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October 17, 2023

Archiving Our Food History: What Goes Into Researching and Saving Oral Recipes and Histories.

By: Mando Rayo

Food recipes and histories have been passed down orally for centuries, but thanks to the accessibility of technology, we can now archive recipes and stories in other ways. In this episode, we talk to Dr. Meredith E. Abarca about putting together her online archive El Paso Food Voices. Author and blogger Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack shares how she has used her cookbooks as a way to archive her family’s recipes.

The full transcript of this episode of Tacos of Texas is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

Intro Hi, I’m Miguel Sin Michael. I’m a singer from Palm Beach, Texas, living in Austin. To me, tacos sound like my grandma Tuta’s hands. How she used to clap them together a million miles an hour, working hard to shape the most perfectly round tortilla de harina. It sounds like Sunday morning hearing my dad’s sizzling potatoes and eggs in a sartén as my brothers and I woke up to the voice of Johnny Kanellis saying, “You gotta take it away.” It’s the sound of five brothers running into the kitchen while the silver accordion and a quick snare drum beat played in the background. This meant breakfast was ready and it was time to get dressed up for church. I’m Miguel Sin Michael and you’re listening to Tacos of Texas on KUT. Cries in Spanish.

Mando Rayo What’s up, Taco world? I’m taco journalist Mando Rayo and welcome to the Tacos of Texas podcast season tres, tres, tres, produced by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. And we’re back exploring taco culture in Texas through the eyes of the people in the Lone Star State. So write down that recipe y heche la sazon and get ready for some muy tasty taco conversation. Today we’re going into the virtual studio to talk about archiving our food histories. We’ll learn all about El Paso Food Voices Project put together by the University of Texas at El Paso Professor Meredith E. Abarca that archives a city story lived through food. Then we’ll talk to Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, an award-winning food blogger El Paso native and author of the cookbooks Muy Bueno and Muy Bueno Fiestas, who has been recording and publishing her family’s recipes through her cookbooks. Have you ever called your mama por receta either because you’re craving a certain dish or because you’re ready to start passing it on to your loved ones or your friends? Or maybe you’re having a potluck dinner and you want to show off your skills that you barely learned growing up. How did that go? Well, let me guess. You call your mom. [imitates phone ringing] Let me guess what happens. She started reciting very vague instructions out loud, talking about [recites a vague recipe in Spanish]. And it’s such a vague set of instructions without quantities or measurements. Well, this is how she most likely learned the recipe herself with the very basics of what you do, because it’s all about tasting and feeling your way through the cooking of the meal. She probably got her training standing right next to her mom, and they were probably both able to perfect their ways over the years of practice. So they have committed it to memory, just like the person before them and the person before them. Your bisabuelas. And in this way, recipes have been passed down for generations in Latino households, but with oral histories—unrecorded oral histories—if the chain of sharing a recipe is verbally broken, then the recipe could be lost forever. Thankfully, in the age of the Internet and our gente having more access to technologies, we are seeing many devoting themselves to preserving our recipes, our stories that come with those recipes. And even when you aren’t able to call mom, you can find guidance through some of these archives, a.k.a. YouTube. And it’s evident that the people are looking to connect to these recipes. In 2022, Latino Metrics Publish Analytics where the YouTube account De Me Rancho A Tu Cocina was outperforming some of the most popular cooking figures, including Martha Stewart and Gordon Ramsey. Even though they have more than twice the amount of millions of subscribers, the Post attributed the channel’s popularity to our fondness of traditional forms of gastronomy. A loving and caring abuela and our craving for enchiladas. But what I find impressive is not only is Donya Aguilar’s daughter getting her mother a nice monthly check to sustain them and hopefully build wealth for themselves. But she’s also creating herself an archive of her mother’s recipes, one that people are accessing around the world by the millions, and that she will have that for generations to come. As you listen to today’s episode, I invite you to ask yourself how many puños of salt do you need for that recipe? Or what are some recipes that you would want to archive to ensure that others have access to them, even when they stop being passed down by word of mouth?

