I never imagined that I would write a blog that contained the themes of food and footwear at the same time. However, today my mind made the delightful little connection I will share with you, based on two confusions of life in Mexico.
So, let’s start with my food-related confusion, specifically a taco-related issue. In England, a taco is a hard yellow- coloured tortilla shell filled with chili con carne and topped with soured cream and lettuce. In Mexico, I have never even seen one of those tacos. Here a taco is a small soft corn tortilla or two, filled with various types of meat and garnished with coriander (cilantro), onions, zested with lime and toped with guacamole or salsa. So what happened? Did the taco just go stale and old in transportation or what could have occurred for us Brits to get such a different idea? Well, based on extensive (!) internet research, I discovered that according to the ever-insightful Wikipedia, the hard taco shell appeared in cookbooks in the United States from as early as 1917 and they were later popularized by Glen Bell of Taco Bell fame in the 1950s. So it looks like England got fed the Americanised deep-fried version of the Mexican taco and we were none the wiser! Hard tacos I can take or leave but soft tacos have become an addiction.
In Spanish when you add the suffix – “on” to something it means that it is extra good. So a super taco would be called a tacón. A tacón for me would be a freshly made taco al pastor ( a soft tortilla topped with thin slices of marinated meat shorn from a donna kebab style skewer) with a little bit of pineapple and all the garnish. Salty, sweet, spicy perfection. Give me two or three and I have the perfect tacones!
So here is how we make the leap to shoes. Tacones is in fact the Spanish word for high heels but the word could also in effect mean two or more really super tacos. And it is here that we have the delightful play on words that allowed me to imagine two tightly rolled tacos as the heels of women’s favoured footwear in Mexico. And there we have it, a link between food and shoes in one blog.
So with that seamless transition, we come to my second confusion. I know that women across the world wear high heels but in Oaxaca it takes a whole different type of skill. Oaxaca, in true UNESCO world heritage style, is littered with cobblestone streets and much of the paving leaves something to be desired. There are potholes and cracked pavements and even some open drains. So for women wearing 6-inch stilettos (and that is not an exaggeration) the streets are like a daily obstacle course, where every hole and crack could lead to a potential disaster. But still they do it, by day and by night, and it astounds me. Some of the women have obviously honed their stilt walking skills from a young age and bound down the street faster than I could manage in my flip-flops. However, others, and I would sadly say the majority, totter, hobble and pigeon step their way around the city, looking utterly bizarre. They often rely on a walking aid (i.e. a boyfriend or a nearby wall) or are playing on a cell phone as if to distract passersby from the possibility that they could topple down, forward, back or over at any moment. I am ashamed to admit that the sight has often reduced me to fits of laughter or to literally stopping and staring in disbelief.
I have heard many women here tell me that heels make them feel empowered but if your empowerment through height could end up with you falling at someone’s feet at any minute, I can’t see the logic.
However, as the organisers of this high heeled race held in Mexico City said “high heels are the obstacle in the daily life of women, so this race shows they can overcome any obstacle” (click on this link: High Heel Race for the amusing video). Me, however, I’m going to put my comfy flip flopped feet up and overcome the obstacle of hunger with a taco or two!
As if there weren’t enough bizarre food and footwear connections in this blog. I also discovered that football boots in Mexico are often called Tacos too! So now we can really say that tacos definitely helped the Olympic team to win that Gold medal!
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.