History of Mexican Cuisine
October 12 2006
The variety of natural environment in
and the highlands of Central American has been unfair to the
development of food and dietary patterns. From the dryness of
the desert in the north, through the mild basins of the
valley to the tropical forests of the South, different climates
and soils have conditioned what and how people ate. Within the
large regions, hundreds of micro regions have had their own
environmental and dietary characteristics, and for millennia,
cultures have adapted these environments to suit their food
needs. Three especially deep events that have influenced
environment and diet are the appearance of agriculture, the
arrival of Europeans (1519), and the technical and governmental
changes that occurred in the twentieth century.
Mexican food is a style of food that is created in
Mexico. Mexican Cuisine is
known for its strong and mixed flavors, colorful decoration, and
the variety of spices that it has. Mexican cooking, in terms of
variety of pleasing taste and texture, is one of the riches in
the world in proteins, vitamins and minerals, though some people
describe it as very spicy.
When the Spanish conquistadors came to
in the sixteenth century, they found a country with a rich
native cuisine (A Thumbnail History Pages 1-3). The Spanish
brought with them cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens, as
well as olive oil, cinnamon, parsley, coriander, oregano and
black pepper (A Thumbnail History Pages 1-3). They also
introduced nuts and grains, such as almonds, rice, wheat and
barley, as well as fruits and vegetables, such as apples,
oranges, grapes, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower and potatoes (A
Thumbnail History Pages 1-3). These ingredients were incorporate
into native food dishes.
The combination of cultures that mark Mexican history influenced
the nature of Mexican food. Corn, which has been a basic
ingredient in Mexican food for 4000 years, is the fundamental
ingredient in the diet (Mexican Food Pages 1-17). Corn kernels
are first soften in water and lime, then ground, and finally
fashioned (most typically) into tortillas (Mexican Food Pages
1-17) Beans, rich in protein, plus a seemingly endlessly variety
of chilies, provide the final ingredients in this “holy trinity
of Mexican cookery” (Mexican Food Pages 1-17).
From this basic beginning, Mexican cuisine provides a broad
variety of dishes. High-quality ingredients surely counts for a
lot, but the Mexicans are also talented cooks and seem to know
how to give a dish that extra energy that makes it special. An
easy salsa Mexican is taken to new heights with a touch of
cilantro and lime, while a complex mole sauce is always heavenly
thanks to over thirty carefully-chosen herbs and spices which
are added in and left to slowly simmer in the pot.
The ideal of tortillas being “wrapped, filled and eaten in
various forms” is a custom that originated with the Aztecs
(Enchiladas Pages 1-2). However, referring to this dish as an
“enchilada” dates in the
from 1885 (Enchiladas Pages 1-2). The word “enchilada” means “in
chili” and it is generally a snack sold on the streets of Mexico, and it consists of a “corn
tortilla dipped in chili sauce” (Enchiladas Pages 1-2). This
real Mexican version of the dish is totally different from the
so-called enchiladas served in the
US, which are “limp, stuffed
tortillas,” hidden beneath a sea of red sauce and cheese
(Enchiladas Pages 1-2). Here are two recipes:
Twelve (12) corn tortillas
One (1) 28oz can of red enchilada sauce
2 cups (16oz) mozzarella or queso blanco
11/2 cups meat (optional) shredded beef or chicken
2-3 tablespoons oil
Coat each tortilla with oil using your hands or a brush. Spread
out on a cookie sheet or baking dish and bake in a500 degree
oven for about 7 minutes. Take out to cool until they are warm
to the touch.
The cheese can be shredded, or just cut into slices 3-4 inches
long and ¼ inch thick. (Or thicker if you like them cheesy.)
Pour just enough sauce in the bottom of a 9X13 glass-baking dish
to cover it. Pour the rest of the sauce into a large bowl.
