Louis Falconnet, French soldiers in Alameda Park, Mexico City, Watercolor, 1864-1867
Today, I write more on life and food in Mexico during the second empire, the reign of Maximilian von Habsburg and his wife, Carlota of Belgium. This is an 1864 excerpt from Carlota’s attendant Paula Kollonitz who travelled with the royal entourage to Mexico and stayed until the royals settled into life in their new empire. Kollonitz wrote about the elite households with a not-uncommon tone of droll amusement.
“At eight or ten years old, the poor children (of the elite class) sit at the opera till midnight, struggling against sleep, their little heads adorned with artificial flowers. Many die very young; those who do not, especially the females, lead a hothouse life.
Between twelve and one o’clock a luncheon is eaten, which chiefly consists of national dishes. ‘Tortillas’ and ‘frijoles’ take a prominent place at the tables of rich and poor. The first are pastry made of ground maize in the shape of a thin disk, as large as a plate, white and tasteless. Among the lower orders, this takes the place of bread; they use it, too; slightly rolled up, instead of spoons. ‘Frijoles’ are little black beans, which thrive particularly well in the neighbourhood of Veracruz; when they have been cooked for a long time, they take the colour of chocolate, and make a very good and tasty food. A ragout of turkey (guajolote), prepared with chilis, a kind of pepper, and tomatoes, or apples of paradise, is a favourite dish. Mixed with maize-flour, wrapped up in maize –leaves and steamed, it makes the best national dish – the tamales. On the whole, the cookery of Mexico is not very enticing to European palates and stomachs. Lard is used in great quantities in all the dishes, even the sweet ones. A good soup is almost an unknown thing. Coffee, which grows here of the best kind, is so badly prepared that it is almost impossible to drink it. Chocolate, highly spiced with cinnamon, is on the contrary, very good, and much drunk.”
“In many houses there is no regular midday meal, a little chocolate or some one dish is prepared; they lead a very moderate life. Wine or beer is rarely drunk, but there is no want of pulque at the tables of the rich. When guests are invited there is no end to the number of dishes. In families where regular mealtimes are observed, places are always laid for more that the members of the house, as some relation or friend is sure to drop in who partakes of the meal uninvited and is received at it with the greatest goodwill. After an hour at the Paseo, they drive to the theatre, if there happens to be an opera.”
Paula Kollonitz, The Court of Mexico (London: Saunders, Otley, And Co., 1967), 159—160.
Kollonitz, The Court of Mexico, 160—161.