Mexican cuisine

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Tacos filled with many meat types 001 Tacos de carnitas, carne asada y al pastor.jpg
Tacos filled with many meat types
Mole sauce, which has dozens of varieties across the Republic (mole poblano pictured), is seen as a symbol of Mexicanidad and is considered Mexico's national dish. Mole in Puebla.JPG
Mole sauce , which has dozens of varieties across the Republic (mole poblano pictured), is seen as a symbol of Mexicanidad and is considered Mexico's national dish.

Mexican cuisine began about 9000 years ago, when agricultural communities such as the Maya formed, domesticating maize, creating the standard process of corn nixtamalization, and establishing their foodways. Successive waves of other Mesoamerican groups brought with them their own cooking methods. These included the Olmec, Teotihuacanos, Toltec, Huastec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Otomi, Purépecha, Totonac, Mazatec, and Mazahua.

Maya civilization Mesoamerican former civilization

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain.

Maize Cereal grain

Maize, also known as corn, is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago. The leafy stalk of the plant produces pollen inflorescences and separate ovuliferous inflorescences called ears that yield kernels or seeds, which are fruits.

Nixtamalization process of preparing corn to eat

Nixtamalization is a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, washed, and then hulled. This process is known to remove up to 97–100% of aflatoxins from mycotoxin-contaminated corn. The term can also refer to the removal via an alkali process of the pericarp from other grains such as sorghum.


The Mexica establishment of the Aztec Empire created a multi-ethnic society where many different foodways became infused. The staples are native foods, such as corn (maize), beans, squash, amaranth, chia, avocados, tomatoes, tomatillos, cacao, vanilla, agave, turkey, spirulina, sweet potato, cactus, and chili pepper.

Mexica indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico

The Mexica (Nahuatl: Mēxihcah, Nahuatl pronunciation: [meːˈʃiʔkaʔ] or Mexicas were a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico who were the rulers of the Aztec Empire. This group was also known as the Culhua-Mexica in recognition of its kinship alliance with the neighboring Culhua, descendants of the revered Toltecs, who occupied the Toltec capital of Tula from the tenth through twelfth centuries. The Mexica were additionally referred to as the "Tenochca", a term associated with the name of their altepetl, Tenochtitlan, and Tenochtitlan's founding leader, Tenoch. The Mexica established Mexico Tenochtitlan, a settlement on an island in Lake Texcoco. A dissident group in Mexico-Tenochtitlan separated and founded the settlement of Mexico-Tlatelolco with its own dynastic lineage. The name Aztec was coined by Alexander von Humboldt who combined "Aztlan", their mythic homeland, and "tec ", 'people of'. The term Aztec is often used very broadly to refer not only to the Mexica, but also to the Nahuatl-speaking peoples or Nahuas of the Valley of Mexico and neighboring valleys.

Aztec Empire Imperial alliance of city states located in central Mexico during the 15th and 16th centuries

The Aztec Empire, or the Triple Alliance, began as an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés defeated them in 1521.

Aztec cuisine Culinary traditions in the Aztec Empire

Aztec cuisine is the cuisine of the former Aztec Empire and the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico prior to European contact in 1519.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century, Europeans introduced a number of other foods, the most important of which were meats from domesticated animals (beef, pork, chicken, goat, and sheep), dairy products (especially cheese and milk), and rice. While the Spanish initially tried to impose their own diet on the country, this was not possible.

Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire conflict

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, or the Spanish–Mexica War (1519–21), was the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish Empire within the context of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquerors, their indigenous allies and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.

African and Asian influences were also introduced into the indigenous cuisine during this era as a result of African slavery in New Spain and the Manila-Acapulco Galleons. [2]

Over the centuries, this resulted in regional cuisines based on local conditions, such as those in Oaxaca, Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula. Mexican cuisine is an important aspect of the culture, social structure and popular traditions of Mexico. The most important example of this connection is the use of mole for special occasions and holidays, particularly in the South and Central regions of the country. For this reason and others, traditional Mexican cuisine was inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. [3]

Oaxaca State of Mexico

Oaxaca, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, is one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City, make up the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 570 municipalities, of which 418 are governed by the system of usos y costumbres with recognized local forms of self-governance. Its capital city is Oaxaca de Juárez.

Veracruz State of Mexico

Veracruz, formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, is one of the 31 states that, along with the Mexico city, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided in 212 municipalities and its capital city is Xalapa-Enríquez.

Yucatán Peninsula peninsula in North America

The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.

Basic elements

Ingredients at a market in Mexico City, including huitlacoche, quintoniles, huauzontle and squash flowers. Huitlacoche, quintoniles, huauhzontles, flor de calabaza et al., Santa Maria la Ribera Market.jpg
Ingredients at a market in Mexico City, including huitlacoche, quintoniles, huauzontle and squash flowers.

Mexican cuisine is as complex as other ancient cuisines, such as those of Indian Cuisine, China and Japan, with techniques and skills developed over thousands of years of history. [4] It is created mostly with ingredients native to Mexico, as well as those brought over by the Spanish conquistadors, with some new influences since then. [5] Mexican cuisine has been influenced by its proximity to the US-Mexican border. For example, burritos were thought to have been invented for easier transportation of beans by wrapping them in tortillas for field labor. Modifications like these brought Mexican cuisine to the United States, where states like Arizona further adapted burritos by deep frying them, creating the modern chimichanga [6]

Chinese cuisine culinary traditions of China

Chinese cuisine is an important part of Chinese culture, which includes cuisine originating from the diverse regions of China, as well as from Chinese people in other parts of the world. Because of the Chinese diaspora and historical power of the country, Chinese cuisine has influenced many other cuisines in Asia, with modifications made to cater to local palates. Chinese food staples such as rice, soy sauce, noodles, tea, and tofu, and utensils such as chopsticks and the wok, can now be found worldwide.