[music plays, crunch sound effect] Oh, it’s taco time. And now here’s a word from our sponsors from me. Vamos at Chuco Town con Visit El Paso. It’s the hometown of this taco journalist. On every corner of El Paso, you will find a variety of delicious cuisines that will suit any budget from authentic Mexican restaurants established several decades ago to up and coming award winning restaurants, reinventing traditional dishes with a modern twist. El Paso’s food scene is recognized for its range of flavors. Just take a Elemi Restaurant originally opened in 2019. Elemi is a downtown El Paso restaurant known for being a modern Mexican eatery built on ancestral culinary traditions. Elemi chef and owner Emiliano Marentes and El Paso native, was named as a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award in the Outstanding Chef category in 2022 and in 2023 Best Chef Texas Finalist. Signature plates include Tacos Campesinos made of carmena mushrooms, grilled eggplant, Oaxacan black beans, grilled avocado and caramel Castillo and coliflor almendrado tacos made of roasted cauliflower, almond mole, and almond cotija with cashew crema. Qué rico. And one of my go-to spots is the L&J Cafe as one of the oldest family owned establishments on this list, i’s only fitting that L&J Cafe also serves some of the most well-respected food and drinks in town with enchiladas that are to die for. And it’s widely agreed that L&J is a cornerstone for quality Tex-Mex meals in El Paso, including lovingly crafted classic margaritas. Muchas gracias to our friends at Visit El Paso for sponsoring this podcast episode. Follow Visit El Paso on Instagram and Facebook @visitelpaso or on their website at Visit El Paso dot com.

I’m excited to talk to our first guest today, Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack. Also from El Paso, Yvette has been archiving her family’s food histories by publishing cookbooks. She’s an on camera host, a home chef, an Emmy-winning producer and writer, award winning food blogger and she co-wrote Muy Bueno with her mother, Vanjie and sister Veronica. Let’s welcome Yvette to the virtual studio.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what’s the newest book project?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Yeah. So my name is Yvette Marquez. I’m a Mexican food blogger. My blog is Muy Bueno. I’m a three time cookbook author. My first cookbook is Muy Bueno. My second cookbook is a cocktail book called Latin Twist, and my newest baby is Muy Bueno Fiestas. And so it’s all about, you know, my journey through Mexican food, growing up in El Paso, Texas, a lot of El Paso favorites, a lot of northern Mexico influence from my grandma from Chihuahua, kind of the Southwest with New Mexico and Colorado flavors. And then just my journey and travels through Mexico, Mexico City and Puebla and the Yucatan. So there’s over 100 dishes. And it’s a beautiful book.

Mando Rayo Nice. Well, you know, I think one theme we’re covering in this episode is archiving our food, our stories. What does it mean for you to utilize your cookbooks as a way to do that?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack I think food brings people together, and that’s my childhood. That’s how I continue to entertain. You know, growing up in El Paso, it was always getting together for the holidays and making those special recipes that are known for those holidays. And I think just archiving it in a cookbook in the way that I did it as far as every holiday, American holidays and Mexican holidays, and how I entertain. And it’s just a beautiful archival piece of a legacy for my children and for future generations of anybody who wants to make their own memories and their own family.

