Monday, November 17, 2008

History of Mexican Cuisine

The history of Mexican immigration has taken a similar route as Chinese immigration. Mexicans immigrated to America for many of the same reasons as other immigrants; they wanted a better life for themselves and their families. “Before Mexican workers supported American agriculture, it was the Chinese who filled the labor hole. Nearly 200,000 Chinese were legally contracted to cultivate California fields, until the Chinese Exclusion Act. Then it was the Japanese who replaced the Chinese as field hands. Between 1850 and 1880, 55,000 Mexican workers immigrated to the United States to become field hands in regions that had, until very recently, belonged to Mexico” (PBS). Just like the Chinese, many Mexicans immigrated to the United States to work on railroads that were being built to link the United States and Mexico. “Agencies in Mexico recruited for the railway and agriculture industries in the United States” (PBS). Many Mexicans were skilled laborers, farmers, and producers who were being forced to leave their country due to the War of Secession and low crop harvests. The Mexican people brought their own culture and food with them when they immigrated. They have also affected the culture and food of the United States as well. “Impoverished Mexicans fled their rural communities and traveled north to work as braceros. It was mainly by the Mexican hand that America became the most lush agricultural center in the world” (PBS).

Mexican food is one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in America today. Over the course of its history it has been influenced by many other cultures. The Spanish explorer, Cortez, has probably had the most influence, bringing in Spanish cuisine and melding it with Mexican traditions. When Cortez conquered Mexico he introduced many new foods to the land that previously were not a part of the culture. “Recipes and ingredients from Africa, South America, Caribbean, France and the orient found their way through the Spanish - Mexico conduit” (TexMex ToGo). The Mexican food that we Americans know and love is derived from a small portion of Mexican cuisine as a whole. Mexico is a large country that is divided up by its own sub-cultures, each of which have different types of food. A majority of the Mexican food that we consume here is considered Tex-Mex because it joins Mexican cuisine with American tastes.

History of Chinese Food

Most of the Chinese who immigrated to America did so in the 1800’s (The Brown Quarterly). Many came to America to work on new railroads that were being built. They came to Los Angeles and started their own community, opening up restaurants as a way to retain a part of their culture. “From the 1870s, Chinese were the dominant group in agricultural produce as growers, vendors and market proprietors. They distributed their produce from carts around the Plaza. Later others ran restaurants, meat markets and groceries.” (Chinese American Museum).

Many of these produce peddlers were taxed unfairly by the Californian government. The newly immigrated Chinese population would face many hardships over the years especially before the time of World War II (Chinese American Museum). Before this time, racial tension was high, which played a factor In the Americanization of Chinese food. The Chinese used food as a way to reach out to the American population. By changing their menus, they were able to cater to a western palate and at the same time ease tension between the two cultures.

There are many types of Chinese cuisine mainly because China is a huge country with many different climates. Here in America we have barely scratched the surface of Chinese cuisine. Sichuan cuisine, later Americanized to Szechuan, is probably the most famous (Fong). “Characterized by its spicy and pungent flavors, Sichuan cuisine, with a myriad of tastes, emphasizes the use of chili. Some typical Sichuan dishes are Hot Pot, Smoked Duck, Kung Pao Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork, Mapo Dofu.” (Fong). You would be hard pressed to find such dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, but they are typical in Sichuan cuisine. Another Chinese cuisine well known to Americans is Cantonese. “The basic cooking techniques include roasting, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying, braising, stewing and steaming. Some typical menu items are Shark Fin Soup, Steamed Sea Bass, and Roasted Piglet.” (Fong). Again, not something you would find everyday here in America. A third and final example of traditional Chinese cuisine is Hunan. Hunan, “is characterized by thick and pungent flavors. Some typical menu items of Hunan are Dongan Chicken and Peppery and Hot Chicken”(Fong). All of these different cuisines represent Chinese food as a whole. The Chinese food we know today is hardly a good measure of the culture at large.

