried, weeping copious tears.  From Mayahuel’s remains, the maguey plant was born. When the plant matures, the sweep sap (aguamiel) that seeps from the center is said to be the remnants of the tears shed by Quetzalcóatl.

Unfermented aguamiel known as octli was given to the elderly, sick and women after childbirth and used as a ceremonial drink for the entire family including babies and children on certain occasions. The fermented aguamiel (octli poliuhqui) was used to treat depression and given to dull the pain before ceremonial sacrifices. The recipe for the alcoholic octli poliuhqui (now known as pulque) was given to humans by Patécatl who was married to Mayahuel.

Patécatl and Mayahuel had 400 children known as the Los Centzon Totochtin. These 400 minor deities de los borrachos (drunks) were associated with dreams and awakening, confusion and lucidity, and death. Their birth gave Mayahuel a holy duality. Not only was she a goddess of fertility and the earth with multiple breasts to nourish her many children, but also with the creation of pulque and her love for Quetzalcóatl, she became associated with drunkenness and adultery. Her influence was so great that one day of every month was devoted to her and children born on that day were destined to become drunks or commit adultery (probably while drunk).

Understanding the strength of the fermented aguamiel, excessive drinking was prohibited. In fact, public drunkenness was punishable by death unless you were over the age of 70. 

Not content with the local inebriants, Spanish conquerors imported plants from their native land and found that the climate and soil composition were an ideal environment to grow grapes.

Several areas were already known for their cultivation and fermentation of wild grades. The Mexicas called alcohol made from wild grapes acacholli. The Purépechas referred to it as seruráni. The Otomíes used the term obxi and to the Tarahumaras it was known asúri.

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Vineyards outside of San Miguel de Allende

After the Spanish conquest, Hernán Cortés had seeds brought from Cuba from plants originally brought from Spain for wine production in Mexico. In 1524, he decreed that Spanish settlers should plant 1000 grape vines for every 100 native servants owned. The first vineyards were established in Huejotzingo and around the conquered Mexico City. This hybrid plant was known as xocomecatl in náhuatl and the resulting alcoholic beverage was known as tlapaloctli.

In 1531 the Spanish king Carlos V ordered that emmigrants destined for Mexico settlement take grape vines and olives for cultivation. Converting the indigenous took a back burner to wine production in Metztitlán. The Augustine monks of the area managed to create enough wine to meet local consumption needs and export to Mexico City, which they sent by the wagonload. Not to be outdone, the Jesuit monks in Baja California cultivated grape plants to provide for the thirst of the California missions up and down the coast beginning with San Diego de Alcalá

Thus, vineyards became a profitable enterprise in Mexico post-conquest. This wine producing prosperity continued unchecked until 1595 when King Felipe II prohibited the planting of new vines in the country because the wines being produced in Mexico were of superior quality to wines being produced in Spain which made the Spanish wine producers unhappy.

Even Miguel Hidalgo practiced vitivinicultura in what is now known as Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato. Unfortunately, Virrey Francisco Xavier Venegas destroyed his vineyard in retaliation for Hidalgo’s treasonous acts against the Spanish crown during the War for Independence.

Fermented maguey and grape consumption aside, Mexico is the world’s tenth largest beer consumer and the third largest beer producer. There are two main beer producers in Mexico. Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and Grupo Modelo

Before the conquest, a variety of beers were produced from fermented corn including Pox, Tejuino, Tepache, tesgüino, and pozol. The first barley based cervecería (brewery) was set up near Mexico City by Alfonso de Herrero in 1543 or 1544. Dark beers became popular under the rule of Maximilian I from Austria. Beer consumption has continued to grow in Mexico. As of 2010, the Mexican average annual beer consumption is 60 liters per adult.

Mexico ranks at the top for alcohol consumption with one of the highest mortality rate for alcoholic liver disease in the world. The prevalence of alcoholic liver disease and addiction is apparently a combination of these pre-conquest traditions and the post-conquest gene mixture.

Each weekend, approximately 30 million Mexicans consume more than 5 drinks per day while another 10 million Mexicans have at least one alcoholic drink daily with about 5 million Mexicans developing a strong alcohol dependence. Regular alcohol consumption begins in early adolescence. One study found that 61.4% of 12-17-year-olds are regular drinkers. In another study, over 1/3 of 12-year-olds in Mexico City admitted to drinking. By age 17, 82.5% have used alcohol. Another study found that Mexican adolescents who drink regularly have more positive beliefs about consumption than those who don’t drink. In part, this is because drinking alcohol during this key period of development of the brain causes permanent alteration of the brain.

Drinking is common at most social or religious events in Mexico including weddings, quinceaneras, and christenings. Although this is a culturally acceptable activity, alcohol dependence grows over time. Ten years after beginning regular alcohol use the number of beers consumed per event typically goes from 4 to 6 to 20-24 beers. Because of this social association with events and heavy alcohol ingestion, binge drinking, infrequent drinking with sporadic heavy drinking, is the most common drinking pattern in Mexico.

