I imagine that if I asked you to name a traditional Mexican dish, pozole wouldn’t be the first to come to mind. And yet, it is a dish that enjoys widespread popularity in Mexico and which boasts ancient, albeit disturbing, roots in the pre-Hispanic civilizations. You can expect to see it in restaurants and on dinner tables in September, around Mexico’s independence day, and during the Christmas holiday season.
What is it?
The main ingredient in pozole is hominy, which is essentially shelled, dried corn kernels soaked in water in order to make them soft and chewy. The other main ingredients are meat, typically pork, and garlic. Added to these two main ingredients are a variety of garnishes such as: chiles, salsas, onions, parsley, avocado, radishes, lettuce, and limes. This soup/stew mix is often accompanied by tostados – basically a crunchy tortilla. Depending on the region, there are different styles of pozole, but the three main variations are red, white, and green.
What’s in a name?
Pozole is a name which derives from the Nahuatl language, one of many indigenous languages in Mexico and still spoken by some today. The Nahuatl word pozolli means either a type of corn or “foam,” referring to the foam produced by boiling the kernels of corn,
What are its origins?
Pozole originates from the time before the Spanish arrived in 1519. It was a dish served to the elites of the Aztec society during special religious rituals and celebrations, which often involved human sacrifice, usually of captured enemy warriors or slaves from other tribes. And so the meat from these human sacrifices was put into the pozole. If there were no humans available they might substitute turkey or dog or rodent, but it seems the preferred delicacy was the human variety.
Once the Spanish conquered the Aztecs they prohibited their religious rituals, human sacrifice included. Thankfully they didn’t outlaw pozole as well, but substituted human flesh for pork, and so this ancient dish has been passed down through the ages and now is a staple in Mexican homes.
If you visit Mexico keep an eye out for pozole and give it a try!