Government Should Take Action to Conserve Mexican CuisineBy Jan Hogewoning | Wed, 06/03/2020 - 17:59
The largest Mexican restaurant in the world, Restaurante Arroyo has been serving up traditional dishes that have changed little since their inception. The restaurant’s owner, José Arroyo, highlights the important of maintaining Mexican traditions and believes the onus is on the government to do more. “Peña Nieto declared Mexican food a cultural heritage, but the government did nothing to support it,” he says.
Instead, restaurants have done all the work by themselves. “López Obrador says he loves the indigenous population, but the traditions of regional cuisine continue to fade.” The government should prioritize the protection of traditions by helping efforts to conserve them through institutions such as Conservatory for the Mexican Cuisine, he adds.
A plethora of regulations imposed through sanitary laws have not helped this process. Arroyo points to one example in particular. “Before, you would eat carnitas (braised pork) on a wooden plank. Now, you need to use plastic surfaces. Ironically, plastic is more harmful as it is an inorganic substance that still gets into your food.” Similar interventions have been made against the use of copper, which has always had a place in the kitchen of Mexican homes and restaurants.
Arroyo describes the history of the restaurant in three phases. The first phase, taking place in the 1940s, was when his grandparents settled in the town of Tlalpan, where the restaurant is still located, bought a small piece of land and began serving traditional Mexican dishes, such as stewed sheep and meatballs, to passersby. “The food was not particularly unique, but the secret lay in the quality of ingredients and the manner of guest treatment. This sense of the countryside rubbed well with Mexicans, who felt they could reconnect with their families and friends in a homely environment,” Arroyo says.
The second phase of the restaurant was marked by the leadership of Arroyo’s father, who lifted the restaurant’s name to fame through his connections with senior politicians and actors. Many important figures visited the restaurant through the years, which helped it build its iconic status. When the time came for Arroyo himself to take the lead, the restaurant was over six decades old and still attracting a great many customers. But as Mexico City changed so too did the restaurant industry, which led to the third phase. “Mexico City had changed a lot. There was far more competition from other restaurants catering to increasingly diverse consumer palates,” Arroyo says. What ensued is what Arroyo describes as his attempt to institutionalize the restaurant. He decided to double down on the restaurant’s iconic traditions and trust that its name recognition would help it persevere. Instead of changing the menu, he kept the recipes exactly the same. The success of this strategy, as it turned out, lay in the fact that the restaurant had become a family tradition for many. Of the 300,000 people who visit the restaurant every year, the majority is still composed of multiple generations within families. “They come for something recognizable, which is increasingly unique in this world.”, he says.
Looking to the future, Restaurante Arroyo, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2020, is hoping to open another location. “Unfortunately, the economy has worsened a little. But if you continue to wait for the right time, you will wait your whole life.” It is unlikely that a new restaurant will be located in Mexico City, where, Arroyo observes, it has become harder to create a thriving business. He points to an array of regulations and permits, and the inability to find parking space for suppliers. The idea is to go further out of the city, perhaps to states that have are enjoying better economic growth, such as Queretaro. “The location would need to have a history, something similar to our bullring here,” Arroyo says.