Along with corn and beans, chillies form the basic gastronomic trilogy that is key in Mexican cuisine. Chillies are sometimes used in recipes to add spice, sometimes texture and always flavour. Such is our love for chillies in Mexican kitchens that many fresh chillies have an equivalent dried version equally tasty.
Chile Ancho is known as Chile Color, Chile Colorado, Chile Ancho Chino, Chile Pasilla Rojo depending on the region in Mexico. In its fresh form it is a type of Poblano pepper that once it ripens it turns into a red colour. To make Chile Ancho, the Poblano peppers are left to rippen in the plant until they are red in colour; they are then sun dried. The texture of te skin of this chillie is soft, bright and corrugated; its flavour fruity and its spice is mild.
Chile Mulato is made also from Poblano peppers but a darker variety – one that is hardly ever sold fresh as farmers prefer to dry it and sell it as Chile Mulato. When its dried, the color is dark brown with a hint of red. The difference between Chile Ancho and Chile Mulato is a couple of genes that make them mature into their distinctive colours – though when in doubt, it is Chile Mulato the darker lf the too.
Chile Pasilla gets its name due to its dark and wrinkled skin akin to a prune or raisin; but it is also known as “Chile Mixe” y “Chile Negro”. When this chilli is fresh, it is Chile Chilaca which comes from the north of Mexico. Chile Pasilla is mild in spice but with plenty of flavour, almost fruity and smoky at the same time. Given its importance in many dishes, its nutricios content and healing powers, the Chile Pasilla is part of Mexico’s basic basket of goods for families.
Now you might be wondering, so why these three chillies are important. While they are used in many dishes, they blend their flavours to create the iconic dish mole the family’s own recipe variation.
Mexican indigenous consume more than 200 insect species die to their high nutritional contents (somewhere between 10 – 77% of protein depending on the species). Amongst most of the Tzetzal speaking towns, the Arsenura Armida, commonly known as zats or tsats, is enjoyed between June and August when it is easiest to pick. The word zats or tsats means worms in Tzotzil even though it is really a caterpillar for the nocturnal butterfly.
The worms are found in rubber trees mainly in Chiapas in the municipalities of Chilón, Ocosingo, Huitiupan, Simojovel and Yajalón. They are cleaned, ie. the bowels removed, and cooked in salty water for at least an hour. Some deep fry it and add salt, lime and chilli. The sats are then enjoyed as a snack or in a taco and sometimes bought in the street markets. Maybe one day I will venture to try them…
In Mexico, many of the endemic varieties of fruit are exotic to others. Such is the case of the papausa, said to be hard to find, impossible to forget. Found only in the south of Mexico and central America, between August and September, you never know if you will get a white or a pink fruit.
It is said that Aztecs used fruits to cure diseases and thus why they also left them in their ofrendas. Papausas are said to have medicinal properties to both humans and nature. Its high content of Vitamin C and antioxidants help reduce cardiovascular and cardiac diseases. It also helps reduce the risk of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer; helping also with its antiviral and antibacterial properties. In nature, this tree helps the recuperation of eroded soils as they can grow with little soil and water. Maybe the civilisations of old included this exotic fruit in their ofrendas too.
Making road trips manageable require making some stops to stretch the legs. In this side of the world a variety of flavours for snacks is also important… as snacks are non-negotiable.
Is always fun to go to new places and try the local and somewhat exotic fruits. Is equally nice to return to places and have those fruits again that are not available for us all year around. And having options is always a good thing. Having many options even more so.
In popular Mexican wisdom, restaurants where truck drivers frequent are tasty and value for money. Such is the case of La Cruz del Llano, a simple and modest place outside Tuxtla. The 30 minute drive out of the city is well worth it to arrive at a place that only serves around 5 different dishes, including lengua and pollo en mole.
The third biggest of the felines in the world, the jaguar lives mainly in central and south America. Although it looks more like a leopard (but it is more “stocky”), it behaves more like a tiger and also likes swimming. Jaguars method of killing its prey is unusual: it fatally bites the defenseless prey directly through the skull in between the ears.
How could anyone not want to be a jaguar if they were an animal?
Just a 20 minute car ride out of the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, is a natural canyon called Cañon del Sumidero. At its highest it is 1000 meters high above the water level and 100 meters deep below water. The views are amazing in the 2 hour boat ride and as long as you are a responsible tourist, they let you bring beers on board – which can lead to complicated situations if you have too much liquids.
There is debate whether piñatas were invented in the Americas or China. For us Mexicans, we don’t mind giving the credit to Chinese but it is true that the real piñata experience is not lived anywhere else as in Mexico.
Everyone had seen a piñata, but not many have experienced the real deal. Part of the reason is because piñatas are normally seen in birthday and christmas parties and are rare in other occasions. But once in a while they can be seen in other celebrations.
Big or small, young or old, piñatas are always a good way to gather friends and family. Stand around, sing along and have fun with sticks!
San Cristobal was founded by Diego de Mazariegos in 1528. The city was relatively isolated until the 1970s. A colonial city where you can observe the cultural heritage of tzotziles, tzeltales and lacandones. Walk around the pedestrian roads and have pox or mezcal and just enjoy being absent of reality and with no sense of time.