Feisty, vibrant and mysterious – these words define the land of Mexico. A mix of ethnic varieties and a vibrant history gives it a unique culinary culture. Mexico’s cuisine has been blessed with numerous influences, ranging from the early civilization of the Aztecs and Mayas to modern European.
Mexico embarked on its food journey with simple native elements like peanuts, vanilla, beans, coconuts, tomatoes and chilli peppers. With time, Europeans added meats such as beef, pork, chicken, and goat, and cheese to the basket. Mexican food has been dreaded by some as being overly spicy because of the flamboyant use of chillies. It is true no one celebrates their chillies as Mexico does. Each of them varies in taste, shape, and flavour.
Keeping up with the geographical diversity of Mexico, culinary tastes vary across the length and breadth of the country. Northern Mexico is famous for the dominance of meat on the menu, while the dishes from South feature veggies and chicken with prominent Caribbean influences. Flanked by the sea on both sides, Mexico is interspersed with rivers, which leads to the easy availability of freshwater fish to be used in delicious Mexican preparations.
Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast and brunch dish in Mexico. Triangular tortilla chips, made from round corn tortillas, are cut into quarters and fried. The chips are then covered in salsa roja or verde (red or green salsa), sometimes they are lightly simmered in the salsa to soak up the flavours. Then, cheese and cream are sprinkled over the top. It is often served with frijoles (refried beans), huevos al gusto (eggs as you like them), and sometimes guacamole, shredded beef, chicken, or a combination of some of the above. In many households, it is served as a brunch dish to use up leftover tortillas or salsa from the meal from the night before. It is a staple dish on menus at breakfast spots and it is also a popular hangover cure. It’s normally a very large portion and Mexicans aren’t generally shy with the cheese and cream, so approach this dish hungrily.
Tacos al pastor
This historic dish is one of the most popular varieties of tacos, with origins dating back to the 1920s and 30s and the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to Mexico. To create tacos al pastor (meaning ‘in the style of the shepherd’), thin strips of pork are sliced off a spit similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyros, placed on a corn tortilla and served with onions, coriander leaves and pineapple.
Three states claim to be the original home of mole (pronounced ‘mol-eh’), a rich sauce popular in Mexican cooking. There are myriad types of mole but all contain around 20 or so ingredients, including one or more varieties of chilli peppers, and all require constant stirring over a long period of time. Perhaps the best-known mole is mole poblano, a rusty red sauce typically served over turkey or chicken.
A popular treat in the mornings or evenings, and often served at parties, tamales are a type of corn dough dumpling that comes in a corn husk or banana leaf wrapper. The word tamal (yes, the singular of tamales is tamal, not the oft-heard “tamale”) comes from the Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) word meaning “wrapped.” They usually have a filling which may be mole or salsa with chicken, or sometimes rajas, which is strips of poblano chiles along with some tomato and onion. There are even sweet tamales, which instead of having a filling, will have sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and bits of pineapple mixed in with the dough. Remove the wrapping to eat the tamales inside. At street stands in Mexico City, they are sometimes served on a bolillo bun, as a “torta de tamal” sometimes referred to as a “guajolota”.
Pozole is a traditional soup or stew dating back to the Aztecs when it had ritual significance. There are three types of pozole, Rojo (red), Blanco (white), and Verde (green). As with any national dish, regional and familial variations exist, but the pozole Rojo is usually made with ancho and guajillo chillies and garnished with avocado, the Verde is made using green tomatoes and serrano chilli, and the Blanco made using de-seeded ancho chillies and often contains chicken instead of pork. The pozole is usually topped with shredded lettuce, cubes of raw onion, oregano, dried chilli, radishes and fresh lime juice, and served with a basket of tostadas.
Burrito is a dish consisting of a wheat flour tortilla that is wrapped in such a way that it is possible to fully enclose the flavorful filling on the interior. The filling consists of a combination of various ingredients such as meat, beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, and cheese, among others.
Its name means little donkey in Spanish, and a popular theory suggests that it stems from the way the bedrolls and packs appeared on the donkeys that carried them. Some claim that the dish originated in the 19th century by either the vaqueros in Northern Mexico, farmers in California, or the miners from Sonora.
This famous Mexican dish means “Ranch-Style Eggs” and it can be found on menus all over the country. It consists of fried eggs served on tortillas covered with fresh salsa. It’s simple, filling, and delicious!
When you order a plate of Huevos Rancheros, you typically get some refried beans and/or Mexican rice on the side as well. If you’re lucky, you might even get a few slices of avocado.
The salsa is typically red, but you can also order an interesting spin-off dish called Huevos Divorciados (Divorced Eggs). One egg has red salsa while the other has green, hence the name as they’re split up.
Traditional Flan Custard
Creamy, caramel-topped flan dates all the way back to the Roman Empire. When Spain invaded Mexico in the 1500s, a lot of their cuisine made its way into the Mexican diet, including this now-classic dessert.
Churros are sometimes called Mexican doughnuts since they’re made using a very similar technique. Pipe these cinnamon sugar-coated sticks from a bag topped with a star tip, then fry them until golden and roll in cinnamon sugar for a sweet treat that’s often served with dulce de leche or Mexican chocolate sauce for dipping. Enjoy them warm and just try not to go back for seconds!