The mention of Mexican cuisine floods our imagination with tacos, nachos, burritos and guacamole dips. Real pleasures from a Mexican kitchen are mouth-watering carnitas (braised pork), regional variations of the spicy mole sauce, corn-based tortillas and more.
Though Mexican food is easily available as fast food chains around the world, a lot of these dishes are comfort food for the locals here. It is difficult to replicate authentic flavours that you find while you dine in Mexico. Here is a list of Mexican dishes to try which the locals swear by.
Palm sized freshly toasted corn tortillas neatly folded along the centre is filled with succulent pieces of chicken, pork, beef or fish. Along with it are slices of avocado, raw onions and topped with cilantro. Last but not the least is the addition of red spicy sauce and lemon juice freshly squeezed for the final touch. Do not forget to try the tacos de nopales having cooked cactus pads minus the prickly spines as filling.
A plate of savoury delight where three to four tortillas with a meat centre is neatly laid on a plate. Liberal amounts of salsa verde or salsa rojo poured over the tortillas pack a flavourful punch. Shredded queso as garnish melt on top of the warm tortillas. Other toppings include beans, avocado, olives, lettuce, chilli peppers and cilantro, of course.
Chiles en nogada
Though available throughout the year, this classic Mexican dish was once upon a time seasonal. The red colour from the pomegranate seeds, the white from the milky walnut sauce and the green from chiles poblanos represent the colours of the Mexican flag. Considered a patriotic recipe, the dish from Puebla consists of roasted chiles poblanos (large green chilli pepper) which are hollowed out. The roasted chile poblano is filled with picadillo which includes a copious mixture of shredded meat, spices, dry fruits and fresh fruits like apple, pear, and peaches. The final dressing is a rich walnut sauce, nuts, cream cheese, and cream. You have to try this dish before you board your return flight!
Lovers of cheese must indulge in this cheesy delight. Each bite from the warm tortilla promises creamy goodness. They are sometimes stuffed with meat, beans or mushrooms.
This humble dish whets a Mexican’s appetite like none other. Dating to pre-Hispanic times, tamales are made from dried corn mixed with lime and water. This mixture is then ground and beaten with lard or other fat into a thick, smooth masa (dough). Filled with sauce and a bit of meat or vegetable, tamales are wrapped in dried corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. The rising steam from the tamalera (steamer) fills the kitchen and street corners with the aroma of fresh tamales.
A slow-cooked spicy stew is traditionally made from goat meat or mutton, occasionally from beef or chicken. It is cooked 12 to 14 hours in a clay oven. You can request for maciza (chunks of meat) or surtido (an assortment of meats, including the goat’s tongue, lips, and goat intestines). The dish is so tasty and filling that you will waddle out of the restaurant after devouring this heavy meal.
The thick, rich, pork, chili pepper and corn soup is the pozole. It is usually cooked with pork meat especially the head of the pork. It is also made from pork shoulder or pork neck bones boiled over long hours. The meat from the cheek of the pork head is sliced and offered in a bowl along with floating hominies, which are nothing but alkali treated and dried maize kernels.
Best had on a rainy day or when you are strolling down a street exploring the neighbourhood. This dish belongs to the category of antojito, which are snacks eaten as a filler during the day between meals to fulfil your cravings. Steamed corn kernels are sautéed in butter with onions, chopped chili pepper, epazote herb, and salt. It is served hot in a cup and topped with squeezed lime juice and mayonnaise.
An innovative snack from the antojito collection of Mexican streets are dorilocos. This is a Doritos based snack where street vendors rip open a packet of these crispy chips. Add chopped vegetables of your choice, cueritos (pickled pig skin), roasted peanuts, chamoy (a sweet-sour condiment) and of course, hot sauce and a generous squirt of lime. Sometimes, the dish is taken a step ahead and gummy bears are added to give a sugar rush to this spicy snack.
Teeming with a healthy doze of carbs and proteins, chilaquiles are perfect for breakfast or lunch. Locals at home usually reinvent leftover tortillas from last night into a fresh meal for the next day. Lightly spiced meat or fried eggs are served atop a bed of chopped tortillas. This is bathed in tomato sauce and sprinkled with crumbles of white cheese.
‘Drowned’ sandwich from Guadalajara soaking in a sea of spicy sauce. A special kind of bread called birrote salado is split along the side deep enough to stuff it with lean chopped pork, chicken, beans or cheese. The sandwich is then thoroughly drenched with tomato sauce and salsa picante, and topped with thinly sliced pickled onions. Food stalls in fairs and football stadiums selling tortas ahogadas usually have a long line of people waiting which indicates that this is fav among the locals.
Fried grasshoppers seasoned with garlic or chili with a gentle squeeze of lemon taste really delicious. They are crispy and lend a tangy taste. It is a seasonal dish available between early May through the late summer/early autumn.
Mexican food is so tantalizing that it will deter you from trying other cuisines when you are traveling across this great nation. If you are a neophyte in the world of Mexican cuisine, hope these dishes help you navigate through their extensive menu at a restaurant, taqueria or even a birriería. Provecho!