Cuisine and Culture of Sinaloa

One of the key attractions of Mazatlán, beyond its incredible natural beauty and its amazingly friendly and resourceful people, is its food. We all love our ceviches, aguachiles, shrimp and fish in garlic or chile sauce or barbecued (zarandeado) over an open fire, our pollo a la plaza. Thus, I was eager to attend the presentation Thursday evening April 11th in the Gallery Peralta, “Cuisine and Culture of Sinaloa.” Though mis-named, the talk was quite interesting and focused primarily on the cuisine and culture of Mexico. It was organized by CULTURA Mazatlán as part of the initiative to formally include Mazatlán in UNESCO’s “Creative Cities Network” as a “city creative in gastronomy,” a decision that will be taken during meetings in November.

The main speaker for the evening was Maestro José (Pepe) N. Iturriaga, who was introduced by Maestro Jaime Félix Pico, President of the Gastronomic Conservatory of Sinaloa (Conservatorio Gastronómico de Sinaloa A.C.) as the “foremost professor of gastronomy in Mexico.”  According to Félix Pico, Mazatlán “has met all the conditions to be formally included in the Network of UNESCO Creative Cities.” Our entering the ranks of the 180 cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development, would, indeed, be welcome news.

Iturriaga seemed a bit confused about where to begin his remarks, rambling and repeating himself for the first half hour. He explained that “we are what we eat;” that food is a key part of Mexicans’ national identity—way beyond just a method to gain nutrition; and that what makes Mexican cuisine unique is our triumvirate culinary staple: corn, beans and chile. He told the audience that other Latin countries also eat corn and beans but asserted that chile is unique to Mexico. Together this trilogy, according to Iturriaga, provides a very balanced diet. Beans are legumes with quality protein, very nutritious. Corn is a “cereal with carbs and a bit of unusable protein,” while chile is a fruit with vitamins and minerals but which also contains a substance that makes the nutrients of corn (protein, sugar, starch and fat) absorb better.

Iturriaga has recently written a book that shares the title of this conference, Cocina y Cultura de Sinaloa. He reported that the book is to be published by UAS (Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa) but has been languishing there unedited. Perhaps the lack of a book was the reason he seemed so lost as he started his presentation. At the conclusion of the evening, Maestro Papik Ramírez, Director of the Sinaloan Institute of Culture (Instituto Sinaloense de Cultura—ISIC), assured Iturriaga that his book would be edited soon by UAS and ISIC.

The most fascinating portion of Iturriaga’s presentation was when he explained to the audience the history of Mexico’s successful process to be named the only “World Heritage Cuisine” by UNESCO in 2010. According to Iturriaga, the effort began in 2000 and took the better part of ten years. He told us that key factors in Mexico’s successful bid to become a World Heritage Cuisine include antigüedad, continuidad and actualidad:

  1. Antigüedad: Mexican culinary tradition is antique. Corn was domesticated 8000 years ago from wild grass over a period of one to two centuries—thousands of years before the pyramids of Egypt were built.
  2. Continuidad: Mexican culinary culture has continuity and is an important part of the lives of people of all socioeconomic levels. It has no “high” and “low” cuisine. Even the richest Mexicans eat chilaquiles or enchiladas for breakfast, celebrate with a good mole, and pozole will be served in the wee hours at the most exclusive of wedding receptions. Mexican food is healthy and built huge empires; it is not a third world food, Iturriaga said, somewhat defensively. It is the food of kings as well as of the people.
  3. Actualidad: Mexican culinary culture is alive and well today, passed on from grandmothers and our mothers. We experience this long tradition in Mexican homes, as well as in fondas, mercados and street carts, within the country and in nearly every country worldwide. Mexican cuisine has great regional diversity, as well as great commonalty and shared tradition. According to Iturriaga, the over 30 million Mexicans residing in the USA typically share three cultural traits from their homeland: Mexican food, Mexican music, and the Virgen de Guadalupe.

According to our speaker, other countries do not have cultural traditions around cuisine, an assertion to which I as an interculturalist take great exception. Iturriaga repeatedly emphasized that the USA, for example, “has no endemic cuisine or regional culinary traditions that are not imported.” While I greatly understand and empathize with his pride in Mexican culinary culture, his habitual effort to put down other world cuisines, including those of France and China, dumbfounded me. Mexico can be rightfully proud without insulting the cultures of others.

