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What did the average meal look like in the Aztec and Inca Empires? • /r/AskHistorians
I recently read Las Cartas de relación by Hernán Cortés in Spanish class, and I was intrigued by the variety of animals and foodstuffs the Aztecs had in their marketplace, at least according to Cortés. I would like to know how meals of the Aztecs (and other American empires like the Incas) looked like, and what foods were considered luxuries by people of these empires. Thank you.


For the Aztec the staple food was the tortilla with everything else simply an accompaniment. However, the tortilla today was not the sole type of tortilla in the past. Based on Sahagun’s writings, Sophie Coe (1994:113) compiled the list of different tortillas, as well as tameles, that Sahagun recorded. The passages are as follows,

The tortillas which the lords ate every day were called totonqui tlaxcalli tlacuelpacholli, meaning white and hot tortillas, and they were folded, arranged in a chiquihuitl [container], and covered with a white cloth.

Other tortillas they also ate every day were called ueitlaxcalli, meaning large tortillas; these are very white and very thin, and wide, and very soft.

They also ate other tortillas called quauhtlaqualli; they are very white, and thick and large and rough.

They also ate some buns that were not round, but long, which they called tlaxcalmimilli; they are round and white and a span [eight inches?] long or a little less.

Another kind of tortillas they ate were called tlacepoalli tlaxcalli, which were in layers, and they were dainty food.

They also ate tamales of many kinds, some of them white and pellet shaped, neither round nor square, on their top they have a spiral which is made by the beans with which it is mixed [the layer of beans is rolled in the dough like a jelly roll].

Other tamales are eaten which are very white and very delicate … another kind of white tamale was eaten which was not as delicate as the above, they were somewhat harder.

Other tamales eaten are reddish, with a spiral on top, they are reddish because after the dough is made they are kept for two days in the sun or near the fire, and they stir it, and it becomes reddish.

Other tamales eaten were simple or ordinary, they were not very white but middling, and have a spiral on top like the above mentioned; other tamales were eaten which were mixed with nothing at all.

The lords ate these kinds of bread already mentioned with many manners of fowl roast and stewed; some of them in dough, containing a complete fowl, another kind with pieces of fowl in dough, which they call fowl in dough, or cock, with yellow chile.

Other kinds of roasted fowl were eaten; another roast which was roast quail.

There were also many kinds of tortillas for the commoners.

They also ate a kind of tamale made of maize tassels, mixed with amaranth/chenopodium seeds, and mixed with ground cherry kernel meats.

They ate certain tortillas made of tender maize ears, and another kind of tortillas made of very small and very tender maize ears. (Sahagun 1982: 463-464)

All these different kinds of tortillas and tamales were paired with a sauce. This was then followed by some fruit and finished with chocolate.

The sauce dishes, which are called casseroles by Sahagun, are just as numerous if not more so than the tortillas and tamales. These are the descriptions that Sahagun provides,

The lords also ate many kinds of casseroles; . . one kind of casserole of fowl made in their fashion, with red chile and with tomatoes, and ground squash seeds, a dish which is now called pipian; they ate another casserole of fowl made with yellow chile.

They ate many kinds of casseroles, and they ate roast birds …

They also ate many kinds of chile stews; one kind was made of yellow chile, another kind of chilmolli [sauce with chile] was made ofchiltecpitl [a kind of chile] and tomatoes; another kind of chilmolli was made of yellow chile and tomatoes.

They also ate fish in casseroles: one of white fish made with yellow chile and tomatoes; another casserole of greyish-brown fish made with red chile and tomatoes, and with ground squash seeds which is very good to eat.

They eat another kind of casserole made of frogs with green chile; another kind of casserole of those fish which they call axolotl with yellow chile; they also ate another kind of tadpoles with chiltecpitl.

They also ate a kind of little reddish fish made with chiltecpitl; they also ate another casserole of large-winged ants with chiltecpitl.

Also another casserole of locusts, and it is very tasty food; they also ate maguey worms, with chiltecpitl molli [sauce]; also another casserole of shrimps made with chiltecpitl and tomatoes, and some ground squash seeds.

Also another kind of casserole of the kind of fish which they calltopotl, made with chiltecpitl as the above said.

Another casserole they ate was of large fish, made as above… they ate another casserole made of unripe plums [Spondias spp.], with some little white fish, yellow chile, and tomatoes. (Sahagun 1982: 463-464)

I just want to note that this is a very small representative sample of the entire range of Aztec cuisine. While there are few dishes recorded by people like Cortes or Sahagun, there are more ingredients than dishes recorded. For example, as few as eight varieties of maize were used by the Aztec (Coe 1994: 88), other grains like chia, huauhtli, and amaranth, twelve kinds of beans (Coe 1994: 89), different kinds of chile, roots like chayotli and jicama, manioc and sweet potatoes, mushrooms, agave, maguey leaves, as well as a number of animals such as dog, turkey, Muscovy duck, lizards, and wild fowl.

