The History Behind the Cuisine of Guadalajara

17 Nov 2010, Posted by Dustin J in Mexico, 4 Comments.

The History Behind the Cuisine of Guadalajara


Tortas Ahogadas – Literally “drowned sandwiches”, this dish has its origins solely in Guadalajara. A dish served in a “bolillo”, a 6 to 8 inch hard roll taken from the French during their military occupation in the middle of the 1800’s. Traditionally, the torta ahogada is served only at breakfast with the “bolillo” filled with carnitas (Mexican braised pork) then topped with onions and either a spicy chile de árbol sauce or a more mild tomato sauce closely resembling Italian style marinara. The torta ahogada can only be truly made in Guadalajara due to the use of the “bolillo” also know as “birote salado”, salted bread. The climate and elevation combine to create bread that will not break up once soaked in the sauce.

One possibility of the origins of the dish relate to the Arabic influence in the Andulsian region of Spain, who’s inhabitants were some of the first Europeans to settle in Mexico.  Dishes using stale or old bread as bases for meat and sauce can be traced throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, especially “trenchers”.  A trencher was originally a piece of stale bread, cut into a square shape by a carver, and used as a plate, upon which the food could be placed before being eaten. At the end of the meal, the trencher could be eaten with sauce, but was more frequently given as alms to the poor.

Birria – Originating in Guadalajara, the word Birria comes from the Spanish referring to “poor quality”.  The dish itself is stewed meat of either goat or mutton, often served during holidays like Christmas, New Year’s and weddings. Birria is made using a base of dried roasted peppers. This gives the Birria its signature savory taste as well as its remarkable variety, as different cooks will choose different peppers to use for the broth base. It is served with corn tortillas, onion, cilantro, and lime.  “Birrierías”, the specific Bierra restaurants, traditionally display the horns of the goat due to its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Guadalajara is famous for its Birrierías. Two locations within the city are particularly renowned for it: the food court in the Mercado Libertad, where the Birrierías are located in the southwest corner, and the Barrio de las Nueve Esquinas, just south of the Templo San Francisco in the Centro.

Carne en su Jugo – Literally, “meat in its juices”, the preparation is a mixture of sliced beef strips, boiled beans, bacon, covered with a beef consommé and various types of chile spices.

Carne en su Jugo is indigenous to the city of Guadalajara and is a proud identity of the Jaliscan people.  The city is also home to the restaurant “Karne Garibaldi”, whose specialty is Carne en su Jugo and has a Guinness world record for being the fastest restaurant in the world.

One story of its origin is centered around its development as a spicy broth to sober up the drunk people who roamed the streets around the Mercado de San Juan de Dios.  Presently, Carne en su Jugo is a famous dish unique to Guadalajara and known around the world.

Pozole – Taken from the Nahuatl meaning “foamy”, this dish is a tradition in Guadalajara. It is very popular in other parts of the country, but Jalisco is famous for its pozole.

The history of this dish can be traced prior to the Spanish arrival and was used mostly as a ceremonial and celebratory meal. There are many stories related to pozole and its origins, with some telling of its contents once containing the human flesh of the ritually sacrificed.

This dish uses large grains of corn called “nixtamel” or hominy.  They are then pre-cooked in a mild solution of water with calcium oxide (lime), known as alkaline cooking. This releases niacin, a necessary B vitamin (vitamin B3) that prevents pellagra and reduces incidents of protein deficiency. This process called “Nixtamalization” derives its name from the Nahuatl and dates back to the ancient times of the Mayans. The kernels eventually lose their fibrous husk. Next, they are removed from the lime solution and rinsed. Lastly, they proceed to a second cooking until the grains of corn take a form similar to that of a flower, with the stalk of grain to the center. At this point the rest of the ingredients are added.

The pozole we know today has its roots as humble, poorer people’s food.  The meat used was whatever the more affluent people discarded, mainly the head of the pig. In Guadalajara, pozole is usually served with pork, shredded lettuce, finely chopped onion, slices of radish and fresh lime.

Chilaquiles – The name chilaquiles is derived from the Nahuatl word “chil-a-quilitl” which means “herbs or greens in chile broth”.  Today this dish, mainly eaten at breakfast, uses crispy tortilla chips or “totopos” simmered in either green or red salsa until they become soft.  Some variations cook the “totopos” down even further resembling something similar to polenta.  They are then topped with queso fresco, soft Mexican cheese or crèma (sour cream) then served with beans.

The dish’s origins, like many others, has roots as a way to use left over food, in this case stale tortillas were used so the stewing would soften them up. Chilaquiles are additionally lauded as a cure for the common hangover; this is because in Mexico it is believed that spicy foods help in the recovery process from a hangover.

Recipes for chilaquiles have been found in a U.S. cookbook published in 1898. The book was Encaracion Pinedo’s El Cocerina Espanol (The Spanish Cook). She included three recipes one for Chilaquiles tapatios a la mexicana, Chliaquiles a la mexicana, and Chilaquiles con camarones secos.

Tejuino – Tejuino is made from the same corn dough used for tortillas and tamales. The dough is mixed with water and piloncillo (sugar cane syrup), and boiled. Then the liquid is allowed to ferment very slightly. The resulting drink is generally served cold, with lime juice, a pinch of salt and a scoop of shaved ice or lemon sherbet. It is usually sold by street vendors in small plastic cups or in plastic bags tied around a straw.

Mexican history says Tejuino is a drink of the Gods. Jalisco, Nayarit and Sinaloa argue over the origin of the thick, tangy corn-based beverage; others say it hails from the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, who drank it in lieu of beer.

Jericalla – The custard is a typical Mexican dessert, which originated in the city of Guadalajara. It is made with milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar and appears similar in style to the crème bruleé served in France.

Although there are different versions of the regional origin of this dessert, one of the most popular dates back to the nineteenth century when the nuns prepared this dessert for children staying at the Cabañas Hospice in Guadalajara, built in 1791 in order to serve the poor, the disabled and orphans. This dessert is named after the home region of one of the mothers, Jerica, a village in the province of Castellón, near Valencia off the southern coast of Spain.

Buñuelos – Culinary historians have traced the origin of Buñuelos to ancient times. Europe’s Iberian Peninsula is considered the birthplace of the Buñuelo. Buñuelos may have originated with Sephardic Jews or Arabs, who were forced out of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. During the Spanish settlement of the Americas, explorers brought the Buñuelo tradition with them.  Buñuelos typically consist of a simple, wheat-based yeast dough, that is thinly rolled, cut or shaped into individual pieces, then fried and finished off with a sweet topping.

In Guadalajara, the Buñuelos we sampled were similar to a fry-bread, but much more delicate in texture. They are served two ways, glazed and ready to eat or crumbled up in a bowl and served with a pineapple and guava syrup.  Sometimes it is complimented with “Champurrado de chocolate”, a warm, thick, semi-sweet maize beverage.

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