He advised those attending that Mazatlán’s proposal to UNESCO should focus on the culture of Sinaloa’s gastronomy, not on the gastronomy per sé. UNESCO is a cultural, not a gastronomic, organization, and they will be interested in history, anthropology, ethnicity and literature surrounding our bid to join the Creative Cities Network.

Iturriaga then shared a few interesting statistics, noting that the beauty of Mexican food culture is a combination of both its ingredients and the cooks. He stated that:

  1. Mexico ranks fourth in the world for its biodiversity, after Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. My research does not necessarily agree with this ranking, though the main point that Mexico is biologically a “megadiverse” country is very true.
  2. Mexico ranks second in the world for its cultural diversity, behind India and ahead of China. Iturriaga went on to explain that his ranking counts the number of currently spoken, living languages as a measurement. India, according to him, has 65, Mexico 62, and China 55. I love this idea, but again, as an interculturalist I cannot imagine where he got his data from; Ethnologue has very different statistics for living languages by country. I do agree that language is a solid litmus test of cultural diversity, as it’s fragile and very easy to lose, so is a sign of cultural cohesion and dynamism. Iturriaga said that 12% of Mexicans are indigenous, with the rest regional variations of mestizaje, mentioning Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German and French.

The key point is that there is a huge diversity of cultures within Mexico, particularly regional diversity. When you combine the diversity of its people with the biodiversity of its flora and fauna, Mexican cuisine has a huge natural advantage in this world. Yet another reason for Mexico to become a better steward of its natural resources as well as its people.

Turning finally to the culture and cuisine of Sinaloa, Iturriaga explained that our long coast here in Sinaloa is one of our strengths, as it is in Veracruz. The Tropic of Cancer dissects Sinaloa and is an important climactic marker, adding to our biodiversity. The state has an incredible variation of climactic zones from east to west, mountains to ocean, also. Iturriaga said that 13% of our state is conifer forest, and our estuaries are natural (I would add quickly disappearing) aquariums. Sinaloa’s biodiversity reflects that of the country as a whole.

Sinaloa is Mexico’s biggest producer of corn, tomato and shrimp—33% of the national production of the latter. Sinaloa is also an important producer of chile and beans. Referencing Sinaloa’s cultural diversity, Iturriaga said that in the 16th century there were 38 aboriginal groups in the area that now comprises Sinaloa. He went on to say that the Aztecs migrated from what is now Culiacán to Mexico City, another fact that sounds great but which my research shows as far from agreed-upon among academic experts. Most texts say the origins of the Aztecs are uncertain, though they did originate in northern Mexico. Mezcaltitán, just south of the modern-day Sinaloa state border, also claims to have been the original home of the Aztecs. Iturriaga told us that his upcoming book has a list of 30 fruits that are endemic and unique to Sinaloa, largely unknown outside our state. Very cool!

After this short interlude on the theme of the evening—Sinaloan culinary culture—we returned to Mexican culinary traditions. Iturriaga told the audience that:

  1. “Tomato” comes from Nahautl, the Aztec language—tomatl. Where would world cuisine be without these wonderful, originating-in-Mexico pomodoros?
  2. Guajalotl, or in Spanish guajalote, turkey—what would Thanksgiving look like without this Mexican gift?
  3. Chocolatl, so important to the economies and culinary culture of Switzerland, Belgium and France, among many other countries.
  4. Not just chocolate but vanilla also originated in Mexico—a key ingredient in several national dishes worldwide.
  5. Finally, Iturriaga told us that 95% of the world’s chiles are Mexican. The popular habanero is not; it comes from the Amazon, but even bell peppers, from which Hungary’s famous paprika is ground, originate in Mexico. We wouldn’t have goulash, curry or Szechuan food without Mexico’s culinary contribution!

