In his Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España — or the Florentine Codex as the document is officially known — Franciscan missionary Fray Bernardino de Sagahún describes a ceremonial soup made with carefully selected corn that was precooked to then be simmered in light water with slaked lime which allowed for the corn to fracture.
The meal was prepared as an offering to the Mexica deity of life, death, and rebirth; the god of spring and young maize: Xipe Totéc. The nobility, the governing elites, and fighting warriors were the only ones allowed to partake.
The religious ritual for Xipe Totéc lasted for days and reflected the importance of the agricultural cycle in Mexica life. The celebration featured a central act of gladiatorial sacrifice, as Mexicas believed precious human life offerings would help perpetuate the universe.
Many anthropologists contend that this soup was originally made with the meat of fallen soldiers, typically enjoyed during the last day of the festivities. As a sign of respect and gratitude, Emperor Moctezuma was served what was considered the prime cut—a right thigh.
Five hundred years later, modern-day pozole is often prepared for birthdays, patriotic festivities (which coincide with the harvest season), Mexican Christmas parties (known as posadas) and even funerals. Fundamentally, pozole is a flavorful broth with hominy and meat, which obtains its color from ingredients like chilis, herbs, and seeds. And while the dish continues to retain its celebratory personality, its execution is obviously very different from that of its predecessor.
Today, the broth soars with a fleet of fixings including cilantro, chopped onion, pork rinds, sliced radishes, and oregano. Lettuce or cabbage usually accompany pozole, along with tostadas. And while usually, pozole is on the milder side, its plating and accompaniment allow for a personalized heat level and texture ratios from powdered to whole-roasted chilis and salsas.
With a strong representation from the state of Guerrero, the epicenter of pozole know-how, and the cradle of Mexico’s flag, green, white, and red pozole are widely available in Chicago year-round. Other pozole variations like the Guanajuato-style green pozole (made with chicken instead of pork and with jalapeños and tomatillos instead of pumpkin seeds); the Morelense style, topped with a boiled egg, and even the hyperlocal pozole Mixteco with mole from the Huajuapan de León region in Oaxaca, are some of the choices that Chicagoans are lucky to have for a meal perfect for colder temperatures.
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