Step into the cocina to learn about Mexican cuisine history and facts and why it is considered to be one of the best in the world
Much of Mexico’s cuisine is elaborate and symbol laden, both with ancient flavors and an international flare. A huge melting pot of different cultures, it is a fusion of Mesoamerican cooking with European influences with a centuries-old connection between the food and the people.
Influenced by immigrants, the traditional Mexican cuisine staples of corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, and chili peppers were supplemented with pasta and strong cheese from the Italians, pastry making and confectionery from the French, salty pastries from the British, plantains and coconut oil from the Caribbean, and rice from the Chinese to create such amazing dishes and is what makes Mexico’s history so deliciously edible. It is truly a gift to the world.
Here are some facts and figures to help a beginner understand the complex culture that is Mexico’s cuisine.
1. Mexican food is surprisingly vegetable-based.
Corn and chili peppers are staples that can be found in all the kitchen across Mexico with other native ingredients, like tomatoes, squash, avocado, cocoa, and vanilla, as well as edible flowers and many indigenous vegetables. It was only with the arrival of the Spanish (and then the Europeans) that dishes began to include meats like chicken and pork.
2. Ancient Chocolate
The first chocolate drink is believed to have been drunk by the Aztecs and Mayans two thousand years ago and was essential to these cultures. The cacao beans were ground into a paste and mixed with water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. The word “chocolate” originated from the Aztec word xocolatl and was used in religious rituals. Mole, a traditional chili sauce that is used to top meats and dishes at important events like weddings, baptisms, and birthdays, was gradually modified with the addition of cocoa powder at the end to counteract the heat of the chili peppers and also help give the sauce its dark color.
3. Special Kitchen Tools
Much of Mexico’s cuisine used to be prepared by hand and it took a long time with deliciously worthwhile results. Some of these tools have been used since the pre-colonial era and are as essential today to the modern Mexican kitchen as it was then. The comal, a flat pan that is put over a high flame, is used to make tortillas. The corn flour to make tortillas was made by grinding corn in a large stone mortar called a metate. A molcajete is a small mortar used to grind spices for salsa. The molinillo is used to froth hot chocolate.
4. Chili Peppers
Although not all Mexicans like spicy food, it is undeniable that chili peppers are a staple, as most Mexicans believe their national identity would be nothing without these spicy little heat nuggets. A basic ingredient, the meal can be made as spicy as the cook would like, with subtle flavors for both savory dishes and snacks. Chili goes all the way to the Mesoamerican period, and the type of chili is what gives the dish its main flavor.
Home cooking in Mexico is considered supreme. So if you ever find yourself in Mexico, make friends and try to get yourself invited to a good home cooked Mexican dinner to try authentic enchiladas, tamalaes, pozole, tlayuda, and many more dishes that will transport you to the heart of Mexico.