Photo: The marriage of Marshal Achille Bazaine to Josefa de la Peña y Azcárate, June 26, 1865, National Palace, Mexico City. Le Monde Illustré, Aug. 12, 1865. Maximilian and Carlota are witnesses, and are pictured congratulating the bride and groom.
by Mary Margaret McAllen Amberson, Guest Blogger
Since 2009, I’ve been working on a book about the reign of Mexico’s last imperial court, 1864—1867, that of Maximilian von Habsburg and his wife, Carlota, a princess of Belgium. It is a curious and tragic story that further inspired European influence on the foods of Mexico, especially in the more elite classes.
Before the two royals ever set foot on Mexican soil, the French, under Emperor Napoleon III sent thousands of men onto the shore of Mexico at Veracruz. They were accompanied by sizeable squads of Austrian and English soldiers. For three years, they fought a bloody advance to the capital of Mexico City and by 1864, the French took possession of Puebla and in no time Mexico City.
Although foreigners had introduced their own national food traditions on Mexico since 1519, the Second Empire of Mexico and the war to erect it wildly escalated the introduction of new dishes. By mid-1864, soldiers from over twenty-two nations entered the country from mostly European cultures, but also China and north Africa.
At the National Palace or at Chapultepec, the royal residence, balls and banquets were held with regular frequency. Wines from the Rhone to the Rhine, Hungary, Champagne, and Bordeaux were served. Elaborate menus with ornamental engravings announced the usually French-based fare: Potage Brunoise, Tapioca, Bouchées aux huîtres (oysters), Poisson aux fines herbes, filet braise, sauce Richelieu, vol-au-vent financier, Saumon à la tartare, Cailles Pèrigueux, roasted beef, poultry, and lamb. The meal ended with vegetables, puddings, cakes, and flavored ices.
At official mid-day meals, there were times when Carlota chose to offer Mexican dishes more familiar to their courtiers and military officials. On April 27, 1865, she served coastal dishes, Veracruzano style, with oysters and fish. She included tuna paté, vegetables, rice croquets, fruits, and ice creams. However, she seemed to need to include something French, in this case chicken with truffles, loins of meat, and trout genovese. This maintained the elevated and elite cuisine, not normally available to the Mexican public, while nodding to some local traditions.
The emperor of Mexico’s second empire never truly accustomed himself to the ways of the Mexican table during his turbulent three-year reign. One of Maximilian’s personal chefs, a Hungarian named José Tüdös, made comfort food for the ill-fated emperor. His stews, soups and hash aided the Austrian archduke and his stomach ailments during his incarceration in Querétaro in 1867.
More on the food of Mexico’s second empire in the next installment.
- Percy F. Martin, Maximilian in Mexico (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914), 175—176.
- Martin, Maximilian in Mexico, 176.
- Basch, Samuel, Hugh McAden Oechler, trans. Memories of Mexico: A History of the Last Ten Months of the Empire (San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 1973), 197.