Updated: Sep 6
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One great thing about food is that it's always evolving, and Mexican food is no exception. Take tacos for example; many states and countries have their own unique renditions of them. In California, you might find fish and shrimp tacos. Barbacoa, or tacos with barbecued meat, are served in Texas, and gringa tacos come straight out of Mexico City. Though any of these options could suit your palate, fans of culture might want to experience the real deal. Furthermore, upcoming travelers might be looking for what to expect in Mexico. Here, I'll digest what makes Mexican food authentic.
History of Mexican Food
It's believed that Mexican food was derived from both Aztec and Mayan cultures. It was common at the time for people to roll up ingredients such as bean paste, chili peppers, and wild-caught protein into corn tortillas, thus creating the first tacos. Many more ingredients were introduced when Spain invaded Mexico in 1521. Pork, dairy, wheat, and new spices were all integrated into the cuisine. After years of continued diversity, Mexican food became what it is today.
Authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex?
If you've been to Taco Bell, you're familiar with Tex-Mex. Though Tex-Mex is based off Mexican cuisine, it uses ingredients common in Texas, such as beef and wheat. In general, foods containing yellow cheese, canned vegetables, chili powder, and cumin are not traditional Mexican foods. Instead, authentic dishes include chili peppers, spices, corn, beans, and avocado. Also, only soft, corn-based tortillas are used in Mexico.
Common Mexican Dishes
Chilaquiles. Traditionally served for breakfast, Chilaquiles are corn tortillas that have been lightly fried or toasted and cut into triangular pieces. Then, they're covered with red or green salsa and topped with eggs, chicken or chorizo, cheese, onions and spices. They are served alongside frijoles, which are mashed refried beans.
Pozole. This soup is made from hulled corn kennels (hominy) simmered with pork shoulder, spices, and red chili peppers. After cooking, it's topped with chopped onions, lettuce, radish, and lime, all served alongside corn tortillas.
Huevos Rancheros. Another breakfast dish, Huevos Rancheros are made up of fried eggs served on corn tortillas. It's then covered with tomato-based pico de gallo, onions, chili peppers, and cilantro. Often, it's accompanied with rice or avocado, either in full or in the form of guacamole.
Chiles en Nogada. This dish is a Mexican Independence Day tradition showcasing the green, red, and white of the country's flag. It features poblanos stuffed with picadillo - a mixture of chopped meat, fruit and spices. To make up the white and red, it's covered in walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
These are just a few of Mexico's popular dishes, but the country has tons more to offer. If you're looking to learn more about authentic cuisine or even whip up some dishes of your, own, the "A Mexican Grandmother's Kitchen" cookbook boasts more than 150 recipes.
It's interesting to think that food you may have enjoyed your whole life isn't made how it was originally intended, but that's honestly part of the fun. Food has been adapted to fit into many cultures, leaving something new for you to try no matter where you travel. However, I also find it important to honor where things come from. So whether you planning a trip to Mexico, hosting a Mexican dinner party, or just curious, I hope this post shed some light on authentic Mexican food.