Lay the tortilla in a baking dish and if you are using the meat,
put in about 2-3 tablespoons. Place the cheese on top of the
meat. Fold one edge over the cheese, then the other one, and
then turn the whole things over, fold side down, in baking dish.
Repeat for each tortilla. Sprinkle any leftover sauce and/or
cheese on top of enchiladas.
Place in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is
Chicken Enchiladas Suiza
Twelve (12) corn tortillas
2 cups shredded chicken
6 oz. chopped, roasted and skinned green chilies (fresh is best,
but you can use canned in a pinch)
3 cups of fresh spinach
½ cup chopped onion
1-cup cream or sour cream
4 oz. cotija, crumbled
5 oz. evaporated milk
15 oz. green Chile sauce
Warm oil to dip tortillas in
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the
onions for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and cook it for about
5 minutes until leaves are wilted. Fold in the chicken and green
chilies. Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat cream, evaporated milk, cotija and chili
sauce over heat until sauce is smooth.
Prepare a 9x13 inch-baking dish by coating the bottom with a thin layer of
sauce. Dip a tortilla into the warm oil to soften it and place
it into the pan. Place about ¼ cup filling down the center of
the tortilla and sprinkle with a tablespoon of Asadero or Queso
Roll the tortilla up and place seam side down in dish. Repeat until all
tortillas are used.
Pour remaining sauce over the top, Sprinkle with the crumbled cotija. Bake
dish for 15 minutes to melt the cheese.
A taco is a “tortilla with something wrapped inside” (Avernin
Pages 1-5). Again, as with enchiladas, the central ingredient is
the tortilla, which is made from corn and should not be mistaken
for a Spanish version of the same name that is made of eggs and
potato (Avernin Pages 1-5). Dating from the time of the Spanish
conquest, Bernardino de Sahagun provides a list of the various
types of tortillas that the Spanish encountered in
Mexico. These are:
– a color corn flour tortilla.
which translates as a very thin, large, white tortilla.
– a large, white, thick, coarse tortilla
made with nixtamal, and totonqui.
– which refers to the common white tortilla
(Avernin Pages 1-5)?
to Avernin, a “taco” is “definitely not: A canary yellow
tortilla with black sports” (Avernin Pages 1-5). Therefore, the
hard, curled up holders typically called “tacos” in the US are nothing
of the kind (Avernin). Bernal Diaz Del Castillo documented the
first taco feast enjoyed by Europeans and Cortes himself
arranged for the banquet in Coyoacan for these captains (Avernin
Pages 1-5). However, the taco predates the European invasion as
anthropologists have found evidence that the people living in
the lake region of the
traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish (Avernin Pages
1-5). As this suggests, the content of a taco differs with
geographical region, but also, with the time of the day, as
there are “early morning tacos, evening tacos and late night
The history of the tamales is ancient. There is evidence that
this is a Mexican dish that dates as early as 5000 BC, possibly
7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. In Pre-Columbian history,
women follow armies of warriors and served as cooks. The warring
tribes of the “Aztec, Maya and Incan cultures” created a need
for a ready portable, but sustaining, food and the tamale were
born. Tamales can be ready ahead of time planned for their
consumption and warmed as required. They can be “steamed,
grilled, or over the fire, or put directly on top of coals to
warm,” or even eaten cold. There is no record of which Mexican
culture that actually invented the tamale, but the evidence
suggests that one culture did and the others followed this
The use of tamales caught on fast in Pre- Columbian culture and
there was a variety of dishes that is unknown today. There were:
plain tamales, tamales with red, green, yellow and black Chile, tamales
with chocolate, fish tamales, frog, tadpole, mushroom, rabbit,
gopher, turkey, bee, egg, squash blossom, honey, ox, seed and
nut tamales. There were white and red fruit tamales, white
tamales, and yellow tamales, dried meat tamales, roasted meat,
stewed meat, bean and rice tamales. There was sweet sugar,
pineapple, raisin, cinnamon, berry, banana and pumpkin tamales.
