Real quick, before I start to cook dinner and lose this thread of thought – first, I was introduced by my friend, Max to a very interesting man today whom I met up with later and tasted his fine home-brewed boutique organic mescal (which I sipped while sitting in the coffee shop across the street from my house this late afternoon).
It was outstanding and tasty in a green, veggie sort of way. I got a truly euphoric buzz (as opposed to soporific) from the 3-4 ozs that I sipped over the course of an hour.
And as the conversation strayed to food, pressed for my opinion, I matter-of-factly stated that the countries with the best cuisines in the world (based on my experience) were: Japan, China, India, France, Italy, and Mexico.
Clemente asked, “What about Peru?”
[Note. Yeah, there are some pinch hitters – like Peru – but those countries I proposed represented first draft picks.]
So I said, ” Great, but not as diverse as Mexico.” They might have the best ceviche on the planet but it would be stretch to compare them to Mexico.
To expand on the whole world food topic thing, there is so much more that I’d like to say without repeating some of my thoughts that I’ve written about in other posts.
Let’s start with Peru. I’ve been there several times. In fact I might be one of the only people who has walked the Inca Trail twice (’99 and again in ’00).
Peru as I stated earlier has without question the best ceviche in the Western Hemisphere (if not on earth). I’ve eaten ceviche in the Caribbean, Colombia, Chile, Panama, and Mexico. If you haven’t eaten ceviche in Peru you really have no idea how good it can be. Not just Lima but also in some of the small northern beach towns near cities like Trujillo and Chiclayo.
Peru also has that entire Andean food thing going on. Hearty soups, potatoes, and giant ears of corn served up on the street with salt, crushed chilies, and squeezes of lemon.
Then there is the entire Amazonian side to Peruvian cuisine…
But in my humble opinion, Peruvian food as much as I love it – still doesn’t even begin to come close to the breadth and depth of Mexican cuisine.
And I’ll hazard a guess why.
First. Historically Peru has three surviving elements that constitutes what we know as Peruvian cuisine today: 1. That what has survived (as in survival food) from the indigenous peoples inhabiting the Amazon basin. 2. What survived with the Inca. Remember, the Incas did not assimilate the cultures they conquered. They were like the ancient Romans, meaning they replaced the conquered culture with their own. 3. The legacy of the Spanish conquistadors.
Mexico on the other hand is very different. First. The pre-Hispanic cultures in most cases survived side by side up to and including the advent of the Aztecs. And the Aztecs were mostly confined to central Mexico. For instance, they could never subdue the indigenous peoples on their northern border inhabiting what is now Michoacan. The Mayas fought mostly among themselves. And the tribes inhabiting the far north (the desert waste lands) and the people inhabiting the far south (Chiapas) were mostly unassimilated. Meaning, the diversities of culture and cuisines were left alive and by and large undiluted.
When the Spanish arrived in 1519 they marveled over both the abundance and diversity of food in what they came to call New Spain after the conquest was completed in 1521.
Without resorting to wiki, if I remember correctly, the very iconic Mexican dish of Mole was created by Spanish nuns in the early colonial days to celebrate the arrival of an important bishop. The interesting thing to note here is that the nuns didn’t try to replicate a typical Iberian recipe but instead did a highly experimental, wild and bold construct of a sauce created with indigenous materials that included chocolate and chilies. Outstanding!
So Mexico, in this contest of foods in this hemisphere, unequivocally wins hands down.