Having recently gone back to Mexico for two weeks at Christmas I was reminded of one of the reasons I fell in love with the country when I went for the first time two years ago; the food. During my stay I quickly reached the conclusion that anyone who hasn’t tried real, authentic Mexican food hasn’t lived. Forget about burritos, fajitas and chilli con carne, proper Mexican food is crazier and more varied than you could ever imagine. So, in no particular order, I bring you my top 10 reasons Mexican food is the best food EVER.
- Everything is fresh
Unlike the UK, in Mexico bakeries, greengrocers and butchers are still the norm, as opposed to mile long, plastic filled supermarkets. Obviously they also exist, as much as anywhere else, however what’s different is that they are generally less popular (and more expensive) than the above options. In my opinion, in this aspect the UK has a lot to learn. Here, there are bakeries on every other street, where you can literally watch them baking the bread, and it’s better, fresher and cheaper than anything you’ll find anywhere else!
What’s more, in Mexico old-style open markets are still big business; huge warehouse buildings with hundreds of individual stalls selling everything from dairy products, fruit and veg and meat to flowers, herbs and spices and craft work. Infinitely more fun than Walmart.
Mole truly is a wonderful thing, and in this context, not a small burrowing animal. There are infinite reasons as to why mole is so great. In essence, it’s a sauce with countless ingredients (chilli, tomatoes, herbs, spices, nuts, onion, garlic, sometimes even chocolate makes an appearance). It comes from Oaxaca, in the south of Mexico (famous for it’s 7 moles http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/08/15/the-7-moles-of-oaxaca/) and can be found in a variety of colours and intensities. It can be eaten with rice, tamales (see next point), enchiladas…the possibilities really are endless.
Tamales can be found in many Latin American countries, but, in my incredibly biased opinion, you simply can’t beat a Mexican tamal.
Tamales are usually eaten for breakfast. They are made from maize flour mixed with butter and whatever flavour your heart desires (lime and currants, strawberry, chicken and green salsa, beans, mole, literally, anything goes). This dough is then carefully wrapped in a maize leaf and steamed for about an hour – and it’s as simple as that!
- Street food
The huge variety of street food in Mexico really is incredible. You can find everything from tacos, quesadillas, gorditas and pambazos (google them) to esquites, elotes, churros and all kinds of fruits. Street food usually comes with fairly negative connotations and a niggling fear of food poisoning. It’s a last resort. However, Mexico is an exception to this rule; in Mexico street food is the cheapest and it’s often the best! What’s more, in Mexico it is all but impossible to be unable to locate food, since on almost every corner you are guaranteed to come across someone selling something yummy.
- Regional varieties
This is probably due to the size of Mexico in comparison to the UK (it is the 14th largest country in the world, after all), but something I really love about Mexican food is just how much it varies by region, and how certain foods can only be found in the region in which they are produced. For example, Toluca is known for its green chorizo (not sure why that was considered a good idea), fried grasshoppers are a Oaxacan delicacy and seafood is usually only eaten by the coast.
- You can eat chilli with EVERYTHING
This is no exaggeration. I have seen foods I previously thought impossible to be eaten with chilli being liberally sprinkled with the stuff. In Mexico, fruit is often covered in chilli, you can buy chilli sweets, and a Mexican michelada cubana is a drink involving beer, lime juice, clamato (clam and tomato juice), chilli and tabasco, with chilli sprinkled around the rim. Chilli crisps, chilli scrambled eggs, chilli icecream, chilli popcorn… You get the gist.
- But you don’t HAVE to
Mexican food is obviously well known for being incredibly hot, yet what people don’t realise is that there are a lot of dishes that aren’t inherently so, rather, you add the heat to them. For example, tacos are always served with a selection of salsas for you to add as much or as little as you like. On that note, Mexicans have an unhealthy obsession with something called salsa Valentina, a spicy chilli sauce used to drown all manner of snacks.
- If you want to, you can do it
This is more of a reflection on Mexican society than specifically on its cuisine, but one of the things that I most like about this country is the freedom (in certain aspects) that people have, and the enterprising attitude you are frequently met with here. For example, if you want to make your own ice cream and cycle round the neighbourhood selling it from a cooler box on your tricycle, there’s no one stopping you.
Tortillas are like the potato of Mexico. They are its staple. And, much like the potato, they can be consumed in an endless number of ways; filled with meat (tacos), rolled up and covered in sauce (enchiladas), cut up into nachos, fried and covered in sauce (chilaquiles), filled and fried (flautas). As well as this, they accompany most meals, essentially allowing you to make a rudimentary sandwich out of whatever you happen to be eating.
10. The variety of alcoholic beverages
Obviously, when you think of Mexico and alcohol, you inevitably think of tequila and corona. However, you would be sadly mistaken in thinking that Mexican cactus based spirits stop at a bottle of Jose Cuervo. Very wrong indeed. Mezcal is the name of another (equally horrible) spirit made from fermented agave. But, instead of being served with salt and lime, you often do shots of mezcal with a slice of orange and what can only be described as crushed worm salt (yum). In addition to Mezcal, Mexico is famous for its pulque. Whilst pulque is also made from cactus, unlike tequila and mezcal it has a cloudy appearance and, in my opinion (I’ve been loudly contradicted), is ever so slightly reminiscent of vinegar… Like most alcohols, after a few sips it’s not so bad, but it’s an acquired taste to say the least. It can, however, be found in a variety of flavours that help to make it rather enjoyable!
Tomato and peach flavour pulque