Mando Rayo Mm hmm. Yeah. And I know that recently you. You went to El Paso and to be with your mom. And so how did you get this inspiration to really focus on the food? How did she influence you?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack So my mom was a single parent, mom, and we grew up with my grandma living next door. And my grandma was like my second mom. You know, my mom worked 2 to 3 jobs. And so if my mom wasn’t home, I was at grandma’s house next door. And those are those special childhood memories that I will never forget. When I was on my way home, my grandma would be ready to be baking flour tortillas as soon as I got home. Or you could walk in and you could smell roasted green chilies roasting on the stovetop. There’s just so many memories when it comes to certain dishes that that was my childhood. And those memories and those scents always bring me back to home. And, you know, I’ve lived in Colorado over 20 years now, but I still feel like El Paso is my heart. It’s my home and it’s where I grew up. And that’s you know, that’s just a big part of who I am.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. And thinking about how you first learn to cook, what are some of the ways that you did that?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Well, what’s funny is growing up, I was made fun of by my family because they would tell me that I’m never going to get married because I didn’t like to cook. And so growing up, you know, I always saw my grandma in the kitchen and my mom in the kitchen. And even though I love to cook, I mean, love to eat. I didn’t necessarily love to cook. It wasn’t until I left El Paso that I really got an appreciation for those recipes and those dishes. And every time I would want to recreate a recipe, I would have to call my mom and be like, “Mom,” you know, “How long do I cook the frijoles? Or do I put onion or do I need to put salt? When do I put the salt? How much you know? Un poquito? Un poñito?? You know, it’s like nothing was ever written down. And so. So for years it was always like, call tech support, call my mom. For, for how do I, how do I make the rice? Just all these little things that were never written down. And it was until I had children. And my daughter at the time was eight years old said, you know, you really should write a cookbook and write these recipes down so that when I go to college and I’m like, What a cute idea. I’m going to write, you know, I’m going to make my own little family cookbook. And that’s how it all started in 2010 of making the recipes that are near and dear to my heart and writing them down. And it was a friend of mine who suggested for me to start a blog and I literally had to Google what is a blog in 2010. I have no idea what that was. And then I started hearing from strangers reaching out to me and saying, Oh my gosh, you know, that capirotada, that is on your blog, tasted like grandma’s house. And when are you going to write this cookbook. And I was like, You want my family cookbook? Like, I didn’t realize that my family cookbook was going to resonate with other people.

Mando Rayo Yeah, Yeah. We kind of take it for granted. What we have at our fingertips right now is, is are not only the recipes, but the stories that go along with it. And they have to go hand in hand. And you know, it’s funny because, yeah, I’ve had similar conversations with my mom and my tias around like [speaks in Spanish] they’re like, okay, well, let me write that down. Yes. So like a puño. Okay, maybe that’s half a cup or how many teaspoons is that? [laughs] Yeah. Why do you think you’ve maybe formalized those recipes into your cookbook? Why do you think it took maybe your generation to do that versus your mom’s generation?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Yeah, that’s a great question. I know the question that I’m asked a lot is, you know, if my grandma was still living, she passed away in 2002. So this was way before in 2004. So it was a few years before I started this whole thing. People ask, like, what would she think or what would she say about you sharing her recipes? And because, you know, a lot of people in El Paso, especially, I think are like they don’t want to share.

Mando Rayo Don’t share the recipes.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack And I just think, oh, my gosh, like, I never thought of it that way. And I know my mom never thought about it that way. To me, it makes me sad when I hear these people who tell me their stories that their mom passed away, their grandma passed away, and they never shared their recipes with them. Now they’re Googling and looking for recipes that sound similar to how their parents or their grandmas used to make them. So for me, it’s like, Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine not sharing these things because I want my daughter to continue these recipes for her children and for her your children’s children. You know, for me, I think it’s just invaluable. And I tell people that all the time, you know, because so many people don’t write these recipes down, you know, we we take it for granted. And, you know, I encourage this generation where it’s so much easier that people can type it out. I mean, I think and I think it might be a cultural thing, you know, like, I don’t know that, you know, just like you just learn from watching your mom. You just learn from watching your grandma. You don’t you don’t write it down. But I know, like with my husband’s family, you know, his mom would type out recipes and she would make little notes on her things, had a little recipe cards. But my grandma never did. My mom never did. And if my mom did, it was cause she would clip things up from a magazine, you know, to maybe try later or something. But no family recipes that were, you know, unless somebody said, oh, those biscochos were amazing. What did you put in them? And finally somebody would share, like, okay, I use, you know, this wine instead of orange juice or whatever it might be.

Mando Rayo I kind of grew up with the same things, like nuh-uh, ain’t nobody getting my recipe.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Exactly, exactly. So the sharing is caring.

