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This is the searchable online international food dictionary with 61,500 terms in 302 languages plus 12,690 plurals.

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Mexican food and cuisine

Language: English

Description: Mexican cuisine is highly regarded by those with an understanding of it. Those with little understanding of it characterise it as consisting of tortillas, chillis, minced (US: ground) meat, chillis and tomatoes. Oh. And chillis. My own view, very unpopular, is that the predominant flavour is not chilli but the ubiquitous masa harina, corn flour slaked with lime, which is used in the breads and to bind and thicken sauces. It is in everything and, to my palate, has a penetrating flavour which overtakes every other in deeply complex moles, in crisp or soft tortillas, in cocidos and tamales.

Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519 Mexico was under the rule of the mighty Aztec empire. The newly arrived Spaniards found the diet of the common people to be dominated by corn-based dishes with chillis and beans with little or no access to meat. Animals hunted in the jungles were consumed mainly by the ruling classes and might have included snakes, spider monkeys, iguana and deer. The invaders began to import more familiar foods from Spain, including rice and meats, particularly beef cattle, their favourite pigs, chickens and such flavourings as onions and garlic, and staples like wheat, though they also brought smallpox and measles. Many Galicians settled as part of this occupation and brought some of their dishes with them to remind them of home. Those returning to Spain reciprocated by taking back to Europe ‘exotic’ foods such as tomatoes. Amazing to think of Europe without tomatoes. But this was by no means all. Chocolate arrived in Spain from Mexico, as did vanilla, beans of all kinds, maize, squashes and turkeys to mention a few. Less of a surprise is that papayas and pineapples, avocadoes, peanuts and sweet potatoes also originated in this part of the world.

Strangely, despite the introduction of many foods by the Spanish, the indigenous diet remained relatively unchanged, with the addition of minced (US: ground) meats and cheeses to many pre-existing dishes but otherwise retaining the very distinctive flavour of earlier times, including that of masa harina!

The climate and terrain of Mexico vary enormously from region to region and these are inhabited by many differing ethnic groups. These factors affect the cuisine, as do the various occupations and differing histories. Clearly the Spanish influence is great. The Caribbean has had some influence on the cuisines of Veracruz and Yucatán and there is some suggestion that the brief occupation of Mexico by the French may have resulted in the introduction of one or two dishes, the bollilo among them. Beef cattle thrive in the north of the country while the southern areas are less conducive to cattle rearing, so chicken dominates the cuisine. Coastal regions provide fish.

Mexican cuisine has combined with the cuisine of the south western United States, particularly Texas, to form Tex-Mex cuisine.

Mexican food and cuisine
The spectacular Monte Alban in Oaxaca Province in Mexico

Ethnicity: Mexican
Most frequent country: Mexico

See places: Spanish food and cuisine, Northern Mexico

See foods and dishes: albóndigas, arroz con pollo, ate, atole, barbacoa, birria, burrito, cajeta, caldo de queso, camote(s), capirotada, carnitas, champurrado, chapulines, chicarrones, chocolate, cocido, comida prehispanica, empanada, enchilada, frijoles, guacamole, hoja santa, jícama, machaca, menudo, molcajete, mole, morongas, nopal, plátano, Queso añejo, Queso Oaxaca, tlacoyo, tlayuda, totopo, tuna, uchepo

See drinks, wines etc: agua de jamaica, mezcal, tequila

Feel free to e-mail us if there are any additions, changes or corrections that you'd like to see.

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Database last updated: 21 June 2011 12:23