Everybody loves Mexican food because of its savory flavor and rich cultural history, and you probably want to try authentic dishes from a famous Mexican restaurant. Today, Americanized or modern versions of Mexican dishes exist. But what makes Mexican food authentic?
In this post, you’ll learn how to distinguish authentic Mexican food from mainstream dishes.
Step 1: Know the Food History
The diverse history of authentic Mexican food started with the native Aztec Indian tribes and was later on touched by Spain, France, and the United States of America. Native Mexican food contains ingredients that were original or available to the locals or native Mexicans.
Before the Spaniards arrived, meat was scarce. That’s why locals used what was available to the community, such as beans and corn. For protein sources, Mexicans relied on seafood from seaside communities. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, onions, garlic, wheat, cheese, chicken, and other spices were introduced. Eventually, the Mexican cuisine was influenced by the Spaniards, Europeans, Indians, and Chinese.
Here are the native ingredients of Mexican food before the Spanish influence:
- Corn: It’s still the primary source of grain for cooking native and authentic Mexican dishes, even with the presence of rice and wheat. Ground and dried corn or “masa” are used to make tortillas, tamales, soups, and beverages. That’s why corn tortilla is always a side dish in Mexico.
- Goat: One example of a Mexican dish is “birria,” which is usually made of goat meat that is served as a stew or used as a taco filling. It’s usually a part of celebrations, like weddings.
- Fish: The green Mexican ceviche or “cebiche” is a Mexican dish specially prepared with raw fish marinated in lime juice, tomatoes, and other fresh ingredients.
Step 2: Check the Ingredients
Mexican food is considered as the melting pot of cuisines, which started with the native flavors and foods of Mexico. Eventually, the native Mexicans incorporated these new ingredients into their indigenous dishes and improved Mexican cuisine. That’s why authentic Mexican food means a dish that was traditionally prepared (cooking method) in Mexico for many generations, precisely 50 years or more.
So, don’t be misled by restaurants claiming to sell “authentic Mexican food” because most are already Americanized or are Tex-Mex. While the ingredients mostly used were indigenous in Mexico, the food preparation may differ.
Here are the new food items that were incorporated into indigenous Mexican dishes:
- Chile Pepper: This food ingredient is indigenous to Mexico that has been part of Mexican cuisine for thousands of years. The different types of chiles include spicy jalapeno, the fiery serrano, and the aromatic ancho, which are key ingredients of classic Mexican dishes, like chiles rellenos. Chiles can be fresh, smoked, whole, powdered, or dried. Chiles bring the finest flavors of sauces, salsas, mole, and soups. Many Mexican dishes have sauces with some chile.
- Beans or Frijoles: These are widely used ingredients in the form of pinto beans, golden Peruvian, “flor de junio,” and black beans, as well as the Mexican pot beans or “frijoles de olla.”
- Avocado: The avocado tree is believed to have originated in Mexico. Avocado is the main ingredient in guacamole, and also a key ingredient in salsas, salads, and toppings for tacos.
- Tomatoes: In Mexican cooking, tomatoes and other vegetables play an important role. The main ingredient in salsas, fillings, and toppings for burritos and tacos are fresh, raw tomatoes. Canned or cooked tomatoes add flavor to salads, soups, and rice.
- Herbs: Oregano and cilantro are the two most common herbs used in Mexican cooking. Fresh cilantro brings a citrus essence to Mexican dishes, wherein the leaves are snipped and added to salsas and guacamole. Mexican oregano is somehow related to lemon verbena, which is used fresh or dried.
- Cheese: The different Mexican cheeses include queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, used in quesadillas and enchiladas. Cheese is usually sprinkled fresh over a dish. This ingredient is just a recent addition to the most-sought-after Mexican cuisine.
Step 3: Taste It
Authentic Mexican food has a rich and enchanting mix of color, texture, and flavor, and the presentation is just as important as the taste. You can describe a Mexican dish as savory, spicy, and flavorful. The ingredients and cooking methods used makes Mexican food authentic, such as grilling, frying, boiling, and steaming.
Mexican food has evolved with a wide array of ingredients and traditional Mexican food preparation, and it only means that the authentic flavors are brought upon by the spices used that are native to Mexico with the influence of other countries. The complex flavor of native Mexican food relies on heavy spices and chiles, creating the authentic Mexican taste.