Mahiz, Maiz, MAIS — That’s Corn!

It’s early summer and the supermarkets are awash with fresh corn !

Earmarks (my pun!) of fresh corn: green husk, blonde cornsilk.
Note that the tips of the silk are not dried and blackened.

We in northern California are fortunate that the cornfields are literally a short hop away from where we live: Brentwood, which supplies the cobs to many stores in Contra Costa County, is just a short drive along Highway 4.

I remember one evening a few years back, when I shared a nice dinner with my best friend Mark and his sister Cynthia. They provided the Margaritas, the munchies, steamed corn on the cob for the starch component of the meal, complemented by a medley of oven-roasted vegetables: carrots, parsnip, asparagus, broccoli.

I said I’d introduce them to chicken tocino. “Yum!” Cynthia exclaimed upon taking that first bite of the sweet-salty boneless chicken thighs, which I fried in a little oil until the edges were caramelized and crisp.

There was the usual dinner banter between us three. My 83-year old mom, whom I took along because it was no longer safe to leave her alone at home, was her usual quiet self.  She’d respond to questions, but refrained from participating in our discussions.

And then it happened.  Suddenly, she exclaimed, “That’s her third corn!”

Cynthia had just taken another half of a corn cob. It was definitely delicious corn, as in creamy, sweet, crunchy in its state of having been steamed just-so. I couldn’t blame her for taking a third helping!


Corn, to us in the Philippines, is mais.

It is an ancient grain, but it was long unknown to the world outside of Mesoamerica, which is a region now occupied by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Spanish explorers who arrived in the region during the 16th century called it maiz, after hearing the Taino call it mahiz.

The Taino are among the indigenous tribes living in what is now Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico.  As we know from history lessons, Columbus made his first landfall on the island of Hispaniola, now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Please take a moment to examine the map below.File:Caribbean Islands Locator Map.pngThe Tainos, originally from South America, migrated to the islands north of the Carribean Sea.   The name of the sea is derived from “Carib,” one of the dominant groups in the region at the time of European contact.

Corn is consumed in the Philippines in various ways:

* boiled, as in nilagang mais
* included in dessert recipes, such as mais con yelo and guinataang mais
* as a dish for lunch or dinner, as in ginulay na mais.


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