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Jul 16, 2013 10:47 AM

Mexican Food. History and Geography

Hello there
Some of you my know from my old posts that I was born and raised in East LA and have memories of home cooking (actually neighbor cooking as we were dust bowl Okie Gringos and the neighbors taught my Mom how to cook). Thinking about those times in the 50s I have developed a thirst for knowledge concerning the history of northern Mexican cooking. Northern would be Baja, Sonora, and Chihuahua. Predominantly poor people there but some of the best traditional dishes.. Mexico's version of Provencal food perhaps.

As an aside ---
I was in Houston some years ago and went to dinner with my Boss at a Mexican restaurant. Unsure of the names and description of some of the dishes I ordered a Chili Relleno dinner plate feeling sure it would be a comfortable dining experience. When I cut into my first chilli I was shocked to find it stuffed with ground meat. I leaned back and said, "well this is different.. Ive never had meat in a chili relleno before". My boss grinned and said proudly, "Tex-mex."

So this is why I didn't include any of the states along the Texas Border (North of Big Bend cooking in not influenced by anything except dust). South along the Rio Grand their cuisine is obviously a Mexican/gringo mix they are proud of

End aside ----

As for the states mentioned I find Sonoran foods to be the most eclectic. They, like Baja have a strong sea-food influence but seem most grounded in Corn dishes (Tamale, tortilla, etc) and vegetables out of the river basins. Meat is predominately chicken. Sonoran food also picks up a lot of the hotter chili dishes and goat from Chihuahua (don't you just love that name? cheee wa wa). Chihuahua has a ton of different chillies, lots of vegetables and beans along the rio grand and the meat is predominantly chicken with goat and beef... and cheese from the dairy along the river too.

So I am just blabbing here. I really would like to have more authentic northern Mexican receipts with maybe some specific geography and history. To me "authentic" means traditional family food and something you will probably not find in a Mexican restaurants north of the border.

Any takers? Any books?

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  1. So years ago you had meat in a chile relleno and you disqualify everything in Texas because of that. Most Tex-Mex rellenos don't use ground meat. The situation in Houston has changed greatly over the years. Are you also aware Chihuahua has a long border with Texas across the Rio Bravo?

    4 Replies
    1. re: James Cristinian

      Sorry if I offended... Yes I judged all Tex Mex based on that one meal. My bad. And yes I know the geography of the MX state. I pointed out, perhaps without skill, that the border north and west of Big Bend is not, to me, the same as everything else down stream. Chihuahua has the benefit of cuisine from the mild chilli north (Hatch) to the hotter chilli south, to the green gardens of the east along the river. Something Sonora does not enjoy and Baja would never guess. Thanks

      1. re: camper

        Just so there's no confusion on this point, ground meat in a chile relleno does not imply Tex-Mex. In Mexico many chiles are stuffed with ground meat, most commonly probably picadillo, which can be ground pork and/or beef. The famed chile en nogada is filled with picadillo.

        1. re: Soul Vole

          Just so there is no further confusion on this point there would be almost zero chance that families and cafes in the three northern Mexican states mentioned that would stuff a chilli relleno with ground meat. Not even chicken.. only cheese.

          I made a mistake.. I dissed Tex Mex. Tex Mex is not East LA. Tex Mex is not Baja. Tex Mex is not Sonora. Tex Mex is maybe in Chihuahua but I doubt it.

          I am really sorry that I could not make this more clear. I don't know how I could have made it clearer. I am interested in "northern" Mexican food recipes and history

          All this really points out how many experts there are in Mexican food when there is no such thing as all-encompassing Mexican food. All food is regional. What is American Food? New England boiled dinner? Texas Smoked brisket? San Francisco cioppino? sour dough?

          Almost sorry I made this post.

          1. re: camper

            Don't be sorry. I'm finding this an interesting discussion. I know little about Northern Mexican cuisine and would like to know more.

    2. I think the only authors (writing in English) who have really taken Mexican cuisine seriously are Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy. Both of them have several books, I'd go look at a bunch of the reviews on amazon or wherever. So much US info about Mexico refers only to Tex-Mex cuisine, which is fine, but there is so much diversity in Mexico that is not known in the US. It would be like someone eating cheese grits in the US and thinking that they knew what California sushi roll was like. Both of these authors spent their entire careers looking at different localities within Mexico and writing about it. I would start with them and branch out from there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lireland

        There's a current thread about books by Roberto Santibanez (Truly Mexican).
        by Z Martinez is a good book on Oaxaca cooking
        Robb Walsh tries to make the case that Tex-Mex is an authentic American regional cuisine.

      2. Use Google Advanced Search and search the ".mx" domain ("Site or Domain" search field) for recipes. You are searching in Mexico, for Mexican web pages, when you do this. If you don't speak Spanish, Google Chrome browser can translate pages as you surf.

        You can do this for any area (usually a country) that has a unique domain.

        1. Do a search on here and eGullet for EatNopal's posts.

          1. While not directly addressing regional cooking in Mexico, I recently read a couple of books that broadened my view of Mexican cooking

            Planet Taco

            Taco USA