MESQUITE, nopal, maguey, wild maize: These were some of the foods eaten in Mexico 9,000 years ago by nomadic people. Then came squash, chiles, avocados, guava, cultivated maize and beans, the foods of sedentary people. The Aztecs made tlaxcalli (the Nahuatl name for what is now called tortillas). The Aztecs, Mayans and Incas ate salsa. The foods of the nomads gave way to pozole and masa and tamales. The Spaniards brought wheat and rice, cattle, pigs, sheep and sugar cane.
According to "The Oxford Companion to Food," tamales were actually pre-Columbian, but dishes like pozole and tamales still have some of their Aztec mystery. Burritos and tacos, which according to many food researchers were first introduced in the U.S. in the early 1930s at El Cholo on Western Avenue, have a different glamour (perhaps a little of the cowboy big-screen stardust). Tortillas ... well, they seem the province of women: mothers and daughters and grandmothers and that rhythmic, repetitive labor that bound them together.