Iturriaga concluded his formal remarks by talking about pre-Hispanic religious traditions. One of these included making idols of corn. He asserted that Mexicans may also have invented the practice of “communion,” now well-known in Roman Catholic and some other Christian churches, because pre-Hispanic priests would break up the cornmeal idols so that the community could share in the power and energy of the god represented by the idol. Tamales were and still remain a common religious offering. The Tarahumara (they prefer to be called Raramurí) make their beer—tesguino—from corn and then offer it to the four cardinal points. He went on to share with the audience that May 15th is the Day of San Isidro, Farmers’ Day; the cathedral in Culiacán has an altar to this saint and many people from the pueblo mestizo make offerings on that day, also bringing in seeds to bless before planting them. In conclusion, he assured us that gastronomy is cultural as well as religious.

After the talk, CULTURA generously shared with those attending canapés and yellow squash tamales made the traditional way in Palos Blancos, El Rosario municipality. CULTURA stressed that in Sinaloa, from Teacapán to Los Mochis, from tamales barbones (shrimp tamales) to huacavaque (beef stew), we can see the fingerprints of pre-Hispanic Mexico and the mixing of the races, even in modern dishes that rely on technological production methods and a desire for innovation.

All in all, I was glad I went downtown for the early evening. The talk was interesting, and I am happy to support this Creative Cities’ effort. If you are interested in learning to cook Sinaloan food in your home, you might wish to read about Doña Cuca’s cookbooks.

El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary!

DSC_3357©Last night, Wednesday February 27th, Estadio Teodoro Mariscal filled with over 22,000 incredibly eager fans ready to celebrate six-time Grammy-winning music legends Banda El Recodo de Cruz Lizárraga, on their 80th anniversary. OMG was it ever a party!

What a huge gift El Recodo gave their home city! Free tickets for everyone, general admission or VIP. There were smiles on everyone’s faces, joy in their souls, dance steps in their feet and bodies. The crowd included young and old, rich and poor, united in their love of this Madre de las Bandas. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I had expected lines at the stadium from early morning, in the vein of the coronation ticket lines, but no. We went over there about 1:00 and there were no more than 20 people in line. By 2:30 when we went, there were several hundred people in line. The doors, however, were scheduled to open at 4:00 pm and by then the crowd was more than ready to run through the door! Everyone entered, found a seat, and then started phoning one another, texting, and waving their hands to find the rest of their group. The crowd was festive and happy.

new cd

Music started at 5:00 pm and continued until about 12:30. El Recodo has always been innovative: Don Cruz’s vision to have a big band/orchestral sound for banda started that. They have long played banda music as well as jazz swing, classical and Latin dance tunes. Wednesday night’s lineup was incredible, as in addition to best-in-class banda music we had some super reggaetón, pop and ranchera. Performers included some of those on the band’s new CD: 80 Years of Music Between Friends (80 Años de Música entre Amigos). The spectacle was telecast live and internationally. The night’s lineup included:

  1. DJ Clássico
  2. Virlan García
  3. Chyno Miranda
  4. Ulices Chaidez
  5. Mau y Ricky
  6. Remmy Valenzuela
  7. Edith Marquez
  8. Reik, who showed up late supposedly due to the crowd not letting them through, and played a surprising acoustic set.
  9. Ramón Ayala
  10. Gerardo Ortíz
  11. Mario Quintero

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow:

I was standing in the press zone down by the Carnaval royalty when Chyno Miranda, one of my favorite Venezuelans, took the stage. You should have seen the queens, even the infant queen, go completely went nuts for him! He was happy to oblige their adoration by kneeling down to pay them full attention.

The capacity audience sang along happily to all the acts, dancing in the aisles of the stadium and ingesting huge amounts of beer and junk food. The lines for the porte-potties on the lawn were unreal—so glad I used the indoor bathrooms!

Sadly, just after 10:00 pm the crowd outside the stadium decided to break down the gates. The video I’ve seen make it look very dangerous. I do feel for people, because there were so many who had tickets, but apparently too many tickets had been given out or copied that there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so they closed entry. Thousands stormed through the gates and into the stadium, broke down the fence to the VIP area and filled the hundreds of unused seats down there. I was glad they were able to get in to enjoy things, but what an uncivilized way to go about it.

One of the remarkable realities of the night was the apparent lack of security. There were some guards and military cadets, and volunteers. But there was no metal detector to go through, no frisking, people brought in bags of refreshments—yet the night passed without any apparent incident. What a terrific testament to Mazatlecan affability and love for El Recodo.