The Americanization of Ethnic Cuisines

“When it comes to foreign food, the less authentic the better.”( This is a quote by journalist Gerald Nachman of the San Francisco Chronicle. The idea of ethnic food being not so ethnic has been an all too common occurrence in American culture. The American way of life has forced many ethnic restaurant owners to “Americanize” their cuisine making it more palatable to western tastes.

Americanization (verb form Americanize, əˈmɛɹɪkəˌnаɪz (help•info)) is the term used for the influence the United States of America has on the culture of other countries, resulting in such phenomena as the substitution of a given culture with American culture. When encountered unwillingly or perforce, it has a negative connotation; when sought voluntarily, it has a positive connotation. Before the mid-twentieth century, however, Americanization referred to the process by which immigrants became American.

The main reason behind Americanizing ethnic foods is very simple. Americans will only consume what they know and like. In order to get people to eat foods that are new and foreign to them, Chinese and Mexican restaurants incorporate American tastes into their dishes. “Schmitt, who in his own household observed his friends respond to his mother’s ethnic dishes, says, ‘The closer to American cuisine that the food was, the more likely it was to be accepted.’ A familiar product, such as a peanut or barbecue sauce, can ease someone into trying a dish, then they may be ready to graduate to a mixture of hoisin sauce with some hot garlic chili paste. ‘Give a bit of the familiar with the unfamiliar and most people are willing to try,’ he says” (Food Product Design). The Americanization of ethnic foods is all about making people feel comfortable. By doing this, we are assimilating different ethnic groups into our culture while at the same time expanding our tastes.

Americanization of ethnic foods is not always beneficial and in fact can come at a cost. Many Americanized dishes are looked down upon and considered phony. It is believed, by many that Americanizing a dish takes away from that culture. “Michael Ngai, a manager at Szechuan Gourmet in New York (which was recently awarded two stars by The New York Times), said that although his restaurant specializes in traditional dishes, he serves General Tso’s to accommodate picky eaters. ‘General Tso’s is not authentic but it’s still a good dish,’ Ngai said. ‘I don’t look down on it. When you have a Chinese restaurant, you have to make everybody happy.’ (Ethnic Food). The marketing of Americanized ethnic food as traditional ethnic cuisine can be misleading to consumers. Many people believe when they eat nachos that they are eating an authentic Mexican dish. In truth the dish is part Mexican and part American. “Unfortunately, nachos are one of the reasons that Mexican food in America has a negative reputation of being unhealthy, greasy and unrefined” (Ethnic Food).



* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
* 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
* 1 (8 ounce) can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
* 1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained
* 1 (15 ounce) can whole straw mushrooms, drained
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into strips
* 1 tablespoon cornstarch
* 1 tablespoon white sugar
* 1 tablespoon soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
* 1 tablespoon rice wine
* 1/4 cup chicken broth


1. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Stir in the fresh mushrooms, broccoli, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and straw mushrooms. Cook and stir until all the vegetables are hot, and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the wok, and set aside. Wipe out the wok.
2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable in the wok until it begins to smoke. Stir in the garlic, and cook for a few seconds until it turns golden-brown. Add the chicken, and cook until the chicken has lightly browned on the edges, and is no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes. Stir together the cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, and chicken broth in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for about 30 seconds until the sauce thickens and is no longer cloudy. Return the vegetables to the wok, and toss with the sauce.


* 1 (8 ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained
* 2 green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
* 1/4 cup cornstarch
* 1 3/4 cups water
* 3/4 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
* 2 drops orange food color
* 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1 inch cubes
* 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
* 1 egg
* 2 cups water
* 1 quart vegetable oil for frying


1. In a saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, vinegar, reserved pineapple syrup, and orange food coloring. Heat to boiling. Turn off heat. Combine 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup water; slowly stir into saucepan. Continue stirring until mixture thickens.
2. Combine flour, 2 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, salt, white pepper, and egg. Add 1 1/2 cups water gradually to make a thick batter. Stir to blend thoroughly. Add chicken pieces, and stir until chicken is well coated.
3. Heat oil in skillet or wok to 360 degrees F (180 degrees C). Fry chicken pieces in hot oil until golden. Remove chicken, and drain on paper towels.
4. When ready to serve, layer green peppers, pineapple chunks, and cooked chicken pieces on a platter. Pour hot sweet and sour sauce over top.


