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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Feb 2017/5 Wind
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Maize/corn: sacred to the Mexica/Aztecs

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC FOODS

Without animals like cows, sheep and goats, the Mexica (Aztec) diet was mainly veg, fruit and grains. Top of the list was maize (corn), an ancient and sacred crop that can grow almost anywhere. The early cultivation of maize by settled farmers thousands of years ago allowed all great Mesoamerican civilisations to flourish... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: A bowl of Mexican ‘pozole’ stew
Pic 1: A bowl of Mexican ‘pozole’ stew (Click on image to enlarge)

Maize was STAPLE FOOD NO. 1. It was eaten in lots of ways, the most common being the good old tortilla - ideally fresh and warm off the clay griddle, but if not, stored and eaten later (useful for farmers, merchants, soldiers, travellers...) Then there was corn on the cob, a corn soup or stew called pozole (pic 1), atole (a thin gruel of fine maize flour in water flavoured with chilis, fruit, honey or cactus sap syrup... But oldest of all were -

Pic 2: An Aztec woman bearing tamales, and the real thing...
Pic 2: An Aztec woman bearing tamales, and the real thing... (Click on image to enlarge)

- tamales (pic 2), Mexico’s (and the world’s?) original pack lunch: maize dough shaped into balls, often with beans, chiles or meat in the centre, wrapped up in maize leaves and steamed in a large clay pot. Carry them with you anywhere, then just... unwrap and enjoy!

Pic 3: Mr Little Bean and Mr Big Bean eye up the bean stores!
Pic 3: Mr Little Bean and Mr Big Bean eye up the bean stores! (Click on image to enlarge)

STAPLE FOOD NO. 2 - and served at every meal - were beans. Somehow, over thousands of years, ancient Mexicans learned that the combination of beans and lime-soaked maize provided a complete protein source (to rival our animal sources). ‘I told you so!’ says Sir Little Bean and Sir Big Bean [their real names!] in this codex picture (pic 3).

Pic 4: Squash: Aztec stone sculpture, and the real thing - not that easy to tell the difference, eh?!
Pic 4: Squash: Aztec stone sculpture, and the real thing - not that easy to tell the difference, eh?! (Click on image to enlarge)

STAPLE FOOD NO. 3 would be squash (think pumpkin) (pic 4) - grown in Mesoamerica for almost 10,000 years. And JOINT NO. 4 would be seeds of chía grain (think sage) and the amaranth plant - ground on the metate stone and eaten in several ways (bottom line - porridge); amaranth dough was shaped into small god figurines and eaten on ritual occasions.

Pic 5: Feast day, Aztec style
Pic 5: Feast day, Aztec style (Click on image to enlarge)

Then come a whole host of good foods: tomatoes, avocados, chillies, prickly pear cactus fruit, maguey cactus sap, edible flowers, honey, mushrooms; from the lowlands came pineapple, papaya and other exotic fruits, sweet potatoes, vanilla, and cacao (chocolate)...

Pic 6: Dog and turkey: just about the only domesticated creatures - and good sources of meat
Pic 6: Dog and turkey: just about the only domesticated creatures - and good sources of meat (Click on image to enlarge)

The Mexica did have some sources of animal meat: mainly dogs, turkeys (for eggs too!) and ducks; and they hunted wild game - from deer, rabbits, hares, armadillos and wild boars to opossums, gophers, iguanas and tapirs. Mind you, most people lived on or near a lake, giving plenty of -

Pic 7: Frogs, tadpoles and toads: just a few of the many tasty snacks - often wrapped up in your tamales!
Pic 7: Frogs, tadpoles and toads: just a few of the many tasty snacks - often wrapped up in your tamales! (Click on image to enlarge)

fish! and insects! Everything from mollusks, turtles, salamanders, frogs, crustaceans, shrimps, mole lizards and water bugs of all kinds to tasty and high protein ants, grasshoppers, maguey worms and spirulina (algae that were ‘creamed’ off the lake water surface and made into super high-protein cheese-like loaves).

Pic 8: This codex image shows the head of a sacrificial quail on the earth: it was a bird associated with the earth and fertility
Pic 8: This codex image shows the head of a sacrificial quail on the earth: it was a bird associated with the earth and fertility (Click on image to enlarge)

Finally, the Mexica ate over 30 different species of birds: after turkeys and ducks came geese, cranes, pelicans, pheasants, partridges, pigeons, and a real favourite for nobles - quails (pic 8).

Pic 9: Aztecs feasting, Florentine Codex
Pic 9: Aztecs feasting, Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

You might be thinking ‘Wow, the Aztecs must have had a pretty rich diet!’ What we haven’t mentioned is that most ordinary Aztecs could only afford/get their hands on a few of what’s listed above, very rarely eating meat, for a start. Though maize was generally harvested most of the year round, famines were common, causing widespread suffering.

emoticon Q. What did the store keeper say to Sir Little Bean, jumping up and down, when he saw him approach the store?
A. You’re in luck, we’re full of beans today!

More on what the Aztecs ate...

Why the Aztecs worshipped maize...

‘The world’s healthiest superfood’ (spirulina)

Watch a video on Traditional Mexican Cuisine

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