Monitor Latino was on hand to recognize Banda El Recodo for 80 years of transcending regional music and taking it throughout Mexico and the world (five continents,  if you count the Americas as one). I wish that someone from Videorola or Bandamax would have been present to salute them as well.

One of the high spots of the evening was giving an award of recognition to German Lizárraga, Poncho and Joel’s half-brother, who was a member of El Recodo for 44 years. It was great to see the two brothers playing clarinet together on stage and putting past bad blood behind them, even if for a bit. Another favorite awardee was Julio Preciado. El Recodo was the first banda to put a singer out front and center, and it was young Julio. During his stint with the band it grew enormously in popularity. Julio went on to have his own stellar career, of course.

Thank you for such an incredible evening, El Recodo and Familia Lizárraga!!!! Mazatlán so very much appreciates your hospitality and generosity!

2019 Camerata Campbell Series

49342979_740819989631643_5173177263516024832_o.jpg

The 2019 Temporada Campbell started off with a bang—a Big Bang. Entitled “The Big Bang Without the Theory,” the outstanding percussion concert did include a bit of theory after all. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Quick! Do you know how many types of percussive instruments there are? Two main categories: membranophones and idiophones. And what differentiates the two?

The Camerata’s Percussion Ensemble has played for us before, and they always astound—especially because they are so young to be so incredibly talented!

Mazatlán, we are in luck, as this was the first concert of this Sunday at Noon series, which continues through the end of February. Do NOT miss getting your tickets and enjoying a Sunday afternoon of pleasurable music followed by a lunch al fresco in historic downtown. February 27th should be of particular interest to our readers. See you in the theater!

THANK YOU, Raul and team!!!!

DSC_9455Those of us living in Mazatlán are incredibly blessed to have had the past seven years straight with our outgoing Cultura (Instituto de Cultura, Turismo y Arte de Mazatlán) team. Tuesday night in the brand-new Sister Cities Park was a very fitting send-off for this enormously talented and dedicated team of world-class professionals. While they thanked Mazatlán, hundreds of mazatlecos attended to give them at least three standing ovations. While I am hopeful the incoming crew will step up and shine, I can honestly say I am in mourning thinking that the people I so value and esteem at Cultura are leaving. Insert a big sob here.

Pasión por la Música was a musical and pyrotechnic extravaganza that included live music from the Camerata Mazatlán, Pércival Álvarez conducting, and the Angela Peralta Chorus, who performed a selection of pop, classical and rock music choreographed to a multimedia show (Karla you are amazing), laser lights (David Olvera) and incredible fireworks (Jorge Márquez, who has done Combate Naval in recent years). Raul Rico, who has led our public arts scene for nearly three decades—as director of Codetur, Cultura, and various other arts and cultural institutions, with a few brief breaks during administration changes—directed festivities from the center of the park, surrounded by those working the sound and light boards. Seated at tables in the background with wait service were the VIPs attending the current international tourism fair, including Governor Quirino.

Carnavál is what it is today because of Raul Rico. He got involved in it in 1975 and has pretty much been in charge of it since 1987 (a few breaks with political shifts). He is Mazatlán’s own maestro de la alegría, master of joy. His goal has always been to grow the public, to bring arts and culture to the schools, to history, to people’s homes and hearts. And that he has done incredibly well. Under his leadership, Cultura events have grown to cover everything from opera and ballet to bandanorteña and folkloric dancing, art shows to book readings. Cultura puts on our annual Day of the Dead as well as Day of the Music festivities, the various cultural festivals, and so much more. Adults and children alike enjoy the performances, which take place in our gorgeous Angela Peralta Theater, Casa Haas, as well as in public parks, plazas, orphanages, libraries, or walking through the streets, downtown and in the farthest, poorest colonia. There is such a wealth of programming offered that no one person could possibly attend everything. Rico promises us he will remain actively involved in the arts and culture scene here in town; he will receive a pension for his over 25 years of service.

