Tacos and being Mexican goes together like peanut butter goes with jelly. Growing up, my Mom was the one who cooked for me. Since she was raised on Mexican food, that is mostly what I was fed. Even when I asked her what her favorite meal to cook was, she responds simply with, “tacos.” “Well, duh,” I thought to myself. Ever since I was little, I always remember my Mom making the best tacos. My friends from down the street would always beg to come over for dinner when she would make them. She would season and cook the beef, until it was juicy and tender. My Mom was pretty famous in our neighborhood for her hand made tortillas. They were perfectly crunchy or fluffy and soft, whichever type was preferred for that evening. Whenever I would come home from my piano lessons, I immediately knew it was taco night. You could smell warm aroma of fresh tortillas all the way from the front yard.
My Dad is full-blooded Italian, but the way to his heart is through Mexican food. Asking my Mom how her cooking style changed once she got married, she told me that, “I had to ease him into eating Mexican food. He had never really had authentic Mexican food when he was growing up in the North End of Boston. He didn’t know the difference between chorizo and a tamale before we were married, but now that’s all he wants me to cook him.” This new bit of information made me think about myself, and how my Mom catered to my picky eating, while also making the Mexican food healthy for a growing child. She told me “Most meals I would cook for you when you were growing up were a small piece of chicken or a small soft taco with a side of rice or beans, and a healthy amount of steamed vegetables. You knew from a young age that you had to finish the vegetables before you were allowed to leave the table. You also were very picky and hated to have your foods touch, so we bought those separator plates. Everything I cooked for you had to be plain and simple or you wouldn’t eat it.” Thankfully I grew out of the food separation stage, but I’m still a really picky eater. At least I don’t need my food to be entirely separated anymore!
My Mom never really mentioned who taught her to cook, so I asked her about that. Her response was “Your Grandmother taught me mostly. We grew up on a ranch, so everything was always fresh. We had chickens, cows, avocado trees, pear trees, and tons of vegetables and fruits. We all grew up on traditional Mexican food, and ever since I was little your Grandmother would have us spreading masa on the tamales for Christmas, or rolling out tortillas. Cooking was just something we all learned growing up by watching.” My Grandma was responsible for teaching me to cook some family recipes as well. She would make all of our extended family get up early on Christmas Eve and go over to her house to make and spread the masa on the water soaked corn husks, and slow cook the meat for tamales. It was a family tradition that apparently went as far back to when my Grandmother was a child. That familiar scent of spicy meat, along with the thick, gooey feeling of masa in your hand as you spread it across warm, wet cornhusks will always remind me of Christmas time and all the family bonding that took place.
Growing up with Mexican roots, my family really made sure that us younger kids knew how to cook certain dishes, so the secret family recipes wouldn’t be forgotten. When talking with my Mom, I noticed that it was like that for her as well. Some of these recipes have been around for at least a hundred years, if not longer. The salsa we all know how to make started from my grandmother’s great-grandparents that lived in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, so it’s a pretty old recipe. Now that I am older, I can truly appreciate all my family has done to instill Mexican cooking within me.