Head to your kitchen and end up in Mexico, thanks to Mely Martínez, longtime blogger and author of the recent cookbook The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico. Get to know Mely in the excerpt below—delicious recipes included.
My mom used to say that I was born with one foot already in the street. She was referring to my penchant for getting out of the house to go visit my friends, aunts, and neighbors around town. For some reason, since a very young age, I liked to go out and visit other people’s houses, hoping that they would invite me in to eat some of their food. My mother completely disapproved of this, as she was afraid that people would begin to think that we didn’t have any food at home!
The reason I loved doing this was because I always wanted to try new flavors. I always wondered why things like sopa de fideo would taste different from one house to the other, or why some people would add lime juice to their soup and others wouldn’t. So many of these questions about food and how it was prepared often kept my mind busy, and to this day, I still think about food constantly.
I come from a large family, and am the second child in a family of five girls and three boys. As with many families back then, the older siblings were introduced to household chores at a very young age, and that included buying groceries at the market and helping out in the kitchen.
In the summertime, my mom used to send my siblings and me to my grandma’s house, which was on a ranch along the Pánuco River in the state of Veracruz. We always saw those trips as fun times; there was so much to do there during the long days of summer. Even though there was no electricity and toys, my siblings and cousins always found ways to have fun. Our afternoon pastimes included playing hide-and-seek and sticking chicken feathers into the top of a dried corncob so we could spin it in the air like a helicopter.
Most of the morning-to-midday hours at the farm were spent cooking. It was a process that
involved all the women in the family, each with a specific job in the kitchen. One would be preparing the salsa in the molcajete, another would be grinding the masa on the metate, and another would be making the tortillas while my grandma was cooking the main dishes. My job was to grind the corn in the manual corn grinder.
Sometimes, my grandma would send one of my cousins and me to deliver lunch to the men in the family, who were working in the fields. The lunch would often consist of a batch of freshly made corn tortillas, each folded and stuffed with scrambled eggs in a spicy salsa. They would be in a pile and tied up in a bundle with a kitchen napkin, almost as if it were a gift. To drink would be coffee with raw milk, carried in an aguardiente glass bottle closed with a small piece of corncob.
Though simple, those egg-in-salsa tacos were absolutely delicious. They were made with eggs that my grandma collected from the hens early in the morning and tomatoes and peppers picked from her garden next to the riverbank. I swear that, somehow, the flavors of those tacos were enhanced during the small trip from my grandma’s kitchen to the field where my uncles were working. Even though the summers were hot and humid on the farm, a sip of some hot coffee after those tacos felt perfect.
I never realized that going to the ranch in Veracruz every summer formed a part of my school of life, as it taught me about cooking and being resourceful with what nature has to offer. I also learned what foods were available during the different seasons. As I grew older, I started to experiment with recipes in my mom’s kitchen, first with cakes and then with other dishes. As a young woman, I moved to the state of Tabasco, in the south of Mexico, to work as a rural schoolteacher. Because of my experience at my grandma’s house, I was able to quickly adapt to rural life in the south. I started to ask the local women in the small village where I lived questions regarding why they cooked the way they did. For example, I wondered why they didn’t cook with nopales like in the north, despite having access
to them, or why they liked to cut the flowers from the trees and make scrambled eggs with them.
From Tabasco, I traveled to nearby states in the Yucatán Peninsula, and with these travels my culinary world continued to expand, with so many new dishes to taste and cook. When I got married, my husband’s job allowed me to travel to many other states in the country.
Throughout my moves and travels, my collection of recipes started to grow, and I always kept thinking that one day I would put them all together in a nice, pretty-looking binder. Life kept our little family moving several times throughout Mexico, and later on to the United States. It was here in the US that I finally had the time to start organizing those recipes.
In the early 2000s, I started participating in online cooking forums, which were up-and-coming at the time, and that was when I began sharing my recipes and food photos with others. Eventually, my family and friends told me that I needed to start a cooking blog about Mexican food, because the ones that existed were not representing Mexican food for what it really was.
So, in 2008, I started Mexico in My Kitchen. I decided on that name because I didn’t want my family to miss our traditional food. If we couldn’t go to Mexico to enjoy its food, we would have Mexico in our kitchen! In the beginning, the blog was a project that I decided to take on for my then-teenage son, so that it could be an easy way for him to find his mom’s recipes when he grew up, even if he was far from home. Over time, I started to receive emails from people telling me how much they missed their mom’s or grandma’s cooking, and how the recipes on the blog reminded them so much of that food. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t only writing these recipes for my son, but also for the many immigrant sons and daughters who were missing the home-cooked meals of their childhoods. To them, cooking those meals made them feel closer to home, if only for a moment.
Excerpted with permission from The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico by Mely Martínez (Rock Point 2020).