Local Food in Mexico

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Food and Drink in Mexico

Mexican cuisine can be described better as a collection of various regional cuisines rather than a standard list of dishes for the whole country. Because of climate, geography and ethnic differences, we can classify Mexican cuisine broadly in 4 great categories according to the region:

  • Northern - Mostly meat dishes done mainly from beef and goat. This includes Cabrito, Carne Asada (Barbecue) and Arrachera. Is influenced by international cuisine (mostly from the United States and Europe), but it retains the essential Mexican flavor.
  • Central - This region is influenced by the rest of the country, but has its own well-developed local flavor in dishes such as Pozole, Menudo and Carnitas. Dishes are mostly corn-based and with different spices.
  • Southeastern - Is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based dishes. Caribbean cuisine have influences here because of the location.
  • Coast - Is composed heavily with seafood and fish, but corn-based recipes can be easily found as well.

Ask for the "platillo tipico" of the town, which is the local speciality that may not be found elsewhere, a variation, or the birthplace of a recipe, also consider that most of the recipes change from place to place, like tamales, in the south are made with the banana plant leaves, and in the Huasteca region tamales are very big, one is OK for a complete family.

Traditional Mexican food can often be very spicy; if you are not used to peppers, always ask if your food includes it. "(¿Esto tiene chile? Es picante?)."

There are many food carts on the streets of Mexican cities and towns. Travelers are advised to eat from these carts with caution, as hygienic preparation practices are not always reliable. In doing so, you may (or may not) find some of the most unique and genuinely Mexican dishes you've ever had. From these vendors, you may find tacos, burgers, bread, roasted field corn or elote served with mayonnaise, or a light cream, and sprinkled with fresh white cheese, roasted sweet potato called camote, and almost any kind of food and service you would imagine.

  • Chicharrón - Deep fried pork skin. Quite crunchy and if well-prepared slightly oily. Heavenly spread with guacamole. Or sometimes cooked in a mild chili sauce and served with eggs.
  • Enchiladas - Chicken or meat stuffed soft tortillas covered with green, red or mole sauce. Some may have melted cheese inside and/or on top.
  • Tacos - Soft corn tortillas filled with meat (asada (steak strips), pollo (shredded chicken), carnitas (fried shredded pork), lengua (tongue), cabeza (meat from cow skull), sesos (cow brains), tripa (cow gut), or pastor (chili pork beef). In the north sometimes flour tortillas are used. Do not expect the crispy taco shell anywhere.
  • Tamales - corn dough shell with meat or vegetable fillings. Tamales Dulces contain fruit and/or nuts.
  • Tortas - Fancy Mexican sandwich. Bread roll that is grilled lightly, meat fillings are same as tacos, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, beans, onion, mayonnaise and avocado. One is beginning to find tortas with the American styled cold cuts available, as well, in urban areas.
  • Quesadillas - Cheese or other ingredients grilled in between corn tortillas. Note: heavy on cheese and and lighter on other items such as chicken, pork, beans, squash flower blossoms and such.
  • Mole - Mild to medium chili based sauce made with cocoa and a hint of peanut over meat, usually served with shredded chicken or turkey. ('Pollo en mole' and this is known as Puebla or poblano style). There are many regional moles and some are green, yellow, black and can vary greatly in flavor depending on the artistic talent or preferences involved.
  • Pozole - Chicken or pork broth with hominy corn, spiced when served with oregano, lettuce, lemon juice, radish, chopped onion, dried ground chile and other ingredients such as chicken, pork, or even seafood, usually served with a side dish of tostadas, fried potato and fresh cheese tacos. Very fortifying.
  • Gorditas - corn patty stuffed with chicharron, chicken, cheese, etc. topped with cream, cheese and hot sauce.
  • Guacamole - crushed avocado sauce with green serrano chile, chopped red tomato and onion, lime juice, salt, and served with somewhat thick (1/8 inch)fried tortilla slices or "totopos".
  • Tostadas - fried flat tortilla topped with fried beans, lettuce, cream, fresh cheese, sliced red tomato and onion, hot sauce, and chicken or other main ingredient. Think a corn chip dippers, on low dose steroids, for salsas and as above. Note that you do not usually get a plate of this automatically in many parts of Mexico as you would in the US, although they are starting to show up in resort areas that cater to US nationals automatically.
  • Huaraches - a bigger (think shoe shaped) version a gordita.
  • Sopes - corn patty topped with a wide variety of ingredients such as chicken, cheese, mashed beans, and various hot sauces.
  • Carnitas - deep fried pork meat served with a variety of salsa", to get them dry with less grease.
  • Chile en nogada - A big green Poblano chile with a beef or pork apple stuffing, covered with a white nut (usually walnut, known as nuez) sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds which happen to be red. The three colors represent the national flag and the dish is served nationwide around Mexican Independence Day 16th September.
  • Barbacoa - Sheep or goat meat cooked with maguey leaves in a oven made at a hole in the ground. Think BBQ heaven without the hickory smoke or catsup based BBQ sauce. Served with condiments and salsas in corn tortilas and sometimes in a torta bread roll.
  • Sopa de Tortilla - tortilla chips soup usually of chicken broth, plain or with a touch of tomato flavor, and usually mild and not at all hot. Commonly served with diced avocado and fresh crumbled white cheese on top.
  • Chilaquiles - tortilla chips with a green tomatillo, or red tomato, or mild chili sauce, usually served with chicken or eggs on top or within. Usually a mild dish.
  • Migas - is a typical dish in the center of the country which is a guajillo chile broth with soaked bread, which you can add the pork bones with meat or eggs.

You can measure the quality of food by popularity, do not eat on lonely places, even if they are restaurants or hotels. Consider that Mexicans eat their main meal in the middle of the afternoon (around 3 o'clock), with breakfast or "almuerzo", a mid-morning affair after a very light something, like a small plate of fruit or a roll with coffee, in the very early morning. Although, many mexicans have large breakfasts in the morning. Later, at night the meal varies from very light, such as commonly sweet rolls or breads, coffee or hot chocolate, to heavy dinner, such as pozole, tacos, tamales, etc. Schedule your meals accordingly and you will get a better perspective on the gauge of how busy (popular) a restaurant is. 

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