Mexican cuisine is probably one of the most flavorful and unique cuisines in the entire world! Learn everything you need to know about the most popular Mexican recipes from this guide.
- Mexican cuisine – a gastronomical story steeped in history and herbs
- Mexican cuisine – the ancient cuisine that still rules the world
- Mexican food – learn the basic
- Cooking methods used in Mexico
- Mexican food – how regional variations make it more interesting
- Mexican meals – savor them in your own time
- Popular Mexican dishes – try the veggie delights
Mexican cuisine – a gastronomical story steeped in history and herbs
Fresh. Colorful. Flavorful. Mexican food is all about simple ingredients and a whole lot of spices and a great presentation that make the dishes so yummy. By now everyone knows about famous Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos, and guacamole.
However, it takes a connoisseur to dig deeper and find out gems from this ancient cuisine of the world that can win over you any day. So, let’s find out more about Mexican food and its ingredients and cooking methods to know how it won over the world.
Mexican cuisine – the ancient cuisine that still rules the world
We can trace back Mexican cuisine as far as 9000 years when the agricultural communities like Maya were formed. The authentic Mexican food is actually a combination of dishes from these ancient civilizations like Mayan and Aztec.
Later on, when Spain invaded Mexico, new ingredients and recipes were introduced in Mexican food which made it more varied and tasteful.
Today, you can find influences of Asian and African cuisine in the Mexican fare. However, authentic Mexican food reflects the culture and popular social traditions of the country. It is so unique that it has even got recognition from UNESCO in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
The traditional Mexican food consisted mainly of corn and beans. Chilies and a lot of spices were used to add flavor to the dishes. The meat was not common but the communities living near the seaside consumed the seafood.
The Spaniards introduced many new items in the cuisine like cheese, wheat, garlic, and onion.
Mexican food – most popular ingredients used in Mexican recipes
Original Mexican dishes used only ingredients available locally. The cooking method was also indigenous and developed through the centuries. The basic ingredients are a few like corn, beans, amaranth, chia, squash, avocados, limes, and tomatoes.
Saying that corn is the staple of this country would be an understatement. It is the most common item and used as a base in multiple dishes. It is used to make masa, a dough that is used in popular dishes like tortillas and tamales. We will talk about these later on, but only remember that Mexican dishes rely heavily on corn and beans.
Mexican cheese or queso Oaxaca is soft and crumbly and adds a distinct taste to the local dishes.
Now we cannot talk about Mexican food without mentioning chilies. Mexicans use different types of chilies and they go in soups to salsa. Moreover, they are used whole, fresh, smoked, dried or powdered.
Mexican chocolate also has a discrete taste. It is bitter and of an earthy flavor that makes Mexican desserts like flan and mousses so delicious.
Butter is not a traditional Mexican ingredient. Instead, lard was used as the cooking medium. It gives the dishes a unique taste however nowadays people use more vegetable oil.
Lime. You may consider it to be a simple item but to a Mexican chef, it is the secret tool that adds that special zing. Be it tacos or salsa, without lime, it won’t taste so good.
Chipotles or smoke-dried jalapenos contain heat and a smoky flavor that is used in many dishes of Mexico.
Do you love the tangy flavor in Mexican fare? It comes from crema, sour cream that the chefs here use profusely.
Oregano has become a part of many international dishes but the ones Mexicans use are more savory and aggressive. No wonder they make the Mexican food so tasty and spicy.
Tomatoes are another ingredient that the people rely upon a lot to add taste and thickness to the sauces.
Mexicans love avocados. It’s a Mexican staple that they consume in sandwiches and salads. The Mexican taste that you are a fan of often comes from this rich fruit.
Of course, there are a few exotic ingredients that are used in Mexican food like the mole. This is made of more than 30 different spices. You may get surprised to know that cactus is also used in cooking here.
Cooking methods used in Mexico
The people of Mexico had their own way of cooking their food that imparted the unique taste that the whole world loves today. This is a unique feature of Mexican cuisine that till today the traditional ways of cooking are mostly followed.
The natives of Mexico used cast iron pots and pans and ceramic ware to cook. They used to heat the food over an open fire. Steaming was also used. Barbacoa is one dish that was cooked by steaming the meat. A lot of food items were fried like tasty flautas and taquitos.
Mexicans had developed their own tools like a smaller mortar and pestle called molcajete and metate y mano which is a large tool made of lava rock.
Grilling brings out the taste in some dishes like fajitas. The smoky taste of meat that Mexicans enjoy is from grilling.
The Mexicans also boiled or simmered their food to bring out the taste of the spices added to the ingredients.
Spaniards brought in new ingredients and methods of cooking that only made the Mexican dishes tastier. Let’s move on to more interesting topics now since we have given you a basic introduction to Mexican cuisine.
Mexican food – how regional variations make it more interesting
Mexico is a vast country with regional variations in landscape, culture, and food. If you want to try Mexican cuisine or learn more about it, you need to understand that there are 6 broad regions with distinct cuisine in this country.
Interestingly, half the country is known as north with a typical northern Mexican cuisine which is known for its cheeses and meat dishes.
Seafood is also common in this region along with baby goat. The most famous dishes in this part of Mexico are the burrito, cabrito, and carne asada.
