Culture

Conchas Are An Important Part Of Mexican Cuisine Today, But Where Did They Come From?

Are you the type to dip your conchas in café por las mananas? Or do you like them with beans and sour cream, oozing with all that sweet and salty goodness? No matter how you eat them, it’s undeniable that conchas are a quintessential part of the Mexican diet—they’re perhaps the most ubiquitous type of pan dulce, gracing the shelves of panaderias all over the US and Mexico. Instantly recognizable from their shell-like appearance (“concha” does mean “shell,” after all), conchas are a special feature at holidays like El Dia de Los Muertos and Navidad, but they’re always around for us to enjoy at any moment. And while they play a major part in the daily lives of Latinos across the country, they have a curious history that makes them taste that much sweeter.

Like many current Latin American foods, conchas can be traced back to the colonial era, when the Spanish brought some of their culinary customs across the Atlantic.

Credit: Pinterest

Wheat was deeply important to early Spanish settlers. Not only were wheat breads a major part of the European diet, but wheat also carried a religious connotation within their Catholic faith. Just think about misa: the ritual of the Eucharist involves the passing and consumption of a wafer, and this wafer is (and always has been) made from wheat.

In addition to the Spanish, French recipes also took root in the Americas as demand for wheat-based bread grew. The appearance of skilled French bakers in the 17th century led to the implementation of things like brioche buns, baguettes, and (por suerte) the early ancestors of panes dulces into the “New World” diet. (Fun fact: the first French military intervention in Mexico was actually called Guerra de los Pasteles, or The Pastry War.)

It is said that pan dulce is really the result of highly creative collaborations between Catholic nuns, indigenous women, and criollas innovating with the limited ingredients they had access to at the time. In fact, most panes dulces today consist of a blend of indigenous and European ingredients, (like corn flour and wheat flour). Conchas, specifically, are made from yeasted brioche dough—dough that is inherently eggy and fatty (read: ridiculously delicious).

The concha consists of two main parts: a sweet, bready base and a crunchy sugar topping.

Credit: Pinterest

The concha adopts the appearance of a shell by pressing a bread stamp over the topping during the final rise of the dough, right before placing it in the oven to bake. Although the bread itself is soft, airy, and delicious, it doesn’t usually bear much flavor—the topping is home to most of the taste and texture. These flavors can range from chocolate and vanilla to pink and yellow (yep, you read that right—if you’re a true concha connoisseur, you know that each color is its own flavor).  

The fusion of tasty French bread and sweet, sugary toping has less obvious origins. We can’t help but wonder: can this combination be traced back to European colonists attempting to appeal more to indigenous tastes by adding extra sugar to their breads? Perhaps the cookie dough topping helped preserve the bread somehow, when preservation methods were far less advanced? Maybe it was just a matter of preference—after all, French bakers gleaned a lot from German techniques, which often involved the liberal application of streusels (a sort of cookie dough) on cakes and breads.

A version of this sugar-topped sweet bread is also found across the globe in Japan, where it is known as melonpan.

Credit: Wikipedia

With the advent of globalization, it is, of course, quite possible that this sweet bread started with the concha in Mexico and later spread to Asia. But according to bread historian Steven L. Kaplan and culinary historian Linda Civitello, it is perhaps more likely that melonpan and conchas—despite their similarities—originated on different continents independently of one another. Civitello suggests that both iterations are, nevertheless, part of the “Iberian peninsula diaspora . . . when the Portuguese sailed east, the Spanish sailed west.”

And that’s a pretty apt suggestion: as the Spanish were invading the Americas in the early 1500s, the Portuguese likewise invaded Japan. The neighboring European countries implemented similar wheat-based bread-baking techniques, most likely using a broad range of recipes to assimilate their respective colonies to wheat, despite Japan’s indigenous preference for rice and Mexico’s preference for corn.

And although the concha has quite a long and impressive history—with generations of people knowing of its magical powers—only recently has it begun to gain traction in the upper echelon of the culinary world. Renowned bakers across the country are experimenting with its basic ingredients to yield super creative renditions. From sesame tahini to matcha green tea, there is a concha for every preference and taste.

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

Culture

Does Anybody Really Know What’s Supposed To Happen After You Get The Baby Jesus Figurine In La Rosca De Reyes?

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Remember Día de Reyes when everyone cuts the rosca and hopes to god not to get the little niño Jesus? If you grew up Mexican, you probably know that whoever gets the baby Jesus figurine owes everyone tamales. But when is the tamal party? And most importantly—why? Keep reading to find out what El Día de la Candelaria means, what your abuelitas and tías are actually celebrating and how it originated —spoiler alert: it’s colonization.

February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the United States, but in Mexico, and for many Latinos outside of Mexico, there is a completely different celebration on this date.

The religious holiday is known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). And on this day of the year, people get together with family and friends to eat tamales, as a continuation of the festivities of Three Kings’ Day on January 6. 

This is why your abuelita dresses up her niño Jesús in extravagant outfits.

For Día de la Candelaria it’s customary for celebrants to dress up figures of the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed. Día de la Candelaria is traditionally a religious and family celebration, but in some places, such as Tlacotalpan, in the state of Veracruz, it is a major fiesta with fairs and parades.

February 2nd is exactly forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by the Catholic church as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.

Alternatively, this day also counts as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The origin of this religious feast day comes from ancient Jewish tradition. According to Jewish law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. So the idea is that Mary and Joseph would have taken Jesus to the temple to be blessed on February second, forty days after his birth on December 25.

The tradition goes back to around the 11th Century in Europe.

