In the United States it’s traditional to put a bouquet of flowers on the dinner table but we don’t think of eating those flowers. Not so in Mexico where you’re almost as likely to find flowers in the food as on the table. As Mary Stucky reports, Mexicans have been cooking with flowers – and eating them – for centuries.
The following is a transcript. To listen to this broadcast, please click on the play button above.
[Sound from the food market]
STUCKY: In the food market in the village of Malinanco about two hours southwest of Mexico City, the tortillas, fruits, vegetables and flowers are much the same as when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived 500 years ago. The Spanish were amazed by the profusion of flowers in Mexico – not only to decorate tables and altars – but also for food.
GILMAN: And here are the colorin, absolutely beautiful. They look like a poinsettia Christmas plant.
STUCKY: We’re with Mexican food expert and writer Nicholas Gilman. He has spotted the scarlet red flowers of the tree called colorin. There are piles of these flowers on a cloth at the feet of the elderly woman selling them. Thin and pod-like, they’re sometimes called bird tongues and look a bit like little red fingers.
GILMAN: This is something that’s been eaten here since pre-colonial times, this was a stronghold of the Aztecs and they have always eaten colorin.
[Sound from the restaurant]
STUCKY: Just around the corner from the market is the fonda – or homestyle restaurant – of Luz Maria Valesco Garcia. She’s at her stove cooking little egg pancakes – or tortillas – mixed in are pieces of bright red flowers – colorin.
[Sound of Luz Maria speaking Spanish and then Nick translates]
GILMAN: She says first clean them. Then she boils them with salt and a little piece of a volcanic stone which keeps the color from disappearing. Then she mixes the colorin with egg and cheese.
[Sound of frying]
GILMAN: Fries them in a little oil and serves the tortillas with a red or green salsa.
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GILMAN: Mmm It’s hard to tell exactly what the colorin tastes like. It’s more of a texture, it has a bite to it, there is a slight hint of bitterness which is nice mixed with the salt and salsa.
STUCKY: But colorin is only one of the many flowers Mexicans cook with – maybe a dozen different kinds – no one knows for sure.
[Sound from Jamaica market]
STUCKY: Roses – and rose petals – are everywhere at the enormous Jamaica flower market in Mexico City.
ALEGRIA: This section is only roses, sometimes used to make syrup and to flavor ice cream according to the food writer Ruth Alegria – our guide at this market. The cook at one food stall here stands at a long griddle behind rows of corn tortillas piled high with yellow squash blossoms… flowers from the squash plant of course.
ALEGRIA: She’ll turn them over on the flat griddle and that cooks the cheese with the flower.
STUCKY: Flowers in Mexico are almost always eaten cooked – not raw.
ALEGRIA: Now this is the one we’re all going to have a little taste of. And I’ll have the first taste just to be sure it’s okay. [Laughs]
STUCKY: The squash blossoms —called flor de calabaza – have a subtle taste – slightly lemony.
ALEGRIA: Hmm. Oh my. That’s delicious.
STUCKY: Many of the flowers in Mexico are cooked in the same way. And added into tacos, tamales …and the quesadilla I’m eating as I listen to the musicians who rove the market.
[Sound of Music]
ALEGRIA: Let’s walk this way and then over to the other side.
ALEGRIA: See this little white flower. That’s chamomile and chamomile is for teas. This orange flower that I thought was a marigold is not a marigold.
[Man speaking Spanish]
ALEGRIA: He says it’s for your tonsils. You make a tea of it and then you gargle it.
STUCKY: Flowers have recently found their way onto the menus of some of the most exclusive restaurants in Mexico City where chefs sometimes concoct multi-course meals using flowers in new and interesting ways. But flowers remain – an essential part of the diet of all Mexicans rich and poor.
STUCKY: For the World Vision Report, I’m Mary Stucky at the Jamaica flower market in Mexico City.
To view their blogs, please click on the following links:
Ruth Alegria: http://ruthincondechi.blogspot.com/
Nicholas Gilman: http://goodfoodmexicocity.blogspot.com/2010/05/edible-flowers-in-mexico.html