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A Taste of Mexico

By Sean Mahon

Posted: 15th March 2013 15:13

Allow Mexico to take you on a culinary adventure which will leave you and your taste buds wondrously replenished.  The fiery passion with which Mexicans put into every dish is only rivalled by the interesting history which accompanies them.  With a diverse range of food there is so much to try it is hard to know where to begin, take a look at our guide and find out which chilli is which!

Mexico City

The capital of Mexico City is bursting with all the best dishes that the nation has to offer – as a centre for migration of people from all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times.  The real draw of the cuisine here however is the fact amazing food can be enjoyed in dingy street markets all the way to the most expensive restaurants.  A snack called esquites, consisting of kernels of corn boiled in water with strips of jalapeno peppers and a herb called epazote, then garnished with lime juice, chilli salt, mayonnaise and grated cheese can be enjoyed from a market and it is truly an authentic Mexican delight.

The chile relleno is a roasted poblano chilli stuffed with cheese or meats and covered in an egg batter and fried.  It has origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th consequently it has become one of the most popular dishes in Mexican cuisine.

Puebla

Around a two hour drive southeast from Mexico City, Puebla is home to arguably the very best that Mexican food has to offer.  Mole Poblano is a quintessential Mexican plate – it can be found in almost every restaurant, market and kitchen across the whole state.  Made from a preparation of chicken or turkey in a rich, dark blend of chocolate, spices, nuts and chillies and due to the chef cooking from scratch and keeping many closely-guarded recipes the flavours can vary wildly from one place to the next.  The spicy dish can be traced back all the way to the 18th century when nuns combined no less than 20 indigenous and important ingredients to make the sauce, which they then poured over cooked meat for a visiting archbishop.

Chiles en nogada is another festive recipe, in which large poblano chillies are stuffed with a picadillo of ground meat and diced fruit, then topped with a walnut-and-sour-cream sauce and is incredibly popular in Puebla.  It also has historical links to the country as it is tied to the independence of Mexico since it is said they were prepared for the first time to entertain the emperor Agustin de Iturbide when he came to the city.  This patriotic dish resembles the Mexican flag with its red, green and white colour and is most commonly found in late August and early September.

Oaxaca

As varied as Mexican food is from region to region, no other state compares to Oaxaca for the diversity of deliciousness that is found within its borders.  This is partly down to the fact that Oaxaca has multiple geographical divisions created by mountain ranges that zigzag across the state allowing distinct cultures and micro climates to prosper.  Nicknamed the “Land of the Seven Moles”, Oaxaca is fortunate enough to have an abundance of vegetables grown in the central valley; fish and shellfish from the southern coast and Isthmus regions and a year round supply of tropical fruit from the gorgeous area that surrounds Veracruz. 

Indigenous gastronomical delights include (if you’re feeling brave enough!) various insects such as grasshoppers as well as signature foods such as tamales, tejate, hot chocolate, and at least seven different salsas called moles.   The tamales are a highlight and are certain to leave your taste buds satisfied.  The Oaxaca variation on this national treasure features large packets of corn dough wrapped in banana leaves, spiced with their specialty ‘black mole’.  They also do a corn husk variety with other moles including green or yellow with small black beans and chepil herb.

Veracruz

Veracruz City has a magnificent and unique culinary style largely in part to its delightful location along the Gulf Coast, with its port that drips with history – where Spanish, European and Asian goods first arrived.  The divine coastline provides the fish and seafood that make up the staple diet among the locals, while the temperate-to-tropical climate also ensures the growth of an exotic variety of fruits like cherimoya, mamey and guanabana.  The fishing village of Alvardo is the birthplace of the state's iconic arroz a la tumbada, a soupy seafood rice dish.  The region's most popular preparation technique is undoubtedly "a la veracruzana"— which generally consists of red snapper fish, green and red capsicum, red tomatoes and onions, combining to represent the colours of the Mexican flag.   Other regional delicacies include shrimp, crab, Chilpachole (spicy seafood soup) and Tumbada style Rice (with seafood) along with much more.

The ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques that arrived and departed from the port of Veracruz—the gateway for trade during the colonial period—resulted in a cuisine that reflects a broad mixture of indigenous, Spanish, African, French, and Lebanese cuisines.

Southeast

The southeast region of Mexico has many foods that are derived from the local Mayan culture, as well as Caribbean, European, African and Middle Eastern cultures, and influence from the cuisine of other parts of Mexico.  One popular menu selection is papazules – rolled tortillas stuffed with hard boiled eggs and topped with a squash seed sauce as well as a tomato sauce. 

Mexicans adore their pork, and the most famous pork dish in the country comes from the Yucatan peninsula in the southeast of Mexico.  The Pork Pibil, or Cochinita Pibil as it is sometimes known (Cochinita translates as baby pig), is a pork loin or shoulder marinated in an acidic juice such as bitter oranges or a mixture of lime, lemon and orange juice, colouring it with annatto seeds that are ground or made into a paste before slow-roasting the meat wrapped in banana leaf.  A combination of the acidity and slow-roasting cooking method will tenderise the pork nicely making it crumble and fall apart in your mouth.  If you want you can even master the technique and recipe for the marinade, this popular feast is easy to make – but the best way to learn is from the masters themselves as many recipes have been passed along through generations, picking up many tips and tricks along the way.

Round up

There is far deeper gastronomy in Mexico than tacos and guacamole – the tastes, smells and textures are an all out assault on the senses – in a good way! From Puebla to Oaxaca there is so much sample and even more to experience!