Sample staples like tortillas, beans and chili peppers – found in all shapes and sizes, and in most dishes. Delicious too are the Antojitos – literally ‘little whimsies’ – the hundreds of treats that characterise Mexican street foods. Mexico is also famous for its alcoholic beverages – mezcal and tequila in particular. Home of chocolate, vanilla and exquisitely shaped confectionery, the country is truly a sweet lover’s delight. Or you can really test your limits by ordering a snack of chapulines – fried grasshoppers to the uneducated! Be aware of the drinking water though, and stick to bottled.
The food of southern Mexico varies across the region. Yucatán cuisine for example is distinctly different from that of Chiapas, Oaxaca, or other states. Coastal regions on both the Pacific and on the Caribbean and Gulf coasts feature fresh seafood and local produce.
Chili peppers are a common ingredient, with many different types being grown across Mexico. Other products that grow in southern Mexico include corn, cacao, coffee, and various fruits and vegetables such as banana, plantain, squash, achiote, yucca, fresh herbs, and more. Corn tortillas are prepared fresh daily and are served with nearly every meal.
One of Mexico’s most famous dishes is mole, a complex sauce (or dish with the same name) consisting of many ingredients and with many regional and intra-regional variations. Some of the best mole can be found in Oaxaca, where at least seven different types of mole are made. Some of the most popular are mole negro (made with chocolate and chili peppers), mole coloradito and mole poblano. Mole is also used as a concentrate to give other dishes more complexity.
Mezcal is distilled liquor made from the maguey plant (a type of agave) that grows in the region. The liquor is distilled elsewhere in Mexico as well though it is most closely tied to Oaxaca, and is an excellent accompaniment to the local food.
An interesting dish in Oaxaca is squash vine soup with chochoyones (corn dumplings), which is made with fresh zucchini, corn, and broth, as well as the blossoms, vine, and leaves of the squash.
For fiestas and special occasions a hearty soup such as caldo mixe may be prepared, using chili peppers, vegetables, and several different kinds of meat.
The food of the Yucatán is widely celebrated. It is uniquely characterized by not only Mayan traditions and locally grown products, but also Caribbean, Cuban, French, and Spanish influences.
Some interesting Yucatán dishes include lobster in coconut milk, shrimp with garlic and citrus, and many different types of tacos and other street foods featuring regional ingredients with a distinctly Yucatán flair.
Coffee is grown widely in Chiapas, and it is possible to visit a plantation in the highlands to learn about and taste the local coffee. The main city of Chiapas, San Cristobal, has many dining options and is well known for its baking traditions and regional dishes. An interesting item from San Cristobal is Sopa de Pan de San Cristobal (San Cristobal style bread soup). The cuisine of Chiapas incorporates a blend of Spanish and Mayan influences.
Pipian sauce (served with meat such as pork) is made from pumpkin seeds, chili peppers and vegetables, and is delicious. Mole is also popular in Chiapas, and seafood is featured in coastal areas.
Sea food is, of course, the main staple around the waters of Baja California, but it not as abundant as you may think as much of it ends up being quickly packaged and exported.
Fish taco is the staple in Baja fast food and comes in several different varieties, all served in a taco shell. It is said the original recipe came from a Japanese fisherman.
Many restaurants will claim their fish tacos is the authentic product, but like a hot dog you’re better off with a roadside stall than at a sit down restaurant where the fish is fresh and prepared in front of you. The taco is served as battered fish in a hot corn or wheat tortilla. At a roadside stall many different salsas are on offer – red chilli, radishes, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, Mexican crema.
Making your own fish taco is quite simple. Use any white fish, as long as the flavour isn’t too overpowering. Squeeze the fish fillets with lime until they are soaked. Make batter using eggs, flour and seasoning. Dip the marinated fish thoroughly in batter then deep fry the fish in a wok using 1 – 2 inches of vegetable or olive oil and deep fry the fish hot for about three minutes until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve on tortillas with fresh salsas.
Cahuama was a green sea turtle, which has now been replaced with Manta Ray fish in making Cahuamanta a chunky stew, either fresh or salted. It is served in small tacos with shredded cabbage, lemon and salsa. The stew is also sold in bowls with meat or as a broth. The taco version will cost you around 3 or 4 pesos.
Cóctel de Camarónes
Cóctel de Camarónes , or prawn cocktail, is a delicious saucy cocktail salad. Although often made with prawns, they are also often found with abalone, oysters or other seafoods, ‘mariscos’ in Spanish. A cocktail will contain tomato, onions, and cucumber plus a spicy salsa and are usually inexpensive.
Delicious tostadas are a crispy corn tortilla covered in mayonnaise and piled high with crab meat, shrimp, or ceviche (raw fish mixed with salsa and soaked in lime juice) and garnished with salsa, onions, chilis and lemon.
Puerto Nueva Spiny Lobster
This ‘marisco’ is found in eateries along Rosarito’s beaches in the northern Baja state. The ambient conditions make for sweet, meaty and juicy lobsters that will leave you hooked.
After all the spicy Mexican salsa and chillis combined with lashings of tequila and margaritas, it’s important to replenish your body with a good breakfast such as Machaca con Huevos – a scramble of eggs, chives, potatoes, and dried shredded beef with a good dose of chili peppers. As delicious as it is nutrtitious!