Mando Rayo Yeah, sharing is caring. There you go. So speaking of, you know, recipes from your book, Muy Bueno, what are some of the most popular recipes that you include there?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Tamales. I think no matter what tamales are, you know, those once a year dish that, okay, I’m going to tackle something, I’m going to make tamales. And you know, the recipes are popular on my blog. The recipes are popular on my cookbook. And in my new cookbook, I also include a tamales but, you know, different variations. Obviously, there so many fillings that we can use for tamales. So I still added tamales in there. And so I think it’s just a lot of classic dishes. And when we think of classic dishes, we think of the holidays. You know, we’re talking about capirotada and you know capirotada is a bread pudding. But every family makes a different and it could get so controversial. My husband calls it like, Oh, no, here comes the Holy War dish.

Mando Rayo [laughs]

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Because everybody’s like, Oh, no, you don’t use that kind of cheese. And oh, and you know, my grandma adds bananas or, you know, it’s like, Oh, no, it’s not capirotada because it doesn’t have peanuts. You know, like so many people have their own variations. And even in my new cookbook, I wanted a bread pudding in there, but I wanted it different, obviously, than it is in my first cookbook. So it was fun to just develop new twists on classic dishes. So for instance, in this one I combined two favorite dishes. You know, I love the leches cake, but I also love capirotada bread puddings. And so I did tres leches capirotada. So it’s, you know, modern and have bourbon.

Mando Rayo A whole nother level. A whole nother level there.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Exactly. And it’s and my mom’s like, oh no, you can’t mess with our capirotada recipe. Like, Mom, just try it. And she’s like, Oh my God, I never thought our capirotada could get any better, but this is amazing. So yeah, that was good. Getting Mom’s stamp of approval.

Mando Rayo There you go. So, you know, for our guests that don’t know capirotada. Traditional capirotada is, at least your version. As you know, like you said, there’s many versions. Can you explain it for us?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Yeah. So it’s very simple bread pudding. In our family, it’s steeped in a canela-based syrup. So simmered with piloncillo, which is an unrefined brown sugar with canela, cinnamon, you know, even some cloves. And so you make like this syrup tea and so you just do layers of bread. So you could do bread. We use more bolillo, so you just slice up some toasted bolillo and then you drizzle the sirup on it just to really soak that bread. And what we do is we add cheese. And so that’s the controversial part in El Paso because you know what type of cheese? And, you know, in El Paso, I always, always think like this would be a neat thing just to even research how the cheese came about, because regionally it’s all cotija or it could be Oaxaca or but we use like Colby, what is it, Colby Jack Or you can use Cheddar. So I mean, and that’s the thing that people are like, Oh no, that’s Tex-Mex. But I feel like El Paso doesn’t classify into the Tex-Mex category. I feel like it’s very northern Mexico influence. So it’s just layers of cheese and then raisins, and then you just continue the process and keep stacking it and put like about three layers and then you bake it and then it just comes out like this spongy bread pudding that is so rich, So like, not crazy, ultra sweet, but it’s just delicious with those little bursts of raisins and that melty cheese, which seems so weird, but it’s kind of like if you ever had apple pie, like with a slice of cheddar cheese, it’s that combination of that sweet and savory and salty. It’s that capirotada. So amazing.

Mando Rayo Oh, is it like December already? What’s going on? [laughs]

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack And we always make it during the Lenten season, you know?

Mando Rayo Oh yeah, that’s true.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack So but some people do make it for the holidays.

Mando Rayo So what about the fiestas? Why did you kind of really focus in on that with the newest cookbook?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack You know, so many people ask me, like, what is your favorite recipe? And that’s always so hard to give a good answer. And it’s because I crave certain dishes depending on the time of year. So, you know, Easter was just over and I was craving capirotada or, you know, during the Lenten season, we eat a lot of more seafood dishes. Right now, grilling season is here and thinking about, oh, my gosh, you know, Father’s Day and 4th of July and, you know, the things that I love to cook, you know, tampiqueña steak or gorditas during Mother’s Day or I wanted to figure out a way how to share my favorites during the times of year. And so that’s how I separated it. Each chapter is a different holiday.