There were hard and soft cheese tamales, roasted quill tamales,
ant, potato, goat, wild boar, lamb and tomato tamales. The
wrapping for these tamales varied almost as much as the
“Cornhusks, banana leaves, fabric, avocado leaves, soft tree
bark and other not poisonous, non-toxic leaves” were used:
The most typically used wrappings were cornhusk, banana or
avocado leaves. Over the centuries, the variety of tamales has
decreased. Now the most common are “red and green Chile, chicken, pork, beef, sweet Chile, cheese
and of late, vegetables”. Since making tamales is labor
intensive; tamales have become associated with holiday fare in
Mexican culture. Women work collectively and the process usually
takes an entire day, as it is “virtually unheard of to make a
few tamales”. Generally, when tamales are made “hundreds are
made at a time” for “tamale feasts”.
“Salsa” is the Spanish word for
“sauce”. The common conception of salsa today are “salsa
frescos” or salsa crude,” that is fresh sauces served as a
condiment with a Mexican meal. These uncooked sauces are pureed
until smooth or semi-chunky. Evidently, from the accounts of
Spanish-born Bernadino de Sahagun, vegetable sauces were a
stable of Mexican cuisine since the time of the Aztecs.
De Sahagun’s accounts describe the products sold by food vendors
in large Aztec markets in great detail. He says that Aztec
merchants sold “foods, sauces, hot sauces, fried food,
olla-cooked, juices, sauces of juices, and shredded food with Chile.” These food stuffs were sold
with a wide variety of condiments, which included “squash seeds,
with tomatoes, with smoke Chile,
with hot Chile, with yellow
Chile, with mild red
Chile sauce, yellow
Chile sauce, sauce of smoked
and heated sauce. Toward the end of this long description, De
Sahagun begins to describe what sounds remarkably like modern
salsa. He says that food sold with the sauce of small squash,
sauce of large tomatoes, sauce of ordinary tomatoes, sauce of
various kinds of sour herbs, avocado sauce”.
“Salsa as a culinary sauce takes a
variety of spices and vegetables in there combination creates a
plate that is attractive, tasty and unique” (Falcon, Rafael
Pages 105-112). For me, the Hispanic Culture is a lot like
salsa. Everything is altogether in one dish with a lot of favor.
The Most Basic of Ingredients
As this brief history of Mexican cuisine shows, at the heart of
virtually all-Mexican dishes is corn, which was regarded by the
native people of Mexico as “gift of the gods.” In a
traditional Navajo wedding ceremony, the bride’s grandmother
presents the wedding couple with a basket of cornmeal and the
“couple exchange small handfuls with each other”.
This is simply a variety of corn that has a dark bluish to red
color, which has a coarser texture and nuttier flavor than other
varieties of corn. It has been a stable food of Pueblo Indians.
“Masa” is the Mexican word for “dough,” and it refers to the
dough produced to make tortillas, tamales, and other traditional
This term, which is frequently encountered in Mexican cooking,
refers to dried maize (corn) that has been treated with lime and
The outside leaves that cover the corn that is still on the cob.
Husks have many uses and can be used fresh or dried. Typically,
dried corn husks are soaked and used to wrap foods, such as
A trip at the Mexican Restaurant
My family and I went to a Mexican restaurant. We all order a
number of items from the menu an al carte and passed the plates
around sampling as much as we could. We tried the Chile relleno,
the tamales, a couple different kinds of enchiladas, and a taco
al carbon with shredded jicama, carrots and mango on the side,
the excellent carnitas (loved by all), the queso fundido (loved
especially by my daughter who was much spoken about her approval
of it), the nopalitos, cilantro lime rice, epazote- flavored
black beans, and frijoles charros.
