Mexico is a country rich in history and tradition, which is reflected in the rich and varied flavors of their cuisine. The influence of the Spaniards, who arrived in Mexico in 1521, is evident in Mexican cuisine to varying degrees. When the Spanish landed in Mexico, they found that people’s diet consisted mainly of dishes based on corn, more than 4,000 years old, mixed with peppers and herbs, and served with beans and squash. The Spaniards added domestic animals such as beef, chicken, and pork, as well as rice, sugar, cheese, wine, garlic, and onions to expand what they already found in Mexican cuisine.
The Aztecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, and other indigenous peoples who inhabited Mexican lands before the arrival of the Spanish also influenced Mexican cooking styles. Pre-Columbian Mexican food included chocolate, corn, tomatoes, herbs, avocado, papaya, pineapple, coconut, cactus, peppers, beans, squash, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and turkey. Spices in Mexican cooking include cinnamon, cloves, anise, and cumin, as well as herb-like spices, coriander, thyme, marjoram, and the spicy epazote.
Like many countries, each region of Mexico offers its own unique regional cuisine due to local climate and geography, as well as ethnic differences. Northern Mexico is known for its meat dishes, while spicy vegetable and chicken dishes are common in southeastern Mexico. Nearly all Southwestern dishes use four main ingredients, tortillas (a thin round bread made from coarsely ground dough), pinto beans, cheese, and chili.
In the state of Puebla (two hours south of Mexico City), the first mole sauce was made. A group of nuns is said to have been commissioned to prepare a special dish for visiting dignitaries. Not knowing what to prepare, the nuns combined the pantry contents with herbs, spices, and chocolate — more than 30 ingredients in all — in a pot and simmered for days. The resulting mole sauce is served over turkey with absolute success. Today, the thick, sweet mole sauce is most commonly served over chicken. The Puebla region is also known for its coffee and many unique desserts, especially yam, a sweet potato dessert.
In what is now known as the Mayan Riviera in the Yucatan, sauces are fruit-based, and a popular sauce is achiote, a combination of annatto seeds, Seville oranges, pepper, garlic, and cumin. The resulting sauce is spread over chicken or pork. The meat is then baked in banana leaves for a truly delicious meal.
In the seaside area of Veracruz, fish is the dish of choice. Fish on la Veracruzana served with tomato sauce, tapenade, caper sauce and chilli sauce. The tacos, tamales, and enchiladas here definitely have fish fillings. Coffee and exotic fruits such as guava, mamey and cherimoya are also popular in the region.
Oaxaco, popular as a more “liquid” region, serves coffee la olla, which is coffee simmered in a pot for hours with sugar (or chunks of cane sugar) and cinnamon. Mezcal, a close relative of tequila, is also popular. Oaxaco’s mole sauce tends to be sweeter than Puebla’s version, thanks to the added banana.
Did you know that watermelons are native to Mexico? Watermelons are said to be the source of the colors of the Mexican flag. It is said that during a particularly bloody battle in Chilpancingo (the capital of the state of Guerrero) in the 1820s, troops took a break and ate some watermelon to cool off. When they saw the green, white and bright red of the watermelon, they decided to make those colors the colors of the new flag.
Mexican food is made up of a variety of ingredients, including sauces, soups, and stews, and is cooked in styles ranging from quick-fried to slow-roasted. The most common foods in the Mexican diet include:
o Corn – most commonly used to make tortillas, tacos or tamales
o Peppers – the most popular varieties are chipotle, poblano, serrano, chipotle, jalapeño, pasilla, habanero, ancho, mulatto and cascabelle Peppers, all of these peppers are used in both fresh and dried form.
o Beans – There are many types including lentils, green beans and fava beans. Refried beans are popular and are called refrito (fried in lard).
o Tomatoes – used as a common ingredient in salsas and sauces. Tomatillos (small green tomatoes with a hard shell and a sour taste) are also popular.
o Fruits – a wide variety including mango, papaya, coconut and pineapple, which can be eaten fresh or mixed into sauces and desserts. Prickly pear, or prickly pear, can be sautéed as a vegetable or used as a dessert.
More exotic dishes from Aztec or Mayan styles include iguanas, rattlesnakes, deer, spiders, monkeys, and even certain insects. These are relatively well-known dishes known as comida prehispanica or prehispanic food.
Traditional Mexican food differs from so-called Tex-Mex cooking. According to historians, Tex-Mex cuisine originated hundreds of years ago when Spanish/Mexican recipes were combined with typical Texan cooking, and the term Tex-Mex first appeared in print in the 1940s. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Tex-Mex food is, as it’s more of a combination of various Mexican dishes from different regions with typical Texan food (which uses a lot of beef). Enchiladas, tacos, chimichangas, tortillas, fajitas, and nachos are all part of today’s so-called Tex-Mex cuisine, which is now catering to American palates.
All in all, Mexican food is rich and tasty. All Mexican dishes have a spicy flavor that echoes Mexico’s hot climate. Known around the world, Mexican food has something for everyone.