Mando Rayo Nice. Nice. Do you have a chile relleno chapter?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack I know, right? I have chilies nogada which is in my book is the Dieciséis Septiembre chapter. So it’s very patriotic. You know, you have the red, white and green, like the Mexican flag. And so there is a lot of history in this cookbook as well that I’m trying to share. What is Dieciséis Septiembre compared to Cinco de Mayo? And why do we celebrate both? Yeah, and you know, there are some people who don’t cook but love my cookbook because there’s a lot of storytelling and history in there as well.

Mando Rayo So how do you make those connections between the story and the recipe?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Initially, when I was starting to write my manuscript. Like, they just want your little head notes for each recipe. But you know, mine are longer than three sentences, or I have a chapter header, so it’s kind of a little opening story. And initially, I really thought the publisher was going to be like, okay, because we’re getting long, we’re going over pages. They said, You know what? We just don’t want to cut this because this is great information and this is really showing who you are and what makes it different. And so we increased the page count. So if you see my cookbook, it’s a bit hefty. It’s a big book. I feel like it’s really valuable.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Well thank you so much for for sharing. I think as we think of how we archive our food and our stories, it’s it’s how about writing it down, right? And you don’t have to have a book, You know, you can do it just on your own. You can record with iPhones. You can do all kinds of things, right?

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Yes. Especially like our abuelitas aren’t going to be there forever, you know, or our moms. So I always say, like there’s so many people who are like, I don’t like to be in photos and you’re going to appreciate them one day. Yeah. And that’s all you’re going to have left. Yeah. So you’ve got to document, you’ve got to take photos, you’ve got to write things down.

Mando Rayo Take that selfie. That’s what I say.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Exactly. Even five years from now. What was I thinking? I look fabulous.

Mando Rayo I know, right?  I’m always like, [speaks Spanish].

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Yeah. And now my mom’s, like, [speaks Spanish].

Mando Rayo ¡Ándale! That’s funny. Oh, my gosh. Well, thank you so much, Yvette. Thank you for sharing your latest cookbook with us. And also, like your own style and your own way of how you’re archiving your food.

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack Thank you, Mando. Thanks for having me.

Mando Rayo Thank you. [music plays] Our next guest is Meredith E. Arbaca, who founded, edited, and curated the El Paso Food Voices Project. Meredith Arbaca became a professor of Food Studies and Literature, motivated by her lifelong passion for food and for people’s stories, especially their food stories. She grew up in restaurants, and then one day she found herself getting a Ph.D. and writing about the transformative power that food holds in all our lives. Since then, she has continued to research and write about this power in various publications. She has had opportunities of sharing the social, cultural, historical, and philosophical complexities that food plays in our lives at numerous academic and community settings. Meredith, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m super excited to talk to you about the El Paso Food Voices Project. As you know, I’m from El Paso, too, and I always love to give love to our border town. So why don’t we start there? Tell me how the El Paso Food Voices Project came to be.

Meredith E. Arbaca Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me. It’s so exciting to be here, and it’s always very exciting for me to talk about El Paso Food Voices and and it feels exciting to just talk about food and people’s stories about food. That’s what I’m all about. My background is in literature. I’m a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, and I’ve been working with food stories for 20 something years. I call it El Paso home now. I’ve been here for 21 years. And when I came to El Paso I told myself one day after my first book came out, which is called Voices in the Kitchen, and it’s all about stories. I mean, the whole the main character, so to speak, in that book is my mother, actually. I told myself, you know, one day I’m going to do a project when I talk about Voices of El Paso. Well, I took many years because this project started to 2019 and then the pandemic hit. So the whole idea of this project is just what happens when you create a platform and you start gathering stories from the community, from residents of a El Paso to learn about the food practices in the memories. What do we learn about the city? Whether we learn about the history, the city, the culture, and how it’s changing? So basically it’s about the character of El Paso el norte, through people’s food stories and practices. That is at the base of the core of what El Paso Food Voices is.

Mando Rayo Yeah. And so what inspired you?

