Is it Tuesday already? Because it feels like taco day. Mexican food is deeply rooted in our culture, and there’s a special place in all our hearts reserved for the spicy food.
Mexican cuisine, though, is varied, much more than you can imagine, and that’s good news because it means that there’s plenty to discover.
Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to five popular Mexican dishes and what they mean to us. Perhaps they’re your favorite, and maybe not, but that’s the beauty of Mexican food, there’s something for everyone!
Tamales, steamed masa dumplings with a long history
To understand Mexican cuisine, you first have to learn about masa. The Mexican culture relies on corn as a staple food and source of energy. Corn, though, comes in all shapes and sizes (There are over 60 different types of corn in the country.)
To make masa, you must soak and cook maize (or corn) kernels in lime water and hull them before grinding them into a paste. That’s masa right there, and it’s the building block for most Mexican food, from tortillas and burritos to tostadas and gorditas.
Tamales are the most prodigious masa-based dish. In a very laborious process, you mix masa and lard and make small fist-sized balls that are then filled with shredded chicken or pork and covered in salsa. Tamales are then steamed inside banana leaves or corn husks and are ready to serve.
There’s no dish like tamales; they go back to ancient times.
Enchiladas, like tacos but better.
Enchiladas are one of the most under-represented Mexican dishes around, they’re not nearly as popular as tacos, for example, but they’re closely related.
In a nutshell, enchiladas are soft tacos bathed in sauce, forcing you to use a fork and knife. Grated cheese is a nice touch, but not necessary, and the filling can vary from scrambled eggs to chicken.
All enchiladas are similar until you add the sauce, and it’s the sauce that gives them their name: Green enchiladas, red enchiladas, and bean enchiladas are some of the most common.
Chilaquiles, say what??
When corn tortillas go stale, there’s nothing you can do with them except cutting them in pieces and frying them to make some crispy tortilla chips. The crunchy bites are already excellent snacks to scoop guacamole or chunky salsa, but tortilla chip heaven exists, and it’s called chilaquiles.
Chilaquiles are tortilla chips smothered in green or red spicy sauce. Adding shredded chicken is customary, and so are fresh cheese, cream, and diced onions. The result is a messy stew with no equal, a good hearty breakfast right there. Chilaquiles are Mexico’s most famous hangover cure.
Pozole, a gift from ancient times.
Pozole is one of the oldest, ancestral Mexican dishes going back thousands of years. Huge pots of pozole have fed Mexican people since the beginning of time.
If you’ve never seen pozole think of a tasty chicken- or pork-based broth cooked for long hours. Pozole’s key ingredient is corn, but not any corn but cacahuazintle corn, instantly recognizable for its enormous kernels.
On its own, pozole tastes like chicken soup, but the toppings, which are set up on the table, make it customizable. Shredded lettuce, radish, oregano, lime juice, and a spoon or two of spicy salsa makes this dish something else; something glorious.
Tacos, the humble street feast.
Tacos are not a dish, but many. These tasty little flavor bundles have taken the world by storm.
Tacos are a blank canvas and a means for creativity. Anything can become a taco when served over a tortilla. Seasoned minced beef, chicken, fish, zucchini flowers, breaded shrimp, octopus, pulled pork, or steak, there’s no way of listing all the possible interpretations of such an exquisite two-biter.
You can enjoy tacos at all hours, they’re excellent at breakfast (think of scrambled egg tacos) and delicious mid-night snacks (how about spicy chorizo?) Tacos are at the heart of Mexican food, and they too have a place in ours.
This is just a drop in the bucket.
There’s an incredible diversity within Mexico, and each community has its customs and traditional dishes. Mexican street food has its own universe, and it’s up there with the best in the world. And then there are fusions like Tex-Mex and modernist Mexican food found in exclusive, high-browed restaurants.
You must taste it all to believe it, and that’s a journey well worth traveling, so enjoy Mexican food and discover its secrets one dish at a time. What are your favorite Mexican foods?