Walking through a Mexico City metro station on a recent visit, a crowd of people queueing at a particular food stand caught my eye. It turned out they were waiting to grab a bite of something that commuters in British railway stations will be very familiar with..... a nice hot Cornish Pasty!
The story goes that in the 1820’s, the owner of a defunct silver mine in Real del Monte, Hidalgo province, wanted to try and get his mines working again. At the time the only people in the world with the state of the art skills and equipment needed to pump out the flooded mine shafts and restart it were tin miners from Cornwall, and several hundred of them were persuaded to make the (usually one way) trip to central Mexico.
Life seems like it was pretty tough there - most of the gravestones in the town's English cemetery ( apparently all the graves face north-east back towards England) show the names of men born in towns like Camborne, Truro or Redruth, and there didn't seem to be many that survived beyond 40.
The town is now a big draw for Mexican tourists, and is a government designated 'pueblos magicos' (magical town) for its heritage, beauty and almost Alpine climate (the air is cool and clear at almost 9000ft above sea level which is a big attraction for Mexico City-based weekend visitors).
As well as being remembered for their work in rebuilding the silver mining industry, the Cornish miners brought two other significant things with them which would have a lasting legacy in Mexico - football (the oldest team in the country is in nearby Pachuca and was started by the miners), and more interestingly from our point of view, those Cornish pasties!
Over the last century the plain old Cornish pasty became Mexican-ised (especially as it turned out that swedes don't grow too well in Mexico!), so alternative ingredients were needed and the original meat and potato filling got spiced up a bit with Mexican seasonings. Until recently it was just a slightly forgotten speciality of this remote part of Hidalgo state - but judging from the roadside food stalls around Pachuca, the pasty is much more popular locally than tacos or enchiladas etc, but it hadn't spread much further.
For various reasons I couldn't quite get to the bottom of, the last 5-10 years have seen the pasty (paste in Spanish) really start to become more well known around the country - possibly because it's a 'new' snack food for students and kids in town, or it's similar to the widely known empanada. Some of the various new pasty chains in city centres of Mexico City and Guadalajara have some kind of reference to the miners, or to Hidalgo, and some even mention London or claim a link to an authentic English recipe, but there aren't many mentions of Cornwall unfortunately (I guess the average Mexico City commuter has never even heard of Cornwall...).
The modern Mexican pasty doesn't bear that much resemblance to one you might pick up in Padstow, but to be honest a spicy chicken tinga (shredded chicken in a red chipotle chilli sauce), or pork mole (pork in a dark chilli and chocolate sauce) filling actually makes a really good pasty! There are even chocolate, pineapple or sweet rice pudding ones for breakfast.
It was amazing to see how globalisation (in this case from events nearly 200 years ago) has eventually led to completely new foods being created, and how it's something that's actually happening all the time in virtually every country in the world as cooks continuously experiment with new flavours, techniques and ingredients.
At the Spicery we're always aware that so much of what we eat in the UK is influenced by ingredients and combinations from our own global history, and it was fascinating to see it happening in reverse in Mexico. What might be next - scones and clotted cream get a tropical makeover in Malaysia, or Cottage Pie gets reinvented in Cambodia....? Can't wait to see the results!
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