Japanese cuisine cuisine of Japan

Japanese cuisine encompasses the regional and traditional foods of Japan, which have developed through centuries of political, economic, and social changes. The traditional cuisine of Japan is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes; there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter, as tempura. Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

In addition to staples, such as corn and chile peppers, native ingredients include tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla, [3] as well as ingredients not generally used in other cuisines, such as edible flowers, vegetables like huauzontle and papaloquelite, or small criollo avocados, whose skin is edible. [7]

Vegetables play an important role in Mexican cuisine. Common vegetables include zucchini, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, mushrooms, jitomate (red tomato), green tomato, etc. Other traditional vegetable ingredients include chiles, huitlacoche (corn fungus), huauzontle, and nopal (cactus leaves) to name a few.

European contributions include pork, chicken, beef, cheese, herbs and spices, as well as some fruits.

Tropical fruits, many of which are indigenous to Mexico and the Americas, such as guava, prickly pear, sapote, mangoes, bananas, pineapple and cherimoya (custard apple) are popular, especially in the center and south of the country. [8]


Despite the introduction of wheat and rice to Mexico, the basic starch remains corn in almost all areas of the country and is the base of many recipes (e.g. corn tortillas, atole, pozol, menudo, tamal). While it is eaten fresh, most corn is dried, nixtamalized and ground into a dough called masa . [9] [10] This dough is used both fresh and fermented to make a wide variety of dishes from drinks (atole, pozol, etc.) to tamales, sopes, and much more. However, the most common way to eat corn in Mexico is in the form of a tortilla, which accompanies almost every dish. Tortillas are made of corn in most of the country, but other versions exist, such as wheat in the north or plantain, yuca and wild greens in Oaxaca. [3] [9]

Chili peppers

A molcajete and tejolote, the traditional mortar and pestle of Mexico. Molcajete y tejolote.jpg
A molcajete and tejolote, the traditional mortar and pestle of Mexico.

The other basic ingredient in all parts of Mexico is the chile pepper. [11] Mexican food has a reputation for being very spicy, but it has a wide range of flavors and while many spices are used for cooking, not all are spicy. Many dishes also have subtle flavors. [4] [7] Chiles are indigenous to Mexico and their use dates back thousands of years. They are used for their flavors and not just their heat, with Mexico using the widest variety. If a savory dish or snack does not contain chile pepper, hot sauce is usually added, and chile pepper is often added to fresh fruit and sweets. [11]

The importance of the chile goes back to the Mesoamerican period, where it was considered to be as much of a staple as corn and beans. In the 16th century, Bartolomé de las Casas wrote that without chiles, the indigenous people did not think they were eating. Even today, most Mexicans believe that their national identity would be at a loss without chiles and the many varieties of sauces and salsas created using chiles as their base. [12]

Many dishes in Mexico are defined by their sauces and the chiles those sauces contain (which are usually very spicy), rather than the meat or vegetable that the sauce covers. These dishes include entomatada (in tomato sauce), adobo or adobados, pipians and moles. A hominy soup called pozole is defined as white, green or red depending on the chile sauce used or omitted. Tamales are differentiated by the filling which is again defined by the sauce (red or green chile pepper strips or mole). Dishes without a sauce are rarely eaten without a salsa or without fresh or pickled chiles. This includes street foods, such as tacos, tortas, soup, sopes, tlacoyos, tlayudas, gorditas and sincronizadas. [13] For most dishes, it is the type of chile used that gives it its main flavor. [12]

Spanish contributions

Pechuga adobada, chicken breast in adobo with a side of chayote, mushrooms, corn and poblano rajas. Adobo, including a key item, vinegar, arrived with the Spanish. A common characteristic of Mexican adobo is its incorporation of chile ancho. Pechuga Adobada.jpg
Pechuga adobada, chicken breast in adobo with a side of chayote, mushrooms, corn and poblano rajas. Adobo, including a key item, vinegar, arrived with the Spanish. A common characteristic of Mexican adobo is its incorporation of chile ancho.

Some of the main contributions of the Spanish were several kind of meat, dairy products and wheat to name few, as the Mesoamerican diet contained very little meat besides domesticated turkey, and dairy products were absent. The Spanish also introduced the technique of frying in pork fat. Today, the main meats found in Mexico are pork, chicken, beef, goat, and sheep. Native seafood and fish remains popular, especially along the coasts. [14]

Cheesemaking in Mexico has evolved its own specialties. It is an important economic activity, especially in the north, and is frequently done at home. The main cheese making areas are Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Querétaro, and Chiapas. Goat cheese is still made, but it is not as popular and is harder to find in stores. [15]

Food and society

Nachos with guacamole Nachos with Guacamole.jpg
Nachos with guacamole

Home cooking

In most of Mexico, especially in rural areas, much of the food is consumed in the home with the most traditional Mexican cooking done domestically based on local ingredients. [16] Cooking for the family is usually considered to be women’s work, and this includes cooking for celebrations as well. [17] Traditionally girls have been considered ready to marry when they can cook, and cooking is considered a main talent for housewives. [18]

