Every country has its own dishes and foods. However, not many countries’ cuisines make it onto UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mexico is on that list, and when it comes to street food, Mexico is ranked first by Forbes. It should be no surprise that one of my favourite aspects of living in Mexico is eating Mexican food daily.
Mexico is a food lover’s dream, with mobile and permanent food stalls everywhere. Half of the population eats street food at least once a week, an essential contributor to the Mexican economy.
When a Mexican family is experiencing financial difficulties, it is common for them to begin trading food by opening their patio or purchasing a food cart and selling it on the street.
If you need to become more familiar with Mexican cuisine, there are three staples that most Mexican dishes contain: corn, beans, and the famous hot peppers, chillies. Corn is consumed in a variety of ways, most notably as a tortilla, a thin, circular flatbread served with almost anything.
Here are 5 of the most popular dishes you can eat in restaurants or on the street.
Tacos al pastor
The taco is an absolute classic. It is the best-known and most popular Mexican food. To make a taco, take one or two handmade corn tortillas and fill them with meat, usually pork or beef. Add a guacamole (avocado) dip, a spicy sauce, onions, cilantro, and lime. The Taco Al Pastor is an all-time favourite. This taco is made with spit-grilled pork marinated in red chilli and served with pineapple chunks.
The variety of tacos in Mexico is fantastic, although some ingredients may be hard to digest for foreign visitors. For example, eyeball tacos or tacos de sesos, the thinly sliced brain of a goat or a cow. Its soft texture contrasts nicely with the crunchy fresh onions.
Tacos can also be fried, which is referred to as tacos dorados (golden tacos). These are frequently filled with potatoes or other ingredients.
Tamales are made of corn dough and filled with various types of meat, usually chicken or pork. Besides, the filling can include vegetables like carrots, peppers, corn, or potatoes. Other ingredients include cheese, chillies, beans, or even fruit.
First, it is wrapped in a banana leaf or a corn husk, depending on the region. Then, it is steamed, making the corn dough’s consistency firmer. Although the wrapper is not edible, it is frequently used as a plate.
Tamales are not exclusive to Mexico. Their origin dates back to pre-Colombian times, and tamales are famous in many Central and South American countries.
Typically, you would have a tamal for breakfast. There are mobile carts that sell tamales from very early in the morning. In Mexico City, it is common to have your tamal in a roll called a guajolota.
Tamales are usually spicy, so if you are not used to chilli, a sweet tamal may be a better option!
Chilaquiles are another popular breakfast dish in Mexico, available both in restaurants and on the street.
They are similar to nachos, except that nachos are made of hard tortilla chips, whereas chilaquiles are made of soft ones. They are also made from hard tortillas cut into triangles, but then you pour a red or green chilli sauce over them and fry or bake them until they lose their crispness.
When the dish is soft, it is topped with crumbled fresh cheese, avocado slices, sliced onions, and cream. It is then topped with shredded chicken, fried or scrambled eggs, or both. It can be served with refried beans as a side dish.
The origin of this Mexican dish goes all the way back to the Aztecs, who were looking for a way to repurpose old and hardened tortillas—drowning them in a sauce before frying them made for an edible, moreover delicious dish that has become a classic in Mexican cuisine.
Elotes and esquites
Elote (corn on the hob) and esquites (corn in a cup) are other popular and tasty Mexican food examples. Elote means tender cob. They are usually sold on the street, where vendors use mobile carts to boil cobs in their husks.
They are served with sour cream or mayonnaise, lime juice, grated Cotija cheese, salt, and powdered chilli on a stick. You can also request the grilled version, elotes asados, which has a crunchy texture.
Esquites means toasted corn in Nahuatl. Mature corn kernels are boiled in salted water before being stir-fried with onions, chillies, salt, and epazote, also known as Jesuit’s tea or goosefoot, an aromatic culinary herb.
Another favourite Mexican dish is quesadillas. The preparation is conceivably simple. You heat a tortilla, put some cheese on top, then fold it in half and wait for the cheese to melt. That is the basic recipe for a cheese quesadilla, although you can fill a quesadilla with nearly anything.
A few of the popular quesadilla fillings are mushrooms, flor de calabaza (pumpkin flowers), chicharrón (deep-fried pork rind or belly), picadillo (mincemeat), huitlacoche (corn mushroom), and potatoes.
Quesadilla is made with either corn or wheat flour tortillas. The region determines this. Wheat flour tortillas are popular in northern Mexico, whereas corn tortillas are more prevalent in Central and Southern areas.
Quesadillas are traditionally cooked on a comal, a smooth and flat griddle. You use guacamole, chopped onions, and of course, red or green salsa as a topping.
Although one might assume that the word quesadilla has its origin in queso (cheese), there is a theory that the word comes from an Austrian recipe called casadiella, a dessert made of dumplings and puff pastry. This would explain why a quesadilla in some parts of Mexico does not always contain cheese, and you must request a cheese quesadilla.
The cheese used is usually queso Oaxaca, a stingy cheese made in the state of Oaxaca. In Northern Mexico, it is usual to use queso Menonita, a cheese made by the Mennonites, or queso Chihuahua.
Taste of Mexico
Gastronomy is vital to discovering a different country and understanding its culture. Mexico has impressive landscapes, a rich culture, unique archaeological sites, beautiful beaches, and a delicious variety of foods!
One last word of caution; don’t believe the Mexican “no pica” when you ask about a specific dish. It’s always spicy!
If you are hungry for more global flavours, be sure to check out our gastronomic experiences page for additional recipes and culinary inspiration.