One of the most misunderstood international cuisines is Mexican food. If you were to take a random “person on the street” poll in “anytown” Canada/U.S. and inquired about favorite Mexican dishes you’ll hear all sorts of comments about hard-shelled tacos and other items that show up in Old El Paso section of your local grocery chain. It is true that when many people consider Mexican food they are conjuring an image of a hybrid that has taken authenticity and watered it down as generations have become exposed to fast food chains and their Frankenstein-esque creations. To be fair, this happens to pretty much all international foods when they make landfall in Western civilization and there have been some delicious results because of it. That being said, it is important to note the difference between what is and what isn’t inherently Mexican food, while dismissing misnomers regarding one of the most popular regional cuisines in the world. As an authority on the topic we thought we’d provide those of you with a hunger for culinary knowledge with some insight into Mexican food by addressing its key misconceptions.
Five Misinterpretations of Authentic Mexican Cuisine
1. Hard-shell Tacos (and Fajitas) Are Mexican
The concept of the crisp, hard-shelled taco is not an inherently Mexican one. This crisp twist on the taco catapulted from the Tex-Mex and Mexi-Cali movements of the mid-1900’s. There is debate as to which restaurant in which state (Texas, New Mexico, or California) was the first to fry and stuff a corn tortilla and call it a taco, but there is no debate as to who perfected the folded u-shape and made hard-shell tacos all the rage. Glen Bell (yes, of Taco Bell) introduced his take on tacos (hard shell, ground beef, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce) to Southern California in the 1950’s in an effort to put a Mexican twist of the McDonald’s franchise concept. Decades of marketing dollars went into pumping out the perception of Mexican food in America, which was also responsible for the fajita (also not Mexican) finding it’s way onto the menus of Tex-Mex and Mexi-Cali eateries. Thankfully, over the last decade in particular, the mainstream has been inundated with more authentic Mexican food. Taquerias, food trucks, and fine-dining establishments alike have been serving up traditional soft-shell tacos and the public has responded very favorably.
2. Cheddar Cheese is Used in Everything
Another myth born from mainstream franchise marketing of the Tex-Mex/Mexi-Cali concept is that Mexican food uses cheddar cheese on practically everything. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our cheese-graders are far more likely to touch the soft crumbling edges of Añejo (great for enchiladas), Chihuahua (aka Queso Menonita), Cotija (similar to Parmesan in texture), Queso Fresco (“fresh cheese” that works well melted), Queso de Oaxaca (the “mozzarella of Mexico”) and Queso Panela (best enjoyed while moist and fresh).
3. All Mexican Food is Spicy
While it is true that chilies are a primary ingredient in Mexican cooking not all recipes produce a spicy result, even if chilies are mixed in. The majority of chilies may have a notable kick but sweet bell peppers (aka pimiento morrón), for example, are inherently sweet. Even the most popular street foods (see item #5 below) are not considered spicy. The authentic Mexican taco, for example, is only made so when you choose to add one of the spicier sauces/salsas as a topping. The taco itself, be Carne Asada or Tacos de Pescado, not spicy by nature. Ceviche too is another example of a popular Mexican dish that need not be accompanied by an after-dinner dose of Pepto Bismol. There are numerous Mexican dishes that are not spicy.
4. Mexican Food is Unhealthy
Like any regional cuisine Mexican food has dishes that allow you indulge in times of celebration and on your “cheat days” of choice. But the images you may have of deep-fried carbs and gooey cheese are not all-encompassing to Mexican food by any means. For starters, Mexican cooking on the whole incorporates fresh ingredients from the garden. The result is a diet rich in produce driven antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Mexican cooking also borrows heavily from the sea, using shrimp, prawns, and fish (Yellowfin Tuna, Marlin, etc.) that are high in quality protein and essential fatty acids, including omega-3.
5. Mexican Food is Street Food
“Street Food” is an expression commonly used to describe Mexican dishes that were traditionally served from a roadside cart in major city centers such as Mexico City and Guadalajara. This “street food” includes many of your favorites – tacos (the real ones), tamales, tostadas, tortas and all of the other handheld Mexican goodies you’ve come to adore. However, Mexican cuisine has been on the upscale and gourmet scene for just as long, and has further gained in popularity over recent years. Open your latest fine dining guide and you’ll find critics in major city centers raving about some Mexican themed restaurant or another, from Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Washington DC to Toloache in NYC. While street food is a big part of the cooking culture Mexican is also synonymous among culinary fans of all things gourmet.
Looking for a taste of real Mexican food? Considering mastering a few recipes of your own with the aid of authentic ingredients and Mexican food products? If you reside within (or are visiting) the Greater Vancouver area we welcome you stop by our family-owned and operated shop.