FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BREAD is a tantalizing cookbook that captivated me, not only with the title—but also from the subtitle “A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook.” It wasn’t so very long ago that I reviewed a cookbook for you titled “FOODS OF THE MAYA/ A TASTE OF THE YUCATAN” by Nancy & Jeffrey Gerlach.
I have never had a desire to visit any of the countries in South America—but “FOODS OF THE MAYA” piqued my curiosity. Copeland Marks, I learned, is co-author of THE INDONESIAN KITCHEN and often contributed to Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Food and Wine—all of which has me wondering how a New Yorker has produced such a tantalizing title as, FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BFEAD.
My curiosity increased in Marks’ introduction in which he writes, “several years ago I approached a number of people in Guatemala City and told them I wanted to write a book on the cuisine of Guatemala. My comment was received with utter disbelief that there was a cuisine at all; people claimed that the highland Indians ate only beans, tortillas and tamales, and that if there was any semblance of a cooking style it occurred only in the large cities…”
Marks says he collected the textiles of the Maya for twenty years, moving from one village to another where the great tribal textile tradition was still extant. He says he had been impressed by the variety of foods in the daily markets as well as the selection of spices and seasonings available. He knew, he says, there had to be a cuisine. despite fact that none of the restaurants serving tourists were presenting the authentic foods and that there was no real bibliography of cookbooks in English one could study. So Marks returned to the village weavers known to him, all of them women, and proceeded to talk about food and recorded the daily and ceremonial recipes based upon his observation and actual cooking activities with them.
Marks says it wasn’t all that easy—at one point he was bitten by a mad dog in the village of San Juan Sacatepequez and had to undergo 16 injections into his stomach—and there were many other Sacatepequez experiences—during which he asked himself if there wasn’t an easier way to find and write about a cuisine. However, he writes, after a guerilla experience, the veil lifted and Marks was able to collect considerable evidence that the cuisine of Guatemaya Maya is in reality two separate cuisines, –one of the highland Indian with their pre-Hispanic style and the other of the Spanish Colonial era which had been developed by the new race, the Ladinos, who were a mixture of the old and the new. brought about independently of the two other cuisines, a minor satellite that had developed independently in the town of Livingston in Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. It was here that indentured labor from India and Africa was brought in by the British to work in the sugarcane and forests of British Honduras, (now known as Belize). These people developed a vivid style of cooking that was tropical, based on seafood, bananas and coconut milk.
Nowhere will you find more creatively named recipes than those you will find in False Tongues and Sunday Bread! Starting with False Tongues, which is a ground beef loaf, otherwise known as Lengua Fingida.
In the Foreword, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz writes “Copeland Marks has made a meticulous study of a little-known culinary regions of the Americas—the once-great Mayan empire that stretched from the mother city of “Tikal in Guacamole , north into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula through the modern state of Campeche to Palenque in Chiapas and south to Copan in Honduras, glory had begun to fade by the time of the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century. Surprisingly, much has survived the centuries, including the magnificent weavings and the food…the cuisines are, of course, dominated by the indigenous foods. Most of them, like tomatoes, corn, the common bean, chiles and sweet peppers were first cultivated in Mexico, where it is believed agriculture was born millennia ago. These still form the basis of the kitchen, though nowadays with the foods introduced by the Conquest and by the spread of modern trade, all the foods of the world are available. The Guatemalan kitchen of today reflects this and it has also been modified by modern cooking methods and kitchen tools such as the blender and food processor…”
Recipes throughout False Tongues and Sunday Bread reflect the combining of old and new and you will surely reflect all of these and a great deal more. Read and enjoy.
FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BREAD is available on Amazon.com; prices mostly steep but there is one in pre-owned copies for $14.91.
REVIEW BY SANDRA LEE SMITH