How the Cornish pasty became a Mexican staple

Gail Collins

How the humble Cornish pasty made its way to Mexico and became a local delicacy

Discovering that a simple, delicious, working-class fare had strayed 5,000 miles away from its original source made me realise how indelibly connected we are as a world, especially through food. In my newly adopted hometown of Playa del Carmen in southeast Mexico, Alejandro was selling me delicious meat pasties tucked in a richly steaming wicker basket from the boot of a beaten-up silver Nissan.

He told me his family were from Real del Monte in Hidalgo, a small state in eastern Mexico and his mother and grandmother made the pasties or pastes as they are known here, fresh every day from an old recipe brought by Cornish people.

How it all started 

Bridget Galsworthy de Estavilla, historian, co-author of Cornwall & Hidalgo, An Enduring Connection and recipient of the British Empire Medal in May 2016 for services to the heritage of the Cornish Community in Mexico—explained: “An 1809 publication by Alexander von Humbolt, a Prussian geologist and explorer, discussed a great mineral wealth in Mexico which was not being exploited.

"This led to many European countries vying to be the first to investigate resulting in a great deal of secrecy and stealth. A group of London investors known as The Company of Gentleman Adventurers leased the mines in Real de Monte from a newly formed Mexican government and quickly travelled with an advance party of highly proficient engineers and mine leaders in 1824.

"It took them 14 months to make the arduous journey to Real del Monte, losing around 30 Cornishmen and 100 Mexican men to yellow fever along the way"

"This paved the way for 130 skilled miners and 1500 tonnes of mining equipment who left covertly in a ship sailing from Liverpool, eventually arriving at the port of Veracruz, Mexico with a land journey of nearly 250 miles still to go. Unable to land at the port due to on-going Spanish control, they had to continue up the coast and landed on Mocambo Beach where they offloaded the machinery onto platform like barges, unaware of the quicksand, jungles and mangroves that would ultimately destroy some of it.

"It took them 14 months to make the arduous journey to Real del Monte, losing around 30 Cornishmen and 100 Mexican men to yellow fever along the way.”


Indigenous and Cornish miners at work 

These men, with new Industrial Revolution steam engine driven machinery began to regenerate the mines, and by the 1830s, a large Cornish community had established itself in Real del Monte and Pachuca. Arriving with wives, families and sack-loads of turnips, (which couldn’t be grown locally)—a key ingredient for the beloved pasties, the wives hired local women to help in their homes. They began teaching them how to make the Cornish Pasty, initiating the journey of what was to become a lasting symbolic dish of the state.

A trace of Cornwall in Mexico

The Cornish influence goes beyond mining and the pasty. The poignant Panteon de los Inglesa 20-acre plot of land in Real del Monte, deeded by the Mexican federal government to provide consecrated grounds for the burial of Cornish Protestants, today houses 755 tombs. The Acosta Mine in Real del Monte, closed in 1985, reopened as a museum in 2001, narrating the story of Mexico’s Celtic cousins. And last, but not least, the Cornish miners brought football—Mexico’s most popular sport. Pachuca Football Club is one of the oldest in the Americas.


The Acosta Mine Museum today 

The Cornish Pasty Association says producers in Cornwall make at least 120 million pasties annually, generating around 300m GBP annually for the Cornish economy. The impact in Hidalgo might be less, but it remains incredible, in a country where people make and eat more tacos than the rest of the planet put together, the paste here is head honcho!

Pastes El Bilar—the first pastes store, was opened in 1940 in Real del Monte by Don Fidel and Don Simon as a billiards bar for miners to enjoy after work. Their wives started baking pastes and delivering them to the bar in baskets, attracting more local customers and over time becoming their principal business. Even today, with all the different fillings on offer, the potato and ground beef, which remain the truest to the original recipe, are the most popular.


Pastes El Billar—the oldest paste store in Mexico 

In 2009, Real del Monte introduced a Festival Internacional de Paste. Most events have teething problems when they start, although not usually because the local customs officers confiscate vegetables, but in that first year they impounded the imported turnips! During the opening speeches, the Municipal President did not mention this but did say: “Cornish people rebuilt our shattered mining industry, giving us work and now again, when we have lost that industry, the Cornish have given us pastes and a new source of income.”

There is even the “Museo del Paste,” which opened in 2012. Cornwall, not to be completely outshone, chose that year to establish its own Mining and Pasty Festival, held in the town of Redruth now twinned with Real del Monte. Mexican bakers have brought their own fiesta to the Cornish festival, delighting the locals with their own version of the pasty, even turning adventurous taste buds towards their spicier version. Provecho!

Read more: My Great Escape—Cornish villages 

Read more: 10 Creative uses for puff pastry

Keep up with the top stories from Reader’s Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter