Cuisine: Bringing Heat to the North

by Sergio Granillo

Some foods are so popular that you can find them almost anywhere in the world. Among the newest tastes on this list are burritos, nachos and tortillas – which are actually very old – born in aboriginal Mexican kitchens as long as 500 hundred years ago.

When moving to another country, one of the things you miss the most is the food. Mexicans in America found hamburgers and hot dogs dull. As the Mexican population in the U.S. grew, fast food franchises tried to attract them by adding tacos and burritos to their menus. Ironically, while Mexicans seldom liked the Americanized taste, most Americans loved it and these snacks became some of North America’s favorites foods.

Made with ancient recipes, the base of these meals is the tortilla, which literally means ‘small cake’. It is a flat round unleavened bread, made from corn or wheat flour, very similar to French crepes or Greek gyros. Every neighborhood in Mexico has at least one ‘tortilleria’, a place where tortillas are made.

Tacos are tortilla wraps filled with meat, sometimes with the addition of chopped onion, cilantro, hot sauce and lime. Small mobile stands, known as ‘puestos de tacos’, are a common part of the landscape in Mexico. People gather around them at lunch time or at night, to buy tacos. After late parties or movies, youngsters know where to find a ‘taqueria’ that’s still open.

Burritos were created in the 1840’s, as a portable food for Mexican mine workers. In the early 1900’s, restaurants in San Francisco started to offer this ‘new’ wrapped tortilla with rice, beans and meat (later adding sour cream and guacamole). Nowadays, even NASA astronauts eat them in space. Twenty years ago, the Spanish word ‘burrito’ (translated, it means ‘little donkey’), meant nothing in North America. Now it’s a part of the vocabulary even here in Canada. The meal has become so well known that during the famous Greek street festival, Taste of the Danforth, in Toronto, there was banner saying ‘Gyros - the ‘Greek burrito’.

‘Nachos’ are another contribution to North American menus from the Mexican cookbook. Nachos are chips maid out of fried tortillas. They can be eaten plain or served with cheese and spicy sauce. Many movie theatres in North America, included Canada, offer nachos in their snack bars.

Most large supermarkets now sell some basic Mexican products, among the most popular: nachos chips, flour tortillas, refried beans, guacamole (avocado sauce) and hot sauces made from Mexican jalapeño (pronounced ‘hal-a-peen-yo’) peppers.

Mexican food is a great way to stay warm during the cold Canadian winters.

CNM