Mexican food is hard to understand from abroad; the complexity of this cuisine matches the most intricate food of any country in Europe, America or Asia. Just thinking many of today’s global staple ingredients come from Mexico: corn, tomatoes, chocolate and chili, shows the profound influence of Mexican food in today’s gastronomic scene.
Mexico is a big country; actually, it’s the 14th largest in the world. The food diversity in each of its distinct 32 states cannot be understated. With shores to the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, vast farmlands and enormous rain forests, the country has an abundant pantry full of ingredients to choose from.
Mexico’s history has also influenced the gastronomic customs. The Spanish brought with them cattle, wheat, citrus fruits and sugar cane. The native had potatoes, cacao beans, avocados, tomatoes, corn, and much more. Together, they formed what can be called today Mexican food.
The street food culture dates back hundreds of years; the native indigenous people had a big open-market tradition and were used to enjoy food from stalls. Fast forward to the twenty-first century; street food is as popular as ever.
Perhaps the best-known staple food in the country is the taco, but a taco is not actually a dish but a white canvas for creativity. Anything from grilled meat, chicken stew, and marinated pork, to squash blossoms, mushrooms and cactus leaves, everything goes when it comes to tacos.
Tacos come in all shapes, flavors and sizes, but perhaps the most popular, especially in Mexico City, the street food capital, is the Taco al Pastor, or shepherds style taco. Marinated pork meat is skewered and charred on a vertical grill, just like kebabs. Sliced and topped with grilled pineapple, and dressed in spicy salsa, this taco is everyone’s late night favorite.
Other popular tacos, especially for breakfast, are the Tacos de Canasta, or basket tacos. Two bite tacos folded and tucked tightly in a handwoven basket get their flavor from the heat and moisture within. They’re traditionally filled with pressed pork skin, beans, mashed potatoes or adobo.
Mexican food is much more than street food; some dishes are elaborate and quite intricate. From these, the mole sauce, an impressive twenty-ingredient sauce might be one of the most popular. Mole is poured over chicken, both in the humblest of households and in the best restaurants.
September is the time for the stuffed poblano chiles. A fist-sized green pepper stuffed with minced pork meat and seasonal fruits. The whole thing is covered with a slightly sweet cream made with goat cheese, nuts and almonds. The stuffed chile is finally sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, creating a colorful dish that mimics the colors of the Mexican flag.
Enchiladas are another popular dish with many faces. Folded corn tortillas on a baking pan, stuffed with anything from scrambled eggs to shredded chicken are covered in sauce; the sauce gives the enchiladas its name: Tomato enchiladas, bean enchiladas, green enchiladas or mole enchiladas, there are at least a dozen variations. Covered with cheese, this casserole is a classic Mexican dish enjoyed as breakfast, lunch or dinner.
No matter where in the country, a pile of corn tortillas is provided to every table; the European bread never really caught on. Tortillas and corn in general feed Mexican people and is the heart of the country’s cuisine. There’s no greatest pleasure than enjoying a handmade, fresh corn tortilla with a sprinkle of salt; the best things in life are often the simplest.