Mexican Food & Cuisine History
A culinary revolution was set in motion with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Through them, the indigenous peoples of Mexico, including the Aztecs and the Mayans, would be introduced to foods such as rice, chicken, beef, onions, garlic, and wine. Incorporating these ingredients into the traditional Mexican pantries of chocolate, corn, tomatoes, and vanilla, resulted in the cuisine we know today as Mexican- a diverse mix of bright flavors and appealing textures with an undeniable penchant for spicy heat.
It is that undeniable spicy heat that for many lies at the heart of Mexican cooking. This is why chilies play such a prominent role in the country’s dishes. Looking at the wide variety of chilies- some harvested green (jalapeno), others after they are ripened, some dried (ancho) and others used fresh, and some with a gentle heat while others are raging hot (pequin) – another fact becomes evident. The Mexican cuisine has truly mastered the wide range of flavor and heat within the chile family. In fact, many dishes use a combination of varieties in order to achieve the proper depth of spice and flavor. A good example of this is the popular sauces called moles which use as many as five different chilies.
Another distinguishing feature of the cuisine is tortillas, known as “the bread of Mexico”. Made of ground corn or wheat flour, the thin, unleavened flatbreads are used in many of the most popular dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. One reason for its popularity is the product’s versatility, which appears to be a hallmark of Mexican cuisine. Tortillas are, in fact, both economical and efficient. Good examples of this are chilaquiles, where stale tortillas are served in a spicy salsa, or tortilla soup, which combines a rich tomato broth with avocado, cheese, and broken, day-old tortillas.
What seems to tie the style together as a whole, whether sweet or spicy, costly or economical, is the use of fresh produce, simply prepared. Whether it is the bright salsas made of chopped tomatoes and chilies, or carne asada which is skirt steak that has been lightly marinated before grilling, the food style of Mexico is to keep it fresh and simple. Marinades, used for ceviches to carnes, are often as simple as lime juice, oil, garlic and salt while guacamole is made by adding those same, few ingredients to chopped avocado. The few ingredients and uncomplicated preparation gives the style an overall clean, bright feel.
So what words describe Mexican cuisine? Versatile, fresh, simple, delicious. From starters such as shrimp ceviche, a popular dish where the shrimp cooks in a simple lime juice marinade to desserts such as masa-based sweet sopes, Mexican cuisine is about using what is available locally in a resourceful, uncomplicated way. The result of which is a style that is accessible to anyone with just a few key, raw ingredients or the desire to run down to their local, neighborhood Mexican restaurant.
We hope this overview has helped you to better understand the range of Mexican cuisine. Of course, the best learning is accomplished through experience so we encourage you to use our site and find the Mexican restaurant that has been waiting for you. Adios!
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