Mexican food is famous across the Globe for its colors, flavors and use of healthy ingredients. In fact it is so famous that the best known snack has had a day unofficially named after it! And who isn’t excited when “Taco Tuesday” comes around? Here are some tips on how to eat like a local in Mexico.
In 2010 UNESCO made the decision to include food as an Intangible World Heritage item for the first time and it was no surprise that Mexican Cuisine was the first to be recognized.
Combining a history that dates back to the Mayan Indians fused with the influence of the invading Spanish, today’s Mexican cuisine is globally recognized.
One of the best known of the traditions comes from Oaxaca, the home of the 7 molés.
Think you have good Mexican food back home?
While many countries have “Mexican” restaurants all claiming to be authentic food and experiences you will find that the traditional recipes have been altered in almost all cases to better suit the local palette.
The only place bold enough, or honest enough not to claim this authenticity is Texas. With Tex-Mex being the preferred option, and damn tasty in its own right!
To eat Mexican food in the small, family run establishments in Mexico, or better still from the local street vendors, not only gives you a new appreciation of this cuisine but shows you how you have been tricked into thinking your local restaurant at home was serving you good Mexican food.
There is little better in the food world than having tacos from a tiny Taqueria set up in someone’s garage with dozens of salsa options, a variety of fillings, fresh tortillas and a crowd of locals.
I had the absolute pleasure of experiencing this at a little place in the residential suburbs of Mexico City at a place called Tacos Gus. Cheap and delicious!
At the other end of the scale the number of world class restaurants is exploding with local chefs taking the traditional recipes and and adding a Michelin Star quality twist on them.
Breakfasts – Desayuno
The typical Mexican food day starts first thing in the morning with a coffee, hot chocolate or atole (another hot drink but thickened with rice, corn or oats). Or the cold refreshment of a juice or licuado (fresh fruit and milk smoothie)
Brunch – Almuerzo
This is where the real breakfast takes place. Usually eaten between 9am and noon this meal usually includes eggs, meat, frijoles and tortillas and spicy sauces in one of many combinations.
Some of the more popular options are huevos rancheros, chilaquiles and enchiladas. All big and hearty meal sure to help you through until the next meal.
Lunch – Comida
For foreign visitors looking for a mid day meal it is easy to get the (wrong) impression that service in restaurants is quite poor and it is also common to see smaller local restaurants not even trading during our regular “lunch time”.
The reason behind this is that midday to about 2pm was traditionally the time for siesta. A break in the work day to refresh and in some cases avoid the extreme heat.
What this means is that to eat like a local, or with the locals expect to have your comida some time between 2pm and 4pm.
Comida is the Mexicans main meal of the day and usually consists of three courses including a soup (sopa) or salad (ensalada), main dish (guisado) and a dessert (postre). Tortillas and salsas are always on hand and a refreshing agua fresca (fruit flavored water).
One thing to be on the watch for is the Comida Corrida offered by many restaurants. This is a set three course menu usually offered at ridiculously cheap prices. Expect to see many offers for between 40 and 100 pesos.
Dinner – Cena
The final meal of the day can vary quite substantially for Mexicans. It can be as simple as some bread and a hot drink or as expansive as a full restaurant meal.
For a truly incredible example of where modern Mexican food is heading read about the 26 course tasting menu at Benazuza in Cancun.
The option you should definitely consider is trying a selection from the huge array of street vendors found throughout the country.
There is nothing better than cheap and delicious tacos, tortas, enchiladas and the rest of the range of local street food and then sitting back with the locals sharing stories and cervezas or margaritas.
This meal is usually taken between 7pm and 9pm but varies from region to region.
Snacks – Antojitos and Botanas
Want something to keep you going through the day? Plenty of quick and easy options are available from street vendors and market stalls.
Roasted peanuts, fresh corn on the cob, tortilla chips and salsa are readily available but for something a little different, and surprisingly good, why not try a bag of fresh chupalines?
Sounds interesting? These grasshoppers or crickets and fried, usually with lime and chili, and sold by the small bag in enormous numbers. The flavor of the spices is wonderful and the crunch is just like potato crisps. Give them a try next time.
What to Drink?
Beer (cerveza) is very popular in Mexico but contrary to popular belief don’t expect to see all the locals drinking Corona, that is just clever marketing to help make it the best selling exported beer.
You are more likely to be offered one of the growing number of craft beers but the choice is more to do with the region that the taste.
Tourists generally associate Mexico with cocktails, probably due to so many of the people pushing that opinion having stayed at All-inclusive Resorts.
The truth of the matter is that locals are far more likely to be drinking refreshing non-alcoholic fruit drinks than cocktails.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find an easily accessible supply of Margaritas, Pina Coladas and Mojitos.
The other obvious drink is Tequila. Arguably the drink most associated with Mexico. What a lot of people don’t know is that Tequila is a state in Mexico and only the spirits distilled in that state can be called Tequila. It is similar to the rule about Champagne and France.
In many parts of Mexico you are more likely to be offered Mezcal. In fact Tequila is a type of Mezcal and not the other way around. You will also only find a worm in Mezcal and not Tequila.
The worm is found on the blue agave plants that Mezcal is derived from. Stories vary as to the origin of this practice but most believe it was simply a marketing ploy to sell more Mezcal over the more popular Tequila in the USA.
Fun fact : the worm is often eaten as a snack even without having to down copious amounts of Mezcal or being dared by a companion or local.
A foodie’s paradise
Even if for some odd reason you are not interested in history, sightseeing or culture but just looking for an incredible food adventure then Mexico should still be at the top of your list.
So if you think the “Mexican” food you love back at home is great then you will be blown away once you are exposed to the freshness, color and flavors of the real thing.
No matter what your choice of filling, salsa, style of tortilla or level of service you are looking for there is no doubt that you haven’t really had Mexican food until you have eaten in Mexico.