The main meal of the day in Mexico is the "comida", meaning 'meal' in Spanish. This refers to dinner or supper. It sometimes begins with soup, often chicken broth with pasta or a "dry soup", which is pasta or rice flavored with onions, garlic or vegetables. The main course is meat served in a cooked sauce with salsa on the side, accompanied with beans and tortillas and often with a fruit drink. [19]

In the evening, it is common to eat leftovers from the comida or sweet bread accompanied by coffee or chocolate. Breakfast can consist of meat in broth (such as pancita), tacos, enchiladas or meat with eggs. This is usually served with beans, tortillas, and coffee or juice. [19]

Food and festivals

Chiles en nogada, due to the dish's incorporation of red, white and green, is popularly consumed during the celebrations of the Grito de Dolores. Chile en nogada.jpg
Chiles en nogada , due to the dish's incorporation of red, white and green, is popularly consumed during the celebrations of the Grito de Dolores .
Tacos al pastor in Merida, Yucatan Tacos 2.jpg
Tacos al pastor in Mérida, Yucatán

Mexican cuisine is elaborate and often tied to symbolism and festivals, one reason it was named as an example of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. [3] Many of the foods of Mexico are complicated because of their relation to the social structure of the country. Food preparation, especially for family and social events, is considered to be an investment in order to maintain social relationships. [21] Even the idea of flavor is considered to be social, with meals prepared for certain dinners and certain occasions when they are considered the most tasty. [22]

The ability to cook well, called "sazón" (lit. seasoning) is considered to be a gift generally gained from experience and a sense of commitment to the diners. [23] For the Day of the Dead festival, foods such as tamales and mole are set out on altars and it is believed that the visiting dead relatives eat the essence of the food. If eaten afterwards by the living it is considered to be tasteless. [22] In central Mexico, the main festival foods are mole, barbacoa, carnitas and mixiotes. They are often prepared to feed hundreds of guests, requiring groups of cooks. The cooking is part of the social custom meant to bind families and communities. [24]

Tortas being prepared in Oaxaca Tortas Oaxaquenas.jpg
Tortas being prepared in Oaxaca

Mexican regional home cooking is completely different from the food served in most Mexican restaurants outside Mexico, which is usually some variety of Tex-Mex. [7] Some of Mexico’s traditional foods involved complex or long cooking processes. Before industrialization, traditional women spent several hours a day boiling dried corn then grinding it on a metate to make the dough for tortillas, cooking them one-by-one on a comal griddle. In some areas, tortillas are still made this way. Sauces and salsas were also ground in a mortar called a molcajete. Today, blenders are more often used, though the texture is a bit different. Most people in Mexico would say that those made with a molcajete taste better, but few do this now. [25]

Orange and green peppers in Tenancingo market, Estado de Mexico, a central state Chiles in Tenancingo Market.jpg
Orange and green peppers in Tenancingo market, Estado de Mexico, a central state

The most important food for festivals and other special occasions is mole, especially mole poblano in the center of the country. [24] [26] Mole is served at Christmas, Easter, Day of the Dead and at birthdays, baptisms, weddings and funerals, and tends to be eaten only for special occasions because it is such a complex and time-consuming dish. [24] [27] While still dominant in this way, other foods have become acceptable for these occasions, such as barbacoa, carnitas and mixiotes, especially since the 1980s. This may have been because of economic crises at that time, allowing for the substitution of these cheaper foods, or the fact that they can be bought ready-made or may already be made as part of the family business. [28] [29]

Another important festive food is the tamale, also known as tamal in Spanish. This is a filled cornmeal dumpling, steamed in a wrapping (usually a corn husk or banana leaf) and one of the basic staples in most regions of Mexico. It has its origins in the pre-Hispanic era and today is found in many varieties in all of Mexico. Like mole, it is complicated to prepare and best done in large amounts. [30] Tamales are associated with certain celebrations such as Candlemas. [28] They are wrapped in corn husks in the highlands and desert areas of Mexico and in banana leaves in the tropics. [31]

Street food

Mexican street food is one of the most varied parts of the cuisine. It can include tacos, quesadillas, pambazos, tamales, huaraches, alambres, al pastor, and food not suitable to cook at home, including barbacoa, carnitas, and since many homes in Mexico do not have or make use of ovens, roasted chicken. [32] One attraction of street food in Mexico is the satisfaction of hunger or craving without all the social and emotional connotation of eating at home, although longtime customers can have something of a friendship/familial relationship with a chosen vendor. [33]

The best known of Mexico's street foods is the taco, whose origin is based on the pre-Hispanic custom of picking up other foods with tortillas as utensils were not used. [9] The origin of the word is in dispute, with some saying it is derived from Nahuatl and others from various Spanish phrases. [34] Tacos are not eaten as the main meal; they are generally eaten before midday or late in the evening. Just about any other foodstuff can be wrapped in a tortilla, and in Mexico, it varies from rice, to meat (plain or in sauce), to cream, to vegetables, to cheese, or simply with plain chile peppers or fresh salsa. Preferred fillings vary from region to region with pork generally found more often in the center and south, beef in the north, seafood along the coasts, and chicken and lamb in most of the country. [35]

