Two Opinions of Food in Mexico in the 1880s

Making tortillasEverybody in Mexico is said to eat tortillas, and their preparation, which is always assigned to the women, seems to employ their whole time, “to the exclusion of any care of the dwelling, their children, or themselves.” Foreigners, especially Americans, find them detestable. Another standard article of Mexican diet is boiled beans (frijoles). Meat is rarely used by the laborers, but, when it is obtainable, every part of the animal is eaten. Peppers, both green and red, mixed with the corn-meal or beans, are regarded as almost indispensable for every meal, and, when condensed by cooking, are described by one, who obviously speaks from experience, as forming “a red-hot mixture whose savage intensity is almost inconceivable to an American. . . . A child of six or seven years old will eat more of this at a meal than most adult Americans could in a week—eating it, too, without meat or grease of any kind; merely folding up the tortilla of wheat or corn-meal, dipping up a spoonful of the terrible compound with it, and hastily biting off the end, for fear some of the precious stuff should escape. Should one be fortunate enough to have anything else to eat, these tortillas serve as plates, after which service the plates are eaten.”

From A Study of Mexico, by David Ames Wells, D. Appleton & Co., 1887

Cafe life is a feature of the metropolis. The restaurants are decorated with mirrors in the French style, and the food is both good and cheap. Good table board is provided at several places at one dollar per day. The bread commonly eaten is a little, elongated, hard-crusted biscuit, apt to be a trifle sour within. The water is bad; the wine universally good, and often superior. The meats are fairly good, and a small but well-cooked beefsteak can be obtained for twenty-five cents. The coffee, which is of native growth, is palatable. As regards the chocolate which is largely drunk here, it would be hard to speak in sufficient terms of commendation. With a bun, called “pan dulce,” and a cup of chocolate, the Mexican gentleman makes a comfortable ” desayuno,” or first meal at his cafe. A cup of chocolate, a pan dulce, and an excellent omelet, costs just thirty-seven and one-half cents. Rents are high in Mexico but food is cheap. The abundance of fruit is a feature of the Mexican table. Every one eats a great quantity of fruit — oranges, mangoes, melons, apricots, peaches, bananas, etc. Sweets of every possible flavor are universally eaten. Many of the dulces made by the peons are sold under their straw-canopied stands; and they are not only sold very cheap, but are also delicious.

From A Trip to the City of Mexico, by José Margati. Putnam, 1885.

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AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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