Mexican cuisine is world-renowned for its vibrant flavors, varied ingredients, and cultural significance. There are many reasons why Mexican food is considered by many to be the best food in the world.
One of the things that makes Mexican food so special is the ingredients used. Mexican cooking utilizes a wide variety of fresh produce, meats, spices, and other components that create complex layers of flavors. Some key ingredients include:
- Chiles – Ancho, jalapeño, habanero, chipotle, and more provide flavors ranging from mild to very spicy.
- Corn – A staple grain in Mexico that is used to make tortillas, tamales, and more.
- Beans – Pinto, black, and other bean varieties are commonly used in dishes like frijoles charros.
- Tomatoes – A base for salsas and sauces that add a pop of color and freshness.
- Avocados – Creamy and rich avocados are used in guacamole, salads, tacos, and more.
- Lime – Bright citrus flavor is added with fresh lime juice.
- Cilantro – The pungent, fresh herb is a trademark of Mexican cooking.
- Cheese – Queso fresco, cotija, and other Mexican cheese varieties provide saltiness.
- Meat – Chicken, beef, pork, chorizo, shrimp and fish are all traditional proteins.
In addition to these core ingredients, Mexican cooking incorporates unique seasonings like achiote paste, Mexican oregano, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and more to create complex layers of flavor.
In addition to utilizing flavorful ingredients, traditional Mexican cooking employs specific techniques that enhance the overall taste and experience of the cuisine:
- Marinating – Meat, fish, and poultry are often marinated in citrus juices, herbs, and spices prior to cooking which tenderizes and adds flavor.
- Mole – Complex mole sauces made from chiles, spices, seeds, nuts, and chocolate are a flavorful, iconic component.
- Sautéing – Onions, peppers, tomatoes and other ingredients are sautéed to bring out flavors.
- Grilling – Meats, fish, veggies, and fruits are fire-grilled, adding smoky depth.
By properly utilizing techniques like marinating, making mole sauce from scratch, sautéing aromatics, and grilling, the authentic taste of Mexican cuisine shines through.
Bread is an integral part of most Mexican meals. And the most important bread in Mexican cooking is the corn tortilla. Fresh, handmade tortillas have a softness and flavor that perfectly complements and enhances any filling or topping. Other bread varieties used in Mexican cooking include:
- Telera – A circular white bread often used for tortas.
- Bolillo – A baguette-style white bread used for tortas or sandwiches.
- Concha – A sweet bread topped with a sugary crust.
- Pambazo – A white bread soaked in guajillo chile sauce before frying.
But the corn tortilla remains the quintessential carb in Mexican cuisine. It provides the perfect vessel for tacos, quesadillas, sopes, and many other iconic Mexican dishes.
Another element that makes Mexican cuisine so full of flavor are its iconic salsa varieties. Salsas add freshness, spice, texture, and an extra layer of flavor to many dishes. Popular salsas include:
- Pico de gallo – Fresh diced tomatoes, onion, chile, cilantro, lime juice.
- Salsa verde – Tomatillos, chiles, garlic, onion, cilantro.
- Salsa roja – Cooked tomatoes, chile, garlic, spices.
- Guacamole – Avocado, lime juice, onion, tomato, cilantro.
- Habenero salsa – Fiery salsa made primarily from habanero chiles.
And traditionally, these zesty salsas are made fresh from scratch for peak flavor and texture.
One advantage that Mexican food has over many global cuisines is its regional diversity. Different areas of Mexico have their own distinctive styles of cuisine that have developed over time:
The central region is influenced by Mexico City and Puebla. Key dishes from this area include:
- Mole poblano – Chicken in a rich, chocolate-tinged mole sauce
- Chiles en nogada – Stuffed poblano peppers
- Barbacoa – Slow-cooked lamb
The cuisine of northern Mexico relies heavily on beef and cheese dishes like:
- Carne asada
- Queso fundido
Southern Mexican cooking incorporates more indigenous ingredients and techniques. Popular dishes include:
- Mole negro
- Torta ahogada
Having distinct regional cuisines gives Mexican food diversity while still retaining its common foundations.
It’s Traditional Yet Creative
While staying true to traditional cooking methods and ingredients, Mexican chefs have also shown an ability to be endlessly creative and innovative with their cuisine. New modern twists on classics are constantly being invented. For example:
- Quesadillas with inventive fillings like squash blossoms or huitlacoche
- Tacos featuring creative proteins like shrimp tempura or seared tuna
- Mole recipes that combine classic elements with modern flavors
- Mexican street corn featuring cotija cheese, lime juice, and chipotle
This balance of adhering to tradition while also updating recipes keeps Mexican food consistently exciting and relevant.