Another popular street food, especially in Mexico City and the surrounding area is the torta. It consists of a roll of some type, stuffed with several ingredients. This has its origins in the 19th century, when the French introduced a number of new kinds of bread. The torta began by splitting the roll and adding beans. Today, refried beans can still be found on many kinds of tortas. In Mexico City, the most common roll used for tortas is called telera, a relatively flat roll with two splits on the upper surface. In Puebla, the preferred bread is called a cemita, as is the sandwich. In both areas, the bread is stuffed with various fillings, especially if it is a hot sandwich, with beans, cream (mayonnaise is rare) and some kind of hot chile pepper. [36]

The influence of American fast food on Mexican street food grew during the late 20th century. One example of this is the craving of the hot dog, but prepared Sonoran style. They are usually boiled then wrapped in bacon and fried together. They are served in the usual bun, but the condiments are typically a combination of diced tomatoes, onions and jalapeño peppers. [36]

Along the US-Mexican border, specifically dense areas like Tijuana, Mexican vendors sell their food like fruit melanged with Tajin spice to people crossing the border via carts. In recent years, these food carts have been threatened by tightened border security at the Port of Entry. Both US and Mexican governments have proposed a project that would widen the streets of the border, allowing for more people to pass through the border. Widening the border would decimate neighboring mercados that rely on the business of travelers. [37]

Besides food, street vendors also sell various kinds of drinks (including aguas frescas, tejuino, and tepache) and treats (such as bionicos, tostilocos, and raspados). Most tamale stands will sell atole as a standard accompaniment.


Pre-Hispanic period

Mayan people and chocolate.jpg
A Maya lord sits before an individual with a container of frothed chocolate.
Guacamole (Nahuatl āhuacamolli), an avocado-based sauce that began in pre-Hispanic Mexico
Pozole is a common holiday dish in the country 2015EncuentroChilenero005.JPG
Pozole is a common holiday dish in the country

Around 7000 BCE, the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America hunted game and gathered plants, including wild chile peppers. Corn was not yet cultivated, so one main source of calories was roasted agave hearts. By 1200 BCE, corn was domesticated and a process called nixtamalization, or treatment with lye, was developed to soften corn for grinding and improve its nutritional value. This allowed the creation of tortillas and other kinds of flat breads. [39] The indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica had numerous stories about the origin of corn, usually related to being a gift of one or more gods, such as Quetzalcoatl. [40]

The other staple was beans, eaten with corn and some other plants as a complimentary protein. Despite this, studies of bones have shown problems with the lack of protein in the indigenous diet [ citation needed ], as meat was difficult to obtain. Other protein sources included amaranth, domesticated turkey, insects such as grasshoppers, beetles and ant larvae, iguanas, and turtle eggs on the coastlines. [41] Vegetables included squash and their seeds; chilacayote; jicama, a kind of sweet potato; and edible flowers, especially those of squash. The chile pepper was used as food, ritual and as medicine. [41]

When the Spanish arrived, the Aztecs had sophisticated agricultural techniques and an abundance of food, which was the base of their economy. It allowed them to expand an empire, bringing in tribute which consisted mostly of foods the Aztecs could not grow themselves. [12] According to Bernardino de Sahagún, the Nahua peoples of central Mexico ate corn, beans, turkey, fish, small game, insects and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds, tubers, wild mushrooms, plants and herbs that they collected or cultivated. [42]


A reconstructed kitchen at the 16th century former monastery of San Miguel Arcangel, Huejotzingo, Puebla. KitchenSMAHuejotzingo.JPG
A reconstructed kitchen at the 16th century former monastery of San Miguel Arcángel, Huejotzingo, Puebla.

Mexican educator Justo Sierra said that "the grocer, not the conquistador, is the real Spanish father of Mexican society." [15]

After the Conquest, the Spanish introduced a variety of foodstuffs and cooking techniques from Europe. Spanish cooking at that time was already a mixture of ingredients because of eight centuries of Arab influence. [43] The original aim of the introduction was to reproduce their home cuisine, but over time it was incorporated with native ingredients and cooking techniques. [42] Introduced foods included olive oil, rice, onions, garlic, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, and many other herbs and spices. [43] More importantly, they introduced domesticated animals, such as pigs, cows, chickens, goats and sheep for meat and milk, raising the consumption of protein. Cheese became the most important dairy product. [43] [15] The most important cooking technique introduced by the Spanish was frying. [43]

Las Tortilleras, an 1836 lithograph after a painting by Carl Nebel of women grinding corn and making tortillas. Tortilleras Nebel.jpg
Las Tortilleras, an 1836 lithograph after a painting by Carl Nebel of women grinding corn and making tortillas.

Despite the domination of Spanish culture, Mexican cuisine has maintained its base of corn, beans and chile peppers. [43] One reason for this was the overwhelming population of indigenous people in the earlier colonial period, and the fact that many ingredients for Spanish cooking were not available or very expensive in Mexico. One of the main avenues for the mixing of the two cuisines was in convents. [43]

For example, the Spanish brought rice to Mexico and it has since grown well in Veracruz. New World tomatoes eventually replaced the use of expensive Spanish saffron, as well as other local ingredients. [10] Sugar cane was brought to the country and grew as well, leading to the creation of many kinds of sweets, especially local fruits in syrup. A sugar-based candy craft called alfeñique was adapted, but often with indigenous themes, especially today for Day of the Dead. [44]

Hot chocolate and pan dulce are the quintessential breakfast in Mexico. Many of Mexico's sweet breads were influenced by French immigrants. HotChoco20Noviembre.JPG
Hot chocolate and pan dulce are the quintessential breakfast in Mexico. Many of Mexico's sweet breads were influenced by French immigrants.