Coe also states that the number of meals eaten per day is not well known. Most sources, she says, say there are just two meals a day. One meal in the morning and one meal in the afternoon, though one account said that laborers moving a statue were fed three meals with one at dawn, one around nine in the morning, and one in the afternoon (Coe 1994: 110).

If you can get your hands on Coe’s book, I highly recommend it. While newer scholarship has certainly complimented her book in the last two decades, I have not yet seen a revised version or other comprehensive book as hers.

  • Coe, Sophie D. America’s first cuisines. University of Texas Press, 1994.
Los signos cocinando:

Aries: mientras bromea con sagitario se olvida de lo que esta en el horno.

Tauro: ya se comió todo.

Géminis: sigue la receta paso por paso.

Cáncer: se imagina millones de formas para un pastel.

Leo: Tal vez deje a Libra hacer todo, sus manos no son para ser ensuciadas. 

Virgo: termina tomando café porque hizo un desastre.

Libra: se queja de que Leo no lo ayuda.

Escorpio: empezaría a tirar harina por todos lados

Sagitario: trata de apagar el fuego mientras Aries ríe por atrás.

Capricornio: todo le salio perfecto.

Acuario:  hace un pastel en forma de alíen.

Piscis: al igual que Cáncer imagina un montón de cosas pero termina comprando un cupcakes de arcoiris.

35 consejos para no parecer un novato en la cocina

1. Guarda tus especias en un lugar oscuro y seco. La humedad les quita aroma y cuerpo.
2. Nunca intentes una receta nueva para una cita romántica o de trabajo.
3. No dejes cocer la pasta todo lo que dice en el empaque. Resta un minuto siempre.
4. No uses aceite cuando cuezas pasta, eso evita que la salsa se adhiera después.
5. Usa mantequilla y no margarina. Aunque no lo creas, es más saludable y tiene mejor sabor.
6. Cuando sumerjas algo en aceite para freír, sostenlo con unas pinzas y no lo sueltes inmediatamente. Así evitarás que se pegue a otra pieza o pierda su forma.
7. Para aderezos de mejor sabor y más saludables, mezcla una porción de mayonesa con otra de yoghurt griego.
8. Para los postres, deja los huevos y la mantequilla fuera del refrigerador desde una noche antes.
9. Sumerge tus vegetales en un tazón con agua y hielo antes de cocerlos para que siempre tengan buen color.
10. No pongas demasiadas piezas a freír en una sartén; en vez de obtener lo que buscas, sólo conseguirás que el agua se haga presente.
11. Para asar un corte de carne en sartén, siempre empieza por los costados.
12. Para asar alguna carne, saca estas piezas del refrigerador una hora antes.
13. Antes de poner un pescado al fuego, déjalo en toallas de papel por unos minutos.
14. No ensucies el plato al servir.
15. Trata de utilizar más condimentos fuera de la sal y pimienta.
16. No añadas aceite de más. Siempre ve midiendo conforme avance tu preparación.

17. No añadas agua a una salsa antes de ver cómo queda por sí sola.
18. Cuece las verduras sólo lo necesario para que no queden muy suaves o dulces.
19. Cuando utilices quesos, déjalos respirar un tiempo antes fuera del refrigerador.
20. Sofríe la pasta con un ajo antes de ponerla a hervir para una sopa de fideos.
21. No cortes el pan antes de tener a los invitados en la mesa.
22. Si necesitas agregar más aceite, ponlo en el borde de la sartén para que, cuando llegue a los ingredientes, ya esté caliente.
23. Para lograr que las verduras mantengan un color brillante, inmediatamente después de cocerlas hay que sumergirlas en agua helada.
24, No laves las verduras o las frutas hasta el momento previo se utilización.
25. No uses sustitutos de azúcar, alteran el sabor.
26. Adorna tu platillo con alguna hierba; por ejemplo, romero, albahaca, etcétera.
27. Trata de usar lo menos posible cubos de hielo, mejor enfría a tiempo una botella o bebida.
28. Cuida el fuego al asar pollo, no queremos que pierda sus jugos por completo.
29. Mantén la cena sencilla, evita poner exceso de platos para que los invitados no se llenen antes de terminar; tampoco exageres con la cantidad de cubiertos a utilizar, puede ser un poco tedioso.
30. El jugo de limón ayuda en el agua del arroz a que éste no se pegue.
31. Para los asados al horno, rocía con un poco de limón la carne para que ésta se vea bien dorada al salir.
32. Agrega una cucharada de bicarbonato de sodio al agua donde hiervas un huevo, y después no te compliques en querer quitarle la cáscara.
33. Para marinar una carne, usa jugo de naranja y no de limón. La naranja ablanda, el limón las endurece.
34. No cortes lechugas u otras verduras de hojas finas con cuchillo, siempre es mejor usar las manos.
35. No calientes pan en el microondas.