Masala Y Maíz: Mestizaje, Community, and Ethical Cuisine

Norma Listman and Saqib Keval are chefs, a couple, and the creators and managers of Mexico City’s Super Cope (a cooperative focused on well-being within the food chain for both its customers and its staff), and the restaurants Mari Gold and Masala y Maíz. With Masala y Maíz, Norma and Saquil have created not only a restaurant that serves flavorful dishes that any food lover will be passionate about, but they have also become known for their commitment to the ethical, decolonial, and proactive model with which they manage their restaurants and their respective cultural backgrounds, as well as the way they treat their staff, all of which has led to a community based around the projects of these two talented chefs.

Photo: Masala y Maíz

The cuisine of Masala y Maíz is shaped by the gastronomic traditions of Mexico, India, and East Africa. However, they avoid the term fusion, since it comes from a Eurocentric vision that is at odds with what Masala y Maíz seeks to create.

“We don’t call it fusion, since it’s actually a mestizaje […] What usually happens when a ‘fusion’ restaurant arises, is that a chef travels to the East and takes small things that he likes to combine them with the ‘canonical’ and ‘orthodox’ Western cuisine. This discourse is extremely harmful and colonialist, since it completely erases the traditions, heritage, and importance that the kitchens of other nations carry with them, such as in the case of Mexico.”

Photo: Masala y Maíz

“Actually… the idea of ​​the restaurant didn’t emerge right away […] The recipes came about in a very natural way […] Saquib made the recipes of his country and I cooked mine. Gradually we were finding points in common, intersections and similarities, which invited us to continue experimenting […]”

Those who have read our article on the history of curry might be left with a bad taste in the mouth after learning about the hegemonization suffered by Indian cuisine by British colonizers who erased and appropriated a variety of dishes according to their own vision and their own context. Norma and Saquib believe in the politicization of the food chain and of food, and since there are many aspects of the food industry in need of change, they have used their platform in order to generate it.

Photo: Masala y Maíz

“We want our guests to take away from this experience not only well-being and satisfaction, but also learning, knowing where the dishes and ingredients come from.”

Masala y Maíz, with its goal of building community, offers promotions in which diners can eat on the premises and pay what they can. Further, the owners are also concerned with providing good conditions for their staff, allowing for growth while at work but also improving the work/life balance, so that employees can enjoy a life outside the restaurant. They offer more vacation days than stipulated by law. The Super Cope is also designed to be a support network for staff. And because of their model of radical transparency, financial meetings are open to the general public.

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