Meredith E. Arbaca Multiple things. One of them is, like I said, I love food. I’m a foodie in terms of eating, but I’m also a food scholar. With my background in literature, I’m always interested in stories, and I have learned that when we talk about food, we’re not just talking about food, we’re talking about family, we’re talking about struggles. We’re talking about joy, we talking about celebration. We’re talking about emotions, politics, economics, sociology, history. We’re talking about all of those things. So I’ve always been interested in as to how through what we eat, we make culture, we connect with others. So that’s that’s sort of at the core who I am in terms of my work and what I like to do. El Paso Food Voice, I also thought, well, you know, it sort of sounds like a cliche, but wherever we are, what we eat, right?

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca And my thought is like, Well, what do we eat in El Paso? What makes us be from El Paso?

Mando Rayo Mm hmm.

Meredith E. Arbaca I also be very interested in how food connects us. Yeah. It gives us ingredients in terms of ways in which we cook techniques. Symbolic meaning that we give the celebrations, to rituals. So my joy about doing this project has been that once you live in El Paso, you’re got to eat hatch chile. Doesn’t matter if you go from the south, if you come from the north, if you come from India, if you come from Guatemala. If you come from México, you’re going to end up having hatch chile in your recipes.

Mando Rayo Oh, yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca Or asadero cheese. Right.

Mando Rayo Oh, man. Licon Dairy.

Meredith E. Arbaca Yes, Licon Dairy. I was there was just not that long ago. And my thought is like, you know what happens when we, I feel that we live in a society in which we spend too too much time, especially when you live in the border and how it’s been militarized and the wall and so forth. Mm hmm. Well, we live in societies that there is. So then to talk about our differences. Mm hmm. I always think what happens if we stop and think about our similarities? What happens if we start noticing that you take mole or you take chile relleno? Or you take chile nogada or brisket? You start looking at the ingredients and the history of where they come from. And the pomegranate is then how they got to El Paso. How did corn get to El Paso?

Mando Rayo Mm hmm.

Meredith E. Arbaca What kind of grapes get to El Paso? How do cattle get to El Paso? My goal about El Paso Food Voices is listen to these stories. Listen to a number of those stories and hear how we connect to one another.

Mando Rayo Mm hmm.

Meredith E. Arbaca And why we call the desert and why we call the mountains our home.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca So that’s really what I’m, what it’s all about.

Mando Rayo I completely agree with you, because I think that food is part of our culture and it makes us who we are. You talked a little bit about, you know, what what the character is of of El Paso and the border town in regards to food. You mentioned hatch chilies. What else? The asaderos?

Meredith E. Arbaca So everybody talks about chile con queso.

Mando Rayo But real chile con queso. Not like, not the queso they have in Austin. We actually put real chiles in it, right?

Meredith E. Arbaca Real chiles. Yeah. And some different kinds of chiles like, habanero,and everyone’s like woohoo. May I share a little bit about the collection? Yeah. I also like to think of El Paso Food Voices as a I call it a democratizing knowledge platform. And first of all, it’s an open source archive. Anybody can just literally Google El Paso Food Voices and you’ll find it. And while I have a distinction, there are category what I call public private kitchens. The only distinction there is because the public are people who actually make a living selling food one way or another. But in terms of the stories, I’m making no distinction of the professional chef versus the home cook, the man versus the woman, the young versus the old, the one in the city versus another one. I just want to listen. What does food mean to you? I mean, I begin by asking what it would mean to you. What changes have you seen in El Paso?  So I really, truly…hatch chile has always been mentioned as one of the things. But I think if there’s a theme in all of the stories as a collection, it’s actually the wonderful theme of adaptability. That once people have come, because many of the people that I’ve spoken to, some of them have been here, generations okay? Other ones are first generation, other ones are recent immigrants. There’s a combination of everything there. And the more stories I gather, the more diverse it would be. But it’s diversity to adapt to what is in the border. To adapt to native plants. I mean, people have learning how to be nopales who’ve never even heard of them before. Right. And of course, we learned to appreciate to drink sotol. That’s our native drink.

Mando Rayo Right.

