Guadalajara — Where Colonial History Meets Modern Mexico

A Taste of Homesteading Around the World

Guadalajara — Where Colonial History Meets Modern Mexico

By Habeeb Salloum, A Taste of Homesteading Around the World

Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco and one of Mexico’s great colonial cities, is considered to embody the soul of the country. It is famous, even in the outside world, for its beautiful setting, green flower-decked parks, and its cultural and historic sites, rousing folklore, gourmet cooking, beautiful people and authentic handicrafts. Due to its innumerable attributes, travelers, writers and its own inhabitants have given it such labels as City of Roses, City of Fountains, the Western Mexican Pearl, and the Royal City.

I grew up on a homestead in the prairies of western Canada, where my vista included wheat fields and during bad years, dust. That was my image of the world until I traveled to other parts of the globe. I found cities with long histories, spectacular architecture, and traditions and cultures that spanned thousands of years. My small world of farming in southern Saskatchewan expanded year by year as I became familiar with the many attractions that the world has to offer. And Guadalajara was one of them.

For centuries, travelers seeking a taste of authentic Mexican culture and modern comfort have found that Guadalajara was the place to visit. Besides its endless historic sites, the city has always been a major center for the arts. But, above all, what made this rambling urban center welcoming were the city’s inhabitants, called tapatíos, known for their cheerfulness, civic pride and hospitality. It reminded me as I toured the city of the farming people of southwest Saskatchewan—always greeting strangers and ready to help.

Yet, even though this serene and colonial image of Guadalajara, to some extent, still prevails, in the last few decades, modern traffic and pollution have greatly tarnished the city’s reputation. However, in the last few years, a great effort has been made to clear the air and, according to the inhabitants, this has met with some success. The smog today is much less than it was 20 years ago.

Guadalajara, named after a town established by the Moors in Spain, derives its name from the Arabic Wadi al-Hajara (River of Stones). Nuño Guzmán, the most brutal of the Spanish conquistadors who defeated and then massacred many of the Jalisco native peoples, founded it in 1542. In the ensuing centuries, the city became a great center, filled with churches, fountains, impressive mansions, parks, plazas, wide-tree-lined avenues and tropical gardens—a synthesis of the indigenous people and the Spanish.

In this, one of the most Spanish of Mexico’s metropolises and the second largest urban center in the country with one of the finest climates in the world — year-round spring weather—were born four things typically Mexican: jarabe tapatío (flirtatious hat dance), Mexican type rodeo, the traditional mariachi music, and tequila—a potent alcoholic drink for which Mexico is renowned. The city, through the years, has flourished as the center of a rich agricultural region and is the home of three universities today.

Modern Guadalajara, with a population of some 4.5 million, dominates the state of Jalisco and is an energetic, noisy city, carrying a tradition of conservatism. Despite its expansion in all directions, it has preserved much of its colonial treasures. The heart of the old town is filled with fountain and flower-filled plazas, ancient government buildings, churches, other structures enwrapped in history and 11 museums housing the saga of the city’s past.

The best place to begin a tour of this section is at the core of these treasures, a 30-square-block area of restored civic and religious buildings imbuing an Old World atmosphere. It has the appearance of a landscape that has remained unchanged since Spanish times.

Here, besides the charming plazas, the most important of the historic structures are the magnificent Guadalajara Cathedral, incorporating numerous architectural styles and whose two towering spires are the symbol of the city; the 17th-18th centuries Palacio del Gobierno with a spectacular ceiling mural, considered to be one of Mexico’s finest 20th century works of art; the gracious Teatro Degollado, a neoclassical masterpiece of colonial architecture and theatrical beauty; the 17th century Museo Regional de Guadalajara, containing a collection of Jalisco art, archaeology and history; and the Palacio Municipal, incorporating attractive murals that depict the settling of Guadalajara. A detachment of friendly tourist police patrols the area, assisting visitors with directions and answering their questions.

There is so much to see in and around the city but I selected a few sights that I wanted to discover on my own. I headed first to the Guadalajara Zoo, considered to be the most important in Latin America. It is in fact the largest in the country with respect to species. I did so much walking but never felt tired because of the many attractions that kept my mind busy.

The next day, I headed out to Libertad Market, a destination for anyone who enjoys shopping locally. The market is exciting, busy and diverse, and ranks as the largest indoor market in Latin America and is open every day of the year. Myself, raised to be shy on the homestead, just could not keep up with my daughter who persistently haggled with the sellers. I very much believe they gave up on their prices because she tired them out with her persistence.

Close-by is the Plaza de los Mariachis, an interesting venue where mariachi bands walk around and strum their guitars, offering special love songs for a price that keeps increasing every year, thanks to the inflow of tourists.

