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Sonora: History, Culture and Cuisine

Rene Cordova, MPH

WNPA Tucson, AZ

Environmental factors
Prehispanic cultural legacy
The Missionary experience
Global Flavors
The Challenges of Industrialization
Culture, Cuisine and Identity Games
A lush desert (and sea)

Sonoran Desert
Sky Islands
Northern limit of tropical plants
Riparian corridors
Gulf of California marine life
Northern limit of mangroves
In the beginning it was Carne Asada

Hunters and gatherers (and fishermen)

20,000 to 2,000 years ago
Megafauna steak?
How wild is wild?
Mesquite pods, agaves, acorns
Saguaro fruits, pitahayas, and other cacti
Shellfish and other marine animals
Archeological Traditions
The first courses

Simplest cooking techniques: roasting, boiling,

Fixed mortars
Atole de pechita (mesquite pods sweet soup)
Carne asada
Mezcal en penca (roasted agave hearts)
Quelites (greens)
Mortars in the rock...
Maize, beans and chiles

Agriculture arrived from Mesoamerica, 1,500 BC

Huatabampo Culture
Sonora River Culture/Casas Grandes
Irrigation, humidity and dry agriculture
Hunting and gathering continues until now
Ancient leftovers...

Rats (Neotoma)
A good base

Corn is still the base of traditional dishes

Beans are the perfect complement
Add some herbs, greens and the occasional piece
of meat
Nixtamalization: the use of lime to cook maize
Improve the flavor and texture
Adds calcium to diet
Aids digestion
Vitamin T

Tortilla: a flat round unleavened bread of maize

Taco: something eaten in a tortilla
Tacos de nada: taco shell with cabbage and salsa
Tamal: steam cooked piece of masa, can be filled
or “tonto”, sweet or salty...
Tamal de elote
Tamal de frijol
Tamal de piña
Tostada: a flat fried tortilla
Proud beaners

Northern pintos
Southern bayos
Yurimuni-Black eyed
Sudores tiernos

Tenderly sweating, or
greens for breakfast
before hard work at
the cornfields...
Quelites (nahuatl
quillitl): leafy greens
simply cooked to form
a green porridge
accompanied with
beans or cheese.
Churches, Corn, Cows and Conservas
Jesuit Missions reorganized communities
dispersed by early epidemics.
Allowed Indian Communities to keep control of
better land (and water)
Left Spanish Colonists the ranching areas in the
Missionaries organized collective work and a
system of storage
Cows, sheep, horses and pigs
New ingredients

Cows Wheat
Sheep Fruit trees: apples,
Goats quinces, pears, dates,
grapes, peaches,
Hens apricots
Pigs Onions, garlic
Horses Potatoes
Sugar cane
The Anza Expedition 1775
Anza Foods General table
Hams Wheat flour
Biscuits Pinole (popcorn flour)
Chorizo Beans
Raw sugar
Oil and vinegar 
Dry meat
Rice 
Garbanzo beans
Spices: pepper, cloves, 
saffron, cinnamon,
New ways of eating

Pozole Cocido
Wheat Pinole Rice
Flour tortillas Cheese
Beef Machaca Milk
Carne con Chile? Fruit preserves
Burritos Hard liquor
Milk Pinole Chocolate
Independence and Influences

Ports opened to
foreign trade
immigration and
Mexican migration
German, French, U.S.
European Luxury
Melting pots

Sonoran Beer since 1835

European Wines
French Cuisine for the Elite
Canned goods
Refined Sugar
Railroads and sardines

1883 Guaymas is
connected to Nogales
by railroad
Regular access to new
foods: sugar, coffee,
canned goods
Local flour and
oranges to U.S. and
regional markets
Traveling Foods
In 1881 just before the railroad started Customs
in Magdalena and Sasabe seized some food
Refined white sugar
Nuts and dried apples
Canned fruit, english hams and sardines
New dishes

Cabbage and chorizo

Sopa Seca/ spaghetti and tomato sauce
Vegetable creams and purees
Hot cakes
Serrano diet, ca 1900
BREAKFAST: Beans, machaca, potatoes, corn
and flour tortillas, chorizo, coffee, milk, pinole
DINNER: Machaca, chile con carne, pork,
albondigas, cocido, zuchini and cheese, greens,
cheese, lentils, garbanzo beans, fruit preserves
SUPPER: Atole made from corn, wheat or
garbanzo with milk or water, beans, potatoes,
cheese, pozole, beef.
Wild greens, opalitos, roots, dates, pitahayas,
Serrano diet, ca 1950
BREAKFAST: Beans, potatoes, corn and flour
tortillas, eggs, coffee, milk, pinole
DINNER: Chicken,Cocido, zuchini and cheese,
greens, cheese, lentils, garbanzo beans, fruit
SUPPER: Atole made from corn, wheat or
garbanzo with milk or water, beans, potatoes,
cheese, pozole.
Wild greens, nopalitos, mesquite pods, dates,
Serrano diet, ca 1980
BREAKFAST: Pinto Beans, potatoes, flour
tortillas, eggs, coffee, milk.
DINNER: Chicken, Cocido, zuchini and cheese,
greens, cheese, lentils, garbanzo beans, canned
tuna and beef, rice, soft drinks, kool aid
SUPPER: Cereals, Atoles made from corn starch
with milk, bread, beans, potatoes, cheese, pozole,
tacos, antojitos.
Wild greens, nopalitos, dates, pitahayas,
The hot dog miracle
Hot dogs arrived in the 1960 with burgers and
industrialized meats
Special bread was made for Hot dogs before
industrial bread arrived in the 1970
High concentration of stands around the
University of Sonora sparked creativity
Now a whole meal with french fries, beans,
bacon, cheese, mushrooms, guacamole, salsa,
cucumbers, caramelized onions, and growing etc.
Sonoran Cuisine
Marked by a low self esteem as compared to other
Mexican Regional Cuisines...
Challenged by new flavors, ingredients and social
practices of fast food and nutritional transitions
Still vital and generating answers as the street sushi
vendors offering carne asada rolls
Relatively prosper society without a real tradition of fine
dining or experimentation
Strong regional identity keeps traditional foods if only as
nostalgia experiences.
Foreseeable future

A reinvigoration of traditional ingredients and

plates is urgent and going on
A new offer of nice places to have old dishes
Reexamine the nutritional value of the traditional
diet (Serrano 1900)
New experimentation with global influences
More junk food and fast food besides a slow
food/organic movement starting with coffee.
Thank you!