Ask a Mexican on Tres Leches Cakes and Aztec History

This is going to sound absolutely and totally Caucasian. Lately, we have been trying to lighten the mood around the office with delicate bits of international confections. With all that's going on in the world, who needs one more worry? With that said, we are struck with yet another issue to ponder. Just the other day at my birthday celebration, I quite insisted on a lilac-toned bomb cake from a pricey bakery in Monterey. In addition to this, some of my Mexican sisters brought something called tres leches.

To try to begin to describe the subtle richness and the coolness upon the tongue, it left my bomb cake standing alone like a wallflower at a seventh-grade dance. To this end, we are still arguing what in the heck is the third leche in tres leches? We have cow as leche number uno, goat as leche number dos . . . However, the mind spins with the possibilities of the tres leches?
Rattled in Ryan Ranch

I'm glad you enjoyed pastel de tres leches, but unless your Mexi amigas bought a gourmet version, you're wrong on all counts. Tres leches cake is traditionally made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and a layer of cream on top. Usually, Mexicans use goat milk to make cajeta, the mestizo cousin of caramel — but cajeta usually doesn't go on pastel de tres leches. You can drizzle that on the pastel de tres leches — wash it down with horchata, and you'll have the sweetest combo to come out of Mexico since Salma Hayek's breasts.

While trying to instill some history into my girlfriend, who is also Mexican (well, I was born acá, y ella, allá) I told her that maize was first harvested by Aztecs, whereas she states that it was the Mayans who kept la yunta andando for corn first. Could you please enlighten her by telling that she's wrong?
Mexican Light

Drop the Aztec love, cabrón! Everyone knows they were just a parasite empire that absorbed attributes from the many cultures and people that preceded them, from the Olmecs to Toltecs to Mayans to whoever the hell built Teotihuacán. And the fact is both of you are wrong. Trying to determine who domesticated corn is as impossible as finding a Mexican-owned truck without a sticker of a bull, their hometown, or stick figures depicting their family, but the great book America's First Cuisines notes scientists in 1964 found evidence of domestication and harvesting in the Tehuacan valley (around the states of Puebla and Oaxaca) dating back to 5,000 B.C. — more than 2,000 years before aliens built the pyramids in Egypt as guides or whatever the latest Coast to Coast A.M. explanation is. The domestication of maize (and the miracle that is nixtamalization, which makes masa possible) is Mexico's greatest gift to the world, greater even than Salma Hayek's boobs of glory.

Crazy news! You're favorite columna is being turned into a play! ¡Ask a Mexican! will get its first-ever reading this Friday at the prestigious Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company as part of their annual Latino Mixfest. A special gracias to my writing partner, Atlantic's artistic leadership associate Jaime Castaneda (a Tejano, but that's okay), for wanting to do this. For my Puebla York cabrones interested in attending the reading: it's free, but you must RSVP — more info at For everyone else — start bugging your local theater company to stage the play come next year!

Good Mexican of the week! Since this is my annual food edición, a shout-out to all the original loncheros — those taco-truck pioneers across the country who fought the law and racist ordinances to ensure we can all enjoy a late-night taco. All you luxe lonchera folks slinging "gourmet" food: Pay respects to your elders when you park your trucks next to them at the commissary. Yes, gentle readers: roach coaches and "gourmet" food trucks spend their nights together. Imagine that!

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano