National Dish of the Week – Mexico

August 3, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Posted in Food | 8 Comments
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Mexican cuisine is a style of food that originates in Mexico. It is known for its varied flavors, colorful decoration, and variety of spices and ingredients, many of which are native to the country. The cuisine of Mexico has evolved through the centuries through a blending of indigenous and European elements since the 16th century. In November 2010 Mexican cuisine was added by UNESCO to its lists of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage”

The staples of Mexican cuisine are typically corn and beans. Corn is used to make masa, a dough for tamales, tortillas, gorditas, and many other corn-based foods. Corn is also eaten fresh, as corn on the cob and as a component of a number of dishes. Squash and peppers are also prominent in Mexican cuisine.

Chile Rellenos

The most frequently used herbs and spices in Mexican cuisine are chilli powder, oregano, cilantro, epazote, cinnamon, and cocoa.

Chipotle, a smoke-dried jalapeño chilli, is also common in Mexican cuisine. Many Mexican dishes also contain garlic and onions.

Next to corn, rice is the most common grain in Mexican cuisine. According to food writer Karen Hursh Graber, the initial introduction of rice to Spain from North Africa in the 4th century led to the Spanish introduction of rice into Mexico at the port of Veracruz in the 1520s. This, Graber says, created one of the earliest instances of the world’s greatest fusion cuisines.

Beer in Mexico has a long history. While Mesoamerican cultures knew of fermented alcoholic beverages, including a corn beer, long before the Spanish conquest, European style beer brewed with barley was introduced with the Spanish soon after Hernán Cortés arrival. The arrival of German immigrants and the short-lived empire of Austrian Maximilian I in the 19th century provided the impetus for the opening of many breweries in various parts of the country. Two corporations, Grupo Modelo and FEMSA control 90% of the Mexican beer market. This industry is one of the most prevalent in the country, with over 63% of the population buying one brand or another. Beer is also a major export for the country, with most going to the United States, but is available in over 150 countries in the world

When conquistadores arrived in the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), they found that the people’s diet consisted largely of corn-based dishes with chiles and herbs, usually complemented with beans and tomatoes or nopales. The diet of the indigenous peoples of pre-Columbian Mexico also included chocolate, vanilla, tomatillos, avocado, guava, papaya, sapote, mamey, pineapple, soursop, jicama, squash, sweet potato, bell peppers, peanuts, agave, chili peppers, chicle, sunflower seeds, achiote, huitlacoche, turkey, and fish. In the 1520s, while Spanish conquistadors were invading Mexico, they introduced a variety of animals, including cattle, chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs. Rice, wheat, and barley were also introduced as were olive oil, wine, almonds, parsley, and many spices. The imported Spanish cuisine was eventually incorporated into the indigenous cuisine.

Chocolate played an important part in the history of Mexican cuisine. The word “chocolate” originates in Mexico’s Aztec cuisine, derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl. Chocolate was first drunk rather than eaten. It was used as currency and for religious rituals. In the past, the Maya civilization grew cacao trees and used the cacao seeds it produced to make a frothy, bitter drink. The drink, called xocoatl, was often flavored with vanilla, chili pepper, and achiote (also known as annatto). Chocolate was also an important luxury good throughout pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and cacao beans were often used as currency. For example, the Aztecsused a system in

Piñon Mole (sauce)

which one turkey cost one hundred cacao beans and one fresh avocado was worth three beans; and all of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a “tribute”. Today chocolate is used in a wide array of Mexican foods, from savory dishes such as mole to traditional Mexican style hot chocolate and champurrados, both of which are prepared with a molinillo.

Mexican food varies by region because of Mexico’s large size, local climate and geography, ethnic differences among the indigenous inhabitants and because these different populations were influenced by the Spaniards in varying degrees.[citation needed] The north of Mexico is known for its beef, goat and ostrich production and meat dishes, in particular the well-known arrachera cut. The staples of Mexican cuisine are typically corn and beans. Corn is used to make masa, a dough for tamales, tortillas, gorditas, and many other corn-based foods. Corn is also eaten fresh, as corn on the cob and as a component of a number of dishes. Squash and peppers also prominent in Mexican cuisine. Honey is an important ingredient in many Mexican dishes, such as the rosca de miel, a bundt-like cake, and in beverages such as balché.

The Spanish brought dairy animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats as well as cheese making techniques. Over the colonial period, cheese making was modified to suit the mixed European indigenous tastes of Mexicans, varying by region. This blending and variations have given rise to a number of varieties of Mexican cheeses. These are most popular in the country although European cheeses are made as well. Most cheeses are made with raw (unpasteurized) milk, which has caused some health issues. Cheeses are made in the home, on small farms or ranches, and by major dairy product firms such as Chilchota Alimentos and Grupo Lala. There are somewhere between twenty and forty different varieties of cheese in Mexico, depending on how one classifies. Some, such as Oaxaca and panela, are made all over Mexico, but many are regional cheeses known only in certain sections on the country.

Mexico’s six regions differ greatly in their cuisines. In the Yucatán, for example, a unique, natural sweetness (instead of spiciness) exists in the widely used local produce along with significant use of achiote seasoning. In contrast, the Oaxacan region is known for its savory tamales, celebratory moles, and simple tlayudas, while the mountainous regions of the West (Jalisco, etc.) are known for goat birria (goat in a spicy tomato-based sauce).

Central Mexico‘s cuisine is largely influenced by the rest of the country, but has unique and tasty dishes such as pozole, menudo, barbacoa and carnitas.

Southeastern Mexico is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based dishes. The cuisine of Southeastern Mexico has a considerable Caribbean influence due to its location. Seafood is commonly prepared in states that border the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, the latter having a famous reputation for its fish dishes, à la veracruzana. According to the book “Mexico One Plate At A Time,” even though the dish ceviche has been a part of traditional Mexican coastal cuisine for centuries, ceviche is not a dish native to Mexico. Despite this, Mexican ceviche has developed its own distinct styles that make it unique from the other variations available. The origin of ceviche is disputed but its a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of the Americas.

Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word “tequila”

In pueblos or villages, there are also more exotic dishes, cooked in the Aztec or Mayan style (known as comida prehispánica) with ingredients ranging from iguana to rattlesnake, deer, spider monkey, chapulines, ant eggs, and other kinds of insects.

Recently other cuisines of the world have acquired popularity in Mexico, thus adopting a Mexican fusion. For example, sushi in Mexico is often made with a variety of sauces based on mango or tamarind, and very often served with serrano-chili-blended soy sauce, or complimented with habanero and chipotle peppers.

Immigration of Middle Easterns, Africans, Asians, and Europeans in Mexico has influenced Mexican culture. For example, Spanish rice, Dates, Tacos Árabes and Dolma have their origins in Arab cuisine.

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