Mexicans love food, especially their own. Visit Mexico and you will soon get a sense of how important food is in their lives: ask where to find, say, the best carnitas (braised pork) in Mexico City, or the best mole (a type of chilli sauce) in Oaxaca, and you’re up for a passionate, lengthy and well-informed debate. (However, if you ask who the best cook they know is, they all will be in agreement: mi madre – ‘my mother’.)
Read on for a brief (but mouth-watering) introduction to Mexican cuisine from the latest edition of Lonely Planet’s Mexico guide book.
Mexican cuisine has little to do with what’s served in Mexican restaurants outside the country. For many visitors their first experience with real Mexican food is a surprise – there are no big hats, no flavoured margaritas or cheese nachos on the menu. Authentic Mexican food is fresh, simple and, frequently, locally grown – and most likely, somebody’s mother will be running the kitchen.
Mexican menus vary by region, but in most cases you can find food made with a few staples: corn, an array of dry and fresh chillies, and beans.
Contrary to popular belief, not all food in Mexico is spicy, at least not for the regular palate. Chillies are used as flavouring ingredients and to provide intensity in sauces, moles and pipiáns, and many appreciate their depth over their piquancy. But beware: many dishes do indeed have a kick, reaching daredevil levels in some cases. A good rule of thumb is that when chillies are cooked into dishes as sauces they tend to be on the mild side, but when they are prepared as salsas or relishes used as condiments, they can be really hot.
Other staples that give Mexican food its classic flavoring are spices like cinnamon, clove and cumin, and herbs such as thyme, oregano, and most importantly, cilantro (coriander) and epazote.
Epazote may be the unsung hero of Mexican cooking. This pungent-smelling herb (called pigweed or Jerusalem oak in the US) is used for flavouring beans, soups, stews and certain moles…
Read more: Lonely Planet