Bonds of bread

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By Jesus Adrian Ledezma

It’s 8 p.m. in a Mexico City suburb. Kids are still playing on the streets when a van honks its horn and the guy driving it shouts: “!El pan y la leche!”

Housewives come out and buy some bread pieces for the merienda (a light afternoon meal), and even some bolillos for tomorrow’s tortas. Once the van is gone, everyone goes home. It’s time to gather with parents and siblings and share the experiences of the day while enjoying a concha fresh from the oven and a hot chocolate.

Every night el pan dulce bonds families, a tradition that Mexicans have taken with them beyond its borders.

El pan dulce is as essential to the Mexican culture as el mariachi. It dates back to the Colonia era in 17th century, when the Spanish crown brought new recipes to Nueva España. During the 1860s, the European influence in the cooking of bread increased with the presence of the French emperor Maximilian. Years later, when the Mexican Revolution was over, soldiers took home bread recipes from different regions, creating a great variety of panes that today can be found in any panadería.

The first thing to learn about Mexican sweet bread is the name of each pan, which usually refers to the shape it resembles. For example, el cuernito, la concha, el cochito or el elotito (the horn, the shell, the pig and the corn cob).

However, these names sometimes have another meaning with some kind of playful tease or even sexual connotation. El ombligo is a bread with the shape of a popped-up belly button, but it also looks like a breast, which gives it the nickname of Chichi de Monja (nun’s breast).

Some people refer to breads such as el bizcocho to use as pick up lines. They say, “Oye guapa, estas hecha un bizcocho!” (Non-literal translation: “Hey, good-looking, you’re as sweet as a bizcocho!”)

Another characteristic of the breads’ names is the items they are associated with, such as la bandera cookies because they have the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag.

In many Mexican celebrations it is essential to have some kind of sweet bread. During Día de los Muertos, all panaderías have pan de muerto, which is a soft round shaped bread with pieces in the form of bones on top of it and covered with sugar. It is usually put in the ofrendas, or altar offerings, and when eating it is dipped in sweet drinks like chocolate caliente.

This upcoming Día de los Muertos stop by most, authentic Mexican panaderías in the Valley, get your tray and clamps and shovel in as many panes as you hunger for. Pan de muerto, un panque o una concha, for your merienda, breakfast or snack. Just make sure you get the freshest pan calientito.

So as the song says:

En la tarde

la hora de la merienda

don Juanito’s voz

would sing again.


Pan Calientito!

70-year-old viejito

carrying en su Canastota

el dorado corazon

de nuestra gente…

Don Juanito by Jesus “El Flaco” Maldonado

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