What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the words: “Mexican Food”?
Is it salsa? Tacos? Or a Burrito?
These are just the basic introductory dishes of Mexican food. There are many interesting facts about Mexico and its incredible food to discover, so keep reading to find out a few things you may not have known about some of your favorite Mexican dishes.
31 Facts About Mexican Food
Mexican food is believed to have originated from the ancient Mayan people. Over time other Mesoamerican groups like the Olmec brought their own cooking methods and Mexican cuisine evolved.
Now that we’ve discovered where Mexican food came from, let’s dig into some facts about it.
Mexico is divided up into nine different regions with each region putting its spin on humble Mexican food.
Mexican food can be classified according to its regions:
- The Northern region is known for its meat and cheeses
- The North-Pacific coast is famous for fruit and vegetables
- The Bajio region specializes in rice, pork, and sausages
- The Southern region is known for growing chilies, farming chicken, and making cheese (and some great restaurants in places like Cancun)
- The Gulf region specializes in corn and vanilla
Ancient Mexican dishes were developed on the use of fruit, and vegetables and not much has changed since then.
Traditional Mexican food consists of corn, beans, and chili peppers. It’s also made up of ingredients unique to Mexico such as chayote (a vegetable pear), cactus, and wild green beans.
Most people associate Mexican food with being spicy, and heavy but, in reality, it’s really healthy. That’s because it’s high in vitamins and minerals and low in fat.
Some dieticians believe that Mexican food is the perfect blend of the four food groups, as meat, dairy, grain, and vegetables feature in all dishes in one form or another.
In most dishes around the world meat, fish or poultry is often the star of a dish, with vegetables being an accompaniment.
The ancient Mayans made vegetables the main feature of their dishes and as time went on they introduced meat, and fish to their dishes.
Today, modern Mexican cuisine follows the footsteps of its Mayan ancestors in that vegetables are the main feature of its dishes, while meat compliments the vegetables.
While tomatoes, beans, and corn are common in most Mexican dishes, now and then you’ll find an ingredient that is quite uncommon in most foods.
Some of these ingredients include pumpkin flowers (which are used in soups), jackfruit, and even insects.
In 2010 Mexican cuisine was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This was a pretty big deal, as it is one of eight cuisines listed on this elite list.
UNESCO recognizes Mexican food for its farming methods, harvesting, traditional cooking techniques, and preservation.
During Spain’s conquest of Mexico, ordinary Spanish women and members of religious orders experimented with the ingredients available to them and shaped many of today’s modern Mexican dishes.
Nuns pioneered the development of candies like Cajeta, Bunelos (a fritter-like food), and Rompope, an egg-based liqueur.
Over the centuries, Mexico has experienced a wave of immigration, with each group leaving its mark on the traditional cuisine.
After two invasions from the French, confectionery was introduced and later immigrants from Italy introduced new ingredients such as pasta and cheese.
Later on, Chinese and Lebanese immigrants introduced foods like rice which helped to shape dishes like Arroz Rojo (red rice).
To prepare authentic Mexican dishes properly, there are several tools that are needed.
These tools include a molcajete, which is a small mortar used to grind spices. Then there’s also a molinillo, which is used for making foam chocolate, and a comal, a flat pan used to fry tortillas.
This familiar favorite dates back to 1924 when Caesar Cardini opened up a restaurant named after himself in Tijuana, Mexico. Caesar was an Italian immigrant who developed the salad over the 4th of July weekend when his kitchen ran low on supplies.
He threw together the ingredients that he had on hand, which included romaine lettuce, garlic, croutons, parmesan cheese, eggs, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce.
Later on Caesar’s brother, Alex added his own twist to the salad and added in anchovies.
Many people associate tomatoes with being Italian. However, tomatoes actually originated in Mexico.
The Mayans and Aztecs grew tomatoes and used them in their food. Later when the Spanish invaded Mexico, they discovered tomatoes and brought back tomato plants to Europe.
Nachos are a popular, and delicious snack that came about completely by accident, much like the Caesar salad.
One night back in 1943, Mexican chef and restaurateur Ignacio Anaya Garcia (known as “Nacho”), threw together ingredients to make a snack plate for a group of U.S military wives who were visiting his restaurant.
He fried up some tortillas, and served them with grated cheese and jalapeno peppers, and called the dish” Nachos Especiales”).
It’s believed that Mexican cowboys living in Texas invented the fajita in the 1930s when they grilled their skirt steak with vegetables and served it alongside a tortilla.