During the 19th century, Mexico experienced an influx of various immigrants, including French, Lebanese, German, Chinese and Italian, which have had some effect on the food. [43] During the French intervention in Mexico, French food became popular with the upper classes. An influence on these new trends came from chef Tudor, who was brought to Mexico by the Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg. [45] One lasting evidence of this is the variety of breads and sweet breads, such as bolillos, conchas and much more, which can be found in Mexican bakeries. [46] The Germans brought beer brewing techniques and the Chinese added their cuisine to certain areas of the country. [47] This led to Mexico characterizing its cuisine more by its relation to popular traditions rather than on particular cooking techniques. [48]

Since the 20th century, there have been an interchange of food influences between Mexico and the United States. Mexican cooking was of course still practiced in what is now the Southwest United States after the Mexican–American War, but Diana Kennedy, in her book The Cuisines of Mexico (published in 1972), drew a sharp distinction between Mexican food and Tex-Mex. [39]

Tex-Mex food was developed from Mexican and Anglo influences, and was traced to the late 19th century in Texas. It still continues to develop with flour tortillas becoming popular north of the border only in the latter 20th century. [39] From north to south, much of the influence has been related to food industrialization, as well as the greater availability overall of food, especially after the Mexican Revolution. One other very visible sign of influence from the United States is the appearance of fast foods, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza. [49]

In the latter 20th century, international influence in Mexico has led to interest and development of haute cuisine. In Mexico, many professional chefs are trained in French or international cuisine, but the use of Mexican staples and flavors is still favored, including the simple foods of traditional markets. It is not unusual to see some quesadillas or small tacos among the other hors d'oeuvres at fancy dinner parties in Mexico. [7]

Professional cookery in Mexico is growing and includes an emphasis upon traditional methods and ingredients. In the cities, there is interest in publishing and preserving what is authentic Mexican food. This movement is traceable to 1982 with the Mexican Culinary Circle of Mexico City. It was created by a group of women chefs and other culinary experts as a reaction to the fear of traditions being lost with the increasing introduction of foreign techniques and foods. [7] In 2010, Mexico’s cuisine was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. [3]


ManekiNeko horchata jar.jpg
Two large jars of aguas frescas. On the left is filled with jamaica and on the right is with horchata.
Bottles of artisanal mezcal. Tequila is differentiated from mezcal by its complicated production and its protected designation of origin.

Corn in Mexico is not only eaten, but also drunk as a beverage. Corn is the base of a hot drink called atole, which is then flavored with fruit, chocolate, rice or other flavors. Fermented corn is the base of a cold drink, which goes by different names and varieties, such as tejuino, pozol and others. Aguas frescas are flavored drinks usually made from fruit, water and sugar. Beverages also include hibiscus iced tea, one made from tamarind and one from rice called "horchata". One variant of coffee is café de olla, which is coffee brewed with cinnamon and raw sugar. [50] Many of the most popular beverages can be found sold by street vendors and juice bars in Mexico.

Chocolate played an important part in the history of Mexican cuisine. The word "chocolate" originated from Mexico's Aztec cuisine, derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl . Chocolate was first drunk rather than eaten. It was also used for religious rituals. The Maya civilization grew cacao trees [51] and used the cacao seeds it produced to make a frothy, bitter drink. [52] The drink, called xocoatl, was often flavored with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote . [53]

Alcoholic beverages from Mexico include tequila, pulque, aguardiente, mezcal and charanda. Wine, rum and beer are also produced. [54] The most common alcoholic beverage consumed with food in Mexico is beer, followed by tequila. [4] A classic margarita, a popular cocktail, is composed of tequila, cointreau and lime juice.

Regional cuisines


Cochito, one of exclusively Chiapas' dishes. CochitoArriaga.jpg
Cochito, one of exclusively Chiapas' dishes.

Like elsewhere in Mexico, corn is the dietary staple and indigenous elements are still strong in the cuisine. Along with a chile called simojovel, used nowhere else in the country, the cuisine is also distinguished by the use of herbs, such as chipilín and hierba santa. [55] [56] Like in Oaxaca, tamales are usually wrapped in banana leaves (or sometimes with the leaves of hoja santa), but often chipilín is incorporated into the dough. As in the Yucatán, fermented corn is drunk as a beverage called pozol, but here it is usually flavored with all-natural cacao. [56]

The favored meats are beef, pork and chicken (introduced by the Spanish), especially in the highlands, which favors the raising of livestock. The livestock industry has also prompted the making of cheese, mostly done on ranches and in small cooperatives, with the best known from Ocosingo, Rayón and Pijijiapan. Meat and cheese dishes are frequently accompanied by vegetables, such as squash, chayote, and carrots. [56]

Mexico City

A cafe de chinos in the historic center of Mexico City. These cafes were run by Chinese Mexicans and became popular in the 20th century. Chinese-Mexican cafe in Mexico City.jpg
A café de chinos in the historic center of Mexico City. These cafes were run by Chinese Mexicans and became popular in the 20th century.

The main feature of Mexico City cooking is that it has been influenced by those of the other regions of Mexico, as well as a number of foreign influences. [57] [58] This is because Mexico City has been a center for migration of people from all over Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. Most of the ingredients of this area’s cooking are not grown in situ, but imported from all of the country (such as tropical fruits).

