Although agriculture does not play a major role in the country’s gross national product, one quarter of all people in Mexico earn their living farming. As a result, the country produces enough rice, beans, fruit, vegetables, and sugar to support the population. But then the people of Mexico have always been proficient in producing food.
Perhaps this is why UNESCO, in 2010, considered the traditions of its food to be of such vital importance that it added Mexican cuisine to its list of intangible cultural heritage.
Mexican Food as Recorded in History
When the first Europeans found their way to the country, they discovered an indigenous population nourishing themselves with a diet consisting of corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, and herbs. The diet was mainly vegetarian but occasionally supplemented by deer, quail, wild turkey, and rabbit.
The Spanish remained a dominant force for three hundred years and over that period of time left their mark on the diet, introducing beef, pork, lamb, goat, rabbit, and sugar cane.
Food of Today’s Mexicans
As it has for thousands of year, corn continues to be the basis of the traditional Mexican diet. Rare is the meal that does not contain a tortilla. Corn can also be boiled for pozole, a hearty stew. Today’s families still rely on the vegetables of the indigenous people especially frijoles, or beans, but have added fruits such as papayas, mangos, and avocados. Mexican cooks originally relied on peppers and spices to preserve foods but learned to rely on them for the distinctive tastes that have come to define Mexican cuisine.
These of course are the jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, and chipotles that give Mexican dishes their heat, and the cumin, cinnamon, and cloves that give it zest, along with essential herbs like cilantro, oregano, and thyme. Chicken and beef are the most prevalent meats in the diet although seafood is popular in coastal areas.
What is Missing?
Americans visiting Mexico may be taken back by what they do not find in Mexico. They discover that chile con carne, chimichangas, burritos, and nachos, as well as fajitas are Tex-mex, and other than in chain restaurants catering to them, are not found on the menu. The same goes for margaritas. although tequila is never in short supply.
What is Different
Tacos and Enchiladas are readily found, although in a much simpler form. Tacos are of the soft variety, and enchiladas, rather than being smothered in gooey cheese, consist of a tortilla filled with chicken, covered in red salsa, green salsa, or perhaps mole, and dressed with creamy queso fresca and raw white onion rings. Other popular items include
- the aforementioned pozole
- birria, a simple broth-based soup with goat or sheep meat and served with tortillas, lime, cilantro, and onion
- sopas and huaraches, made from the same dough as tamales, and covered with refried beans, lettuce, cheese, meat, and onions
- Mole in Mexico is more of a dish than a sauce. Offered in a rainbow of colors, it can consist of as many as twenty ingredients, and is especially popular at birthday and wedding celebrations.
- tortas, which could be considered a Mexican sandwich consisting of a oblong-shaped white roll and filled with chicken or pork, tomato, avocado, lettuce, and tomato.
Tamales are usually reserved for breakfast, and when it comes to morning foods, huevos rancheros can be found on the menu just as they can in any Mexican restaurant San Diego. Other egg choices include huevos a la Mexicana because it contains the colors of the Mexican flag, and huevos divorciados, two eggs separated by a wall-like portion of refried beans. Or as they say in Mexico – frijoles refritos!