Mexican food began nearly 9000 years ago, and the before colonization in what would become in the future Central Central America and the southern part of North America (Mexico). Back then, hunting game, which was somewhat sparse, was mixed with harvesting local plants, one of those plants bing the very common chile pepper. Maize, the early predecessor of domesticated corn was also readily available even thousands of years ago. Using a process of food preparation called Nixtamalization, maize was softened with lime to turn maize into a doughy substance and used to make tortillas.
So tortillas, combined with beans and seasoned with chilies was in essence probably the first Mexican food. And if there was a little game as well, then that was added to the mix.
Gradually, there were additions made from available native resources, such as tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa, and vanilla, in addition to common vegetables such as zucchini, cauliflower, corn, potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, mushrooms, jitomate (red tomato) and green tomato. Honey, salt, and chocolate entered the diet by the 13th century, and both turkey and ducks were domesticated. These ingredients remained consistent for centuries until the 1500s when the Spanish conquered Mexico. With the conquest of the Spanish, the Spaniards brought an explosion of dishes to Mexico.
The Spaniards introduced sheep, cattle, and pigs to Mexico, so naturally, the amount of game increased in the cuisine. At the same time, the Spanish brought dairy products such as cheese, brought plenty of new herbs such as garlic, as well as wheat. Shortly thereafter, Mexican cuisine began an assimilation of many other cuisines Caribbean, South American, French, West African, and Portugal. As a consequence, true Mexican Cuisine became a blend of all these different cuisines.
So authentic Mexican food is actually a blend of different cultures mixed together, and in actuality, Mexican food history is sort of blurred, with most of the traditional recipes coming in from around 1700 to around 1850.
How do traditional Mexican recipes differ from Tex Mex?
People bandy words such as authentic and traditional foods all the time as well as Tex-Mex. But what is the difference? Well, in the traditional Mexican dishes you will not find any flour wheat, cumin spice, any canned vegetables, or yellow cheese. Also, you will rarely find beef in traditional Mexican food. Slow roasted pork is the traditional favorite meat for genuine Mexican dishes.
Then expect to find white cheese (certainly not yellow cheese and lettuce like you find at modern Taco places,) and garnishes for the recipes of fragrant herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and epazote. Traditional Mexican foods are rustic and hearty and are greatly influenced by the regions of Mexico they come from.
What are some examples of traditional Mexican dishes?
Much better than a Grand Slam breakfast with all the grease, Chilaquiles is a traditional breakfast dish made out of leftover tortilla and salsa.
One way to prepare Chilaquiles is to take a stack or two of leftover tortilla chips, and then simmer them in a pan with red or green salsa, then add layers of shredded chicken strips, add some avocado slices, some shredded onion, radish, sprinkles of queso fresco. Then add Mexican cream (crema) over the top.
Chilaquiles make a very hearty and satisfying Mexican breakfast.
Pozole is a hearty Mexican stew that is often served during holidays and special celebrations.
Basically, Pozole is made with slow-cooked pork, hominy, green chiles, and lots of delicious toppings such as red enchilada sauce, which serves as the base of the stew, together with a ton of ingredients such as lime slices and chopped green chiles.
Just about any ingredient can be added to Pozole, so as a result, you will find dozens of Pozole recipes.
It doesn’t get any more traditional than Tamales. Tamales were used to feed ancient Aztec warriors, and your family is probably no less hungry.
Tamales are made of masa or dough, steamed in a corn leaf or banana leaf, and filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
You can find Tamales in just about every restaurant in Mexico, so you know it’s a popular favorite. But they do take time to prepare, so this is one dish best bought rather than prepared at home.
Cochinita Pibil is a braised pork recipe, originally from the Yucatan, which involves marinating the pork in achiote paste with orange juice, lime juice, and salt.
The marinating process is key and the pork should marinate for several hours before being slow-cooked for 3 or 4 hours.
Various, traditional Mexican garnishes are added such as dry Mexican cheese, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges.
Cochinita Pibil is absolutely delicious when prepared properly, and is well worth the wait.