The dazzling Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.
For the Dahlia I chose to make a take on the Tex-Mex staple known as Nachos! While not technically a traditional Mexican dish, I thought that it was still a culturally significant one with a great story.
Nachos were invented by the now infamous chef, Ignacio "El Nacho" Anaya. in 1943 he whipped up the first plate of nachos for the wives of U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan. They had arrived hungry at his restaurant shortly after closing time, so with what was leftover in the kitchen he composed a dish of fried corn tortilla chips covered in melted cheese and sliced jalapeno peppers. This monumental moment took place at the Victory Club restaurant in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. Word of the "Nacho Special" spread quickly across
Texas and the Southwest. Waitress Carmen Rocha is credited with first making nachos in San Antonio, Texas and then introducing the dish to Los Angeles at the El Cholo Spanish Cafe in 1959. Today it is a staple of every Mexican-American restaurant north of the border.
This simple plate is a testament to the intertwined cultures of Mexico and the Southern United States, and so I thought an appropriate representation of the cultural impact that Mexico and their Native Dahlia flower has had on the world.
I made my version with refried beans, guacamole, lemon zest, and homemade tortilla chips painted with food dye.
The Dahlia is native to Mexico and was declared the national flower in 1963. Historically it's tubers were grown as a food crop by the Aztecs (known as acocoxóchitl), and it was thought that they were used to carry water. The Dahlia is referenced throughout historical texts written by Spanish explorers and botanists studying Mexico. They were recognized for their unique beauty and function, and the many colors available. The flower became popular in the European trade market and the Dahlia industry grew. But despite the over 50,000 varieties available today, no blue version has ever been cultivated. Hence the term "blue dahlia" is sometimes used figuratively for something impossible or unattainable.
Summertime in Mexico brings the vibrant dahlias out in their full majestic bloom.
With the many varieties available it’s easy to see why it has become the national flower of such a color-loving country as Mexico. In Mexican culture the dahlia symbolizes change, travel and new adventures. In the Victorian language of flowers, the dahlia expresses sentiments of virtue and grace.
Because of its symbolism, the dahlia flower is very popular in flower arrangements for celebrating love and marriage. Its romantic symbolism and delicate beauty make it a popular choice for anniversary gifts as well as in bridal and wedding bouquets in Mexico and around the world.
For my second Meixcan dish I have decided to recreate one of Frida Kahlo's famous self-portraits. Kahlo is considered one of Mexico's greatest artists and her personal image is easily recognized around the world.
To make this dish I used food supplied by Lola's Mexican Cuisine, a beloved local Mexican restaurant. My design is composed of tortillas, black beans, chicken mole negro, pico de gallo, corn, watermelon salad and pickled red onion.
Frida Kahlo lived an incredible life, faced many tragedies, and met those challenges with strength and vulnerability. She was a political activist, a member of the Mexican communist party, and fiercely anti-capitalist. Kahlo famously partnered with another well-known Mexican artist/activist, Diego Rivera.
As a painter, she became known for brutally honest self-portraits that gave insight into her psyche following moments of great personal adversity. Over the course of her life Frida Kahlo underwent more than 30 medical operations, and most of her work relates to her consequent suffering. They also chronicle her turbulent relationship with Rivera, and the pain she suffered at his infidelity and her inability to bear a child. Themes of loss, infetrility, and alienation dominate her work.
Frida increasingly embraced her Mexican heritage, casting aside European influences and expressing herself with colorful traditional costumes and hairstyles. As seen in this portrait with her floral crown, recognizably containing several yellow dahlias. Her beauty was unconventional in some ways and unapologetic in its portrayal. It's this attitude that leads to the reproduction of her image as a representation of feminism.
While Frida Kahlo did willingly and consistently place herself in public view, she is documented as doing so as an authentic and passionate individual. Given her feelings towards capitalism, it's worth examining how exactly her work has been appropriated since her death. I speculate that she would not condone the many ways her image has been commodified. Cheap recreations of her face on phone cases, tote bags, shoes etc. certainly seem to be misguided attempts to represent her and all she stood for...but, not all art aficionados agree. Some say she would be delighted to see her image of a strong, Mexican woman create such a ripple effect. That her appearance in it of itself is a feminist statement. Well, we will never know how she would feel. But we can certainly agree that the impact of her artwork and story has been extraordinary.