Food transforms this Mexican town, year after year

By Nora Vasconcelos

chiles11

Calpan is a very small town, located in the west part of Puebla, one of the most diverse and industrious states in Mexico. It’s also guarded by two of the main volcanos in the country, the Iztaccihuatl (which residents affectionately called Doña Rosita) and the Popocatepetl (also known there as Don Goyo). So that, life in Calpan goes by in a quiet pace most of the year.

chiles5

The oldest buildings have been well preserved, as they were some of the first built in Mexico by the Spaniards, around the 16th century. All around, stone dominates the sights. Churches, houses, streets, all of them witness how people go through their everyday routine with not many disturbances from the urban fast-paced rhythm. Something really amazing, considering that this place is only two hours away from Mexico city, the country’s capital.

chiles10

But once a year, everything changes here. Local residents welcome hundreds of tourists from other parts of the country who, year after year, can’t wait to enjoy the most delicious “Chiles en nogada” ever!

This Mexican dish, composed with green peppers stuffed with meat and fruits, and covered with walnut sauce, is not only one of the most typical of the national cuisine, but also one with historical roots, as it has its origins during the aftermath of the war of the independence that Mexico fought with Spain in the 19th century.

chile3

The elaborated recipe for this dish was created in the state of Puebla, and it has been preserved through the years with just a few modifications. Eating “Chiles en Nogada” is a broad tradition that extends around many places in Mexico, and its anxiously awaited every year, as the ingredients for its preparation can be bought only during July and August and, to remain the closest to the original recipe, the ingredients most be from Calpan, Puebla.

It’s so that this charming town changes completely for two weekends, at the beginning of August. Families open their garages and get some tables to served visitors their special recipes; restaurants send their waiters and waitresses -dressed in typical Mexican customs- to greet visitors with plates containing the coveted dish as soon as they arrive to the town, and in the center of Calpan, a big marquee is displayed with tables and chairs, allowing people to taste dozens of different combinations which are prepared at the moment in stands specially designed to allow local restaurants to prepare these chillies while guests observe the preparations.

chiles1

Of course, the smell is amazing. And having the opportunity of sitting down at the table with people you’ve just met, is surprising. Life goes easy there. No rush, no worries. It’s simply time to sit back and relax. Calpan residents are there to take good care of you.

When the delicious meal is over, it’s time to go for a nice walk, and the farmers’ market is right there to surprise all people  -particularly those, like me, coming from the big cities- with their incredibly fresh produce, hand-made tortillas and all sort of Mexican snacks.

Then you see smiles all around. People in Calpan feel happy and proud to show visitors their hard work, from a complete year in which they have taken care of their fields.

chiles7

And then, when the afternoon turns into sunset, the culinary adventure ends. However, the pleasant experience has come here to stay for a long time!

chiles4

– . – . – . – . –

Want to read more about culinary trips? Check this post written by Jane Isaac, about The Markets Of The Dordogne, in France. And once you’re there, why not read her other posts about books!

Licencia Creative Commons

Weekly Photo: Symbol

By Nora Vasconcelos

It's cooking time!
It’s cooking time!

Mexican pottery is a unique symbol of the country’s culture and history, as it combines folkloric handcraft methods, historical designs, and years and years of traditional cooking that have been preserved from the Pre-Hispanic years, up to these days.

***

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Symbol.”

Licencia Creative Commons

‘The spirit man’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!

Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.

As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.

May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.

Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.

What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…

All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.

As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.

How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.

Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…

‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.

‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’

It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.

So, who was there?

The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…

‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.

Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?

‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’

We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.

As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.

Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.

Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.

When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.

‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.

‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.

‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.

‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’

And in a second, father was gone.

Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.

What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.

Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…

The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.

The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.

I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.

I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.

An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?

‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.

‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’

A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.

Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…

The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.

When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!

Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.

The house number had disappeared again!

Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.

Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!

Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live.  Were they one and the same?

