Mexico: A Culinary Quest by Hossein Amirsadeghi and Ana Paula Gerard (Editor), Thames & Hudson, US $60.00, Pp 600, September 2017, ISBN 978-0500970829
Mexico is the quintessential land of mountains, with more than half the country over 1,000 meters above sea level. Mexico is also a land of passions and paradoxes, the real deal in the Americas as far as culture, history, nation-building and political drama go, stretching back three thousand years back. No other continental American country’s history matches the magical exuberance and cacophony of experiences, the turmoils and periods of violence that Mexicans have endured since the conquistadors arrived to upend millennia of Aztec, Maya, Toltec, Zapotec and Olmec civilizations.
Mexican cuisine is exceptionally good. Mexicans are historically very demanding of their food. They want to and know how to eat well. The story of Mexicans’ taste is that of a unique cuisine. In Mexico, Hossein Amirsadeghi tries to decipher it and explains the tenacity of a taste acquired by the palate. Mexicans quickly discard food that is generic or of poor quality. They know how to detect good seasoning, a vital skill when it comes to obtaining the desired flavor. The history of Mexico’s unusual culinary taste is both ancient and contemporary and cannot be understood without considering the preeminence of maize.
Amirsadeghi writes, “To see maize dough take the shape of a perfect disc between the expert hands of a woman, the hands that convey it to the ‘comal’ (griddle) for cooking and from there to our mouths, is a joy that doubtless unites all Mexicans. The tortilla is not only bitten into: it wraps, accommodates and stores other food, acting as both napkin and spoon. Once the plate has been wiped clean, even the spoon is eaten.” Maize enjoyed a powerful mythical reputation among the ancient Mexicans. It was considered to be a sacred plant. From the Olmecs to the Mexica, the plant was associated with many divines.
According to the Maya and other cultures of Mesoamerica, Amirsadeghi writes, human beings are made out of maize. Moreover, since it is a plant that cannot reproduce on its own, thus requiring the hands of farmers, it is said that we are both the origin and creation of maize. Somehow, we take in a mouthful of courses with each bite. Among the Maya, the god of maize was considered an ideal beauty. The religious conduct of the Maya revolved around maize. Even ceremonies celebrating the birth of a child were (and continue to be, in some Mexican villages) conjoined. Mexico is not focused on the culinary arts of Mexico. Amirsadeghi says it is more of a quest for the heart and soul of the country and its people through the medium of food.
Mexico is a history of Mexico, Mexican cuisine, its culture and way of life in more than 100 informative profiles and thousands of tantalizing photographs. Mexico gives a comprehensive and authentic history of Mexican cuisine and culinary culture from Yucatán to Baja California, Michoacán to Tabasco, Nueva León to Chiapas, spanning over centuries. It features personalities and country’s landscape along with local specialties. You will learn about not only the culinary culture but also about the arts and people, especially great chefs. No matter how much you know about Mexico, Mexico will add to your knowledge. It is simply a delight to hold it in your hands or scan through its pages.