Early in life, my mum taught me to be grateful for the food we had to eat. She was one of seven children growing up in a poor family of Senegalese heritage in Paris. One chicken would be shared among nine people, so she knew the value of food and how to be creative with leftovers. She can make a feast with very little and spice up life on a budget with laughter.
Mum was encouraged to finish "normal" school at the age of 14, yet she is one of the brightest, most inspiring women I know. She really is a badass. She left a difficult family situation in her 20s and bravely followed my dad to Mexico, where they lived for over 20 years before moving back to France. She made bracelets on the beach while my dad took tourists snorkeling. During that time, she learned to speak Spanish without ever taking a lesson, but she also learned to be a mum, far from her own mother.
One thing that reminded her of her mum and France was crepes. She made endless crepes for my brother and me at home, and eventually opened the first crepes restaurant in Cancun. It was funny to see how Mexican people thought of crepes as fancy simply because they were French. I knew they were a sort of French version of the typical Mexican tortillas.
But the real source of success was Mum’s creativity in filling the crepes with local ingredients (and saving money on imports). Culinary fusions are common these days, but at the time, it was pretty revolutionary. I sometimes felt like a Mexican-French crepe myself—French in my blood but Mexican like my surroundings, and rather proud of being a little different. My parents had other ex-pat European friends, so many of my childhood posse had at least one French-speaking parent, and my friends thought my mum was exotic. She was and still is incredibly beautiful, and there weren’t many black people in Mexico at the time, so her skin color made her more different than her nationality. But once I was bullied by a neighbor who pointed out that my mum was black and my dad white, and I didn’t look like either of them. I came home crying, convinced that I was adopted, and my mum had to show me photos of when she was pregnant with me.
I was the youngest waitress in the crepes restaurant, paid a few pesos here and there, so I had a sense of earning money from a young age. I still feel an urgency about not wasting food, and my housemates have always been amazed by what I am able to cook with leftovers. It’s an inheritance from my mother for which I’m grateful, along with the ability to create a family of friends no matter how far away from home. I moved to London when I was 18 and am now traveling the Americas on my own, so I definitely have the family spirit and wanderlust.
And I am now able to appreciate that it’s okay to be a fusion, just like Mum’s crepes.
Melissa Coton is a yoga teacher who can be found at https://yogibee.live/ and @yogibee.me.
Crepes à la Mexicana
For the crepes:
5 oz. flour (I prefer using whole meal, but it changes the taste and texture)
2 large eggs
approximately 5 oz. milk or unsweetened dairy alternative
approximately 3 oz. beer (the secret ingredient)
pinch of salt
butter or coconut oil for cooking
For the filing:
kernels from one ear of corn or small can of corn
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 nopal (cactus) or 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
2 mushrooms, sliced
pinch of salt and pepper
olive oil for frying
For the tomato salsa:
1/2 white onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
1/2 small chile de arbol or other chile
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for frying
Combine ingredients for the crepes batter, adding a little more liquid if necessary, and let rest for an hour.
For each crepe, heat a little butter or coconut oil in a medium-sized pan and add 1/4 c. batter.
(My mum always used a soup ladle to pour in the right amount in the pan.)
When the mixture starts to bubble, flip and let cook a minute or two more.
If using fresh corn, cook in boiling water for a few minutes and drain, or drain the canned corn.
Heat olive oil in a small pan, and sauté the onion and nopal (cactus) or green pepper until softened.
Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes.
For the salsa, heat olive oil in a small pan, and cook onion a few minutes until softened.
Add chile and tomatoes, and simmer for a few minutes until softened.
Add coriander, salt and pepper.
Add filling to the crepe, fold into quarters, and top with salsa.
(My mum was a bit disappointed that I purposely omitted cheese from this recipe. I try to limit my dairy consumption, but you can add a bit of Oaxaca or Gruyere cheese.)