The Best 10 Traditional Mexican Dishes
Mexican food is vibrant, colorful and utterly delicious. Here are 10 traditional Mexican food specialties you just can’t miss.
There’s no doubt Mexican food is one of the most attractive worldwide, but it’s much more varied than you think. There are endless dishes in Mexico’s repertoire, and they’re all worth getting to know.
Here are 10 traditional Mexican foods you just don’t want to miss, worthy ambassadors for the spicy cuisine. What’s your favorite Mexican food?
What Is Traditional Mexican Food?
Mexican food is a complex and sophisticated cuisine that borrows ingredients and cooking techniques from the native civilizations of Mexico and Europe’s finest. Mexican food is a merger of flavor and traditions, and no, it’s not always spicy! Unless you want it to be!
Food in Mexico is also highly regional — you won’t find the same thing on the coast as in the mountains, up north or down under the tropical sun. Having said that, some Mexican foods are as popular in the country as they are worldwide. Here are some of the most popular Mexican dishes. What is yours?
1. Basket Tacos
Tacos are the most significant Mexican food. Still, there are dozens, if not hundreds of them in the country. You can literally top a tortilla with anything, from scrambled eggs to cactus leaves, and call it a taco.
However, some tacos are more popular than others, and some are a specialty only enjoyed in the morning. Meet the basket or “canasta” tacos, a Mexican breakfast specialty.
You’ll find these inexpensive tacos sold from the back of a bicycle; they’re tightly packed in a hand-woven basket. Favored by people running late for work and students, basket tacos come with various fillings, including beans, mashed potatoes, pressed pork rind and a few other delights.
Enchiladas are basically tacos you eat with a fork and knife. We’re talking about soft corn tortillas filled with anything, more commonly shredded chicken, and bathed in a sauce.
It’s the sauce that gives enchiladas their name. Red enchiladas are bathed in a tomato-based sauce, green enchiladas with a green tomato sauce. Bean enchiladas are covered in a runny bean sauce, and mole enchiladas come with the most vibrant mole sauce.
Top enchiladas with sliced onion, grated cheese and drizzled sour cream. Enchiladas are as beautiful as they are filling!
3. Pastor Tacos
There are dozens of tacos in Mexico, one for every time and occasion. As the sun comes down, the king of tacos is the pastor or shepherd-style tacos. The pork for the bright red meat that makes these tacos unique is marinated in adobo, staked in a skewer and char-grilled in a vertical broiler.
Once the meat is cooked, an expert taco man slices it thinly and lays it on a tortilla. Grilled pineapple, cilantro and diced onion do the rest. Of course, you can’t forget about the spicy salsa!
Tortas are Mexico’s take on sandwiches or subs. Football-shaped baguette-like bread is the base of any torta — these are called “bolillos” and “teleras.”
Slice one of these and make a torta your way. It all starts with a mashed refried bean spread, but the rest is up to your imagination. Scrambled eggs, hot dogs, chicken cutlets, chorizo sausages, slow-roasted pork leg or just ham and cheese. These are all popular torta fillings.
Finally, top your torta with tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, onions and avocado slices. This is a lunch to keep you satisfied all day!
5. Taquito (Flautas)
Flautas are a unique type of taco; their name means flute, and it’s understandable. Tortilla is stuffed with shredded chicken and tightly rolled into a flute. They’re then deep-fried until crispy.
We’re not done yet. Flautas are commonly served on a plate drizzled with sour cream, sprinkled with queso fresco, shredded lettuce and salsa. This is a messy business, but flautas are delicious! You can eat half a dozen of these crispy tacos, and trust us, when the time comes, you will.
6. Chicken and Mole
There are dozens of types of moles in Mexico. The word mole is sauce in the native tongue, and these sauces are so complex they can contain up to 100 ingredients!
Moles can contain dried chili peppers, tomatoes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and even chocolate. When served with chicken, you get a memorable meal fit for the finest long-tablecloth dinners. Just be careful; mole stains are famously hard to remove!
Pozole is one of the most wholesome and satisfying broths on the Mexican menu. The dish goes back to the ancient Aztecs, and its main ingredient is hominy.
Pozole can be made with either chicken or pork broth. Hominy and shredded meat are a given, but people customize their bowls with a wide variety of toppings. Shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, oregano, lime juice and tortilla chips are always laid on the table for grabs. Every country has its own collection of soups, but none look like the versatile pozole.
Barbacoa shares similarities with American barbecue, but it's entirely different. This traditional dish consists of a whole-roasted sheep cooked underground in a pit oven overnight. As the goat meat cooks to fork-tender perfection, its rich juices fall in a pot to become a spectacular broth.
Once the barbacoa is ready, skilled cooks butcher the meat to make the heartiest tacos in the Mexican repertoire. These are particularly good with salsa “borracha” or drunken sauce, made with fermented agave sap or pulque.
Cochinita is a wholesome specialty in Mexico’s northeastern Yucatan Peninsula. This authentic feast is available on Sundays and every celebration. Cochinita is pit-oven whole pork, chopped finely to get the juiciest meat in the region. The pork is first marinated in a hearty adobo, which gives cochinita its bright red color.
What to do with cochinita? Tacos, of course, topped with cured red onion and habanero sauce. Habaneros are amongst the spiciest hot peppers on earth, but the sauce is always optional.
If you thought corn masa dough was only good for making tortillas, you’re in for a treat! You can also make gorditas with masa.
Gorditas, meaning “little fat ones,” are hand-shaped corn dumplings cooked in a griddle. The dough is often mixed with pressed pork rinds or another type of meat. Once the gorditas are fully cooked, slice them half-open and fill them with fresh cheese, onion, cilantro and salsa. How’s that for a Mexican feast?
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