Our Mexican Love for Pain.
I'm like the green chile, weeping girl... peppery but flavorful -
La Llorona, Mexican Folk Song
The whole world knows we Mexicans are all about the heat! Peppers - which in this post I will refer as Chiles - are such a representative item of the Mexican Culture, our 86's World Cup Mascot was a mustached Chile wearing a giant sombrero. We named him Pique.
Chiles come in a large group of traditional ingredients, not only making their way into Mexican Food but also Culture, Heritage an overall Lifestyle. From the Aztecs to the Mayans, all the way through the Revolutionary times, landing in with the Modern Era, Chile is without a doubt, a considerable part of what we are!
The word Chile can be used as a Noun, an Adjective and, sometimes, even a Verb. In the next paragraph, I will try my best to explain and translate the vast complexity of the language structure surrounding a vegetable, bare with me. Although they're only slight approximations, I do want to say, for me, this part has been the hardest in the whole time I've been working on this blog. English has little to no words to describe the sensation produced by a Chile. In Spanish, though, Chile is the word for pepper, obviously, but also, has tons of derivations used to describe different circumstances involving the consumption and use of hot peppers. For example, to define the level of heat, a particular food has, you ask "How much Chile?" or, "Is it enchiloso? ", both questions are asking how hot an item is. When you say "I'm enchilado" you're describing a state of "heat" you're experiencing at the moment. Also, it is used as an action word, e.g., "Enchila" which means that something has the active properties of a Chile. To make things more complicated, these words have permeated in slang, making appearances when we're talking about emotional states like angriness. For example, you will say "He got here very enchilado!" when describing a person that arrived very mad or agitated.
So, as you can see, not only do we eat it, and add it to homeopathic unguents and remedies; we also quote it in double entendre jargon, we use it in slang and jokes, and it is by excellence, the ultimate prank and "dare you" item. Also, let me tell you, we start young! I remember I was about 6 when I got my Chile Initiation. Most Mexican kids get theirs around that time more or less, usually performed by their own parents. It starts slowly, a little try here and there, and before you know it, you're stuffing in a Chilito Toreado, while enjoying your favorite taco. Besides, most candies in Mexico consist of a sweet of some sort, combined with a form of Chile. Hot and Tangy flavors, like bittersweet experiences, are part of the Mexican exposure before age 10. After that, our everyday snacks will consist in chips, crisps, fruits, vegetables, slushies, and popsicles, smothered in tons of prepared sauces and Chile sprinkles, like Hot Sauce, Chamoy, Chilito, Tajin, and many other variations.
Experts describe the use of Chile as a form of neurochemical addiction. It involves neurotransmitters reacting to our painful need to feel the heat, or like I said before, "enchilarnos." Like other drugs, with every new exposure, we develop resistance, making us seek higher amounts every time. There are different debates taking place about whether Chile is a healthy option or an overall bad one for the organism. Some studies suggest that most chiles provide tons of properties and health benefits when consumed wisely. Other researches imply that Chile over-consumption can lead to gastroenteric complications and illnesses. Middle-ground consumption seems to be the agreement on both sides.
In Mexico only, there are around fifty different kinds of Chiles to choose from. We use them fresh and dried. We have particular Chile preparation processes, like Chipotle, Pickled Jalapenos or Powdered Spices. There are Chiles widely known and used all around the Country, like Serrano's for example, and there are the ones used more in some States, like the Chiltepin. Every single Restaurant or Food Stand in Mexico has a wide variety of salsas, moles, and other Chile presentations: from pickled to grilled, fried, smoked, sautéed, sliced, chopped, cooked, fresh, we will eat them all! Sometimes included in a dish, some other times as the main ingredient itself! We've created names for recipes based on Chile, like Chilaquiles, Enchiladas, Chiles Rellenos, Aguachile, etc.
The dish can already have Chiles in it, but that won't stop us from adding more! Heck! We will add Chile on top of Chiles if we have to!
The truth is, it is almost impossible to describe the satisfaction you get from burning your taste buds and numbing your tongue till the point of tears rounding down your eyes. It is something you just enjoy while suffering! This is why it is safe to say, and I'm sure all my paisanos will agree with me, that we Mexicans are masochists, we just love the pain.
But don't let my previous statement on craziness scare you my friends, for the next recipe includes Chipotle, one of our safest and tastiest forms of Chile. You can always add as much as you feel you would tolerate! Plus, I guarantee you, it will be totally worth it!
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