Spice Up Your Life
Mexico is a diverse country in every sense of the word and its cuisine contains a wide range of timeless staples and regional specialities. The menu became more varied after the Spanish conquered in the 16th century, but it still retains influences from the Mayan and Aztec times. Mexican food is traditionally spicy and made from a few classic ingredients with straightforward recipes and a lot of garnish.
Photo credits: Shell Tu
The country’s capital, Mexico City, is home to half a million food stands that take in just about every part of the national diet. Many of the foods eaten here can trace their origins all the way back to the days of the Mayans and the Aztecs, in particular beans and corn which play a major role in Mexican cuisine, past and present. Corn on the cob is sold on street corners throughout the country, topped with anything from butter and salt to lime and chilli powder. Insects and plants, such as grasshoppers and cactus, that were eaten many years ago are still enjoyed today, either on their own or stuffed inside a tortilla.
Tamale is one of the most popular street foods. It consists of corn dough stuffed with filling such as zucchini and beans, chicken or pork, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Corn is one of the staple parts of the Mexican diet and historians suggest it has been present in the country’s cuisine for around 9000 years. It has important cultural significance, too, as many Mexicans believe that they are ‘the people of the corn.’
Another basic food is the mighty tortilla. Made from flour in the north and corn in the south, these can be eaten sprinkled with salt and warmed through for a classic snack or stuffed with meat for a more substantial meal. Tortillas also form the base of some of the country’s most popular dishes, such as enchiladas and tacos. Enchiladas are covered in a tomato and chilli sauce and stuffed with meat, cheese, vegetables or seafood. Often eaten at breakfast, these are a milder, healthier version of the taco – which is fried until crunchy and then filled with meat or vegetables. Enchiladas also date back to the Mayan times when people would eat fish wrapped in corn tortilla. Chilaquiles are another tortilla-based breakfast dish that include yet another Mexican staple – salsa. These lightly fried corn tortillas are topped with salsa, eggs and pulled chicken, with plenty of cheese, sour cream and beans added for good measure.
Some Like it Hot
Chillies are used liberally in many dishes and range from fairly mild to absolutely scorching. Large Poblano chillies are stuffed with cheese or spicy meat (picadillo) and served as a main meal. If you are lucky, you will be able to try a variation on the traditional Poblano chilli dish in the form of chiles en nogada, which also includes chopped fruit and spices. This a patriotic dish that boasts the three colours of the Mexican flag with the green of the chilli, the white of the cream sauce and the red of the pomegranate seeds. History suggests that this dish was first served to a former Mexican emperor.
Smaller chillies are often used to garnish and in dips such as guacamole – an extremely popular dish that dates back to the time of the Aztecs. Guacamole is also a fine example of the style of traditional cuisine as it contains just a few classic ingredients, bright colours and intense flavours. Sauces and dips play a large role in the diet, with sour cream and salsa also counted among the most popular.
It is surprisingly easy to be vegetarian in Mexico as the diet contains a few classic dishes with a lot of flavour that don’t require meat. Quesadillas are the perfect dish for vegetarians and those who wish to avoid spices, too – these are grilled tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans and salad. Beans are most often seen in the form of frijoles, where they are boiled and refried then served as the main part of a meal or as a stuffing or side dish.
Finally, there is the country’s famous fish and seafood. Boasting hundreds of miles of coastline and deep ocean waters, Mexico is home to some of the most delicious seafood in the world. The Matlali Hotel in the Nayarit region on the Pacific coast is perfectly situated to take advantage of the delectable cuisine and beautiful beaches of western Mexico. The hotel’s Raixes restaurant is world-class and features an expansive terrace where you can enjoy the best of the local seafood. One of the most famous regional dishes is theHuachinango Saradeado – marinated red snapper grilled over coals. A really traditional experience will see the fish smoked over mangrove wood and marinated with lemon and chilli sauce, then served with tortillas. The Nayarit region is also one of the world’s best locations for shrimp, in particular the tlaxtihuilli (shrimp soup).Ceviche – raw fish marinated in lime juice – is another regional speciality that tastes divine eaten al fresco against the backdrop of the ocean panoramas. A classic grilled fish meal will be perfectly complemented by a refreshing drink, perhaps a margarita from the country that created tequila or an ice-cold beer – one of Mexico’s most famous exports.
And all that is left to say is buen provecho!