Street cuisine is very popular, with taco stands, and lunch counters on every street. Popular foods in the city include barbacoa (a specialty of the central highlands), birria (from western Mexico), cabrito (from the north), carnitas (originally from Michoacán), mole sauces (from Puebla and central Mexico), tacos with many different fillings, and large sub-like sandwiches called tortas, usually served at specialized shops called 'Torterías'. [59] There are eateries that specialize in pre-Hispanic food, including dishes with insects. This is also the area where most of Mexico’s haute cuisine can be found. [58]

Northern Mexico

A cabrito (goat) on a spit in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Cabrito - Monterrey.JPG
A cabrito (goat) on a spit in Monterrey, Nuevo León.

The foods eaten in what is now the north of Mexico have differed from those in the south since the pre-Hispanic era. Here, the indigenous people were hunter-gatherers with limited agriculture and settlements because of the arid land. [60] [61]

When the Europeans arrived, they found much of the land in this area suitable for raising cattle, goats and sheep. This led to the dominance of meat, especially beef, in the region, and some of the most popular dishes include machaca, arrachera and cabrito. [60] [61] The region's distinctive cooking technique is grilling, as ranch culture has promoted outdoor cooking done by men. [61]

The ranch culture has also prompted cheese production and the north produces the widest varieties of cheese in Mexico. These include queso fresco (fresh farmer's cheese), ranchero (similar to Monterey Jack), cuajada (a mildly sweet, creamy curd of fresh milk), requesón (similar to cottage cheese or ricotta), Chihuahua’s creamy semi-soft queso menonita, and fifty-six varieties of asadero (smoked cheese). [60]

Grilled arrachera, shrimp, sausage, onions, potatoes and chiles toreados served on an iron skillet. Carne de Arrachera.jpg
Grilled arrachera, shrimp, sausage, onions, potatoes and chiles toreados served on an iron skillet.

Another important aspect of northern cuisine is the presence of wheat, especially in the use of flour tortillas. The area has at least forty different types of flour tortillas. [60] The main reason for this is that much of the land supports wheat production, introduced by the Spanish. These large tortillas allowed for the creation of burritos, usually filled with machaca in Sonora, which eventually gained popularity in the Southwest United States. [61]

The variety of foodstuffs in the north is not as varied as in the south of Mexico, because of the mostly desert climate. Much of the cuisine of this area is dependent on food preservation techniques, namely dehydration and canning. Dried foods include meat, chiles, squash, peas, corn, lentils, beans and dried fruit. A number of these are also canned. Preservation techniques change the flavor of foods; for example, many chiles are less hot after drying. [60]

In Northeastern Mexico, during the Spanish colonial period, Nuevo León was founded and settled by Spanish families of Jewish origin (Crypto-Jews). They contributed significantly to the regional cuisine with dishes, such as Pan de Semita or "Semitic Bread" (a type of bread made without leavening), capirotada (a type of dessert), and cabrito or "baby goat", which is the typical food of Monterrey and the state of Nuevo León, as well as some regions of Coahuila. [62] [63]

The north has seen waves of immigration by the Chinese, Mormons, and Mennonites, who have influenced the cuisines in areas, such as Chihuahua and Baja California. [61] Most recently, Baja Med cuisine has emerged in Ensenada and elsewhere in Baja California, combining Mexican and Mediterranean flavors.


Chocolate being poured at a market at Villa de Etla, Oaxaca. MakingHotChocoVillaEtla4.jpg
Chocolate being poured at a market at Villa de Etla, Oaxaca.

The cooking of Oaxaca remained more intact after the Conquest, as the Spanish took the area with less fighting and less disruption of the economy and food production systems. However, it was the first area to experience the mixing of foods and cooking styles, while central Mexico was still recuperating. Despite its size, the state has a wide variety of ecosystems and a wide variety of native foods. Vegetables are grown in the central valley, seafood is abundant on the coast and the area bordering Veracruz grows tropical fruits.

Much of the state’s cooking is influenced by that of the Mixtec and, to a lesser extent, the Zapotec. Later in the colonial period, Oaxaca lost its position as a major food supplier and the area’s cooking returned to a more indigenous style, keeping only a small number of foodstuffs, such as chicken and pork. It also adapted mozzarella, brought by the Spanish, and modified it to what is now known as Oaxaca cheese. [64] [65]

Enchiladas with tasajo beef. EnchiladasTasajoOcotlan.JPG
Enchiladas with tasajo beef.

One major feature of Oaxacan cuisine is its seven mole varieties, second only to mole poblano in importance. The seven are Negro (black), Amarillo (yellow), Coloradito (little red), Mancha Manteles (table cloth stainer), Chichilo (smoky stew), Rojo (red), and Verde (green). [65]

Corn is the staple food in the region. Tortillas are called blandas and are a part of every meal. Corn is also used to make empanadas, tamales and more. Black beans are favored, often served in soup or as a sauce for enfrijoladas. Oaxaca’s regional chile peppers include pasilla oaxaqueña (red, hot and smoky), along with amarillos (yellow), chilhuacles, chilcostles and costeños. These, along with herbs, such as hoja santa, give the food its unique taste. [65]

Another important aspect to Oaxacan cuisine is chocolate, generally consumed as a beverage. It is frequently hand ground and combined with almonds, cinnamon and other ingredients. [65]


Huachinango a la veracruzana, a dish based on red snapper. HuachinangoVeracruzana.JPG
Huachinango a la veracruzana, a dish based on red snapper.

