The social network that celebrates Latin food
It’s impossible to talk of Mexican cuisine without an ode to corn. No, not the bland, lifeless white corn you might imagine in the U.S, but rather meaty, hearty, sustaining corn pressed into thin or thick tortillas and warmed on a clay grill, steamed to sweet perfection in tamales, fried into crispy tostadas or perhaps filling out a pozole in the form of crunchy, grainy hominy. There are hundreds of varieties of corn here, from yellow to blue and black, all ranging in textures, flavors, and consistencies. One restaurant in Oaxaca, in fact, devotes itself entirely to the art and beauty of indigenous varieties of corn, and I’d be shocked if it were the only such place in the country.
But by no means does Mexican cuisine stop and end there. Tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados, squash, nopal (cactus leaf), onion, garlic, beans of many shapes, sizes, and textures, cumin, achiote, epazote, oregano, cilantro, cinnamon, chocolate, and of course, hot chilis from chipotle to pasilla are all central to Mexican gastronomy.
Beef and chorizo are also players in the food scene. Chorizo, bright red and crumbly when cooked, is served with eggs for breakfast, blended with potatoes in quesadillas, or grilled to succulent perfection and eaten with tortillas in tomato sauce (entomatadas) or tortillas in black bean sauce (enfrijoladas). Tasajo, thin skirt steak which can easily be pulled apart by hand, is by far the most popular cut of beef. In the north of Mexico menudo, a soup made of tripe and hominy, is a common staple, and beef tends to be eaten more widely than in the South.
Each region of Mexico has a different standout speciality cuisine – in Veracruz, it’s huachinango a la veracruzana (red snapper in a spicy garlic tomato sauce), in Yucatan it's cochinita pibil (either a whole suckling pig or pork shoulder marinated in achiote paste and bitter orange leaves and slow cooked in banana leaves, served with ultra-spicy habanero chiles in vinegar) in Jalisco its pozole, a pork broth soup with hominy and a wide range of garnishes, and in Oaxaca its molé negro, a thick, unbelievably rich sauce made with ingredients that would take a page to name: chocolate, peanuts, bananas, bread, four types of chiles…
On a recent trip to Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte, a friend said to me, “You know, Mexico is one of the few places in the world where you can walk into a tiny kitchen in the middle of the mountains and you know you’re going to eat something amazing.” It’s true. The wealth of natural ingredients here, and the perseverance of traditional foods and cooking methods in spite of the arrival of the easily recognizable international junk foods, make Mexican cuisine exceptional. The friend I traveled with is leaving this week, and I know that more than he misses me, or Spanish, or Mexico, he’ll miss sizzling pots of tangy green chilaquiles, grainy warm tortillas filled with papas con chorizo, tender pork rib in a smoky chipotle sauce, the smell of steam rising from a pot of soft, warm tamales.