Cultura’s final administrative meeting reported that the current team is leaving 7.8 million pesos behind, 5.8 million earmarked for equipment for the Angela Peralta theater, including an LED screen, lighting console, firefighting equipment, interior communication and air conditioning for the galleries, and the rest to cover taxes and Institute operation for the next few months. The report details over 16 million pesos of investment into the theater under Raul’s leadership, and 900,000 pesos in instruments for the camerata. Last year they were responsible for 16 separate activities within the Tianguis Turístico, the national tourism fair, which dazzled the country and our international visitors.

The new city administration takes over November 1st. Incoming mayor is Luis Guillermo Benítez Torres (El Químico), a member of AMLO’s Morena party looking to transform this country. He has named Mazatlán-born movie director Oscar Blancarte as the new Director of Cultura. I very much hope he will bring new life and vision to our arts scene, building on what we already have. Blancarte has publicly said that he wants to make Cultura more inclusive, more participatory, and closer to the artists, building on the work Rico and team have conducted, and that he will take a three-year break from his film career to head the organization here.

Thursday November 1, 6:00 pm in the Plaza República, our new mayor and his cabinet will be presented. Entertainment for the party will be provided by Jesús Monárrez and the Camerata de Mazatlán; my favorite, La Falsa Orquesta Cubana; and the Ballet de Danza de Ángel Rivera.

The callejoneada or parade for Day of the Dead will take place on November 2nd this year, due to the changeover in city administration.

 

Tickets (really) Available Online!

IMGM_0806 (421)

Yes! It’s true! Really! This time it works! As of this past Monday we can buy tickets to CULTURA Mazatlán events in the Angela Peralta theater online!

Mazatlán is blessed with world-class cultural events—my beloved opera, classic and modern dance, theater, music—but until now domestic and international tourists have been frustrated by an inability to purchase tickets in advance of their travel to Mazatlán. Residents have also been frustrated. Those who live outside the Centro Histórico have for years been handicapped—we fight traffic and torn-up roads only to get to the theater to find the box office isn’t open. Good tickets get sold out before we can get any, or we have to impose on friends who live downtown to get them for us. Even those who live downtown can struggle.

Our prayers have fortunately been answered. Even though for years it’s been announced that people can buy online, the system never worked. Lic. Raul Rico and his staff wanted to farm out the work, but the municipality said they wanted to do it in-house. They never did. Finally, however, the IT people at the municipio have come through! So far, the online purchase does not work for events in Casa Hass and elsewhere, but I’m told that will come soon. Fingers crossed.

The process for purchasing tickets online is as follow:

  1. Begin at the calendar/cartelera: http://www.culturamazatlan.mx/calendario.php  Sadly this page is currently only in Spanish. Cultura has been looking for months for English-language assistance…
  2. Click on the event of interest to you, and you will see (in Spanish) the date, time and location at the top of the pop-up window. Below it will appear intended audience, ticket prices and a summary of the event. On the upper right you will see an aqua blue box that reads Comprar boletos (buy tickets).
  3. Once you click on Comprar boletos, on the next page you will need to select the time of the performance you wish, and then click Continuar sin registrarme, or “Continue without registering.” Alternatively you can enter your “Yo + Cultura” card information to track your purchase for goodies.
  4. Once you finish there, the system will take you to a map of the venue. As you mouse over the seats available the ticket prices appear. Click on the desired seats, and click on Confirmar tu compra or “Confirm your purchase.”
  5. You’ll be taken to a confirmation page where, if everything is ok, you’ll click Realiza tu pago or “Enter your payment.”
  6. The next page will ask you for your email (correo electrónico) and cell phone number. This is great, because you’ll get a confirmation email for your purchase, and they will send the tickets themselves to your cell phone!  So, be sure to enter the numbers correctly and double- and triple-check them. That way, you can print them out, or you can just have a virtual copy on your phone to show at the door and save a tree.
  7. On the final page you’ll enter your payment information:
    1. Cardholder name (Nombre del titular)
    2. Card number (Número de tarjeta). Supposedly any credit or debit card except American Express will work.
    3. Expiration date (month/year)—Vigencia (mes/año)
    4. Security code (Código de seguridad/CVV2)

I trust you are as excited about this news as I am. Kudos to the city, and to the folks at Cultura, for getting this done. It’s obviously the new administration who will get the advantage of all their hard work—what a wonderful parting gift—but the biggest winners should be all of us who enjoy our Cultura events!