After first moving to New York, my family and I were lamenting not knowing where any good Mexican Restaurants were located. Someone that we know piped up, "Oh I know where a good Mexican place is!" Excitedly we asked where the restaurant was, and what it was named. Our friend told us that the restaurant was located in Canandaigua and it was called Taco Bell. Somewhat taken aback I repeated, "Taco Bell." Her response was, "Exactly!" Having grown up visiting the South-West every summer, and having been raised by South-Western parents, I have learned to appreciate Mexican cuisine. Taco Bell, though tasty and nice when you're on the run, has never been my idea of Mexican food. Huevos Rancheros, pico de gallo, and tacos de haring are all dishes that I am used to seeing and ordering.
After talking with my friend about where to find good Mexican, I realized that "Mexican food" isn't always the easiest thing to understand. I wanted to learn what authentic Mexican cuisine actually was. What makes a dish non-Mexican? Why do so many American's think of chimichanga, hard tacos, and fajitas as true Mexican? At the time I thought about these things. However, it wasn't until this semester of Spanish that I decided to actually study it, and see what I could learn.
I read many articles, but being a tactile person I really wondered what the difference truly was. Different ingredients, different dishes, and a bit of history give us the difference between authentic Mexican, and what is known as Tex-Mex. But I wanted to know how it would taste, and what it would be like to make a dish from the two cuisines. I want to take you through this journey with me, and along the way I will show you what I learned.
When I decided to head South of the border, I choose pozole as my meal. Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup. This authentic dish is believed to have originated as far back as the Aztecs. Now a days there are many variations and tweaks that people will make to this dish. I personally really wanted to keep it simple and make a very traditional, and basic pozole. After going through many recipes I went with the one that seemed to best fit my desire for authenticity as much as possible.
Cast of Characters
The recipe I used called for a pork shoulder, garlic, hominy, salt, cumin, as well as stock or water. Chile pequin was in the list of garnishes, however after being unable to find it at any stores I found what is considered a substitute, ground cayenne red pepper. I decided to make it an ingredient rather then just a garnish, as that was what many recipes recommended.
In Mexican culture Lunch is generally the biggest meal of the day. It is a time to socialize, and connect with family and friends. A bigger pot then this would be needed in order to let everyone eat a hearty and filling meal!
Hominy is maize, white or yellow, which has had its kernel removed. I bought canned hominy, for convince. But if you wanted to hunt down dried hominy you would soak it for 8 or so hours, and then let it simmer for an hour or more, to bring it to the soft and puffy state that is needed for pozole. Though I can't say hominy is never used in a Tex-Mex dish, I can say that I have never seen it in a Tex-Mex dish. Leading to my conclusion that hominy is sadly undervalued in the Tex-Mex community.
Garlic is used in many recipes, and is considered to be one of the more authentic ingredients in Mexican cuisine. All the pozole recipes I found, and many other authentic dishes, contained a great amount of garlic. This recipe went a little light on the garlic. What with calling for only 3-5 cloves. Though garlic is generally considered to be authentically Mexican, it was introduced by the Spaniards upon coming into contact with the Mexican culture.
Though this piece in Mexican cuisine was introduced with the Spanish, it has become so ingrained and widely used in true-blue Mexican dishes that it rightfully takes it's place as an authentic ingredient. In some Tex-Mex garlic is used. However when it comes to chains such as Taco Bell, Chipotle, Moe's Southwest grill, and others like them, garlic is often left to the wayside. If you can find a proper Mexican restaurant though you'll find that garlic is present in many dishes.
Blending it All
At this point I combined the whole pork shoulder, clover garlic, rinsed hominy, salt, cumin, as well as stock into the pot. The flavors contained in these ingredients are the ones that will permeate in this dish. They will make the base flavor that can latter be built upon.
The soup then was brought to a boil. After boiling I turned it down to low, and let it simmer for two hours. The chili, garlic, and pork blended into a perfect aroma, and it hung around the house for days.
Shredding the Pork
I took out the pork and let it cool before shredding it. I wanted to get my mind a little more involved with this though, so I dug around for some history. As I expected, pozole, like many things, has evolved over time. The particular recipe I used is one that plausibly has been around for 100's of years. When I did some more research I saw that the meat choice is what kept this recipe from dating back to the Aztecs. Pozole is thought to have originally been made after human sacrifice rituals, and would be made with the meat of the sacrifices. This practice fell out of use, due to the Spaniards discomfort with cannibalism. Human flesh was replaced with Pork. Thus, pork is now what is authentically associated with Pozole. Some newer meat choices would be chicken, and beef.
This is where you see a lot of the differences in traditional Mexican food and Tex-Mex. Pinto beans, white rice, garlic, onion, avocado, limes, chilies, and white cheese (such as queso blanco, queso Oaxaca, queso panela, añejo, etc.) are all signs of an authentic Mexican meal. Mexican is often spicy, and contains contrasting colors as well as flavors. The cheese is always lightly put on, and never the luminescent yellow we are so used to in America.
The differences between traditional Mexican, and Tex-Mex are often small. Tex-Mex came out of Mexico. When Texan's replaced corn with wheat, and vegetables with more cheese, and white cheese with yellow it started the Tex-Mex cuisine. Tex-Mex has grown to be fuller of fats, and oils and left behind the abundance of veggies, and spiciness.
Though Tex-Mex is most certainly delicious and appealing to our American taste buds, Mexican will hold it's own. As it has for centuries. I found it interesting to learn more about Mexican cuisine. I will most definitely desire to remake this recipe again, and find more authentic recipes to try. Although I like the super cheesy nachos, hard shelled tacos, and refried bean burritos served at so many Tex-Mex places, I will understand better what true Mexican is. I am glad that this class gave me the chance to learn more about this. I will never again look at Tex-Mex the same, and I will always favor true Mexican, and all it's wonderful flavors and colors.
"La Crónica De Hoy | Los Mexicanos Prehispánicos Comían Pozole Con Carne Humana." La Crónica De Hoy | Los Mexicanos Prehispánicos Comían Pozole Con Carne Humana. N.p., 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.
"Mexican Eating Habits - The Mexican Culture's Ways of Eating." Ixtapa Mexican Grill & Cantina. N.p., 04 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Alfaro, Danilo. "What Is the Definition of Hominy?" About Food. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.