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Fronteras: ‘We’re the people of corn’ — San Antonio celebrates corn as a heritage ingredient during Pueblos del Maíz

From tortillas to tamales, corn serves as the basis of dozens of delicacies that are enjoyed across Texas.

Its roots can be traced back thousands of years to Mexico and Mesoamerica, where nixtamalization —the ancient process of preparing maize — was invented.

During the month of May, the cultural significance of corn will be celebrated. San Antonio will collaborate with three other UNESCO Creative Cities — Tucson, Arizona; and the Mexican cities of Puebla and Mérida — for Pueblos del Maíz.

San Antonio’s World Heritage Office (WHO) oversees San Antonio’s Creative City of Gastronomy designation.

Colleen Swain, director of the WHO, said the collaboration works to highlight the unique ways corn can be used.

“It’s really incredible to learn about how each city has this relationship with this one ingredient,” she said. “It evolved pretty much from the same place, but we all use it maybe a little bit differently.”

Twelve local restaurants will feature special corn dishes on their menus as part of Pueblos del Maíz.

Paul Morales is one of the chefs taking part in the month-long commemoration.

Morales operates the Tacos Cucuy food trailer, and owns Ancient Heirloom Grains, which creates non-GMO heirloom corn varietals, specializing in nixtamalized corn tortillas.

Through his corn guisado taco, Chef Morales highlights the significance of corn in his food.

“Being a Mexican American or just a Latino — corn is from our ancestors,” he said. “Our civilization, everything was founded upon corn.”

Chef Morales will take part in a community workshop with fellow San Antonio chef Johnny Hernandez on Saturday, May 21. “Mes del Maíz: Masa to Mesa” is a hands-on workshop on the history and cultural tradition of nixtamal.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.