Mexican food is so popular because it’s full of flavor and unique dishes. There’s a ton of variety in the recipes, and these vibrant flavors attract people from all over the world to try Mexican food. Let’s take a look at the history of Mexican food and some of the staples in Mexican cuisine.
The Origins of Mexican Food
Though Mexican food is heavily influenced by Spanish colonization, we can date the origins of the cuisine to long before colonization – to a time when indigenous populations cultivated the environment. Indigenous people hunted animals and gathered plants to sustain themselves. One of the most common plants in the environment were chili peppers, which were a large part of their diet.
Corn and beans were also staples in indigenous diets, and corn cultivation began nearly 10,000 years ago – before Spanish colonization. Finding sufficient sources of protein was difficult for indigenous populations, so they relied on beans as a staple in their diets. A common meal during this time was corn tortillas with bean paste in addition to wild game and tropical fruits.
Then the Spanish colonized Mexico in 1521 and brought domesticated animals like cows, pigs, goats and chickens with them. With the introduction of livestock, dairy became more common and cheese was a staple in Mexican diets. The Spanish also brought an array of spices like garlic, cinnamon, coriander, and olive oil. Thus, Mexican cuisine is a convergence of different cultures and pulls from a diverse background to bring the delicious flavors we know and love.
What Makes Mexican Food So Unique?
There’s a large variety and diversity in Mexican food based on the region. Let’s take a look at the seven culinary regions of Mexico and staples from those areas.
States: Baja, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas
In northern Mexico, ranching is a large part of the cuisine culture so there’s a lot of dishes centering around grilled meat. Because of the large range of cattle and meats, dairy is also popular, and there’s a wide variety of cheeses in the region.
- Cabrito: roasted baby goat
- Machaca: dried and spiced beef or pork
- Queso fresco: fresh cheese – either made from cow milk or a combination of cow and goat milk
- Burritos: made with chicken, pork or beef and wrapped in a flour tortilla
The North Pacific Coast
States: Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima
In the North Pacific Coast, you’ll find most of the country’s fresh produce. There’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables, grains and chilies. Because of the region’s wide span across the Pacific Ocean, they have access to fresh seafood which has become a staple in this region.
- Birria: beef, mutton or pork stew with spices and chili peppers
- Aguachile: shrimp cooked in lime juice with chili peppers, cilantro and spices
- Fish tacos
States: Michoacá, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Queretaro
The Bajio was one of the first regions to be colonized by the Spanish and the Spaniards introduced rice and pork to Mexican cuisine. The region is also known for its desserts and cotija cheese – which is similar to parmesan cheese.
- Carnitas: pork simmered in lard
- Cajeta: thickened caramel sauce made from sweetened, condensed goat milk
- Arroz con leche: rice pudding
- Pozole rojo: pork stew
The South Pacific Coast
States: Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero
This region is heavily influenced by indigenous populations and their recipes. Oaxaca is known as the “Land of the 7 Moles” because of its rich, flavorful sauces made from different ingredients including chocolate, chili peppers, and nuts to name a few. Though chicken and pork are used in South Pacific cuisine, the people in this region also make dishes with rabbit, armadillos and insects because of the indigenous influence.
- Mole: 7 different types ranging from thick chocolate consistency to a tomato based consistency
- Tamales: meat wrapped in a dough-like corn structure
- Enfrijoladas: enchiladas covered in a black bean paste
States: Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo
This region combines traditional Mexican cuisine with Caribbean influences and pulls from Mayan cuisine. The foods in southern Mexico are sweet and tart, and many dishes are wrapped in banana leaves. Cooking food in banana leaves is called pibil style cooking and the wrapped food is placed over an open fire so the entire dish develops a smokey flavor. Achiote, a spice and coloring agent made from annatto seeds, is also popular in many dishes. This seasoning adds vibrant colors and a mild pepper flavor to the cuisine.
- Cochinita pibil: a slow-roasted pork dish cooked over a pit fire and wrapped in banana leaves
- Habanero pepper salsa
- Panuchos: a refried tortilla filled with refried beans and topped with cabbage, pickled onions, avocados and pickled jalapenos
States: Puebla, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo and Distrito Federal Mexico City
Central Mexico is home to many large cities in the nation and it’s known for the abundance of street food. This area is a conglomeration of many different cultures and influences, and you’re sure to find street vendors all across the region.
- Elote: Mexican street corn grilled with butter or mayonnaise and tossed in a set of seasonings
- Barbacoa: meat that is steam cooked in an oven until it’s very tender
- Mole poblano: a thick sauce made from chili peppers, fruits, nuts and chocolate
The Gulf Coast
States: Tabasco and Veracruz
Cuisine from Mexico’s Gulf Coast is influenced by Caribbean, Spanish and African cultures. Common ingredients include cilantro, parsley, plantains, yucca and sweet potatoes. Not all of those ingredients are native to Mexico, thus the region is unique because of its outward influences.
- Arroz a la tumbada: a white rice and seafood dish
- Huachinango a la Veracruzana: red snapper marinated in lime juice, nutmeg and garlic and topped with a tomato sauce and spices
Come try the Mexican Cuisine at Esmeralda’s 2.0
At Esmeralda’s 2.0 we take pride in Mexican food and strive to bring a taste of Mexico right here to California. We use authentic recipes on each of our dishes, and take pride in the delicious flavors that make Mexican food unique.
Stop by today, or check out our website for more information about our delicious menu items!
Esmeralda’s 2.0 The Best Mexican Restaurant In Eureka
328 Grotto St
Eureka, CA 95501