Many visitors to Mexico experience something of a culture shock when they go for the first time, especially when they try the food. Authentic Mexican food is nothing like the tacos found at the local Taco Bell. The flavours are more complex and more exciting. Even the fussiest eaters won't want to miss out on some of what true Mexican cuisine has to offer. For those looking to explore the culinary world of Mexico, here are five dishes that scratch the surface and definitely can't be missed.
Chilaquiles are one of many foods that were invented by industrious and resourceful women faced with a stack of tortillas that were quickly going stale. These days they have moved up in the ranks from leftovers to the star of the show. Traditionally a breakfast dish, chilaquiles feature lightly fried corn tortillas that are cut into quarters and topped with either red or green salsa. Scrambled eggs, pulled chicken, cream cheese and a healthy dose of refried beans are then piled on top to make for a filling and unforgettable meal. While visitors may have to wander outside of the resort to find this dish, it is well worth the hunt. Flavourful and easy to make, this is one authentic Mexican meal that visitors can easily recreate back home.
Pozole is actually one of Mexico's oldest dishes and a continual favourite among seekers of authentic Mexican fare. Passed down through families as a Pre-Columbian and Aztec tradition, pozole is made from hominy corn that is simmered for hours with chicken, pork or veggies. Cooked long and slow, often overnight, the corn softens and the flavours of the other ingredients all meld together and flavour the broth. Herbs and spices are also added, but the seasonings differ in all parts of Mexico. Different colours indicate different levels of spiciness - from the mild white pozole, to medium green and mouth-scalding red. Local Mexicans know not to fill their bowl full of pozole when they serve themselves, there must always be some room left on top for the fresh ingredients that make pozole so special. Bowls of this unique stew will come loaded with handfuls of lettuce, radish and onion as well as additional seasoning of lime, oregano and chilies.
Tacos al Pastor
Roughly translated to "shepherd's tacos," tacos el pastor will be a taco experience the likes of which diners will never have outside of Mexico. Not unlike Arabic shawarma or Brazilian churrascaria, tacos al pastor are made with vertically roasted meat (usually pork) that is thinly shaved off the spit as it is roasted. This dish actually dates back to the early 1920s when the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants brought their shawarma traditions to Mexico. Before roasting, the meat is marinated well and seasoned after each layer is shaved off. The savoury thin slices are stuffed into a corn tortilla and topped with fine shavings of pineapple, onion and cilantro. With some salsa and a squeeze of fresh lime, the creation is complete and other tacos from back home will be ruined for you forever.
Tamales are a staple in Latin cuisine. While there are many different kinds of tamales, they all have a few similarities. A tamale is a corn dough mixture with added ingredients and spices wrapped up in a corn husk. In more the tropical states of Mexico as well as in Central and South America, a banana leaf is often used in lieu of a corn husk. Tamales date back to Aztec times and functioned as something similar to a sandwich. When Aztec warriors went on long marches and battle campaigns, they needed something portable to eat. The corn husk protected the ingredients inside and made them easy to cook while the dough would rarely spoil. While visitors may have had tamales back home, nothing beats the taste of an authentic one. Within the corn dough, or masa, mixture, chefs add ingredients like meat, pineapples, green salsa, and any number of spices. Tamales can range from savoury to an as sweet as any dessert. Tamales can be found all over Mexico, especially as a quick and easy street food. Diners should consider washing them down with atole, a thick hot chocolate drink made from watery cornstarch that is the by-product of tamale-making.
While it is best to eat around Mexico and understand the difference between authentic Mexican food and the Tex-Mex swill that is served throughout the majority of the world, it would also be a shame to leave the country without experiencing one of its most unique snacks. Chapulines, most commonly found in Oaxaca, are fried or toasted grasshoppers that are heavily seasoned with chili, lime and garlic. They are likely not on the top of the list of most visitors to try, but they are an experience if nothing else and surprisingly tasty, much like eating seasoned nuts.
What's your favourite Mexican dish?
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