Mexico In Flying Colors
Food & Home Entertaining|September 2017

ABIGAIL MENDOZA RUIZ IS AS COLOURFUL AS HER CULINARY KNOWLEDGE. HAILING FROM A SMALL TOWN NEAR ONE OF MEXICO’S GASTRONOMIC HUBS, OAXACA, ABIGAIL RECENTLY VISITED SA AND SHARED WITH US HER FIRM TRUST IN MOTHER NATURE, TRADITION AND FOOD’S SOUL

Kate Liquorish
Every aspect of Mexican culinary ambassador, Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, is gloriously vibrant; she’s adorned in an ornate ensemble of handwoven and embroidered attire awash with carmine and burgundy, delicate gold earrings and Frida Kahloesque plaits woven between bright fuchsia ribbons. She approaches me and treats me to an all-consuming hug that’s crushingly good. She’s minute, but in a way that’s both dainty and robust; she looks up at me, holds my hands and welcomes me with a smile that reveals her whole heart.

There’s something fearless about Abigail that disarms you unequivocally. We laugh as we sit and wait for the interpreter, putting into practice that wonderfully awkward, gestural language you use when asking for directions in a foreign language. Sitting on my other side is Abigail’s sister, Rufina, dressed in a similar, exquisitely crafted outfit and holding out a cup of steaming chocolate caliente; a magically earthy, hot chocolate drink infused with cinnamon and made with cocoa she’s ground herself.

Abigail’s family comes from a small town in the south of Mexico, called Teotitlán del Valle, near the city of Oaxaca (pronounced “wa-ha-ka”). They’re renowned for upholding and celebrating their ancient Zapotec heritage. Abigail beams: “Our traditions, our history, our art and our food are what make up our richness.”

One of 10 siblings and the eldest of six sisters, Abigail was the first to take up cooking: “I started when I was five; I would collect maize from the garden, take off the leaves and remove the grains, before soaking and cooking them in lime water.” This is one of the most ancient forms of Aztec food preparations, known as nixtamalisation – a process that enhances the nutritional value of the maize. The grains are partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide (lime water), then ground down into a paste using a rectangular grinding stone called a metate.

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