After a one month trip to Mexico to attempt to learn Spanish, I’ve realized how crucial corn is to their diet and culture. In Mexico, there are two different terms for “corn” depending on the type. Corn that is fresh on the cob or in food is called “elote”; whereas, dried corn is called “maíz”.
Corn has been integral to the Mexican diet since the rule of the indigenous peoples. The Aztecs, Nahuatl speaking people that dominated the center of Mexico from the 14th to 16th century, have a myth to explain the origin of maíz. Read on to learn their explanation of how Maíz came to be on this earth and to salivate over a few of our favourite Mexican dishes!
The Origin of Maíz
First, we’d like to start off by pointing out that Aztec mythology is definitely open to interpretation. The myths were originally told through pictures, not words and there are different versions and translations. Here is a summary of the version we learned in our Mexican literature class.
Two gods Principe-Nino and Flor-Preciosa (or Piltzintecuhtli and Tlacolteotl) fell in love and gave birth to Centeotl the god of Maíz. He was planted in the ground and from his body grew corn and other resources essential to Aztec survival. From his hair grew cotton to clothe the people, from his ears grew a medicinal plant to relieve pain, from his nose grew the cactus that provides aloe for the skin, and finally from his fingers sweet potatoes.
Reading between the lines it can be claimed that the Aztecs viewed Centeotl as the love child that provided food, medicine, and clothing.
There appear to be an infinite number of ways in which corn can be incorporated into the diet. It’s used as a flour, a vegetable, in ice cream, in drinks and I’m sure much much more. Today, world wide, it is also used in animal feed and in every processed food imaginable, as high fructose corn syrup, but we’ll stick to the traditional. Here are a few of my favourite dishes I saw in my travels.
Straight Up Corn on the Cob
Simply delicious, they boil or grilled it right on the street and serve it on a stick like a popsicle. You are usually given two choices of elote, white or yellow. In Guanajuato, they don’t use butter and salt but a variety of other toppings. A favourite of mine is lime and chili powder; however, the norm seems to be mayonnaise, cheese, and chili powder. On a side note, they really do put salsa and chili on everything in Mexico – Doritos, fruit, meat, vegetables, and even ice cream…
They also use corn in tortillas and you can get different colours depending on the maiz used for example white, blue, yellow etc. Tortillas are used in countless types of traditional foods but I saw them everywhere on the street being filled with with Nopal (the young pads from the prickly pear cactus), cilantro, and peppers.
They also have a corn based, chocolate drink called tascalate that is common in the Chiapas region in the South Eastern part of Mexico. It is an amazing mixture of toasted and crushed corn, cocoa powder, water or milk, toasted pine nuts, cinnamon, annatto (seeds from the achiote tree), sugar and ice. Perfect for a refreshing drink in a country known for the heat!
Pozole is an amazing traditional soup/stew dating from pre-Columbian times. It uses a different type of maíz that is very large and almost pasta like AND very filling. The dish can be white, green, or red depending on the broth. We had red pozole that is served with pork and white pozole with chicken. The soup/stew is topped with avocado, shredded lettuce, oregano, cream, and salsa – as spicy as you can tolerate!
Thank you Mexico for a wonderful visit!