There are many other sites to see such as Plaza Tapatía, a nine block long plaza with gardens and fountains and the Parque Agua Azul, a beautiful park with magnificent gardens, much favoured by the tapatíos.

In recent times, the old city of Guadalajara has expanded to incorporate the neighboring towns of Zapopan, famous for its Basilica de la Virgen de Zapopas, whose tiny 10-inch statue draws thousands of pilgrims; and the artisan centers of Tlaquepaque and Tonalá.

An artist and shopper’s paradise about five miles from downtown Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque appears to be especially made for tourists. Its attractive colonial streets and pedestrian arcades, lined with former grand mansions that today house galleries, museums, fine restaurants and souvenir shops, give the area an aura of history. In the past, the home of potters, this once separate town has become one of Mexico’s renowned arts-and-crafts centers.

Next door, the municipality of Tonalá, one of the oldest towns in Mexico, is packed with workshops and factories. Here, most of the blown glassware, brass and copper products, ceramics, leather, paper mache and pottery produced in the area is made. A less touristy version of Tlaquepaque, it is a mecca for those searching for traditional handicrafts.

With so many historical and cultural attributes, it is no wonder that the Mexican state of Jalisco and its capital Guadalajara have developed one of the finest culinary traditions in Mexico.

One of the dishes unique to this part of the country is tortas ahagados, crusty rolls filled with meat, and then, before being eaten, are drenched in a tomato sauce, ranging from very hot to mild. These sandwiches, which were my introduction to the state of Jalisco’s cuisine, is the dish most travelers first try when they reach Guadalajara. My introduction to it was memorable.

“This is the specialty of Guadalajara,” the manager of one of the half dozen La Gorda Restaurants in the city that serve top Mexican food, beamed as he placed on our table a platter of crusty bread-meat sandwiches. “Just drench the sandwich before you eat it in either one of these hot or mild sauces. It’s like no other sandwich that you’ve ever eaten.”

I smiled to myself, thinking, “He’s a good salesman.”

As instructed, I dipped, then drowned my sandwich into the dish of hot sauce before me. Nothing less than spectacular.

However, the city’s two most famous culinary contributions to the Mexican kitchen are pozole, a meal unto itself and known to locals as the “king of Jalisco’s cuisine,” but challenged by birria, which, it is said, refuses to be only the pretender to the throne. Pozole, a soup-stew, is a delicious mixture of meat and corn, topped by shredded lettuce and red radish slices and served with tosados, a type of pizza, on the side. Birria, a flavorful and tastefully spiced goat-meat stew, is usually served with rice and chile de árbol (hot sauce), followed by frijoles de olla (a bean dish).

These dishes are only few of the culinary delights unique to Guadalajara. Some of the others are: sopes, fried open-faced tortilla sandwiches; menudo, a corn and tripe soup along with another delicious creation called sopa de elote (corn soup); jericalla, a type of custard; and sangrita, a pomegranate and tequila drink.

The foods of Guadalajara made such an impression on me that, later, when I returned home, I prepared the dishes below to my taste. I have changed some of the ingredients and a few methods of preparation, but all the recipes are basically the same as when I enjoyed them in the city of their birthplace.

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TORTAS AHOGADAS: CRUSTY SANDWICHES

SERVES 8

• 2 loaves of crusty French bread cut into

• 8 pieces, or 8 crusty large rolls

• Butter

• 1 pound thinly sliced seasoned roast beef

Slice each roll or piece of bread horizontally in half, then butter and fill with beef slices. Serve with both sweet and hot tomato sauces (see below). Each diner should drench the sandwiches to taste.

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SALSA DE JITOMATE: MILD TOMATO SAUCE

• 4 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 large onion, finely chopped

• 4 cloves garlic, crushed

• 2 cups stewed tomatoes

• 2 cups water

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon pepper

• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a frying pan then sauté onion over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomatoes, water, salt, pepper and cayenne, then cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Stir in coriander then cook for a few moments. Allow to cool then purée. Serve hot or cold. (If to be served hot return to frying pan and heat.)

Note: To make the hot sauce, add a finely chopped hot pepper to the onions when sautéing, then follow the mild sauce’s instructions.

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POZOLE: MEAT AND CORN SOUP

SERVES ABOUT 8 TO 10

This is a version of the traditional dish and is considered a meal unto itself. It is a type of soup, not for every day, but is nourishing and tasty as well as reviving. It is found in market squares and restaurants, served from earthenware bowls. In the homes, it is served with a lot of fresh garnishes as an appetizer or as an entrée and for snacks.