Meredith E. Arbaca And people get surprises, too. Oh, there’s really good wine in West Texas. How did that happen? Well, Spanish came, and the Spanish needed wine for for for the communion. For a long time, we had really wonderful, and we still do, bakeries. Bread. Because we needed flour. Right. So when you look at all those historical, cultural changes at different moments and some of the people that have been here for generations are remembering the stories of their grandparents. Right. And what they used to eat. The commonality is this wonderful word, which I frame it as adaptability.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca Making home. Making El Paso home with what El Paso gives.

Mando Rayo Hmm.

Meredith E. Arbaca If that makes sense.

Mando Rayo Yeah. You know, that makes perfect sense. When you think of El Paso being part of Texas and México and New Mexico as well. It’s a region.

Meredith E. Arbaca The other thing that I loved by listening to the stories as a collection is that they remind us of the past. Like. Like bakeries that no longer exist. I mean, like the buildings that like somebody says, oh, in this corner they used to be this, this grocery store. And, and in Brown Street there was like the Moon grocery store. And and people remember the name of the people who owned it. So it’s a way of keeping a living history. Right. But in terms of of of food, it’s not just the past and the present, but it’s also the future. You go to restaurants here that now also are sensitive or becoming more sensitive to people who might not be able to eat meat for whatever reason, whatever that motive is. And we have this amazing, wonderful menudo made with mushrooms.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Oh, yeah.

It’s like. Oh, my God, it tastes wonderful. Why? Because the chilies there. Right. The spices are there. The familiarity to our palate is what makes the menudo, it’s there but we eating mushrooms.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. As long as that chile is there. Yeah. As you started your project and I found out about it through our conversations and looking up on your website, how has the project been received from the community?

Meredith E. Arbaca First of all, what community are we talking about? Because to me, there are multiple audiences to this project. First and foremost is the families and friends of the people who are being feature in El Paso because they are finding how their family stories, they got them together on Sundays. The masa, the chile rellenos, the chilaquiles, whatever they make chicken and dumplings. It’s a family story and it means something to them, very personal, but it’s a story that is connected to a world much larger than they are. And I think that’s important.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca So that’s one community. When I have presented it in conferences, people always come back to me and say, Oh, this reminds me of so-and-so, so forth. My students have been moved by this project and they oftentimes write about it.  Let me tell you quickly one story. One of the recipes that we have is a demonstration of chuckwagon cooking. Like literally taking a walk. You like the romance of moving cattle around?

Mando Rayo Oh, yeah. Mm hmm.

Meredith E. Arbaca Right. This gentleman, when he was involved for many years in the chuckwagon cooking in competitions and so forth, he did a demo of the chuckwagon out to the desert and cooked the whole thing, the fire, the wood, everything. It’s about a thirty minute recipe demonstration because he did the whole thing. And then I got an email from two people from Germany that they loved it and they, too, do the chuckwagon cooking in Germany. It’s like, really?

Mando Rayo Oh, wow. Yeah.

Meredith E. Arbaca So that’s pretty, pretty exciting. This website, when you look at it when you visit it, we recreated it. It is the second version of the website and is still being developed. I mean, this is the beauty about doing an online project, a virtual project, a digital project. Some people ask me, Well, when are you going to be done? Well, hopefully never. Yeah, it just keeps evolving, right? It keeps changing. But the intention has been to have three audiences in mind. Like I said, one is. Is the people themselves. The families and friends. That’s number one. Two, the general audience who is interested to to learn about culture and history and politics and economics through the dailyness of eating and how people negotiate that. And the third audience for me is food scholars, academics, either advanced or beginners who who are interested in challenging their own preconceptions of what food systems mean in people’s lives. Instead of me saying, well, you know, this is a producer and people need this, and that is, let’s listen to what people actually do and think. And how that challenges me as an academic. To reconsider how people are creating culture, creating history, by the way they prepare a meal.

Mando Rayo I love that. I love that. Well, what you’re doing is getting their lived experiences and utilizing the strength that they have and they bring through sometimes those recipes that get passed down or, you know, mother to daughter, which is different generations like that. So that’s why I was attracted to your project. And so I want to thank you. Thank you so much for doing the project itself and shining the light on people along the border. Definitely in El Paso. And thank you for being on.

