One of the best ways to explore a country is over its local food. Mexico is rich in food culture, and Mexicans have managed to preserve a lot of their traditional dishes. In Europe, we mainly know Tacos and a lot of Tex-Mex dishes like Burritos or Chili con Carne. But the food that I experienced in Mexico went way beyond anything I thought I knew or had expected from Mexican cuisine.
Freshly picked vegetables and herbs from the swimming gardens of Xochimilco (just outside of Mexico City).
Historically, Mexican Cuisine is based on the three ingredients: Squash, Chili and Corn. You will find these all over the country and at least one of them in almost every dish. Anyway, the cuisine is very versatile and differs a lot from region to region. Also, different from what Europeans might think, a lot of Mexican dishes are very healthy and made with a lot of vegetables like Nopal (cactus), Tomatillos, Avocado and beans.
Huitlacoche, corn infected by a fungus (Corn Smut). - A delicacy in Mexico.
The corn is mixed with calcium powder (to make it more nutritional) and then grounded and shaped into corn tortillas.
Freshly made Empanadas filled with beans and served with various vegetables, herbs and Guacamole.
To be honest, everything I tried in Mexico was great, especially the street food! But some dishes that really stood out by flavor were:
Relleno Negro: Could maybe be described as the Yucatán version of Mole, but is very different in taste and texture. Relleno Negro is a stew that goes back to the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Maya in Mexico and is still prepared the same way. Here as well, the black color comes from roasting the ingredients to an almost burnt level and gives the dish a very smoky flavor. It is usually prepared with turkey, pork and mixed chili peppers and then served with eggs and tortillas. The stew reminded me a lot of classic gravy, but with a strong flavor of ashes.
Mole Negro: A traditional Oaxacan dish, which is based on a variety of different chilies and other ingredients like cinnamon and Mexican chocolate, that are evenly roasted until almost black and then simmered along with a long list of different ingredients for a couple of hours. The result is a deep brown almost black (negro) thick sauce, with a velvetlike texture and very complex, almost sweet and rich flavors. Mole comes traditionally in 7 different variations (Verde, Rojo, Amarillo, …) and can be described as the essence of Oaxacan cuisine. It can be served with meat, enchiladas, beans and and and.
Pulque: A slightly alcoholic drink made from Agave, that was already consumed by the Aztecs. This drink, different to other alcoholic drinks, is not fermented with yeast, but with a bacterium called Zymomonas Mobilis. It was served to us in a calabash, the taste was slightly sour sweet and very refreshing. To me, it tasted a little bit like fresh sweet corn. Pulque is also often mixed with other ingredients to give it a more fruity taste and bright color.
Sikil P'ak: A salsa made from grounded and roasted pumpkin seeds, - another classic from the Yucatán area and based on old Mayan recipes. This salsa was not spicy at all and very nutty, something I really didn’t expect to find in Mexico.
From left to right:
- Caldo de Pollo (Chicken soup)
- Cucumber/Celery Snack with Cinnamon and Salsa
- Relleno Negro with chicken and boiled egg
- Huveos Rancheros with Salsa Verde and Cotija Cheese
- Huveos Mexicanos with black beans
- Mole Negro with tender Chicken
- Fresh Oysters from the Pacific Ocean
- Pulque, served in a calabash
- Aqua de Jamaica
- Enchiladas con Mole Verde
- Mexican Crisp Mix
- Tacos de Bisteca
- Smoky salsa
- Tamales made from ground corn, vegetables and beans
- Oaxacan Tlayuda
- Taco Mix
- Sikil P'ak (Roasted Pumpkin Seed Salsa)
- Roasted and fermented Agave Fiber (for the manufacturing of Mezcal)