Mexican Falmouth England
Every Mexican is a foodie, by estadounidense standards, at least. Barring French, fusion, or the latest foreign cuisine (Arab restaurants seem to be making popular headway), the best food in the country is available to all income levels, served on the street. Mexicans love to talk about food, recommending this or that tianguis, swearing allegiance to regional dishes that have become national emblems: Oaxacan mole or Yucatecan cochinita pibil.
The is the story of the emblem-dish of the small desert-and-forest state of Hidalgo, which lies about an hour and a half outside Mexico City, at an even higher altitude than the capital (Real del Monte lies 10, 000 feet above sea level and is the highest town in the country). Its tidy, palm-studded capital, Pachuca, anchors a scattering of smaller municipios making up the rest of the state. There were gold and silver mines here from almost the day the first Spaniards arrived—Real del Monte’s true name is Mineral del Monte—and they operated, with only brief interruptions at hundred-year intervals for wars of Independence and Revolution, until the last one closed in 2004.
Those mines are what first brought the Cornish to Hidalgo. In 1825 an expedition of sixty men left from Falmouth, Cornwall, in the far southwestern tip of England, for Mexico, with 1500 tons of mining equipment, set on reviving the abandoned mines around of Pachuca. Half of them died of yellow fever along the way, but at the end of a fourteen-month journey, they arrived at Real del Monte. They stayed there for most of a century, until the decade of instability around the Mexican Revolution drove their descendants away.
As they fled, however, they left a fair amount of their culture behind. Notice the tidiness of Pachuca, and the peculiar attention to residential gardening. Yes, there are trees and shrubbery throughout all parts of Mexico, often guarded against dog urine with a barrier of plastic water bottles (the animals shy from their reflection). But in Pachuca there are roses. Little lawns. Parts of the city look not at all unlike areas of West Los Angeles.
Notice the red pitched roofs, another Cornish import, as you make the windy twenty-minute journey uphill from the semi-desert of Pachuca to the high forest of Real del Monte.