Graduate student discussed traditional Mexican cuisine at International Coffee Hour

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Francisco Najar, graduate student in food science, discussed his love of Mexican cuisine and shared his favorite recipes.

The importance of food crosses cultures through the sharing of recipes and the stories behind them. Friday’s International Coffee Hour, a forum hosted by Kansas State’s International Student and Scholar Services, focused on the cultural importance of authentic Mexican cuisine.

Grilling and watching sports with the family is a common tradition in U.S. households. The same can be said for Mexican households, even if the meals aren’t the same. Instead of a hamburger on the grill, one might see baby goat as the main dish.

Hosted via Zoom this year, the International Coffee Hour shares the cultures of the international students at K-State. Student presenters showcase what they love about their home country.

Francisco Najar, graduate student in food science, discussed his love of Mexican cuisine and shared his favorite recipes.

Najar comes from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Monterrey holds the 2013 Guinness World Record for the largest barbecue attendance at 45,000 people.

“We love meat, and I think that’s one of the main reasons that really made me study meat science,” Najar said. “Within Mexico, we’re a city that consumes a lot of meat.”

Most restaurants in the U.S. serve Tex-Mex, not authentic Mexican food. If given the opportunity, Najar recommends visiting Mexico to experience Mexican food at its peak.

Najar shared a recipe for cochinita pipal, a slow-cooked spicy pork dish. The recipe uses two types of dried chilis — guajillo and pasilla — along with seasonings like garlic, oregano and salt.

They slow-cook the pork shoulder for 10-11 hours and boil peppers for an hour and then blend the peppers into a paste. The pork and pepper paste is mixed together along with the other seasonings. It is served on a thick tortilla with beans, guacamole and cheese.

“[You] can find these types of ingredients [in the U.S.] to make it almost the same as if [you] were to do it in Mexico,” Najar said.

During the presentation, Najar showed two videos: one explored Mexican street markets and the other shared Mexican coffee recipes.

The first video showed the exchange rate of the US dollar to the Mexican peso. With only $50, a woman visited a street market in Mexico City to see what she could buy. From fresh coconut juice to traditional Mexican stew, the woman spent less than $30.

The second video shared recipes for authentic Mexican coffee using a combination of various spices and sweeteners. Coffee beans in Mexico grow in Southern regions around Veracruz and Chiapas where the climate is cooler.

Najar said people drink coffee after a meal and added being together as a family is important. In Mexico, coffee is often served with sweet bread.

Other beverages include tequila, beer and horchata.

“There’s only one place in Mexico that can produce tequila,” Najar said.

The city Tequila is in the state of Jalisco, Najar said. Mexican law states the only beverage that can rightfully be called tequila is produced in Tequila.

Normally, International Coffee Hours are in-person so attendees can sample the traditional cuisine, but COVID-19 forced the program to shift to a virtual format.

“If it weren’t for this COVID-19 situation, you probably would have tried that meal that I made at home — the cochinita pipal,” Najar said.

To keep people engaged, Najar added an online questionnaire to boost interaction. Najar asked attendees what came to mind when they thought of Mexico, as well as their favorite Mexican dishes.

Najar talked about Mexican Independence Day and the similarity to the U.S. Independence Day. On that day, people prepare large amounts of food and light fireworks.

It’s an important day for Najar, especially living away from home. To him, it’s all about family tradition.

“I have two daughters — two little ones — and I really want to continue to have those traditions,” Najar said.

The next International Coffee Hour is on Oct. 15 and features the country Turkey.

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