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Posole or Pozole? A Rose By Any Other Name


Recently on Twitter, the very talented Pati Jinich wrote that she was irked by the word posole. "It is Pozole with a Z!!!! Posole is nothing, nada!! Posole equals not Pozole. Sorry and good night.", she wrote. Now I admire Patti a lot but I think she got this one wrong, along with many of her enthusiastic followers who were quick to throw posole under the bus.

My response was: "Posole is an old tradition from the US Southwest. It refers to the grain and the final dish. It's hundreds of years old and to deny this is to deny how indigenous cultures refused to stagnate. "

I understand that good Mexican food is under siege and its advocates have to stand their ground. How many chefs are discovering tacos and are eager to share their new love (and "interesting" new spins) on food that many of us discovered long ago? The talented Ina Garten created a dish that might be delicious and it might have corn in it, but it's not pozole by anyone's standards other than hers. Taco Bell created a snack called a chalupa and it has nothing to do with the well-established Poblano treat that has been called a chalupa for generations. As writer Javier Cabral writes, "Adding black beans and lime juice to things do not automatically make it Mexican."

I was once in the lovely town of San Miguel de Allende with a group of fellow gringo tourists. San Miguel is a very unusual town with an exceptionally large ex-pat US population. Or should I say, US immigrant population? Whatever it is, whether you like SMA or not, it's not very typical. One woman insisted that a bowl of guacamole and chips was a proper way to start a meal in Mexico. I suggested that she may want to start her meal this way, but it's not all the common, and in fact, I'd never observed Mexicans doing this. She asked the waiter if she could order this and he, of course, brought out a big bowl of chips and guacamole and she turned to me and said, "See! They do this here." I had to bite my tongue.

I have to watch my own behavior, as well. Clearly, I am obsessed with Mexican food and culture and even though I travel there often, I am aware of my own tourist status and try to avoid speaking in absolutes. I would love to be considered someone who is helping the situation more than hurting it. I don't want to be another attack on traditional Mexican culture that will need to be defended by someone who knows more.

With all of this, I understand being irked by posole. But this isn't like a chalupa. This tradition from the American southwest has been around for generations and has morphed into its own thing, including taking freshly cooked nixtamal and drying it for use later, a very clever technique not used by the Mexicans who came up with the very clever technique of making nixtamal. And I would argue even further that this product is superior to the canned hominy most everyone uses instead of making fresh nixtamal. If you want to start a cause, it should be against canned hominy, which has almost no flavor and provides a texture not unlike chicken cartilage.

In New Mexico, posole refers to both the grain and the final dish. It's a much more casual ingredient than in Mexico. A bowl of posole in a chile sauce is a common side dish. Huntley Dent says in his seminal book, The Feast of Santa Fe, that the difference between everyday posole and feast-day posole is the amount of pork. Everyday posole is a thing. It's not Mexican but it's from the same roots and I think it should be embraced as an example of indigenous cultures adapting, creating, and celebrating nixtamal.

When I announced that I was writing a book on pozole, one commenter scolded me for adding pork and told me I should stick to pozole's pre-colonial roots. Well, if I were to follow her advice, I'd have had to use the flesh of my captured soldiers for protein and I'm just not up for that. Corn and nixtamal have made their way far further north and south than their Mesoamerican origins. It's bound to change and watching the journey is part of the fun.

Did I mention my new book? Never one to pass up an opportunity when it's knocking, my next book, The Rancho Gordo Pozole Book, comes out this November.

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