At the end of the meal we ordered one of each dessert and shared
all around. Their special dessert, the flan, made fresh
everyday, is the creamiest I’ve ever experienced. The chocolate
cake is more like a soufflé, light and moist, and served with a
scoop of vanilla ice creamed and strawberry slices. With the
three milks, there were some varying opinions, but I gobbled up
whatever others didn’t eat. My first experience with the three
milks was at the restaurant where the server told me I might not
like it because usually only Mexicans like it so I guess it is
one of those things where you are born to like it or you are
not. Overall, we had a good time and great food. I would go back
to a Mexican restaurant.
As this survey suggests, Mexican
cuisine has a long and varied history and it represents a
variety of foods that are varied and rich (Thumbnail History
Pages 1-3). Presented with a slim variety of foods that are
deemed “Mexican,” North Americans certainly come to the
conclusion that Mexican food is uniform and boring, which is far
from the truth of its diversity of “appealing tastes and
textures,” as well as its imaginative use of ingredients.
Furthermore, there is the interesting fact that the basic diet
stables of Pre-Columbian Mexico, corn and beans, are incredibly
practical from a survival standpoint.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which are
essential to health and life. However, if a diet is lacking in
one of these essential amino acids, the production of protein is
restricted, harming health, even producing fatalities. Neither
corn nor beans possess a full set of amino acids; however, put
these two foods together and they represent a complete protein
source, which is so crucial to optimum health. Therefore, a corn
tortilla smeared with bean paste has as much protein as a
chicken, beef, or any other meat. This fact of the Mexican
Pre-Columbian diet enabled even the poorest peasant to be
adequately nourished and, of course, is still a factor in the
diet of the Mexican people.
Falcon, Rafael. “Salsa” A Taste of Hispanic Culture Pages
105 – 112 The author explains specific food and Beverage items.
Such as Bread, Chili Peppers, Flan, Coffee, Tea, Pińa Colada,
Sahagun, Bernadino de. “History of Salsa” Different ways how
to make salsas Pages 1 – 2. The author explains the making
of a sauce by combining chilies, tomatoes, and other ingredients
like squash seeds and even beans has been documented back to the
Averin, Sophie. “History of Tortillas and Tacos” Tortilla
History Pages 1 – 5 The author explains Tackling the taco
and a guide to the art of taco eating.
Kennedy, Diana. “Enchiladas.” Art of Mexican Cooking
Pages 1 – 2 the author explains that there are two basic methods
of making enchiladas. The first method is where the tortilla is
lightly fried then dipped in a warm chili sauce then filled and
rolled. The second method dips the tortilla in raw sauce then
lightly fried, filled and rolled.
Sosa, Elain. “Mexico” The Mexican Diet
Pages 1 – 17 The author explains about the Mexican table that is
filled with an assortment of foodstuffs such as sauces, soups,
and stews are common and expected, while preparation range from
quick-fry to slow roasting. She talks about a list of key
elements in the Mexican diet.
“A Thumbnail History” Mexican Food: A Short History Pages
article talk about a vanilla substance was resulting from the
fruit pod of certain species of Mexican orchid and chocolate
come from the fruit of Mexican cacao tree. The two main foods of
the native country, are corn and beans. Quesadillas, which is
Mexican street side, strands. Also
talks about the colonial period of the pork lion in spicy sauce.
The most Mexican fervently honored dish mole poblano. In
addition, a French inspired dish called stuffed Chilies in
“Corn, Maize, Masa, Nixtamal, Pozole”GourmetSleuth – Corn,
Maize, Masa, Nixtamal Pages 1 – 4.
http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/masanixtamal.htm. Corn is the
essential ingredient for making tortillas, tamales, hominy, and
pozole. Each of the above terms and food will be discussed in
“The History of Tamales” Eat Tamale at Tamara’s Tamales
Pages 1 – 2.
http://www.tamarastamales.com/his.tamale.html. The article
talk about how they were recorded as early as 5000 BC possibly
7000 BC. Women were taken along on the battle to cook different
kinds of Mexican Foods for the men. They talk about how they are
steamed, grilled over the fire and talk about different kinds of