On my first visit to our little neighborhood grocery, tienda de comestibles, I carefully requested in Spanish, “Quisiera una docena de huevos, por favor.” I believed this to mean, I would like a dozen eggs, please. I was surprised by the reply, “¿Te gusta blanco o rojo? Rojo? I was stumped. I thought rojo was red. It is, of course. Yet, it took me a minute to realize the patient shopkeeper referred to what I have always called brown eggs.
When it comes to chickens, Mexicans have viewpoints different from most US citizens. Actual contact with chickens for most in the US generally consists of buying chicken parts wrapped in plastic. Mexicans, on the other hand, are not fazed when a flock of hens and biddies strut down a public street—even in the middle of a city. They don’t find it unusual if roving chickens poach a couple of bugs from their gardens, or if a rooster crows at any time of day or night.
Perhaps the reason for their higher tolerance of live birds is Mexico’s long history of tending chickens.
It had been widely thought that the first import of chickens to the New World arrived from Europe with the early voyages of Columbus and others. However, recent scientific investigations have revealed that bones found in Chile followed the same DNA sequence as prehistoric Polynesian chickens from Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Hawaii and Easter Island indicating an earlier introduction of Asian chickens perhaps via Polynesian explorers. Radio carbon dating of recently unearthed Chilean chicken bones indicated a date of between 1321 and 1407 AD. So, introduction of the Asian chickens to the New World must have taken place at least 100 years before the arrival of European chickens on the continent.
Likely, the arrival of chickens came much earlier as evidenced by language references. Also, Gavin Menzies’ book, 1421, suggested another introduction of Asian chickens may have taken place when the Chinese undertook to map the world from a huge fleet of junks around 1421. He believes there is evidence of the Chinese sailing into New World harbors including Acapulco. He also notes the easily discerned difference in crowing by European and Asian roosters—both heard throughout Mexico today. Menzies believes the Chinese left behind Asian chickens as well as other strange animals.
Here in Puerto Vallarta, we see chickens on roofs, chickens in yards, chickens in the neighborhood and chickens on the table. Mexicans love chicken. Chicken eggs are an important protein source for many Mexicans.
Neighborhood tiendas sell unrefrigerated fresh-that-day eggs by weight—not dozens by size. These eggs vary wildly in size—ahh, that’s why they weigh them. The yolks are a rich orange color and don’t break when you crack them into a pan to fry.
Mexico abounds with chicken restaurants. There are chains and Mom ‘n Pops. Pollo Feliz—why is that chicken happy?—El Pechugón—the Bustier, huh?—are examples of chains. In addition, the US, thanks to NAFTA, has introduced the Colonel’s contribution to chicken in Mexico—KFC/Kentucky Fried Chicken. Some Mom ‘n Pops offer awesome hardwood-fire roasted chickens. You will see them along the streets. They are relatively inexpensive and well worth trying.
Perhaps it is time for us to all embrace chickens in a more natural way and adjust our history books.