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Regional Cuisines of Mexico Guest Post

By guest writer  February 29, 2020

Following is a story that I thought you each might enjoy.  It profiles in a very basic way the differences in the cuisines of Mexico.  Enjoy!

Basic Guide To The Regional Cuisines Of Mexico

Mexican cuisine boasts a long history stretching back over 9,000 years. For most of this time, regional cuisines were determined by locally sourced ingredients. During the 16th century, the Spanish Conquest introduced new ingredients, including dairy products, rice, lamb, goat, chicken, pork, and beef. Spanish trade routes also introduced Filipino and African influences on Mexican cuisine. These changes revolutionized Mexican food. 

Over the past 4 centuries, all these influences led to the creation of 7 distinct regional cuisines in modern Mexico.

Norteño

Much of Northern Mexico is arid but perfect for wheat, sheep, goats, and cattle. The ranches established by Spanish colonists also engaged in cheese production. Because of these influences, Norteño cuisine involves a lot of grilled meat dishes, wheat-flour tortillas, and a wide variety of cheeses. 

There isn’t as much variety to northern food as in other areas. The variety that exists is between the inland areas where meat is prominent and the coastal areas, where seafood is prominent. 

Historically, food preservation techniques were important in the north. Drying beans, corn, squash, chiles, and meat changed their flavor, giving northern food a distinct taste. In the past, drying techniques were laborious. Thankfully, modern food dehydrators make this an easy task today. 

Famous northern dishes include cabrito (roast goat kid), machaca (dried beef or pork), carne asada (grilled and sliced beef), aguachile (shrimp in chile water), chilorio, (pulled pork), guacavaqui (a Sonoran stew), and burritos.     

The north produces the widest variety of cheeses, such as queso fresco (farmer’s cheese) ranchero (ranch cheese), cuajada (milk curd traditionally made from ewe’s milk), queso menonita (soft white cheese), requesón (ricotta-like cheese used as a spread), and asadero (mild, semi-soft cheese).

The Central Pacific Coast

Along the Pacific coastline, seafood is typically cooked with chile along with European spices and then served with spicy salsa. The seafood reflects what’s available in the ocean. Octopus, shrimp, marlin, swordfish, snapper, and tuna all find their way to the table. Caldo michi is a fish soup popular on the banks of Lake Chapala. 

Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, is the gastronomic heart of the region. The most famous dish is birria, a spicy pork, mutton, beef, chicken, or goat stew with spices and chiles. Birria is said to be a great hangover remedy! 

Pozole is a soup from this region made from maze and pork with cabbage, chile peppers, garlic, and salsa toppings. And another popular dish is pachola, a spicy ground beef patty fried in oil or grilled.

The South Pacific Coast 

The highlands along the coast are populated by indigenous peoples who retained much of their pre-conquest cuisine but with the addition of chicken, pork, and a local version of mozzarella cheese from European contact, Oaxaca cheese. 

This cuisine is best known for the 7 mole varieties found in Oaxaca. These are verde, rojo, chichilo, mancha manteles, coloradito, amarillo, and negro. Mole is a traditional spicy sauce found all over Mexico but probably originated in Oaxaca. However, the most famous mole comes from Puebla, mole poblano, and Puebla also claims to be where mole originated. The most popular Oaxacan mole is negro, which is made using chili peppers, chocolate, onions, garlic, and the hoja santa leaf. 

Chocolate is enjoyed as a drink. Hand-ground cocoa beans are combined with cinnamon and almonds to make champurrado (warm with cornflour) or chocolatole. But the most interesting traditional dish is chapulines, which are toasted grasshoppers served as street food.

The Yucatán Peninsula

The food found in Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo is based on indigenous Mayan cuisine with influences from Cuba and the other Caribbean islands along with myriad other lesser influences from European and Middle Eastern foods. 

Corn is the traditional staple, consumed both as solid food and a beverage. Locally sourced tropical fruits are frequently added to Yucatán dishes. And a popular traditional cooking method is to wrap food in banana leaves and place them in a pit oven somewhat resembling Hawaiian luau food traditions. Food cooked this way will be termed pibil

The most famous Yucatán dish is cochinita pibil. Traditionally, this is a whole suckling pig, marinated in citrus juice, seasoned with annatto seed, wrapped in banana leaves, and slow-roasted. More commonly today, pork loin or pork shoulder is used. When cooked, the pork takes on a distinctive burnt orange color.The Gulf Coast

Veracruz and Tabasco

are slim states with long coastlines, so seafood is the primary ingredient. The cooking techniques are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, and African. The Mayans brought vanilla and corn to the table along with tropical fruits. 

The Spanish contributed the European herbs, the kind you can grow in an indoor herb garden for an authentic fresh taste, such as bay laurel, cilantro, marjoram, parsley, and thyme. African slaves introduced new cooking techniques. 

Popular traditional dishes include acamayas (an endemic shrimp), chilpachole (seafood soup), arroz a la tumbada (saucy paella), Pescado a la veracruzana (fish with olives, capers, and tomatoes) and mole de Xico (a thick, sweet and spicy sauce). And, of course, lashings of Tabasco sauce on spicy foods.

The Bajio

This is a vast plateau in Central Mexico that resembles the Spanish plains and so appealed greatly to the initial wave of Spanish colonists. They brought pork, rice, and European spices. Today, the Bajio is renowned as the area within Mexico with the best quality of life. 

The Bajio is known for sweet desserts, such as arroz con leche (rice pudding), cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), bunuelos (fritters), and chongos (curds in syrup). But the best-known traditional dishes are carnitas and morisqueta

To make carnitas (little meats), a 6 lb. cut of pork is braised slowly over a period of 4 hours until the meat is tender and juicy. Then the pork is served in tortillas along with refried beans, guacamole, salsa, and diced onion. Morisqueta is a combination of rice and beans topped with an onion, garlic, and tomato sauce. Sometimes morisqueta also contains large cubes of ranchero or adobera cheese.

Central Mexico

Because Mexico City has been a center of migration since the beginning of the Aztec Empire, the food in central Mexico is a melting pot of the world’s cuisines. In contrast to dishes from other regions of Mexico, central dishes use many ingredients not indigenous to the area. 

Many of the most popular dishes in Mexico City are famous foods from other regions, such as birria and carnitas. However, if you ever visit, watch out for restaurants called Torterias. Often such establishments serve traditional Aztec and Mayan dishes without modern embellishments, so you can truly embrace the indigenous culture. 

The state of Puebla is associated with 2 of the most famous Mexican dishes: chiles en nogada (stuffed chiles with pomegranate seeds and walnut sauce) and mole poblano (Mexico’s most famous mole sauce, made using chocolate, nuts, seeds, and dried chiles).

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