If you think Mexican food has anything to do with the Tex-Mex and Mexican-American stuff you are used to- you are in for quite a delicious surprise. Mexico has some incredible, traditional dishes that have no relation to “Mexican” food in the US. Here are 10 foods you can’t leave Mexico without trying.
Tamales are a steamed masa with a filling. The filling can be meats, cheeses, vegetables, chili peppers, fruits, or a combination of those ingredients. The masa is a starchy dough, which is generally corn based. The masa is wrapped inside of a leaf and steamed. You discard the leaf and chow down on the stuffed dough for a delicious traditional treat.
Not to be confused with birra or beer, birria is steamed beef, goat, veal, pork, or even lamb. Some chefs use more than one type of meat, but poultry does not normally make it into the mix. The meat is basically steamed slowly in a pool of spices and served up as a stew full of extra-moist and tender meat.
Carnitas literally translates to “little meats,” but it is actually just juicy, fried pork. The pork is so tender that it tears up easily, which explains the “little” part of the name. Carnitas are meant to be crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, making them a great stuffing for tacos or tortas.
Also known as “lava bowls.” Molcajates are served in a traditional mortar and pestle bowl, which is steaming hot to the touch. The dish itself is a boiling hot stew of vegetables and meat. It’s not exactly what you’d want while sitting on a hot patio, but it’s pretty delicious if you find a restaurant blasting their AC.
5. Street vendor tacos
You might think you know what a Mexican taco is, but until you’ve bought a taco from a Mexican street vendor, you don’t have a clue. Street tacos are usually served on very small, circular tortillas and usually have nothing more than meat. They look unimpressive, but they taste incredible. Plus, they usually cost just a couple pesos. You pay for the meat and can get all the tortillas and fixings you want.
Mole is not so much a type of sauce so much as a family of sauces – you can think of it as the Mexican version of curry. Each color or type has its own unique taste, but the basic preparation begins in the same way. Each sauce begins with a certain type of hot chili pepper, and several other spices are added later on. Many moles include cacao, or chocolate, giving it a spicy-sweet flavor.
7. Huevos Tirados
Huevos tirados literally means, “thrown eggs.” It’s basically scrambled eggs with beans. The type of beans varies by region, but the idea is the same. The dish looks like a mess but the taste makes up for it.
8. Fruit with Chili Powder
This is a simple food option, but it still deserves a spot on the list. All over Mexico, you will encounter street vendors selling fruit on sticks or in cups. The fruit generally comes with a little sprinkle of chili powder on top. The fruit is wonderfully fresh and the spice adds a delightful kick.
Chilaquiles starts out with corn tortillas cut into strips and fried to make up the base of the dish. The next layer is either mole sauce, or salsa, depending on the chef. The sauce simmers on top of the tortillas for a bit, softening them up, before the mixture is topped off with scrambled eggs, pulled chicken, cheese, and sour cream. You can find these on some Mexican restaurant outside of Mexico, but once you’ve had chilaquiles in Mexico, you’ll never look at the tex-mex version the same again. The dish is spicy, filling, and happens to be a tried-and-true hangover cure.
10. Arroz con leche
Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, may not be exclusive to Mexico, but it is still a traditional dish worth trying. The ingredients main include milk, rice, and cinnamon. It’s an uncomplicated but satisfying dessert.
So if you are in Mexico, make sure you make an effort to order all of these tasty and traditional foods. The only downside is that Tex-Mex will never taste quite as good once you’ve had the real deal.
Check out these other Mexican Culture articles.