When someone mentions Mexican food, you may be inclined to think of nachos, hard-shell chicken or beef tacos, and cheesy quesadillas. But you may be surprised to find out that the dishes you thought are quintessential Mexican food are actually more American than Mexican.
The rise of fast-casual food chains, like Taco Bell and Chipotle plus the growing popularity of Tex-Mex food, buried the image of authentic Mexican cuisine. If you’re planning to franchise a Mexican restaurant or just want to know how to tell what’s real from what’s not, here’s what food straight out of Mexico really looks like.
The Core of Mexican Cuisine
Authentic Mexican food is heavy with the use of corn and beans, which are the country’s staple carbohydrates. Tomatoes, avocadoes, and flour are ubiquitous to the cuisine as well. The coastal communities have easy access to seafood, so these are also present in many of their dishes.
The Spanish had a great influence on how Mexicans cuisine. They introduced meat, like beef, pork, and chicken, and dairy products. Thanks to colonization, Mexico also learned to incorporate different spices and flavors into their cooking, such as garlic, onion, anise, cinnamon, cilantro, and the like.
Mexican cuisine also uses chilies frequently, but not as much as the Americans thought. The chili is meant to complement but not overpower the flavors of the dish; the goal is to keep a balance between all the flavors.
Mexican food can be as simple as a roasted chicken tostada, which takes less than 20 minutes to prepare, or as complex as the mole poblano.
Tex-Mex: The Mexican Food Wannabe
There’s a big chance that the Mexican food you’re familiar with is Tex-Mex, which is a fusion of Mexican and American cuisine. As Mexican food became more and more popular in the early 1800s, Americans started adding their own twist to the cuisine.
Undoubtedly, there are plenty of similarities between the two cuisines, especially in terms of flavor and ingredients. But there are also some striking differences. For one, authentic Mexican food rarely uses yellow cheese. Tex-Mex dishes, like nachos, tacos, and quesadillas, are popular for being rich with stringy cheddar cheese, while Mexican food more commonly uses white cheese.
Also, Mexicans aren’t big on tacos, especially the hard-shell kind. Mexican cuisine uses corn tortilla for tacos, with a carne asada filling topped with onion, lime, and cilantro. Tex-Mex tacos are usually made with a hard corn shell or flour tortilla, filled with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. Another Mexican counterpart of the taco is the tostadas. They’re crispy flat tortillas topped with avocado, cherry tomatoes, yellow pepper, and fancy fish.
There’s nothing to dislike about Tex-Mex food. It’s a result of people wanting to change and adopt different, unfamiliar flavors. Looking at the two cuisines, Mexican and Tex-Mex, you’ll see a blend of two different cultures – the product of a long history of people.
Whether you prefer Mexican or Tex-Mex, there’s no denying that the two cuisines are rich, both in flavor and in culture.