The north-pacific coast is popular for its fruits and vegetables. This is the area where the country gets its staple grains and fruits. The cheeses and chiles that Mexico is popular for are also grown in this region.
Seafood dominates the cuisine here. The popular dishes that you must try are chilorio, pozole, menudo, and birria.
Do you love tequila? You would be elated to know Jalisco is the area that produces this iconic drink.
Head to Bajio region for pork, sausages and rice dishes. Apart from the pork dishes, this region is famous for its desserts like cajeta, chongos, and bunuelos.
The southern Mexican cuisine uses chili pepper of different varieties. Chicken and cheese are also famous here. If you are interested to try indigenous Mexican fare, this is the place to head to. Regional chile peppers, mole varieties, and chocolate are used in the dishes.
There are lesser-known herbs also such as hoja santa that are used to create unique dishes. Black beans are common in this region along with blandas tortillas.
Moving south, you would find corn and spices in abundance. It is interesting to note that the cuisine of this area is different from the rest of the world.
You would find Mayan influence as well as the effect of Cuban and Caribbean cuisine. Even food from Europe, Asia, and Middle Eastern countries have a deep impact on the cuisine here.
Again, corn is the basic staple of this region. Spices like achiote are used in food preparation. Conchinita pibil is the most popular dish.
Tropical fruits like plums, tamarind, avocados, and mamey and bitter orange that are produced here are added to the salsa to make it taste exclusive. Honey is added as a sweetener. In the coastal areas, the people consume fish in the form of mero and conch fillet.
The Gulf Mexico region
Finally, we reach the Gulf. Vanilla is native to this part of Mexico and hence features in many dishes along with corn. The cuisine is a blend of Mexican, Spanish, and Afro-Cuban which makes it more delectable.
You would find people using herbs like thyme, parsley, marjoram, and cilantro which were brought in by the Europeans.
Seafood is very common here along with dishes like chicken in peanut sauce. Anyone who has ever tried Tabasco has become its fan. Well, this hot sauce is named after a state here. If you happen to be in Tabasco, try the seafood here. It is mind-blowing.
Central Mexico which contains Mexico City is the melting pot of Mexican cuisine. You will find cuisine from other parts of Mexico as well as foreign countries prevalent here. This is the place to give your palate a real gastronomical experience with taco stands and lunch counters located on every street. As a beginner, try carnitas, moles, birria, and tortas. Experiment with pre-Hispanic food if your heart desires.
Once we have introduced you to the different cuisines of Mexico, it is time to go deeper and find out what are the must-have dishes in Mexico. We know this is the most interesting part.
Mexican meals throughout the day
When it comes to enjoying food, Mexicans have their own way. Relaxed and delayed, Mexicans follow their own eating schedules. The breakfast or El Desayuno is often lavish with tortillas filled with veggie or non-veggie options, sweet bread, fruits, and yogurts.
The lunch is also lavish with a huge spread of soup, appetizer, or salad followed by the main course which consists of veggie dishes, seafood or meat, rice or beans, and tortilla.
The Mexicans enjoy eating together and chatting as they savor their food. The dinner is lighter with tacos and soup.
Popular Mexican dishes – try the veggie delights
To some people, tortillas and tacos are synonymous with Mexican food. Actually, it is the most common dish of Mexico and represents its culture, history, and tradition. Tortillas are a type of thin and soft flatbread that forms the corner piece for Mexican dishes.
What happens if the tortillas get stale? You fry them and make tostadas. It’s a simple and delicious way to enjoy your tortillas with veggie fillings.
Salsa is actually a sauce that Mexicans enjoy with their dishes. Salsa is made up of tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili peppers, and cilantro. There are different variations to salsa recipes and you would learn to appreciate them as you taste them.
Mexicans love their veggies. They grill, steam or boil their veggies with exotic herbs to create memorable dishes. They put them in soups also.
The pozole is one such dish. This is a pre-Hispanic soup made of hominy corn with herbs and spices. Traditionally, it was stewed for hours to bring out the flavor of the ingredients. It is served with radish, onion, lettuce, and lime and chili on top. Nowadays, you get this in different versions.
When in Mexico, you must try Mexican zucchini soup. This is a simple recipe with the goodness of the veggies and cheese that go into it. Try it and you would love it. As we have mentioned before, corn is consumed in different ways and Mexican sweet corn soup is one of them.
Tortilla casserole – a delightful recipe that Mexicans enjoy on any day. It can be compared to lasagna where tortillas replace the noodles and you add spicy tomatoes, cheese, black beans, and corn to satiate your taste buds. You can make it with chicken also.
Mexican rice is a tasty side dish that you can try with many other veggie or non-veg dishes. Reddish in color, the dish looks so yummy.
Taco is another versatile Mexican dish that you would like. It is corn or wheat tortilla folded around the filling. The filling is spicy and tasty topped with salsa or lime juice.
Burritos are a variation of tacos with a filling of veggies, beef, beans or rice. It is a versatile dish and available all over Mexico, albeit in different avatars.
Quesadillas are Mexican’s go-to food. Easy to prepare, it is mostly eaten for breakfast. You may have it with beans or no beans, but cheese is a must.
Mexican cuisine is all about taste, color, and spices. The traditional ways of cooking are still retained which makes the cuisine so interesting. When traveling to Mexico, try all the popular dishes so that you also can appreciate its subtlety.