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MEXICO

for family ceremonies including weddings, christenings, and funerals. The wealthy Hispanic society also feasted on such occasions, although their foods tended to feature more imported goods from Europe. In recent years, tra- ditional festival foods have even replaced French cuisine in the most fashionable restaurants.

The primary feasts of the Christian calendar— Christmas, Easter, and All Saints’ Day—are celebrated throughout Mexico. The traditional Hispanic Christmas Eve feast includes an elaborate salad of lettuce, fruit, nuts, and beets, followed by bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscay-style cod), made with tomato, olive oil, olives, and capers, and served with wheat bread and wine. Indigenous and mes- tizo families celebrate the Nativity with tamales and mole instead of imported luxuries. Good Friday features fish, lentils, romeritos (dried shrimp fritters with greens) and capirotada (bread pudding). All Saints’ Day is stretched out over three evenings, from 31 October to 2 Novem- ber, known as the Days of the Dead. Families decorate the tombs of deceased relatives and construct altars in- corporating salt, water, candy skulls, and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), decorated with strips of dough re- sembling human bones.

Sor Juana, otherwise known as Juana Inés de la Cruz, was not only the most intellectual woman in 17th-century Mexico, she compiled the oldest surviving Mexican cookbook on confec- tionery. Consisting of 36 recipes, it is today a foundation text for the study of cloister cookery in the New World. PORTRAIT

COURTESY OF THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART/CORBIS.

indigenous staples corn, beans, and chilies for their main daily meal. By the same token, the Hispanic elite con- sumed European foods for the central comida, and sam- pled lower-class foods of indigenous origin during the evening cena. Indeed, “slumming” at an all-night taco stand is still a favorite diversion of stylish Mexico City youth. The recent spread of an American-style workday, without the lengthy afternoon comida and siesta, has caused considerable loss of business for many upscale restaurants. Nevertheless, the traditional eating habits are preserved in numerous festivals throughout the year.

Celebrating Saints and Feeding the Dead

The festival foods of Mexico are as extravagant as the campesino diet is meager. Pre-Hispanic calendars con- tained numerous feasts dedicated to indigenous deities, which were replaced by Catholic holy days after the Span- ish arrived. Each native community adopted a patron saint, and the inhabitants dedicated their meager savings to celebrating the saint’s day with lavish abandon. Women worked for days with little rest to feed the en- tire community with dishes such as mole, tamales, and chocolate. These same elaborate foods were also prepared

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The most important civic holiday, Independence Day, celebrated on the eve of 16 September has no def- inite culinary traditions. There are many tricolor dishes, most notably chiles en nogada, stuffed green chilies with white walnut sauce and red pomegranate seeds. Never- theless, the essence of the holiday is the grito or cry of independence repeated by public officials in plazas throughout the country, which lends itself not to elabo- rate cookery but to simple street foods: tacos, fritters, beer, and tequila.

Traditional festival foods have provided the basis for the latest trend, la nueva cocina mexicana, which combines Native American ingredients with the techniques of in- ternational haute cuisine. This “new Mexican cuisine” ac- tually began in the 1950s, with dishes such as corn fungus cuitlacoche served in crêpes with bechamel sauce, invented by Jaime Saldívar to make a lower-class indigenous food acceptable for elite tables. By the 1990s hybrid dishes like huauhzontle pesto, pistachio mole, and cuitlacoche mousse had become ubiquitous on menus, and no fashionable Mexico City restaurant could avoid offering some ver- sion of the rose petal sauce invented by Laura Esquivel for her best-selling novel, Like Water for Chocolate. Many of these restaurants were owned by women, who thereby rejected the male dominance of Mexico’s traditional so- ciety. Meanwhile, in the town of Tequila (Jalisco), firms such as Sauza and José Cuervo had improved their dis- tilling technology to a level equal with that of the finest Scotch whisky and French cognac.

The nueva cocina represents simply another example of Mexico’s ongoing gastronomic blending. Ever since the Spanish Conquest, cooks have combined native and European ingredients and techniques to create a sophis- ticated and original cuisine. It was only after the revolu-

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