So why is this a problem?

Compared to other countries, Mexico has the youngest people with alcoholic cirrhosis in the world with an average age of 23 to 30 years. In part, this is due to the unique set of genes found in the general Mexican population.

Even after a diagnosis of alcoholic cirrhosis, alcoholics continue to drink themselves to death. 40%-60% of the risk for developing chronic alcoholism is also genetic which is the number one cause of cirrhosis in Mexican males and the fourth-leading cause of death in Mexico.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption cause life-threatening medical problems for the drinker but there is a high correlation between acts of violence and alcohol use, not that anyone is surprised by that finding. The WHO has reported that in Mexico alcohol plays a part in 51% of injuries resulting from violence and 78% of paralysis and death incidents.  These injuries, paralysis, and death are not always confined to the person drinking. Domestic abuse, rape, and femicide come to mind.

So can those struggling with alcoholism get help?

The Mexican government recognized the growing issue of alcohol dependence among teenagers and young adults in 2000 and introduced NOM 028-SSA-1999 which outlines preventative and treatment measures available. As with most government-sponsored programs, there are a lot of good intentions but very little follow through.

Central Mexicana de Servicios Generales de Alcohólicos Anónimos, A.C. (Alcoholics Anonymous) can be found in most locations throughout the country. Local meeting groups and albergues (in-house detox centers) sponsored by AA are easily located. There are also Al-anon and Ala-teen groups in many areas. (Central Mexicana de Servicios Generales de Los Grupos Familiares Al-Anon A.C)

There are psychiatric hospitals (Clínicas) and rehab centers that deal with alcoholism, often at prices the average Mexican can’t afford. A variety of religious groups sponsor retiros (weekend retreats), sometimes free and sometimes at a set cost, as part of rehab programs.

Although with the cards stacked against the typical Mexican with their genetic predisposition for both cirrhosis and alcoholism, long-term recovery by any means is low. On the other hand, there have been promising results using the sage of the diviners’ plant (Salvia divinorum) from the Sierra Madre Oriental region of Oaxaca, Mexico as a treatment for addictions. Salvia effects the dopamine levels in the brain, specifically areas dealing with motivation and reward.  More study on its use and applications is needed, however.

 

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Natural Healing–Nispero leaf tea — Loquat leaf tea

I have long enjoyed the nispero fruit which is known as míspero locally.  Mama Sofia had several full-grown trees and when in season would always give us a bucketful to take home.  My husband has been trying for years to grow our own nispero tree. One time Miss Piggy broke loose and ate it.  Another time, a hoard of ants stripped the sapling bare overnight and it dried out. A third planting was destroyed by the chickens.  However we currently have not one, but two, healthy nisperos out back. They aren’t mature enough to produce fruit yet, but I have made nispero leaf tea.  It’s delicious! It has a fruity flavor all its own.

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The nispero (Eriobotrya japonica) otherwise known as loquat is not native to Mexico or Japan, but China.  I wasn’t able to trace its migration to Mexico, although I imagine it came with the Spanish.  Regardless how it arrived, it is a healthy addition to your Mexican diet whether eaten as a fruit or enjoyed as a tea.  It’s long been used to treat skin inflammation and respiratory problems in China. Here are some other health benefits:

Loquat has been found to be Anti-acne, Anti-aging, Anti-allergy, Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory  and provide beneficial immunomodulatory effects (Read more here and here and here.) It reduces body weight through control of lipid metabolism and reduces fat deposits in the liver. The loquat flower has a protective effect on acute alcohol-induced liver injury. Loquat also reduces total cholesterol and triglycerides (Read more here.) and prevent skeletal muscle atrophy. (Read more here.) It is useful in treating diabetes (Read more here.), useful in treating cancer (Read more here and here and here and here.), useful in fighting bacterial infections, and useful in the treatment of respiratory disorders. Loquat leaf tea is known to relieve cough and reduce phlegm. as well as aiding in the treatment of chronic bronchitis.  Finally, Loquat suppresses ovariectomy-induced bone mineral density deterioration.  

Here’s how to make nispero leaf tea:

Pick a handful of leaves, preferably young leaves.  Scrape off the furry underside. Wash and let dry.

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Cut the leaves lengthwise in long stripes to reduce oxidation.  

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Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Let the leaves steep for 10 minutes. Strain and serve. Flavor with honey if desired.  It really doesn’t need it. The flavor is lightly fruity.

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I found one recipe that suggested the tea can be served as a hot toddy, with a splash of whiskey or bourbon and lemon on the side.  I suppose it could. Maybe I’ll try it this way during the rainy season on one of my days off.

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