Published on Latino American Today, October 2013 -by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard
Recently I had the pleasure of collaborating with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science, a special event for adults held every other month where visitors can experience the museum and fun activities in an original setting under a central theme. On August 1, the event complemented Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, their world premiere exhibition that runs from June 21, 2013 through January 5, 2014 in St. Paul.
The special gathering gave me the opportunity to share a bit of my Guatemalan culture with some 1,200 visitors during three presentations held throughout the evening. While the English-Spanish exhibition gives visitors the background and opportunities to learn, update, and explore in-depth about this fascinating culture, my exciting task was to bring the culture alive through a dynamic and cultural cooking and tasting experience.
Guatemala is the cradle of the Mayan civilization and the latter is the foundation of its cooking. This ancient cuisine is deeply rooted in Guatemalan culture, which blended with Spanish (and Arab) flavors during colonization and the cultural exchange that took place formed what we know today as traditional cuisine. Native Guatemalan cuisine (one of Guatemala’s four cuisines), the food of the ancient Maya, was rustic and its main ingredients came from the heart of Mesoamerica, Guatemala, an area of great agricultural importance to the region and the world.
The Popol Vuh, sacred book of the ancient Maya, establishes the importance of corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, squash and chocolate, and others to the Mayan culture. These ingredients are some of the most important staples of Mesoamerica (even today) and were the focus of my presentations, which concentrated on two Mayan stews that are of great historical significance to Guatemalan culture, and that form part of my award-winning cookbook, Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet cuisine with a cultural flair.
Jocón (pronounced ho-CON), chicken tomatillo, chiles and cilantro stew, opened the door to exploring new flavors and to a lively discussion on the cultural exchange during exploration and colonization of Latin America. Mole de Plátano, plantains in chocolate and chile sauce, gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast the delicious sauce with the equally scrumptious Mexican mole, while highlighting technique, special ingredients, and distinctive flavors. The evening’s multi-sensory experience also included visuals, trivia, and prizes; story telling, tastings and drinks, steaming pots, sizzling skillets, while cooking aromas permeated the vivacious crowded room with gusto.
Hungry for more?