Mexican cuisine is so much different from the typical crap we get here in the US. It’s not just cheese, shredded lettuce, refried beans and sour cream. Authentic Mexican food is so much more intense than that, with a lot of flavor and tradition. The best part is that the flavors are simple, using fresh locally available ingredients, making all of the dishes wonderful!
Mexico is a huge country, and the flavors across the country are very diverse. We spent most of our time in Quitana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula, which has a large influence from the ancient Mayan society. Turns out, a lot of my favorite foods have Mayan origins (I’m looking at you, chocolate!). Here are just some of the best foods to eat in Mexico.
A delicious slow-roasted pulled pork that originated in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Cochinita pibil is marinated in citrus fruit, such as bitter orange, and annatto seed, and then slowly roasted inside banana leaves. Annato seed is what is used to make achiote, a sweet and peppery sauce made from the seed. Cochinita pibil is typically served as either a torta (sandwich) or taco, and topped with pickled red onion (often curtido de cebolla).
Oh my, the pastor. Probably my favorite thing ever. It’s pork marinated in chilis, spices and pineapple then put on a spit and grilled. It’s similar to schwarma and gyros, but even better. We ate it in tacos, tortas and burros several times. If it was on the menu, it was on my plate.
One of my favorite fruits from our travel is the guaya fruit. It doesn’t look like much, and the fruit is small with a large seed in the middle. But the flavor is fantastic. You typically open the outer shell with your teeth, remove the shell and suck on the fruit to get it off the inner pit. The fruit is tangy and sweet and worth the extra effort.
Pan de espelon
Pan de espelon is a bread made from corn flour sold in the markets throughout Mexico. It’s made with masa flour, beans, meat, then grilled in a banana leaf over flames. It’s a dense bread with a smoky flavor.
These are nothing like they are back in the US, which are typically smothered in cheese, sour cream and iceburg lettuce. None of that happens in Mexico. You choose between harina (flour) and maiz (corn) and a meat. Then you get to select your own salsa (I, personally, like to switch it up). I still dream about the tacos al pastor….
Burros, or burritos, are phenomenal in Mexico, and they are almost never smothered in sour cream and cheese like I was used to. Like tacos, you have your choice of meat, and they’re often served with a side of guacamole.
Tortillas hot off the comal
Another simple and delicious food from Mexico. Tortillas are simple, made from only corn flour and water, but the masa is ground so fresh and cooked right in front of you – and you can taste the difference.
Let me make a confession: I love fresh guacamole. Especially the kind with chunks of avocado, tomato and raw onion made fresh to order. Even more especially the kind that comes with freshly fried chips from tortillas made in house that day. We found this to be the exact kind we were served nearly everywhere in Mexico. Add on a couple cervezas and you’ve got yourself a perfect lunch.
This was my second favorite thing we ate in Mexico (right after the tacos al pastor). It consists of fresh, raw fish marinated in bitter orange, with diced hot peppers, fresh tomato red onion, cilantro and salt. The fish is marinated so long that the it doesn’t seem raw anymore. It’s so delicious and fresh!
At first glance, these looks like open-face tacos. The base is a thicker corn tortilla with pinched in sides that is topped with refried beans (pinto or black), meat, some type of sauce (green or red salsa or mole sauce) and acidified cream (like a thinner sour cream).
In nearly every center of town you’ll find a food cart that serves marquesitas. They are thin wafers cooked to order until crispy, stuffed with a filling that typically involves cheese, rolled and served street side with a napkin. They’re cheap and delicious, don’t miss this treat from Mexico!
Mexican food wouldn’t be the same without washing it down with a beverage. If you’re not into cervezas, you’ve got to try jamaica or horchata. I preferred the jamaica, a strong “tea” made from hibiscus flowers, while Dan preferred the horchata, milk made from rice.
We were lucky enough to spend a day making these in the kitchen of our guesthouse with the wonderful staff. They take forever, but are worth every moment. Every single ingredient is made from scratch. The tortilla, when cooked properly, forms a little pocket in the middle that is then stuffed with a smooth bean mixture. They’re fried, topped with chicken adobo (or any other meat), fresh avocado, boiled egg and curtido de cebolla. They are so delicious.
I had a hard time not ordering this Mexican breakfast staple every single morning. Two eggs (with runny yolks, like I like them!) are placed on fried tortillas, covered in black beans and salsa and served with sliced fresh avocado.
Another breakfast item that admittedly was not my favorite. Strips of tortilla are smothered with chicken, cheese, sour cream and salsa. It reminded me of nachos (only a little soggy), and it was heavy for breakfast.
This is a tiny little fruit with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor and a texture somewhere between a banana and an apple. It’s about the size of quarter with a large stone in the center. It’s also used to make sweet breads and liquor.
These are made of masa flour and filled with all kinds of goodies, typically meat, cheeses, beans. They’re stuffed into some corn husks or plantain leaves and grilled or steamed. The outer leaf is removed before eating. Mayans have been making these for centuries, and they are good at it!
Made from a wheat flour dough, empanadas are stuffed with a savory filling – typically meat and cheese and then fried. We found that the empanadas varied pretty drastically in each area, with different stuffing and shells.
A whole chicken is smothered in recado – a Mayan condiment of ground onion, garlic, cloves, lots of black pepper, Mexican oregano and salt. Then it’s grilled. Let me tell you: it does not suck. It’s used a lot in tacos, panuchos and sopes. You’ll see people grilling in out on the streets and it smells amazing.
Chiles rellenos are giant chiles filled with either cheese (mmmm…. cheese……) or meat. Obviously, I chose cheese. Then they’re fried and smothered in salsa. You really can’t go wrong here.
Basically, a mayan style pork chop, marinated in bitter and sweet oranges and spices. Then grilled. I’m not a huge fan of pork chops and to be completely honest I didn’t think this dish was all that special.
Mexico has pretty decent beer (cerveza). Our favorites were Sol and Bohemia, and I was shocked that Corona and Dos Equis actually tastes better in Mexico!
Whatever you eat, make sure you smother it with all the salsa you can get your hands on. Roasted tomato, traditional red, spicy red salsa, salsa verde. Seriously, they are all phenomenal!
With only two weeks in this beautiful country, we were only able to sample a small amount of the food Mexico has to offer. What did we miss? What’s your favorite Mexican dish?