Three foods that start with the letter ‘e’ whose names come from Nahuatl
I love etymology. I realize now that when I started this Oaxacan Food from A to Z project I should have written about the use of nahuatlismos – words that are commonly used today whose origin is Nahuatl – the language of the Aztecs. Many of these words have been borrowed by English as well, including tomato, avocado and coyote.
Two fun resources for learning about Nahuatl include Huiquipedia and this Nahuatl/English/Spanish dictionary. Chapulin (chopilin), chicatana (tzicatl) chocolate (xocolatl) chilacayota (chilacayotli) and chile (chilli) are all words that come from Nahuatl. This explains why there are so many Mexican food words that begin with ‘c/ch’, and why there are none that start with ‘d‘ (so I’ll skip that letter entirely – as you can see from the chart below it is not included in the Nahuatl alphabet).
All of this etymology fun stems from my original research into the herb epazote – the first food in today’s post. This word comes from the Nahuatl epazōtl meaning “skunk sweat” (epatl = skunk and tzotl = sweat).
In Oaxaca, fresh epazote is added to black beans to cut out some of the gas producing qualities.
It is also added to quesadillas with quesillo and squash blossom and empanadas to add flavour.
Elotes y esquites
A common (and cheap) street food all over Mexico is elotes y esquites which are sold from tricycle carts that come out when the sun goes down. The word esquites comes from the Nahuatl ízquitl. Esquites are prepared by boiling the corn kernels with salt and epazote and then fried with onion and chillies before being added to chicken broth or water. They are served steaming hot from a giant pot into styrofoam cups and garnished with lime juice, powdered chilli, salt, mayonnaise and/or grated cheese and eaten with a spoon.
Elote (from the Nahuatl ēlōtl) is corn on the cob that is either boiled or roasted and then put on a stick. It is commonly seasoned with lime juice, mayonnaise, powdered chile, salt and grated cheese and makes a super tasty (but messy) street food snack.
Thanks for reading today!