It’s Fast But Still High Quality
Mexican street food and fast casual restaurants have become popular worldwide for good reason – they manage to produce freshly made, high quality food extremely quickly. Dishes like tacos, quesadillas, tortas, and burritos can be assembled, grilled, and served in minutes. Yet they retain a homemade, authentic taste.
The fast service combined with genuine ingredients and flavors is appreciated both for everyday dining and for special occasions. Mexican fast food manages to balance skillful cooking with quick preparation.
It’s Fun and Social
Great Mexican food is meant to be shared with others. The communal, interactive experience of dishes like fajitas brought sizzling to your table, giant platters of enchiladas to pass around family-style, and custom tacos assembled and seasoned to each diner’s taste makes the cuisine especially fun and social.
Mexican food is festive food. The lively flavors, communal service style, and informal, enjoyable ambiance of genuine Mexican restaurants creates an energizing dining experience.
It Complements Drinks Perfectly
Mexican food pairs beautifully with a wide range of beverages that complement and enhance the spicy, robust flavors. Drinks like margaritas, horchata, micheladas, and Mexican beers like Corona and Modelo are popular pairings. The botanicals of quality tequila also accentuate the flavors of chili peppers and other ingredients.
Signature Mexican cocktails like the margarita just seem tailor-made to go with dishes like ceviche, enchiladas, tacos al pastor, and more. The drinks and food combine flawlessly.
It Has Ancient Roots
Mexican cuisine has origins going back thousands of years to civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans. Ancient cooking techniques like nixtamalization of corn and components like chiles, beans, squash, and tomatoes have been staple ingredients for generations.
This deep, rich history gives Mexican food a sense of tradition that can’t be replicated in modern cuisines. The ancient flavors live on today in dishes across the country.
It Absorbs Outside Influences
While keeping true to its indigenous roots, Mexican food has also been able to absorb outside culinary influences seamlessly into its repertoire. Additions from cultures like French, Arabic, and African have been successfully incorporated to expand the cuisine without compromising its identity. For example:
- French-style breads and pastries
- Cheesemaking techniques from Arabs for quesos
- Plantains and yucca from African and Caribbean cultures
This ability to incorporate the best of other food cultures while preserving its core has allowed Mexican cuisine to thrive and evolve for centuries.
Great food brings family and friends together in Mexican culture. Extended family dinners, baptisms, birthdays, weddings, and holidays are centered around food. The cuisine is passed down generation after generation.
Home cooks take pride in dishes like tamales, pozole, mole, chiles rellenos and more that have been made the same way for generations. Mexican restaurants likewise embrace the family-first ethos.
This focus on food as the centerpiece for family traditions gives the cuisine a cozy, welcoming reputation.
It Offers Incredible Value
You can spend a lot on high-end Mexican dining. But the cuisine can also be very economical without sacrificing freshness and flavor.
Simple yet satisfying dishes like tacos from street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer amazing value. Ingredients like corn tortillas, shredded pork, cilantro, and onion can combine to create incredible tacos for just a few dollars.
Despite its reputation for quality and prestige as one of the world’s great cuisines, authentic Mexican food remains accessible and affordable to people of all budgets.
It Caters to Contemporary Preferences
Diners today care more than ever about aspects like local sourcing, sustainability, and dietary preferences. Fortunately, Mexican food aligns well with modern preferences:
- Farm-to-table – Mexican chefs emphasize fresh, local produce like avocados, tomatoes, and chiles in their cooking.
- Vegetarian – Bean and cheese dishes, produce-forward options and meatless mole make Mexican cuisine very vegetarian-friendly.
- Vegan – Many classics can be veganized by using plant-based proteins and removing dairy.
- Gluten-free – Corn tortillas make wonderful gluten-free wraps and shells for dishes.
Mexican cooking techniques developed centuries ago align with modern preferences for fresh, locally-sourced food that can accommodate diverse diets.
It’s Universally Appealing
People around the world have fallen in love with Mexican food. Its bold flavors, appealing textures, vibrant colors, and hearty but healthy ingredients have universal appeal:
- Europe – Mexican restaurants are booming in cities like London, Paris, and Madrid.
- Asia – Taco Rice from Okinawa, Japan has become a Mexican-Japanese fusion dish.
- Middle East – Mexico’s meat and spice combinations are similar to kebabs and curries.
- Australia – Fish taco variations have become popular by the beaches.
The global popularity of Mexican cuisine is a testament to its widespread, multicultural appeal that translates perfectly across borders.
Mexican food has earned its reputation as one of the greatest, most craveworthy cuisines in the world for good reason. The layered flavors, fresh ingredients, diverse regions and techniques, mass appeal, and cultural significance together make Mexican cuisine one-of-a-kind. There’s a reason Mexican restaurants have become beloved fixtures in virtually every town. Once you try authentic dishes like mole poblano, carnitas, and tacos al pastor, you’ll likely be hooked for life.