It wasn’t until 1973 that a printed recipe of a fajita was developed and by 1975 they started appearing on restaurant menus and quickly became a customer favorite.
While fajitas may be a fairly recent discovery, tamales have been around for centuries. It’s believed they are about 8000 years old.
The word tamale comes from the word tamalii, a Nahuatl word in the Aztec language meaning “wrapped food”.
Today tamales are a Mexican dish made from spiced minced meat, cornflour, and steamed inside a maize husk.
The word chocolate comes from the Aztecs’ word “xocolatl”. When Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico they discovered that the Aztecs drank a bitter chocolate mixture made from cacao seeds and mixed with spices.
Since Mexico is the birthplace of hot chocolate, this fact is not surprising.
Mexican hot chocolate is very different from the sweet, powdery hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and cream that most of us are used to.
Hot chocolate found in Mexico is made from a rich aromatic paste that consists of ground cacao, sugar, cinnamon, and not cocoa powder. In the city of Oaxaca, ground almonds are added to the paste giving it a sweeter taste.
If you have a sweet tooth, then you’ll appreciate the fact that Mexican desserts have their own holidays. Sweet right?
Some desserts include calabaza tacha, pumpkin cooked in a caramel sauce and served on the Day of the Dead celebrations, churros covered with coconut sauce served on Cinco de Mayo.
Most people’s reaction to this would probably be to scrunch up their face and gag. But, it’s not what you think.
Tuna fruit is a prickly pear and unique to Mexico. The fruit is mixed with milk, sugar, and cactus fruit. Once it is mixed and chilled, the tuna fruit has the texture of creamy sorbet.
Churros were introduced to Mexico in the early 1500s by the Spanish. Originally they were the size of a breadstick, and over time became smaller.
These Spanish-style doughnuts are fried, sprinkled with sugar, and served with a caramel or chocolate sauce and are preferred over regular doughnuts by most Mexicans.
It is believed that vanilla originated in Mexico. The early Mexicans discovered vanilla from the fruit pod of a certain Mexican orchid.
They used it to flavor their food and drinks such as hot chocolate.
Mexican food is known to be accompanied by some delicious fresh juice. Mexico produces an abundance of tropical fruits which are turned into ice-cold beverages.
These are perfect for washing down some hearty Mexican food and can be found at most roadside stands.
One of the most popular avocados, the Hass was not allowed to be imported into the USA from 1914.
In 1997 the USDA lifted its ban on Mexico and allowed Hass avocados to be imported to certain states. In 2002 Hass avocados were finally allowed to be imported to all 50 states.
Mexicans believe in wasting nothing, and for almost every dish you could find a different part of an animal.
These parts include the stomach, udder, tongues, and testicles.
The meaning of the word “taco” is believed to be a “light lunch”. While you can have tacos at any time of the day, most Mexicans have them at lunch, and according to legend, only tacos known as antojitos were meant for dinner time.
Taco Bell owner, Glen Bell is often credited with the invention of the taco shell, but it’s believed that tacos date back to as far as 500 B.C in Mexico.
The first reference of a taco being mentioned dates back to 1800 when tacos were served to Mexican silver miners as a snack. Later in the 1900s tacos were introduced to Americans.
Tacos are so important that there’s a whole day dedicated to them. It’s celebrated on March the 31st in Mexico and October the 4th in the US.
According to a Mayan legend, the tortilla was invented by a servant who was trying to please his king. It was initially made from ground cornmeal and over time the servant’s recipe was adapted by the Mayans and Spanish.
Tortillas are found in both Mexico and Spain, however, there are some noticeable differences between the two.
Mexican tortillas are flatbreads made with cornflour and water, while a Spanish tortilla is a potato and egg omelet.
Parts of northern Mexico prefer their dishes with red meat while parts in the southern region prefer chicken with their dishes.
In both regions, however, meat, and poultry are more of a relish, with vegetables being the main dish.
Quesadillas are quintessentially Mexican. Its roots though are a hybrid like most Mexicans themselves, being half indigenous and half Spanish.
Elements of the dish such as the corn tortilla and hot sauce are Mexican while elements like the cheese and lettuce are considered to be Spanish.
Traditional Mexican tortillas can be filled with anything. Some Mexicans even venture as far as putting in grasshoppers, tripe, and eggs in their tortillas.
You’ll even find dessert tacos that are tortillas filled with fruit and ice cream.
Mexican food is one of the most diverse and flavorful cuisines in the world. From tacos, tortillas, churros, and Mexican chocolate, you really can’t go wrong with Mexican food.
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