The intangible cultural heritage of Mexico and the role of gastronomy

Mexico is the Latin American country with the highest number of records in the list of the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

But what does “intangible cultural heritage” mean?

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage is a concept that includes traditions or expressions of life that originated in our ancestors time and are still alive today. Examples of these expressions are indigenous knowledge and languages, arts or oral and ritual traditions.

The aim of this list is to protect the world’s cultural diversity against globalisation. In order to do this, the UNESCO provides tools to favour cultural exchange and conservation of communities that still hold the living heritage of the planet.  

Abuelitos del Centro de las Artes Indígenas – Elder members of the Center for Indigenous Arts

In Mexico we have nine expressions of intangible cultural heritage, all of them are from indigenous origin. According to UNESCO, these are:

  • La charrería, equestrian tradition of Mexico (2016).
  • The Center for Indigenous Arts and its contribution to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage of the Totonac people of Veracruz (2012).
  • The Mariachi, string music, singing and trumpet (2011).
  • The pirekua, traditional song of the p’urhépechas (2010).
  • The parachicos in the traditional festival of January of Chiapa de Corzo (2010).
  • Traditional Mexican cuisine – ancestral, ongoing community culture, the Michoacán paradigm.
  • Places of memory and living traditions of the Otomí-Chichimecas of Tolimán: Peña de Bernal, guardian of a sacred territory (2009).
  • The ritual ceremony of the Voladores (2009).
  • Indigenous celebrations on the Day of the Dead (2008).

Mexican gastronomy

Having read the previous list, you may have wondered about Mexican cuisine. Globally recognized as World Heritage, in fact this achievement applies only to the cuisine of the state of Michoacán as specified by the UNESCO.

However, the essence of Mexican cuisine – and therefore also the one of Michoacan – is due to ancestral community customs and manners around food. Millenary ingredients such as corn, child, beans or cocoa played a key role in the past, but also in the present as they are the basics of the Mexican diet. 

Today, it is easy to find recipes of indigenous origin being cooked in homes as well as in restaurants of all kinds, using the very same culinary techniques of pre-Hispanic times. These techniques include the use of comal, metate, clay pots or even the pib, the Mayan oven used to prepare poultry meat in the bowels of the earth.

The current Mexican cuisine is undoubtedly the result of a cultural miscegenation between indigenous cuisine and the influence of other countries throughout history. Even though the UNESCO only recognizes Michoacan gastronomy as World Heritage, for Mexicans our cuisine is a reason to be proud and boast in front of our international guests. 

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