A SMART WAY TO TRAVEL
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With its magnificent Yucatan jungles, white-sand Riviera Maya beaches, and the surrounding mystery of the Mayan Ruins, there’s no doubt of the grandeur of Mexico as a top travel destination. But there’s one thing that besides the above mentioned is the golden seal to a truly unique visit: Mexican food.
With its blends of spices, odors, varieties, and coloring, Mexican food holds a true fascination. This delightful cuisine is the fastest growing ethnic food category in the U.S., second only to Asian food. Mexico introduced the world to corn, tomato, cocoa (chocolate), and Chile—spices. What most people have come to know as Mexican food outside of Mexico can be boiled down to tacos, burritos, nachos, and quesadillas.
But there is a wider range of dishes that are staples in traditional Mexican cuisine and of course a must when you visit Mexico.
This soup-like or stew Mexican dish comes in many varieties depending on the region that it comes from, but the basic ingredients include corn kernels and pork or chicken simmered in a tasty broth. The peculiarity and secret of the dish can be found in the type of corn. This large corn called Cacahuacintle is pre-cooked in a light mixture of water and calcium oxide. Once the pre-cook corn is ready, they are washed and cooked in a broth-water solution once again. Once the corn has “exploded,” the meat is added to the pot. Here is where the variations come in. In some parts of the country, a red chili sauce is added along with the meat. Some other recipes add the sauce later, once it is on the plate. Once it is served, some condiments that are placed on the table to add to the dish include: lettuce, onion, oregano, lime juice, and chili powder or sauce. Corn was considered to be a sacred plant; therefore Pozole was served in special or religious occasions. In pre-Columbian times, the recipe consisted of dog meat. This dog called Xoloitzcuintle was bred only as a source of meat and during religious ceremonies, the dog meat was replaced by human meat. Fortunately, some traditions are left behind and now the tasty dish is just made with either pork or chicken.
The Yucatan Peninsula is traditionally credited with being the originators of this next traditional Mexican food. However, scholars have claimed that this delicious dish originated from the mestizo Maya. Pibil is a method of cooking meat. The word pib in Mayan means buried. The traditional way to cook Cochinita Pibil was to bury the meat in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast it. This method of cooking is hardly ever used, even though the name remains. The meat is marinated in strongly acidic citrus juice, coloring it with annatto seeds. The meat is wrapped in banana leafs and slow-roasted. The slow cooking time tenderizes the meat. The key to the recipe is the use of juices of Seville or bitter oranges. The annatto gives the meat its distinctive color and adds to the flavor. The most common Chile used as seasoning is Chile habanero which is very common in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is traditionally accompanied with white rice, black beans and corn tortillas or bread.
With more than 10 varieties, this traditional Mexican dish comes in a variety of colors and taste. Despite the differences in the making, the mole dish is one of the most traditional Mexican dishes in the country. Its bases are a chili powder (Chile) and chocolate sauce served over meat. The exquisite blend of spice and sweet makes for a truly unique sensation. The most common and better-known mole is mole poblano, originating in the city of Puebla. With an average of 20 ingredients, it can include dry chili peppers, almonds, chocolate, and spices to taste. This mix of unique flavors produces a sweet sauce with a very subtle touch of spice. Also very common and known is the mole from the state of Oaxaca, mole negro, or black mole that includes over 30 ingredients. There is also red mole, yellow mole, and green mole. The ingredients are roasted, grounded into a fine powder and mixed with water—resulting in a thick sauce. The word “mole” comes from the Nahuatl mulli or molli meaning sauce or concoction. Although the mixes have evolved over time from the original Mesoamerican mulli, one thing has remained the same: the consistency and the use of chili powder.
With 32 states extending from the Mexico-U.S. border to the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, the diversity in Mexico’s culinary experience is often difficult to pin-point in a few words. And even though we invite you to try these three new Mexican dishes, when visiting Mexico don’t forget to eat a hefty plate of delicious Mexican tacos.
About the Author
Pamela Acosta is a Mexican travel photographer and writer for Yucatan Holidays. She is seeking to travel (and eat) throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, Riviera Maya & Cancun in an attempt to capture beauty and wonder in words & pixels. Follow Pamela on Twitter.