The cuisine of Veracruz is a mix of indigenous, Afro-Mexican and Spanish. The indigenous contribution is in the use of corn as a staple, as well as vanilla (native to the state) and herbs called acuyo and hoja santa. It is also supplemented by a wide variety of tropical fruits, such as papaya, mamey and zapote, along with the introduction of citrus fruit and pineapple by the Spanish. The Spanish also introduced European herbs, such as parsley, thyme, marjoram, bay laurel, cilantro and others, which characterize much of the state’s cooking. They are found in the best known dish of the region Huachinango a la veracruzana, a red snapper dish.

The African influence is from the importation of slaves through the Caribbean, who brought foods with them, which had been introduced earlier to Africa by the Portuguese. As it borders the Gulf coast, seafood figures prominently in most of the state. The state’s role as a gateway to Mexico has meant that the dietary staple of corn is less evident than in other parts of Mexico, with rice as a heavy favorite. Corn dishes include garnachas (a kind of corn cake), which are readily available especially in the mountain areas, where indigenous influence is strongest. [66]

Western Mexico

West of Mexico City are the states of Michoacán, Jalisco and Colima, as well as the Pacific coast. The cuisine of Michoacan is based on the Purepecha culture, which still dominates most of the state. The area has a large network of rivers and lakes providing fish. Its use of corn is perhaps the most varied. While atole is drunk in most parts of Mexico, it is made with more different flavors in Michoacán, including blackberry, cascabel chile and more. Tamales come in different shapes, wrapped in corn husks. These include those folded into polyhedrons called corundas and can vary in name if the filling is different. In the Bajío area, tamales are often served with a meat stew called churipo, which is flavored with cactus fruit. [67] [68]

Mojarra frita served with various garnishes, including nopales, at Isla de Janitzio, Michoacan. MojarraFritoJanitizio.JPG
Mojarra frita served with various garnishes, including nopales , at Isla de Janitzio, Michoacán.

The main Spanish contributions to Michoacán cuisine are rice, pork and spices. One of the best-known dishes from the state is morisquesta, which is a sausage and rice dish, closely followed by carnitas, which is deep-fried pork. The latter can be found in many parts of Mexico, often claimed to be authentically Michoacán. Other important ingredients in the cuisine include wheat (where bread symbolizes fertility) found in breads and pastries. Another is sugar, giving rise to a wide variety of desserts and sweets, such as fruit jellies and ice cream, mostly associated with the town of Tocumbo. The town of Cotija has a cheese named after it. The local alcoholic beverage is charanda, which is made with fermented sugar cane. [67]

The cuisine of the states of Jalisco and Colima is noted for dishes, such as birria, chilayo, menudo and pork dishes. [69] Jalisco’s cuisine is known for tequila with the liquor produced only in certain areas allowed to use the name. The cultural and gastronomic center of the area is Guadalajara, an area where both agriculture and cattle raising have thrived. The best-known dish from the area is birria, a stew of goat, beef, mutton or pork with chiles and spices. [70]

An important street food is tortas ahogadas, where the torta (sandwich) is drowned in a chile sauce. Near Guadalajara is the town of Tonalá, known for its pozole, a hominy stew, reportedly said in the 16th century, to have been originally created with human flesh. [71] The area which makes tequila surrounds the city. A popular local drink is tejuino, made from fermented corn. Bionico is also a popular dessert in the Guadalajara area. [70]

On the Pacific coast, seafood is common, generally cooked with European spices along with chile, and is often served with a spicy salsa. Favored fish varieties include marlin, swordfish, snapper, tuna, shrimp and octopus. Tropical fruits are also important. [57] [70] The cuisine of the Baja California Peninsula is especially heavy on seafood, with the widest variety. It also features a mild green chile pepper, as well as dates, especially in sweets. [72]


A bowl of cochinita pibil, a dish flavored with achiote. Cochinita-Pibil.jpg
A bowl of cochinita pibil, a dish flavored with achiote.

The food of the Yucatán peninsula is distinct from the rest of the country. It is based primarily on Mayan food with influences from the Caribbean, Central Mexican, European (especially French) and Middle Eastern cultures. [57] [73] As in other areas of Mexico, corn is the basic staple, as both a liquid and a solid food. One common way of consuming corn, especially by the poor, is a thin drink or gruel of white corn called by such names as pozol or keyem. [73]

One of the main spices in the region is the annatto seed, called achiote in Spanish. It gives food a reddish color and a slightly peppery smell with a hint of nutmeg. [57] Recados are seasoning pastes, based on achiote (recado rojo) or a mixture of habanero and charcoal called chirmole [74] both used on chicken and pork.

Recado rojo is used for the area’s best-known dish, cochinita pibil. Pibil refers to the cooking method (from the Mayan word p'ib, meaning "buried") in which foods are wrapped, generally in banana leaves, and cooked in a pit oven. [75] Various meats are cooked this way. Habaneros are another distinctive ingredient, but they are generally served as (or part of) condiments on the side rather than integrated into the dishes. [73]

Frijol con puerco prepared with beans, pork, epazote, onion, cilantro, lemon, radishes and habanero chile. Frijol con puerco 01.JPG
Frijol con puerco prepared with beans, pork, epazote, onion, cilantro, lemon, radishes and habanero chile.

