How well do you know authentic Mexican food? Forget fajitas, burritos, or hard-shell tacos. Let’s not even mention nachos – you won’t find them on an authentic Mexican menu. But, what you will find is even better, bolder – and unforgettable.
Why all the confusion? Because it was Tex Mex cuisine that first earned international fame, and what many came to know as ‘Mexican food.’ But Tex Mex is actually considered as a sub-culture of southwestern American food, although these are influences from Mexico. Tex Mex was the culinary baby of the Tejano people in Texas, who are Hispanic residents with cultural heritage from northern Mexican states.
Truly authentic Mexican food is complex, with many recipes easily counting on 20 or 30 ingredients. The most famous dish is mole, which roughly translates into ‘sauce. It's served over the meat of your choice, with a side of rice and soft tacos. There are hundreds of variations of mole, with different base ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, fruits, chilis, and more.
So what kinds of food will you find in Mexico? Here are five dishes to get you started on becoming a Mexican food expert.
We’ve all heard of ceviche, and you’ll certainly find plenty of it in Mexico. But, ceviche is a Peruvian dish. What Mexico can claim as its own is aguachile. Using similar principles to ceviche, it is a dish of raw seafood that ‘cooks’ in citric juices. But where ceviches can be complex, sweet and sometimes over-powered with coconut milk, aguachile is a simple mix of lime juice and chilis. This allows the flavors of the seafood to come through creating a cool and hot sensation in your mouth.
2. Cochinita pibil
This is one of the most popular fillings for tacos in Mexico. It’s a dish of slow-roasted and shredded pork, which is marinated in annatto seeds and contrasting notes of orange, lime, and chili. Traditionally, it is a dish from the Yucatan peninsula – where Cancun and Riviera Maya are located – but today you can eat it all over Mexico. If you want to kick it up a notch, try it on a panucho, a taco stuff with beans fried until it is puffy and crunchy.
3. Cactus Salad
One particular cactus – nopal – makes a great side dish. It can be grilled as a garnish for meat, or served cold as a salad, with a drizzle of lemon, oil, and a few slices of red onion. It’s a bit viscous in texture, so you need to soak the cactus leaves first; the level of residue is also how you can tell if what you’re eating is well prepared or not.
The name looks like a tongue twister but, simply put, this is the original Mexican version of nachos. Fried corn tortilla pieces are topped with a green or red salsa, cream, sliced onion, and a strong goat’s cheese. It's then finished off with your choice of scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, or slices of marinated meat (known as cecina). The best part? In Mexico, it’s eaten as a breakfast dish. Who wouldn’t like ‘nachos’ for breakfast?
Lastly, we've got something for the adventurous. This is the caviar of Mexico - only, they're ant eggs. They are usually fried in butter, and local green herbs, which you spoon onto soft tacos and... immensely enjoy. If that makes you squeamish, the taste certainly won't as it is a sort of soft-cheese flavor.
If you're ready to take it to the next level, try spicy marinated chapulines instead. Yup, crickets are a popular snack in Mexico too. The flavor is surprising – crunchy, yes, but with undertones of smoky chilis that make them pretty tasty.
A guest post by MEXLocal, a website that reveals all the local tips about traveling in Mexico. Be inspired by Mexico’s hidden secrets and inspiring sceneries by following MEXLocal on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
PS: If you're looking for a responsible and an ethic tour company for your next Mexican trip consider booking a tour with Eco Travel Mexico. You can get a 10% discount on any tour by entering the code MEXLOCAL at checkout.
I am a freelance web designer who documents her travels with photos and words via Black Journal. Additionally, I work with small companies that want to re-brand their online businesses to create products that change lives of their customers all in the hopes of gaining more customers and retaining their current ones longer.