SCSU professor says Mexican food is more than just a meal

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NEW HAVEN – Every bite in a taco, quesadilla, burrito or other Mexican dish will take on deeper meaning after reading a Southern Connecticut State University professor’s new book, “Food Cultures of Mexico: Recipes, Customs , and Issues”.

Spanish professor Rafael Hernandez-Rodriguez, chair of the Department of World Languages ​​and Literatures, said the book is an introduction to the range of Mexican cuisine and interrelated issues such as the history of Mexico, including the revolution, the obesity and diabetes epidemic, and food around identity, gender and culture.

“Food means more than satisfying your taste buds,” he said. “Food is a communication around gender, status and symbolizes different significant moments in a person’s life”, such as weddings, funerals and birthdays.

The volume, part of Greenwood Publishing Group’s “Global Kitchen” series, examines the history, meaning and influences of everything from appetizers to dessert.

Hernandez-Rodriguez, 59, grew up in Mexico, where his family still lives, and came to the United States in his early 20s to pursue higher education after graduating from the University of Mexico.

Author of a few books, including “Splendours of Latin Cinema”, Hernandez-Rodriguez writes under R. Hernandez-Rodriguez because his full name is so common.

He’s so passionate about Mexico and food that he’s putting together a college course at SCSU on Mexican food and culture that he hopes to launch as an ad hoc in the fall until he can pass. administrative approvals. The course will be called “Tacos and Revolution: Modern Mexican Culture through Food”.

Hernandez-Rodriguez has his favorite Mexican haunts in Greater New Haven, including Camacho Garage — where he loves margaritas — Te Amo Tequila Bar, both in New Haven, and Puerto Vallarta in Orange.

These are favorites at other places: He was disappointed with a trip to a Mexican food truck on Long Wharf, billed as ‘traditional’ – Hernandez-Rodriguez said he ordered a carne asada taco, which is usually a steak, but said it had hamburger meat instead.

Hernandez-Rodriguez writes in the book about America’s love of Mexican food and how it even entered the culture in phrases like “whole enchilada,” “holy guacamole,” and “Montezuma’s revenge.”

He writes in the introduction to the book, “Mexican food feels as American as, well, manzana pie. Part of the success of this cuisine is its proximity, part of its charm is its exoticism, at least for the average American — it’s all those colorful margaritas, those spicy tacos that wake up our taste buds, those restaurants covered in sombreros and multicolored piñatas hanging from the ceiling, the walls showing off fascinating paintings of small villages and fields of agaves and cacti, the smells of grilled meat and corn tortillas wafting our way every time a waitress passed our table with someone else’s order or when a basket of fries and salsa is presented to us as a welcome offer, it’s loud, celebratory mariachi music and fluorescent palm trees.

He goes on to say, however, that Mexican cuisine is so much more than that.

“It is a cuisine that can trace its roots back thousands of years, a cuisine that emerged from the meeting of Native American and European cultures and evolved over more than five centuries by blending gastronomy and tradition, a cuisine that helped Mexicans reassert their identity when the nation became independent from Spain.The book is full of deep dives into history.

He writes in the book about the differences in Mexican cuisine here and in Mexico.

For example, melted cheese over rice and beans is not traditional in Mexico, although that is what diners will find here in a restaurant.

A taco in Mexico is a small corn tortilla topped with fried, grilled meat – not a lot of spices – and not a bunch of shredded lettuce and tomatoes piled on top.

He writes in the book about a long tradition of street eating in Mexico. It’s “improvised food”, he said, noting that a lady might open her door and start cooking on the street.

“Street food in Mexico is an integral part of the culture,” he said. It’s also gendered, as it’s men who sell tacos on the street corner because it involves grilling and fire, while it’s mostly women who sell quesadillas on the street, according to Hernandez- Rodríguez.

And don’t worry: the book, released in December, also contains recipes.

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