Corn and Cement: The Taste of Monterrey

The bizarre and large flood plains that are Monterrey and the larger state of Nuevo Leon were originally dubbed “Extremoduro” by an early colonist, or “extremely hard”, and hold 5 million people, making it the third largest city in Mexico (behind Guadalajara and Mexico City). Cement is a highly visible part of the city: not only does the beautiful mountain range of Sierra las Mitras, which splits the city, have large visibly exposed quarries on both sides, but unpainted cinder blocks lay foundation for countless poverty polygons. During operational hours, the quarries’ factories belch diurnal dust in drifting plumes over the west end of the Monterrey.

Cement, in fact, can be tasted, smelled, and visible by the city’s inhabitants. The dust finds a way into everything, coating the sidewalks after a heavy rain, and leaving a similar silt layer of lime on the bottom of the boiled kettle.

Elote is the Mexican street corn, topped cheese, mayonnaise, a spicy cayenne pepper mix, and a slightly soured cream similar to France’s “crème fraîche”. The smell of elote, Monterrey’s perhaps second most salient ingredient, just a culinary topping to the sprawling cement sea, dances through one of the also richest cities in Latin America by escaping the tarps of corn stands from large cooking pots, curling in the nose of pedestrians, and snaking tiny tendrils through the streets of the barrios, not very far, into dark abandoned structures, through windows dark and empty like the eyes of long-gone addicts.

On hazy days, though I can’t actually smell it, I fancy the dust from the cement quarry must sift down from their plumes to collect in the furrowed streets to partner in the dance of the smell of elote.