I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.
The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.
“Tamales…they’re party food. We have them for weddings, for birthdays, for…everything (laughter)…so we make the cooking of tamales a party too! We invite people over to come and work on the tamales…it helps because there are many steps, and we make…uh…lines, you know? We take turns doing steps. So when you make tamales, tell your friends and your family and bring out the tequila for a tamale party (laughter — she gestures to Lorenzo who brings out a bottle of tequila and begins to pour shots).”
5 cups corn flour maseca
3 tablespoons of bacon fat or lard
2 cups of refried beans
4 jalapeños in strips or julienne
30 corn husks
1/2 teaspoon salt
Oaxaca string cheese or salsa
2 cups of chicken stock or the stock of the process of cookings the beans or water as kneed
Soak the corn husks or totomoxtles in hot water for half an hour and allowed to drain. Mix the flour with salt and little by little is added warm water. Add the melted bacon fat and mix well with the flour, beating vigorously for 10 minutes. Cover a large wooden board (25 X 40 cm.) With a piece of plastic and spread the dough with your hand, evenly, to half an inch thick. With the dough make small tortillas. Place the refried beans on top of the dough and add the peppers or cheese or salsa cover with the masa by rolling, help yourself with the plastic and to form a cylinder an roll it to make it thin with the hand on top of the board. Then cut into regular pieces of 3 inch long. Then graph them with the corn husk. The tamales are steamed for one hour and served with cream and salsa.
Just as Claudia said, participating in this ritual was a lot of fun. This was the part in the class where, as a group, we all began to get to know and enjoy each other’s company. Both laughter and tequila were plentiful. This, in particular, was a great example of the joyous and communal nature of Mexican cooking and the ways in which it is used to bring people closer together and bond over a shared recipe.