At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.

A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.

We all knew what apartment was that.

At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.

The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?

‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.

‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”

‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.

‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

The wonders of Mexican fast food

Text and Photos by Nora Vasconcelos

Cod Fish Torta.
Cod Fish Torta.
Not so long ago I wrote a post about an exceptional book on typical Mexican food origined during the 17th and 18th centuries right in the heart of the Colonial Convents placed in different parts of Mexico.

The book, called Delights of yesteryear. History and Recipes of the Mexican Convents refers to tradicional recipes that are still prepared in this country, dishes that usually take a long time to be made with amazingly delicious results.

Mole by NVS

So after some time enjoying this book, I started to think how the ingenuity of the Mexican people has managed to transform these very elaborated dishes into a some sort of Mexican Fast Food.

Of course tradicional chains of Fast Food are popular in the country, selling pizzas and hamburguers, but, for many people in this country, tacos and tortas are a good way to bring fast, some food to their stomach, while really hungry, or when time is short.

Tacos and Tortas, are also a good way to take advantage of the left overs and keep enjoying all sort of elaborated dishes such as Tamalli, Mole and Chiles rellenos (stuffed chilli). The only thing to do to transform this food into fast food is stuffing a tortilla o some bread (kind of baguette style but Mexican) with the left overs and that’s it, intant fast food ready to good!

Even more, if there are no left overs at home, or if there’s no time at all to prepare a torta or a taco, there are always many places to buy them, either street stand to (literally) eat the on the go, or small locals specialized in preparing this kind of food. And when times allows it, it’s also possible to eat them, quite relaxed, in a restaurant.

Licencia Creative Commons

An unconventional book on Mexican Food

Text and Photos by Nora Vasconcelos

Mexican restaurant by NVS
Mexican food is well known around the world for its tasty food. And, although its many times spicy – hot flavor, sometimes hard for delicate stomachs, dishes such as ‘Mole’ (chicken with chocolate sauce), ‘chilaquiles & enchiladas’ (fried tortillas with tomato or green tomato hot sauce) and its huge variety of ‘quesadillas’ (stuffed tortillas with cheese) and ‘tacos’ (stuffed tortillas with all sort of dishes) appear very often in the international menus of all sort of restaurants around the world.

So, it’s often easy to find Mexican restaurants in different countries, some of them as far away from Mexico as Madagascar or the Czech Republic. Even more, in 2010 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) include the Mexican food in the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, considering that “Traditional Mexican cuisine is central to the cultural identity of the communities that practice and transmit it from generation to generation.”

What’s curious to know it that many of this food that it’s so common to find everywhere nowadays, is that it had its origins in the Colonial Convents that became very famous in their time (mainly 18th and 19th Centuries) for their well elaborated food, made with all sort of ingredients which complete preparation could even take hours and hours.

Mole by NVS
To remember those times, the book Delicias de Antaño. Historia y Recetas de los Conventos Mexicanos (Delights of yesteryear. History and Recipes of the Mexican Convents), not only collects a long list of recipes, but also, shares many stories of the practices, customs and anecdotes that occurred on those majestic convents (many of them, originally built in the 16th century).

So, this book, by Teresa Castillo Yturbe and Maria Josefa Martinez del Rio de Redo, give the reader the opportunity to learn how traditional Mexican deserts such as ‘arroz con leche’ (rice with milk), ‘buñuelos’ (sweet fritter) and ‘dulces de leche’ were made during those years by the nouns.

It also shares the recipes of the ‘Chiles en nogada’ (stuffed Poblano chiles with walnut sauce) are to be made following the conventual method, as well as other dishes such as ‘Mole Ranchero’ and ‘Chilaquiles’.

All in all, going through this book is a complete delight, even if one is willing to take the challenge of preparing any of these recipes, or if one is only interested in history or wants to spend a relaxing time.

Licencia Creative Commons