People typically took candles to the church to be blessed as part of the celebration. This tradition was based on the biblical passage of Luke 2:22-39 which recounts how when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a particularly devout man named Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” The reference to the light inspired the celebration of the blessing of the candles.

In Mexico Día de la Candelaria is a follow-up to the festivities of Three Kings Day on January 6th.

On Día De Reyes, when children receive gifts, families and friends gather together to eat Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines of a baby (representing the Child Jesus) hidden inside. The person (or people) who received the figurines on Three Kings Day are supposed to host the party on Candlemas Day. Tamales are the food of choice.

This tradition also carries Pre-Hispanic roots.

After the Spanish conquistadors introduced the Catholic religion and masked indigenous traditions with their own, to help spread evangelization, many villagers picked up the tradition of taking their corn to the church in order to get their crops blessed after planting their seeds for the new agricultural cycle that was starting. They did this on February 2, which was the eleventh day of the first month on the Aztec calendar —which coincidentally fell on the same day as the Candelaria celebration. It’s believed that this is why, to this day, the celebratory feast on February 2 is all corn-based —atole and tamales.

This date is special for other reasons too… 

February 2, marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which aligns with the pagan holiday of Imbolc. Since ancient times, this date was thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come, which is why it is also celebrated as Groundhog Day in the United States. There was an old English saying that went “if Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.” In many places, this is traditionally seen as the best time to prepare the earth for spring planting.

In Perú the Fiesta de la Candelaria is a festival in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of the city of Puno and it is one of the biggest festivals of culture, music, and dancing in the country.

The huge festival brings together the Catholic faith and Andean religion in homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. The Virgin represents fertility and purity. She is the patron saint of the city and is strongly associated with the Andean deity of ‘Pachamama’ (‘mother earth’). It is this common factor of both religions that brings them together for the festival. In 2014, UNESCO declared the festival an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The main dates of ‘Fiesta de la Candelaria’ are February 2nd – 12th.

El Chapo’s Daughter Is Using His Name And Face to Launch A Beer Brand After She Launched A Fashion Line

Culture

El Chapo’s Daughter Is Using His Name And Face to Launch A Beer Brand After She Launched A Fashion Line

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It seems like everybody today is trying to get in on the alcohol business. Whether it’s The Rock with a new tequila brand or Ryan Reynolds buying a gin company, it seems to be all the rage right now that even “El Chapo” is getting his own line of beers. 

Say hello to the “El Chapo 701” brand run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s daughter Alejandrina Guzman Salazar, who also is behind a fashion and lifestyle company built around her jailed father’s brand. The new line of beer, called El Chapo Mexican Lager, was unveiled for the first time to the public on Jan. 14 at a fashion trade show in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

“It hasn’t been released for sale to the public yet. I just brought some to display,” spokeswoman Adriana Ituarte told AFP, as the beer line is currently still waiting on government approval to sell beer in Mexico. The alcohol displayed at the trade showed brown, black and white labeled craft beer bottles with the Sinaloa cartel leader’s infamous mustache face adorned on them. 

Alejandrina Guzman Salazar’s company is banking on the idea that people will want to buy craft beer, labeled and named after her infamous father, at bars and markets in Mexico. 

Beer lovers won’t have to break the bank either when it comes to purchasing the new line of beer which comes in at 70.10 pesos, or about $3.73, for a 355 ml bottle. There is also the name of the brand, “El Chapo 701” which has an interesting meaning behind it. The “701” is a reference to El Chapo’s place on the 2009 list of the world’s richest persons from Forbes magazine (estimated at $1 billion). 

The “El Chapo” beer is expected to have a large fan base due to the notoriety of the imprisoned drug cartel leader and a growing market for collectible celebrity alcoholic beverages like these. The company is hoping that, besides just the name and branding of the beer, fans will actually enjoy the drink and keep coming back to it.

“I don’t know if we take the label off and the beer is good if it’s going to sell,’  Ituarte told the Daily Mail. “But obviously the brand gives the plus of sale, we continue with the idea that we are selling and as long as the product is good, people buy it and like it.”

Ituarte said at the trade show that the product will be sold at bars throughout Mexico that also sell stock craft beer, a market that has flourished in Mexico City in recent years due to the growth of microbreweries. The lager was produced by La Chingonería, a Mexico City-based brewery company. 

“This is an artisanal beer, with 4 percent alcohol. This prototype is a lager, and it’s made up of malt, rice, and honey so it’s good,” Ituarte told Daily Mail. “And the idea is for it to be sold at bars that stock craft beer.”

This is not the first time that “El Chapo” has seen his name being cashed in on by his family. There has been a clothing and accessories line made in tribute of Guzman.

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Salazar’s company has already cashed in on her father’s name with a line of T items such as t-shirts, belts, purses, and jackets all adorned with imagery of Guzman and the 701 logo. The brand has been quite successful in under a year of going public which shows the power of “El Chapo’s” name. 

Salazar isn’t the only one getting in on the drug lord’s name. Last March Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel, launched a fashion and leisurewear line, licensed by her husband. “I’m very excited to start this project, which was based on ideas and concepts that my husband and I had years ago,” Coronel told CNN in a statement at the time of the launch. “It is a project dedicated to our daughters.”

These dedicated “El Chapo” brands show the notoriety and the power of his name when it comes to marketing. If this new beer line is anything like the clothing and accessories already released under his name, there is sure to be a market for this too. 

Guzman is currently serving a life sentence at a supermax prison in Colorado after being convicted on drug trafficking and weapons charges in 2019. El Chapo was forced to forfeit $12.6 billion as part of his punishment.

READ: California Man Is Using His Culture To Create Hilarious And Super Relevant Mexican Greet Cards