A prominent feature of Yucatán cooking is tropical fruits, such as tamarind, plums, mamey, avocados and bitter oranges, the latter often used in the region's distinctive salsas. Honey was used long before the arrival of the Spanish to sweeten foods and to make a ritual alcoholic drink called balché. Today, a honey liquor called xtabentun is still made and consumed in the region. The coastal areas feature several seafood dishes, based on fish like the Mero, a variety of grunt and Esmedregal, which is fried and served with a spicy salsa based on the x'catic pepper and achiote paste. [73] Other dishes include conch fillet (usually served raw, just marinated in lime juice), cocount flavored shrimp and lagoon snails. [76]

Traditionally, some dishes are served as entrées, such as the brazo de reina (a type of tamale made from chaya) and papadzules (egg tacos seasoned in a pumpkin seed gravy). [73]

Street food in the area usually consists of Cochinita Pibil Tacos, Lebanese-based Kibbeh, Shawarma Tacos, snacks made from hardened corn dough called piedras, and fruit-flavored ices.

Mexican food outside Mexico

Mexican cuisine is offered in a few fine restaurants in Europe and the United States. Sometimes landrace corn from Mexico is imported and ground on the premises. [77]

United States

Mexican food in the United States is based on the food of northern Mexico. Chili con carne and chimichangas are examples of American food with Mexican-origins known as Tex-Mex. [5] With the growing ethnic Mexican population in the United States, more authentic Mexican food is gradually appearing in the United States. One reason is that Mexican immigrants use food as a means of combating homesickness, and for their descendants, it is a symbol of ethnicity. [30] Alternatively, with more Americans experiencing Mexican food in Mexico, there is a growing demand for more authentic flavors. [30] [78]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Sope Mexican street food

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Mexican street food

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Queso flameado Mexican dish of hot melted cheese and spicy chorizo, often served flambé

Queso flameado is a dish of hot melted cheese and spicy chorizo that is often served flambé. Often compared to cheese fondue, it is a party dish; it is popular at cookouts and in restaurants as an appetizer. Almost unique in Mexican cuisine, in the cuisine of the United States this dish has been widely adapted and is considered a native dish in El Paso. In Mexico, it occurs in restaurants more often in the north. Typical main ingredients are melted cheese and a characteristic meat sauce of loose fresh chorizo, tomato, onion, chile and spices. It is served in a small, shallow casserole or other ceramic or metal heat-proof baking dish. The cheese and sauce are prepared separately, and combined just before serving. This may be done at the table, especially if finished with a flambé: high alcohol liquor is poured on the cheese and ignited, and as it burns the server folds in the sauce. If not flambéed, the mixture may be quickly broiled. Either way, the finished dish is presented while it is still bubbling hot, and it is spooned onto small soft tortillas for individual servings.

Texan cuisine is the food associated with the U.S. state of Texas. Texas is a large state, and its cuisine has been influenced by a wide range of cultures, including Southern, German, British, African American, Cajun/Creole, Mexican, Native American, Asian, and to a lesser degree, Jewish and Italian.

Oaxacan cuisine Regional cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxacan cuisine is a regional cuisine of Mexico, centered on the city of Oaxaca, the capital of the state of the same name located in southern Mexico. Oaxaca is one of Mexico's major gastronomic, historical, and gastro-historical centers whose cuisine is known internationally. Like the rest of Mexican cuisine, Oaxacan food is based on staples such as corn, beans and chile peppers, but there is a great variety of other ingredients and food preparations due to the influence of the state's varied geography and indigenous cultures. Corn and many beans were first cultivated in Oaxaca. Well known features of the cuisine include ingredients such as chocolate, Oaxaca cheese, mezcal and grasshoppers (chapulines) with dishes such as tlayudas, Oaxacan style tamales and seven notable varieties of mole sauce. The cuisine has been praised and promoted by food experts such as Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless and is part of the state's appeal for tourists.

Cuisine of Veracruz

The cuisine of Veracruz is the regional cooking centered on the Mexican state that stretches over most of the country’s coast on the Gulf of Mexico. Its cooking is characterized by three main influences, indigenous, Spanish and Afro-Cuban, due to its history, which included the arrival of the Spanish and that of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. These influences have contributed many ingredients to the cooking including native vanilla, corn and seafood, along with rice, spices and tubers. How much the three mix depending on the area of the state, with some areas more heavily favoring one or another. The state has worked to promote its cuisine both in Mexico and abroad as part of its tourism industry.

Cuisine of Chiapas

The cuisine of Chiapas is a style of cooking centered on the Mexican state of the same name. Like the cuisine of rest of the country, it is based on corn with a mix of indigenous and European influences. It distinguishes itself by retaining most of its indigenous heritage, including the use of the chipilín herb in tamales and soups, used nowhere else in Mexico. However, while it does use some chili peppers, including the very hot simojovel, it does not use it as much as other Mexican regional cuisines, preferring slightly sweet seasoning to its main dishes. Large regions of the state are suitable for grazing and the cuisine reflects this with meat, especially beef and the production of cheese. The most important dish is the tamal, with many varieties created through the state as well as dishes such as chanfaina, similar to menudo and sopa de pan. Although it has been promoted by the state of Chiapas for tourism purposes as well as some chefs, it is not as well known as other Mexican cuisine, such as that of neighboring Oaxaca.


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