Hey guys, it’s Marsha! and today I felt inspired to share with you a very important topic when it comes to living in this country. Yes you guessed right: FOOD.
I could easily write a novel about the Mexican traditional cuisine I´ve tried in my seven years here and I´m neither a writer nor chef. The colors, the flavors, the ingredients, the agriculture, the century-old ways of preparing meals with often very simplistic cooking tools, food and the holidays…
But… that´s not what this blog is about. The purpose isn´t to focus on the actual types of food in Mexico but rather the practice of eating. There are a few things I had to get used to when I arrived from Canada.
EAT WITH YOUR HANDS
I have a British background. The British are known for having specific forms of etiquette. My Grandmother was an expert on etiquette and she reminded me of that often.
I have clear memories of her hitting my hand when I was pushing my peas onto my fork with my finger. ¨Use your knife!¨
Things are different here. You CAN use your hands. In fact, it is highly encouraged! Tacos, gorditas, molletes, tostadas are all eaten this way. Instead of using a spoon or knife to pick up what is left on your plate, people use a tortilla.
*Confession: I STILL ask for a fork and knife in some restaurants.
In Mexico, the meal hours are quite different from what I was accustomed to. This is what a typical day of eating looks like here (for most):
MORNING: coffee and bread or a fruit or yogurt
11-12: a well-served breakfast. This is when people may visit a puesto (food stand) to order burritos with egg, chicharron (pork), cecina (beef), or beans.
3-4: La Comida (or lunch). Children typically go to school from 7-2:30. When they get home the family will have the largest meal of the day. Some people have a two-hour break at this time in order to have a sit-down family meal and possibly a siesta; a short sleep. I had NO problem getting used to that!! It is common to see offices, stores, and other establishments closed from 2-4 pm for the hour of ¨la comida´.
8-9: La Cena (or dinner). Don´t be surprised to receive a dinner invitation for 9pm. Some people eat a relatively large meal again at this hour.
*I still haven´t adjusted completely to this schedule and maybe never will but I know I will NEVER starve.
NO means YES…Kind of.
You CANNOT refuse food. I have been told a number of times that when someone offers you a meal or snack, you should take it. This is more of a ¨rule¨ in the pueblitos (small towns). Offering food is Mexican´s way of saying, you are welcome in their home. Imagine ¨abuelita¨ (Grandma) has spent HOURS in the kitchen to prepare her century-passed down recipe for pozole and when she finally brings it to the table, someone says ¨No, gracias.¨
STAND and EAT
When my stomach is growling, I never have to look far for something to eat. Puestos (food stands) are everywhere; offering a variety of things. Small, and often quite busy, it is normal to see people eating while standing up. It has taken me some time to perfect this skill; balancing a plate, napkin, a drink, and whatever else I have with me.
*Don´t be surprised to see a street dog watching and waiting for some food to fall off your plate.
TIPPING ¨la propina¨
Although NOT mandatory, tipping is definitely a norm. The standard practice is 10 percent but if you were very happy with the service, 15-20 percent would be appropriate. Sometimes a restaurant will calculate the tip and write it on your bill.
Mexico has a wide range of beautiful, flavorful and often painfully spicy salsas. The server may place some salsa and totopos (tortilla chips) on the table before your meal. You may have the urge to start pouring it on the chip. BE CAREFUL! Color, or smell often has NO indication of spice level. The salsa that doesn´t look hot might be extremely so and vice versa. As time passes and as you get more accustomed to Mexican cuisine you will discover which salsas best match which meal. You will also discover your tolerance level and you will probably have a great story about how/when you discovered that level.
*My tip: have a cold beer ready to soothe a burning tongue.
I think the custom of saying ¨provecho¨ is lovely. The translation is ¨enjoy¨ or ¨bon appetit¨ (French). Mexicans not only say this to the people at their table but also to others in a restaurant when they are entering or leaving. It is a polite customary practice to wish others a pleasant meal.
It´s ok to order more food once you have finished your first plate. Dishes made with corn masa can get watery or mushy and fall apart if they aren’t eaten immediately. This, with the fact that most Mexican food is supposed to be eaten hot, is the reason why it is common to order two or three times.
* Another theory I have discussed with some friends is that people may not notice HOW MUCH you are eating if you order a little at a time. But, that is just a theory.
These are just a few of my observations of the differences in the practice of eating. I love food and you know what they say: practice makes perfect!