Mending the Heart and Slowing Down: Reintroducing Myself to Mexican Cooking
Mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, whether at my desk, leaning against the kitchen counter, on the couch, or on my bed, makes me feel disconnected. My body is curled up, knees close to my heart, and my shoulders are tense below my ears. My eyes are locked, all background noise essentially muted. All of my attention is focused on the little screen in my hand. Celebrity interviews, embarrassing falls, filter or sound trends, funny kids, hyper and cuddly cats, DIY home decor and furniture and outspoken dogs remain in my mind, even after I’m done scrolling. They all follow me, echoing in the hallways of my brain. Seeing food videos, however, makes me slow down. My mouth instantly salivates, and I want to reach through my phone and have a taste. Crunchy, steamy, cheesy, savory, sweet, healing. The dishes look so comforting, and I’m certain they will cure my anxiety and satisfy a craving I didn’t know existed.
In the first couple years after moving out for college, I felt disconnected from my family—my Mexican culture. Being in my early twenties while going to school and working, I didn’t take the time to slow down and enjoy cooking or eating like my family always did. Whenever I cooked for myself, it was easy, fast, and familiar. They were meals that could be tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. They kept me full and, to a certain extent, happy. I hardly tried new recipes because I was too engrossed with reading, writing, and studying for my English degree.
Now that I’m done with school and much closer to home in the Inland Empire, I’ve been more inclined to claim that part of myself back. The part of me that yearns for connection and belonging has collected dust over the years—paused, shelved, never fully rewound or played until the very end. I missed birthday parties, anniversaries, holidays, and other family gatherings. When my cousins, aunts, and uncles asked where I was, my mom would say, Megan has to work, and Oh, Megan has to study this weekend. It seemed my excuses would just accumulate. Regret, guilt, and grief hung heavy on my heart for so long because I missed time with my family that I could never get back—time and experience that could have shaped me. It wasn’t surprising that food would slowly fill that growing void, because the events I’d missed were always centered around it.
Seeing people on TikTok share their own recipes for Mexican classics like arroz, sopita, beans, tortillas, salsas, carne asada, and horchata felt like home. I took notes, my mind replaying distant memories of visiting family in Mexico and tasting candies from my grandma’s purse on Saturday afternoons. I sat there and took deep breaths, hoping to absorb everything and make it permanent. I remembered how I’d watch my mom, my grandma, and my aunts in the kitchen. They all had different processes, but we’d always sit at the table together and admire the hard work once the cooking was complete. I’d immerse my body in the aroma of tortillas, crunchy with char from the open flame.
For Mexican rice, some TikTok creators use canned tomato sauce, while others use fresh tomatoes. Some use water, while others use chicken broth. Some adorn the top with cilantro and jalapeño, while others leave it to cook as is. For something as simple as rice, it had never occurred to me that I could prepare it differently than I’m used to. I’d always thought that it had to be a certain way to be authentic, and I should know how to make it authentic, right? I assumed I’d intuitively know how to make these recipes—or I should know. It’s already in my blood, so I wouldn’t have to try so hard to show it. My imposter syndrome taunted me, saying that I should have already learned it by the time I moved out of my parent’s house. That was the key: I would have to learn.
People in the comments of these TikTok videos always argue about what is right and wrong—what is Mexican and what isn’t. They complain about the technique and style: too much chicken bouillon, not enough salt, rice not toasted enough, too small of a pot, not a fresh tomato in sight, and canned foods a huge no-no. Always some variation of My grandma makes it differently, and it’s the best or My mother taught me the RIGHT way, and this ain’t it or even That is NOT authentic. Whether or not the creator wants to share a piece of their life or show viewers how to make the dish, arguments arise. I started questioning and doubting myself. What if the comment troll in my head criticizes me for not using fresh pinto beans? What if I’m using different rice? What if I run out of roma tomatoes and have to use canned sauce?
I saw that more and more creators emphasized that it was their recipe and that they could make whatever they wanted and how they wanted. They ignored the negativity and were proud of what they prepared. During a conversation with my close friend Jessica, she said something similar: Do it how you want, Megan. Don’t worry about what people might think or say. What truly mattered was using what I had and incorporating flavors I like. I could draw inspiration from others, from my mom, and from my friends, but my style is mine. It has always been. Just because my mom doesn’t add oregano doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. I can use shallots instead of yellow onion. More garlic. I remind myself that I’m not alone in this relearning process. I’ll tell myself that these creators are here to teach me, guide me, to give me a sense of comfort and community. I’ll remember that patience, passion, and intention make everything taste better.
I consume so much content on TikTok every day, averaging about two hours. Some days it can be upwards of three or four. I see so many cocktails, pastas, sandwiches, and coffee recipes. I’ll have to revisit these several times to completely memorize them, but the Mexican recipes seem to always stick. Maybe that’s just instinct.
Megan Vasquez is a Mexican-American writer born and raised in Southern California. She has a bachelor of arts in English: Creative Writing from Cal State Long Beach and an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. While she writes mostly fiction, she loves reading other genres and practicing her poetry skills. When she’s not working on her first book of vignettes, she loves watching TV shows and films and playing with her Siamese mix kitten. Instagram: @meganomaly_