• 2 pounds beef with bones, cut into serving pieces

• 2 pounds chicken with bones, cut into serving pieces

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 10 cups water

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 6 cloves garlic, crushed

• 1 teaspoon chilli powder

• 1 teaspoon pepper

• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

• 1 pound frozen or fresh corn

• 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

• Shredded lettuce

• Chopped green onions

• Sliced avocado

• Sliced radishes

Place beef, chicken, salt and water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Cover, and then cook over medium heat for 1 hour. Add onion, garlic, chilli powder, pepper, oregano and cumin, and then cook for another hour, adding more water if necessary. Add corn, then cook for a further 30 minutes or until meat is well cooked, adding more water if necessary. Stir in lemon or lime juice, then place in 8 to 10 serving bowls and garnish with shredded lettuce, chopped green onions, sliced avocado and sliced radishes. Serve with hot sauce.

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BIRRIA: STEAM COOKED MEAT

SERVES ABOUT 8

This recipe is of Arab origin, brought by the Spaniards to Mexico, and can be prepared with almost any type of meat. Slightly spicy with the moderating effect of chocolate, this soup goes well with plain rice on the side.

• 2 large hot peppers, seeded and chopped

• 1/2 cup vinegar

• 4 cloves garlic, chopped

• 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa (cacao)

• 2 teaspoons dried oregano

• 3 teaspoons salt

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon pepper

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin seed

• 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

• 4 pounds beef brisket or lamb shoulder 12 cups

• 2 cups stewed tomatoes

• Shredded cabbage to taste

• 1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Place hot pepper, vinegar, garlic, chocolate, oregano, salt, cinnamon, pepper, cumin and coriander in a blender, then blend into a paste. Chill in a refrigerator for a few hours.

Place water in the bottom part of a double boiler with a large-holed perforated top then bring to boil. Coat the meat with the paste then place in the top of double boiler. Cover, then steam meat over medium heat for about 3 1/2 hours or until meat turns tender, adding water as needed. Remove meat, and then place in roasting pan and broil until meat begins to brown, turning over once.

In the meantime, stir tomatoes into broth, bring to boil, and then simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Cut meat and place in bowls and cover with broth, then top to taste with shredded cabbage and sliced onions.

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SOPA DE ELOTE: CORN SOUP

SERVES ABOUT 8

Elote is a delicious corn-based creamy soup.

• 4 cups fresh or frozen corn, thawed

• 1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped

• 4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 4 tablespoons butter

• 4 cups milk

• 1 1/2 cups water

• 4 tablespoons grated cheese

Place corn, hot pepper, green onions and salt in a food processor, then process into a paste. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan, then add corn paste and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in milk and water. Bring to boil then cook on low heat for 25 minutes, stirring a few times. Serve piping hot with each guest adding cheese to taste.

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SOPES SARDINAS: OPEN-FACED SARDINE SANDWICHES

MAKES 12 SOPES

• 2 cups masa (found in Mexican markets and some supermarkets), or a mixture of half and half corn and wheat flour

• 4 tablespoons cream cheese, any kind

• 1/4 cup water

• 6 tablespoons butter

• 1 teaspoon salt

• Oil for frying

• 1 cup finely chopped green onions

• 1 hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped

• 1 cup cooked beans, mashed

• 1 cup stewed tomatoes

• 1 cup mashed canned sardines

• 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To make the dough for the sopes, place masa or mixture of flours, cheese, water, 4 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a bowl, then knead into dough, adding a little more water if necessary. Form into 12 balls. Roll out balls to about 5-inch diameter, and then form raised borders for each round. Place on greased baking tray and bake for 30 minutes.

While the shells are baking, prepare the filling by melting remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, and then fry onions and hot pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining salt, then stir-fry until mixture thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Heap each sope with mixture, and then serve while warm.

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TOSADOS: OPEN-FACED SANDWICHES

• Oil for frying

• 12 tortillas, from 4-to 5-inches in diameter

• Re-fried beans

• Cooked and shredded chicken breasts

• Shredded lettuce

• Sliced tomatoes

• Grated cheese

• Sliced radishes

Heat oil to about 1 inch deep in a frying pan, then fry tortillas until crisp. Remove, and then drain on paper towels and allow to cool. Spread over tortillas, in order and according to taste, refried beans, chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and radishes, and then serve as appetizers or for snacks.

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Habeeb Salloum
Habeeb Salloum

THE WORLD TOUR
Join HABEEB SALLOUM during the next several issues as he takes us around the world to six continents, describes their homesteading culture in every city he visits, and presents us recipes from the region. In the next issues, he will take us to Cuba, and then onto Brazil.

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