Growing up, I couldn't help forming a deep connection between delicious Mexican food and the movies. That's because every Sunday, the Salcido Esparza family enjoyed a really good home-cooked meal followed by a trip to the only Spanish-language cinema in Livingston, a rural farm town in central California.
I'd stuff myself on my mother's cooking while she nagged me about everything under the sun, including my weight. "Ana, don't eat the flan," she'd plead. But with a self-assured grin, I'd scoop up a big forkful of the creamy dessert and shove it in.
Then we'd visit the Livingston Theater and watch the charros -- Mexican cowboys -- serenade their way into the affections of beautiful women. Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete were larger-than-life heroes who made us swoon.
And now, 40 years later, Mexican movies are making a new impact, much to my delight. For the first time in years, Mexico is proud enough of its films to submit nominations for Academy Awards.
But what does this have to do with food?
Recently, I spent the day taking in three movies in succession at Harkins Camelview 5: Frida, El Crimen del Padre Amaro and Real Women Have Curves. Each was made in Mexico or by a Mexican filmmaker, and each prominently features Mexican food.
In Frida, for example, when Frida Kahlo makes lunch for Diego Rivera, we see her serve up succulent helpings of chiles en nogada -- stuffed peppers in a walnut-cream sauce topped with pomegranates. Mole and posole also make appearances.
In El Crimen del Padre Amaro, the two priests featured in the story spend time at the local cafe, eating such wonderful dishes as the traditional picaditas de frijoles, a fritter stuffed with refried beans and served in a pool of warm green salsa. Chiles rellenos, horchata, mole de olla and even communion wafers with goat's milk caramel, cajeta Coronado, show up on the big screen.
The family in Real Women Have Curves really knows how to eat. They gorge on quesadillas stuffed with zucchini flower and fresh nopal cactus, tostadas and delicious red posole.
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After seeing so much gastronomic variety, I walked out of Camelview 5 with pangs of hunger and headed right to my kitchen to fulfill my want for traditional Mexican fare.
From Like Water for Chocolate to Tortilla Soup, Mexicans are once again producing top-quality movies, and food seems an ever-present element in them.
I like what I see. And today, no one tells me I can't have my flan!
Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.