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Cooking and eating are traditional focal points for community life in Mexico and there’s a simple reason why: Mexican cuisine is delicious. Now a stunning new coffee table book by the photographer Hossein Amirsadeghi sheds light on the culinary impact of the country’s varied geography, culture and history. In Mexico: A Culinary Quest, Amirsadeghi chronicles a journey across the country’s 32 states and captures the spirit of Mexico’s cuisine and culture in more than 800 glorious photos.
Amirsadeghi’s passion for the project stems from UNESCO’s 2010 designation of traditional Mexican cuisine as an intangible form of cultural heritage. Still restricted internationally by notions of melted cheese and burritos, the book explores the unique ingredients and cooking techniques that define each of its diverse regions.
Ultimately, each of these recipes are a reflection of their surroundings. Amirsadeghi’s journey takes him across peyote trails and cocoa plantations. He visits humble local eateries as well as high-end restaurants.
In Quintana Roo’s Le Chique the gorgeous dishes on the tasting menu are designed to be eaten in a single bite. In Mexico City’s stylish Quintonil, head chef Jorge Vallejo sources the vast majority of ingredients from local producers. A keen gardener, the contents of his dishes have often traveled less than 100 feet before they arrive on a plate.
The book also explores some of Mexico’s most unique dishes, including delicacies such as lightly fried scorpions served on sliced avocado as part of a taco.
Restaurante Monte Cristo in Mexico City offers pricklypear cactus salad with acociles, tiny red freshwater crayfish, a common dish served since prehispanic times.
In the southern state of Oaxaca, even more exotic dishes are available. At the Casa Oaxaca Restaurant the specialty is tostada of chicatana ants, gusanos de maguey and chapulines.
Along the way, we are introduced to the lively characters that inhabit the world of Mexican cuisine: the nuns, campesinos, neighborhood personalities, businesspeople and master chefs and cooks. The book contains more than 100 fascinating profiles of the culinary stars in Mexico.
Ángel Solís is the head chef at Pangea Restaurant in Monterrey, where he combines traditional Mexican cuisine with French influences and techniques. Solís gradually rose through the ranks under the mentorship of Guillermo González Beristaín (considered a father of contemporary Mexican cooking). Together, Solís and González Beristaín have created north-eastern Mexico’s most highly regarded restaurant and are regularly listed in the ranks of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants.
Antonia Chulim Noh, known to everyone as “La Tía,” (the aunt) has been making tortillas for 60 years. She rises at 4 a.m. every day to serve passing lorry drivers and only returns to her hammock at midnight. One of her specialties is huevos encamisados – literally “eggs in shirts,” which consists of eggs fried between two tortillas.
With its focus on Mexican cuisine, the lavish volume moves beyond the recipes to explore the human stories, history and settings behind an extraordinary culinary tradition. At times intimate and always insightful, Mexico: A Culinary Quest really is a feast for the eyes and intellect.