Dining with “Hungry Coyote”
By Tim Hazell
“With variegated flowers adorned your drum is erected, oh, You By Whom All Live. With flowers, with freshness¾Ayahue!”
Mexico’s king Nezahualcóyotl, “Hungry Coyote” (1403-1473), became a renaissance man of his time – warrior, philosopher, poet and statesman. His city of Texcoco represented the center of artistic and intellectual life of the Mexican plateau, and his great engineering works were considered so exemplary that he was sought after and emulated by his main allies, the Aztecs.
Nezahualcóyotl died at age 70, survived by wives, concubines and 110 children. His “flower songs” were collected by his great grandson to preserve their original nuances, including this sample:
I Erect My Drum
I erect my drum, I assemble my friends. Aya! Here they find recreation; I make them sing. Perhaps there is also calm, there in the Bodyless Place? Let us go! But here the law of the flowers governs, here the law of the song governs, here on earth. Ehuaya! Be happy, dress in finery, oh friends. Ohuaya!
Aztec cuisine was characteristic of the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519. Their diet included corn, squash, fish, wild game, domesticated turkeys, ducks and dogs. Rich hosts often entertained company seated in rooms around an open courtyard. Fragrant tobacco tubes and flowers were distributed before a banquet. Many pre-Conquest recipes have come down to us, including this intriguing shrimp stew.
(Aztec Shrimp Stew)
2 lbs fresh medium shrimp; peeled and deveined
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 cup fresh corn masa dough (available at tortillerías)
4-1/2 cups water
1/3 cup dried shrimp lightly toasted on dry skillet and powdered
(or substitute pre-powdered shrimp, available at Bonanza)
8 small, unpeeled, cooked new potatoes, halved
1 cup frozen yellow corn kernels
1 560g can whole black beans, drained
2 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt or to taste
l/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Spring onion and limes for garnish
Hot corn tortillas
Place masa dough in a mixing bowl and gradually add 1-1/2 cups hot water. Let stand 5 minutes to soften, then mash with a fork until the consistency is smooth and fairly thick. If using whole toasted dry shrimp, pulverize in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle. Puree garlic and cumin seed with a little of the liquefied masa in a food processor or blender and return to the mixing bowl. Pour contents into a large saucepan and add 3 cups hot water. Bring to the boil, stirring, then reduce to gentle simmer. Add toasted shrimp powder, salt, sugar and cayenne pepper and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Add the shrimp and simmer five minutes longer. Add black beans, corn kernels and potato halves. Stir gently to combine ingredients and allow to heat through. Serve tlaxtihuilli in deep bowls topped with sliced spring onion, with limes and hot corn tortillas on the side.