Hot Tamale – Mexican Food

Mexico is a country of long history and traditions, which is reflected in the intense and varied flavors of its cuisine. The influence of the Spaniards, who arrived in Mexico in 1521, is reflected to varying degrees in Mexican cuisine. When the Spanish landed in Mexico, they found that the people’s diet consisted mostly of corn-based dishes, a staple for over 4,000 years, mixed with chilies and herbs and served with beans and squash. The Spaniards added domestic animals like beef, chicken, and pork, along with rice, sugar, cheese, wine, garlic, and onions to expand on what they were already finding in Mexican cuisine.

The Aztec, Mayan, Zapotec, and other indigenous peoples who inhabited the Mexican landmass before the arrival of the Spanish also influenced Mexican cooking style. Pre-Columbian Mexican food included chocolate, corn, tomato, vanilla, avocado, papaya, pineapple, coconut, prickly pear, chili peppers, beans, squash, yams, peanuts, and turkey. Spices in Mexican cuisine include cinnamon, cloves, anise, and cumin, and in the herb category, coriander, thyme, marjoram, and the hot epazote.

As in many countries, each region in Mexico offers its own unique regional cuisine due to local climate and geography, as well as ethnic differences. Northern Mexico is best known for its meat dishes, while southeastern Mexico features spicy vegetables and chicken-based dishes. Virtually all Southwestern dishes use four main ingredients, namely the tortilla (a round, paper-thin bread made from coarsely ground dough), pinto beans, cheese, and chilies.

In the state of Puebla (two hours south of Mexico City) the first mole sauce was prepared. It is said that a group of nuns were asked to prepare a special dish for a visiting dignitary. The nuns, unsure of what to prepare, mixed the contents of their pantry with herbs, spices and chocolate—over 30 ingredients in all—in a saucepan and let it simmer for several days. The resulting mole sauce, served over turkey, was a hit. Today, the thick, sweet mole sauce is most commonly served over chicken. The Puebla area is also known for its coffee and many unique desserts, most notably camotes, a sweet potato confection.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, now known as the Riviera Maya, sauces are fruit-based, a popular one being achiote, a sauce made with annatto seeds, Seville oranges, pepper, garlic and cumin, spread over chicken or pork. The meat is then baked in a banana leaf for a truly delicious meal.

In the coastal region of Veracruz, fish is the dish of choice. Fish served a la Veracruzana is served with a sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers and chilies. Here, tacos, tamales, and enchiladas are guaranteed to be stuffed with fish. Coffee and exotic fruits such as guanabana, mamey and cherimoya are also popular in this region.

Known as a more “flowing” region, Oaxaco offers coffee a la olla, which is coffee with sugar (or pieces of cane candy) and cinnamon simmered in a pot for hours. Mescal, a very sober cousin of tequila, is also popular. Oaxaco’s mole sauce tends to be sweeter than Puebla’s version due to the addition of bananas.

Did you know that watermelons are native to Mexico? The story goes that watermelons are responsible for the colors of the Mexican flag. It is said that in the 1820s, during a particularly hot and bloody battle in Chilpancingo (the capital of the state of Guerrero), troops paused to cool off with a watermelon. Seeing the watermelon’s green, white, and bright red colors, they decided these would be the colors for the new flag.

Mexican food consists of a variety of foods, including sauces, soups, and stews, and is prepared in styles ranging from quick fry to slow fry. The most common elements in a Mexican diet are:

o Corn – most commonly used for tortillas, tacos or tamales
o Chilies – the most popular varieties are Jalapeno, Poblano, Serrano, Guajillo, Chipotle, Pasilla, Habanero, Ancho, Mulato and Cascabel, all of which are used in both fresh and dried forms.
o Beans – with varieties ranging from lentils, kidney beans and broad beans. Fried beans are popular and are referred to as refrito (chilled in lard).
o Tomatoes – used as a popular ingredient in salsas and sauces. Tomatillos, small green tomatoes with a firm skin and a sour taste, are also popular.
o Fruits – with a wide variety including mango, papaya, coconut and pineapple eaten fresh or in sauces and desserts. The prickly pear cactus, or nopales, can be sautéed and eaten as a vegetable or used to sweeten desserts.

More exotic Aztec- or Mayan-style dishes can include iguanas, rattlesnakes, deer, spiders, monkeys, and even some species of insects. These are relatively well-known dishes known as comida prehispanica, or pre-hispanic food.

There is a difference between traditional Mexican cuisine and the so-called Tex-Mex cuisine. According to historians, Tex-Mex cuisine originated hundreds of years ago when Spanish-Mexican recipes were combined with typical Texan cuisine and the term Tex-Mex first appeared in print in the 1940s. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what constitutes Tex-Mex cuisine, as it tends to be a combination of a variety of Mexican cuisines from different regions with typical Texan cuisine, which consists of the plentiful use of beef. Enchiladas, tacos, chimichangas, tortillas, fajitas and nachos are now part of the so-called Tex-Mex cuisine, which is now aimed at the American palate.

All in all, Mexican cuisine is varied and tasty. All Mexican cuisine is infused with spicy flavors that reflect the hot Mexican climate. Mexican cuisine is known all over the world and can be enjoyed by everyone.

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