* 6 Ancho, Pasilla or Anaheim Chiles - or - 27 oz. can Poblano Peppers or Mild Whole Green Chiles
* 1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, thinly sliced
* 1/4 cup Flour
* 6 Raw eggs (separated)
* 1/2 cup Flour
* 2 cups salsa verde
* 2 cups Homestyle Mexican Salsa
* 1 cup Corn oil


1. Rinse the chiles.
2. Preheat your oven to broil.
3. Place the chiles in a 9 x 14 baking dish and place on the top shelf of your oven.
4. Watch and listen closely. When the skins start to make popping sounds and to char and turn black in places, take the chiles out and flip them over. Be sure and use a potholder so you don't burn your hands!
5. When both sides are fairly evenly charred, remove them from the oven.
6. Wrap each chile in a moist paper towel or place in a sealed plastic bag to steam.
7. After a few minutes, check them. Once the skin comes off easily, peel each chile.
8. Cut a slit almost the full length of each chile. Make a small "t" across the top, by the stem. Pull out fibers and seeds (this is where the heat is) and replace with a slice of cheese. You can set these aside, for a few minutes or a few hours if you put them in the refrigerator.
9. Whip the egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer, until stiff peaks have formed.
10. Heat the oil in a skillet until a drop of water sizzles when dropped into the pan.
11. Beat the egg yolks with one tablespoon flour and salt. Mix the yolks into egg whites and stir until you have a thick paste.
12. Roll the chiles in 1/4 cup flour and dip each one in the egg batter. Coat evenly. Fry, seam side down on both sides until golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain.
13. Meanwhile, heat the salsa in a medium saucepan (either one or some of each). Place one or two Rellenos on each plate and pour salsa over them. Serve them immediately and brace yourself for major compliments!


* Olive oil
* 1/2 medium onion, chopped (about a half cup)
* 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted, if you can get it (or 1 -2 large fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, when in season)
* 1/2 6-ounce can diced green Anaheim chiles
* Chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, or ground cumin to taste (optional)
* 4 corn tortillas
* Butter
* 4 fresh eggs
* 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)


1 Make the sauce first by softening the onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once translucent, add the tomatoes and the juice the tomatoes are packed in. Break up the tomatoes with your fingers as you put them in the pan. If you are using fresh tomatoes, chop them first, then add. Note that fresh tomatoes will take longer to cook as canned tomatoes are already cooked to begin with. Add chopped green chilies. Add additional chili to taste, either chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce, regular chili powder, or even ground cumin. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and let simmer while you do the rest of the cooking, stirring occasionally. Reduce to warm after it has been simmering for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste if needed.

2 Prepare the tortillas. Heat the oven to a warm 150°F, place serving plates in the oven to keep warm. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet on medium high, coating the pan with the oil. One by one (or more if your pan is big enough) heat the tortillas in the pan, a minute or two on each side, until they are heated through, softened, and pockets of air bubble up inside of them. Then remove them and stack them on one of the warming plates in the oven to keep warm while you continue cooking the rest of the tortillas and the eggs.

3 Fry the eggs. Using the same skillet as was used for the tortillas, add a little butter to the pan, about two teaspoons for 4 eggs. Heat the pan on medium high heat. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes for runny yolks, more for firmer eggs.

To serve, spoon a little of the sauce onto a warmed plate. Top with a tortilla, then a fried egg. Top with more sauce, sprinkle with cilantro if desired.

Serve either one or two eggs/tortillas per plate, depending on how much you want to eat. I'm a 2-egg 2 tortilla person myself.

Makes 2-4 servings, depending on your appetite.