Mexican Cuisine is known for its varied flavors, colorful decoration, and variety of spices and ingredients, many of which are native to the country. The cuisine of Mexico has evolved through the centuries through a blending of indigenous (used for thousands of years) and European elements since the 16th century.
Mexican food is popular throughout the world. But the kind you might be used to – tacos, nachos with guacamole, quesadillas, and enchiladas - is only a small part of this country's culinary repertoire. The fundamental Mexican food is based on corn, black beans and chillies, but due to the variety of cultures and communities in Mexico, each region is marked by a distinct aroma, taste and texture.
Due to their great gastronomic variety, the States of Puebla, Oaxaca and Yucatán stand out; however one must not forget the recipes from Bajío (central part of the country) or the cuisine of the border states.
In central Mexico you will find a blend of Aztec and Spanish food. Typical is the centuries old mole poblano, a thick, dark sauce made with dried chilli peppers, nuts, seeds, spices, Mexican chocolate, etc. Southern Mexico, with its variety of dried peppers and chillies, is famous for its savoury herbed stews and sauces. Seafood, garnished with tomatoes and herbs followed by strong coffee is the basic meal along the Pacific Coast. And in the Peninsula of Yucatán, dinner is likely to be a Mayan delicacy like cochinita pibil, which is pork meat cooked in banana leaves, served with the famous achiote-sauce.
Undoubtedly, an important part of the Mexican culture is its varied gastronomy. When Christopher Columbus in 1492 went out on his search for India and for the valuable black pepper, instead he found America, sparking off the conquest of countries which, like Mexico, opened the world to new culinary horizons with its universal donation of vanilla, chilli peppers, avocado, corn, tomato and chocolate, among others.
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The Mexican state of Yucatan, located on the peninsula of the same name, is the home of one of the most distinctive regional cuisines in the country. A long tradition of fine dining, going back to the ancient Maya and incorporating sophisticated European dishes, is very much in evidence in the cities, towns and villages scattered throughout this fertile area. Traveling in the Yucatan, one is constantly reminded of the people's unbroken culinary link with their ancestors.
The corn, beans, vegetables and fruit grown here are basically the same foodstuffs that were eaten five hundred years ago when the Spaniards explored the Yucatan, and had been consumed for at least another half a millennium before that.
When the Spaniards reached the shores of the Yucatan in 1517, the Maya met them with corn dough to make posolli. They also brought 'roasted fowl', which could have been one of a number of native species, including the turkey, muscovy duck, currasow and guan. The turkey, especially, was important in the world of ritual and, like corn, remains important today in ceremonies for curing, planting, and praying for rain. In our travels throughout Yucatan, we rarely encountered a restaurant which did not have at least one traditional turkey dish, sometimes replaced by chicken, on the menu.
The Maya were also known as great cultivators of fruit. Although the Europeans forced them to cut down their beloved orchards, the ability to grow magnificent fruit trees was not lost. Today tamarinds, plums, mamey, avocados and other tropical varieties flourished. The fruit drinks are so popular in the hot climate. Bitter oranges, with their strong influence on Yucatecan marinades and salsas, are found throughout the state.
Oaxacan cooking is incredibly labor intensive and there's this very real 'hands-on' quality in the preparation. In working so directly, so intimately with fresh, local ingredients the process is raised to a highly respected and satisfying craft
Not only has Oaxaca made significant contributions to the flavors of the world - especially with its extraordinary mole sauces: sharp, thick, sweetly complex, with top notes of smoke, sometimes clove and citrus and always undertones of dried-chile heat, but the Indians from Oaxaca invented two of the cooking utensils that are still essential in Mexican cooking: the molcajete the stone utensil used to crush and mix spices and the comal the metal utensil for heating and baking.
Speaking of the moles of Oaxaca - complex sauces often flavored with, among other things, sesame and other seeds, almonds, pecans, lemon juice, herbs, roasted peanuts, tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cinnamon sticks, cloves, oregano, sugar, chicken broth, chiles of every description (chilhuacle, pasilla, guajillo, etc.) - there is always one being served somewhere in the city.
Oaxaca is to Mexican food lovers and cooks perhaps what Florence is to art aficionados.
Central Mexican Cuisine is all the same but, due to its population and hugely food lovers paradise, the introduction is never enough, covering the bottom third of North America and made up of thirty-one states and one very large capital, Mexico is probably the best neighbor a food-lover could have, when you consider the natural bounty of this rich and varied country. That's no doubt what the Spaniards thought when they landed on the shores of the Yucatan in 1521, much to the dismay of the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec and other natives populating this vast stretch of land. Hernan Cortes and his crew set the stage for three centuries of Spanish rule which finally started to unravel in 1810.
Good ingredients certainly count for a lot, but the Mexicans are also gifted cooks and seem to know how to give a dish that extra zing that makes it special. A simple salsa Mexicana is taken to new heights with a touch of cilantro and lime, while a complex mole sauce is always heavenly thanks to over thirty carefully-chosen herbs and spices which are added in and left to slowly simmer in the pot. Whether it's humble tacos de pollo or a regal cochinita Pibil, the Mexican kitchen is filled with honest, flavorful food which is prepared in a host of interesting ways.