They say in Mexico that the fieriness of the chillies you eat depends on the temperament and mood of the chef. Considering the sweetness of the chile pasilla stuffed with goat’s cheese served by chef Alondra Maldonado Rodriguera, at an ongoing Mexican food festival organised by the country’s embassy in Delhi, she is gentleness personified.
This would be in complete contrast to perceptions about the cuisine, known to be spicy and hot, just like Indian food. As Mexican ambassador to India Melba Pria points out, it is perhaps only the Mexicans and Indians who know the difference between spicy and hot. Their curries are another common point, as also the fact that the flavour of the curry differs from region to region and even from person to person. Mole, the Mexican curry, has a base of chillies, mixed with any ingredient under the sun, from cacao to cumin and nuts to plantains. Mole is not only a literal mix, it signifies the mixed indigenous and European heritage of Mexico, in terms of cuisine, ingredients and also legends surrounding the dish. If fusion food is the current rage in gastronomy, the Mexicans obviously perfected it years back.
What Rodriguera has brought to the national capital at the Taj Mahal Hotel as part of her country’s independence anniversary celebrations is a cacao mole more popular in the southern part of the country.
Dense and flavoured with cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cacao, sugar, and, of course, chillies, Rodriguera says this is the most complex mole to make, given the variety of dry peppers used and the expertise required to burn them to extract the right flavours. And, it takes over three days to make.
Coming from a region of Mexico known for its seafood, Nayarit, Rodriguera excels in presenting a scallop aguachile that is fresh and very hot, compelling diners to persevere till the end. Beans, chilli and corn are the triad that defines Mexican cuisine, but given the land’s diverse climes and terrains, the produce is as varied and cuisine as rich in complexity. Take, for instance, the capirotada, which is a dessert made of an unthinkable mix of bread, plaintain, nuts, jaggery, onions, tomatoes, raisins and cheese, all soaked in a sweet, spiced syrup.
No wonder then, recognising the cuisine as a complex and living art, the Unesco has established Mexican food as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. The other three cuisines bestowed with the same honour are the Mediterranean diet, Japanese Washoku and French cuisine.