Meredith E. Arbaca Of course! Yeah, and like I said, anybody who listens to us, please visit the website. It’s, it’s all you have to do is just Google El Paso Food Voices and you will find lots of wonderful stories.

Mando Rayo Yeah. And we’ll will include the links on our show notes as well. So that way your website is linked on our episode.

Meredith E. Arbaca Thank you so much. It’s been absolutely a pleasure. [music plays]

Mando Rayo Okay, So what recipes do you think you’ll be preserving and how do you think you want to archive it? I know I want to pass down to my kids the carnitas recipe that’s near and dear to my heart that I got from my tio. But, you know, I make it the Mando way. Archiving ourselves is so important, whether it be our food, our stories, our videos or pictures. That’s how we continue to pass down our cultura, our history, and most importantly, the flavors that make us. Special thanks to our guests, Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack of Muy Bueno cookbooks and Meredith E. Arbaca of El Paso Food Voices. Shout out to some of our team’s favorite archive projects and cookbooks. Sweet Life with Viennay Rodriguez, Chicano Eats by Esteban Castillo, and lastly, our very own Tacos of Texas. This has been the Tacos of Texas podcast developed and produced by Identity Productions. If you enjoyed today’s episode and are craving for more taco content, go to our website at www dot Identity dot Productions or follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube at Identity Productions and United Tacos of America. This is your host, Mando “Recuerdame” Rayo. Vamos a los tacos! On the next proximo of Tacos of Texas: Black Mexicans. We explore the history, migration patterns, and foodways of former Black slaves and their descendants that made their way through Texas into Mexico.

Sharon Arteaga The Tacos of Texas podcast is presented by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. Our host and producer is Mando Rayo. Our audio is mixed by Nicolas Worthen and Ever Calderon. On our story producer is me, Sharon Arteaga, and our creative producer is Dennis Burnett. Music was created by Peligrosa in Austin, Texas, and King Bene Productions, located in the Quinto barrio of Houston.

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


December 19, 2023

Bonus Episode: The intersectionalities of Black Mexicans with Chef Adrian Lipscombe. 

Chef Adrian Lipscombe grew up in San Antonio and we’ll discuss Texas foodways from her Black heritage to growing up in the gateway to South Texas, San Antonio. Chef Lipscombe is the founder of the 40 Acres Project, a city planner and Culinary Diplomat with the U.S. Department of State.


December 12, 2023

Bonus Episode: Regional Taco Flavors of Texas

From border to border, El Paso to Brownsville and a little in between, we’re gonna talk tacos regionales and just like the musica itself, there’s many elements and things that go into them. Our guests include Miguel Cobos from Vaquero Taquero and Paola Gabriela from Visit El Paso.


November 7, 2023

Taco Pop Culture: A Taco Talk on All Things Tacos on the Interwebs

Stephanie Guerra, of Puro Pinche, hangs with us in the studio to talk taco pop culture.


October 31, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 2: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 24, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 1: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 17, 2023

Archiving Our Food History: What Goes Into Researching and Saving Oral Recipes and Histories.

In this episode, we talk to Dr. Meredith E. Abarca about putting together her online archive El Paso Food Voices. Author and blogger Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack shares how she has used her cookbooks as a way to archive her family’s recipes.


October 10, 2023

Inside Houston’s Encuentro: The Native American Roots of Texas Mexican Food

The complex cuisine of Texas goes back before the land was known as either Texas or Mexico. In this episode, we visit Houston’s two-day, anthropologic culinary event Encuentro. We learn about the Native American roots of Texas Mexican food from both scholars and chefs present at the event.


October 3, 2023

Salsa Magic

This episode includes a breakdown of the salsas that complete our favorite tacos, from taqueria style, to hot sauces. It includes the science of peppers to a local hot sauce brand’s origins. Then we’ll go into my home kitchen to make one of my favorite salsas and how to pair them up with your favorite tacos.