Past & Present of Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine originated in prehistoric times, in the early human settlements where people lived by fishing, hunting, and gathering seeds, edible herbs, and fruits.

There are thousand-years-old remnants of the use of the Molcajete and Metate for grinding, as well as instruments made of obsidian for cutting.

Agriculture, with a focus on maize cultivation, began in the central regions of the country, in the settlements of the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, such as in the Tehuacán Valley, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Chiapas.

In these regions, fossilized maize remains dating back to 5000 B.C. have been found, while in archaeological sites in the southeast, in addition to maize, ancient traces of amaranth, tomatoes, agave, chili peppers, and squash have been discovered, dating between 8000 and 2000 B.C.

For the Mayans, maize was so important that it was part of the genesis of their cosmogony, forming the beginning of the world.

In contrast to this region, in the northern part of the country, hunting and gathering continued, and groups remained nomadic, resulting in fewer archaeological sites than in southeastern Mexico.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that this region was able to settle in fixed locations, becoming a key destination for culinary trade with the rest of the country.

Metate (Photo: Frente Común Ciudadano)

Another ancestral element of Mexican cuisine is cocoa.

There is evidence that it was already in use around 1900 B.C. in the Mokaya culture, which passed it on to their successors, the Olmecs and Mayans.

It was so important and valuable that it was used as currency and as a special ingredient in the sacred beverages used in their rituals.

Regarding livestock, they consumed deer, turkeys, monkeys, xoloitzcuintles (a dog breed), birds, fish, and seafood, all of which are represented in their sculptures and ceramics.

Among the great discoveries made by Mayan culture are those related to gastronomy.

They enriched their diet with jungle plants or cultivated plants like vanilla and cocoa, and they began to use oil, which was extracted from cotton seeds.

They also started using the honey of the melipona bee, which was also considered sacred, and became skilled beekeepers. These ancestral knowledge and practices are still preserved in Maya communities on the Yucatan Peninsula.

During the Classic period, with the establishment of large cities from the central to southern regions, the exchange of products allowed the burgeoning Mexican cuisine to become more diverse.

Some of the most important pre-Hispanic elements in the diet at that time included:

  1. Maize
  2. Huitlacoche (corn smut)
  3. Amaranth
  4. Agave
  5. Nopales and cacti
  6. Tomatoes
  7. Avocado
  8. Ants
  9. Escamoles (ant larvae)
  10. Maguey worms
  11. Chapulines (grasshoppers)
  12. Ahuautle (eggs of a specific insect)
  13. Rabbits
  14. Deer
  15. Pheasants
  16. Ducks
  17. Turkeys
  18. Xoloitzcuintles (a dog breed)
  19. Peccaries
  20. Iguanas
  21. Turtles
  22. Fish
  23. Axolotls
  24. Frogs
  25. Crustaceans

With the Spanish Conquest, a new chapter in the history of Mexican cuisine began, integrating new elements that continue to be part of Mexican food to this day.

Products like sugar, beef, pork, chicken, sheep, and goats (replacing peccaries and xoloitzcuintles), hens, eggs, milk (and dairy products like cheeses, creams, and butters), cinnamon, onions, wheat, rice, cilantro, oregano, and garlic were introduced.

In addition to this, buccaneers brought spices from Asia and Africa, such as pepper, saffron, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, laurel, mint, and marjoram.

The first coffee and grape seeds from Europe also arrived.

The importance of Mexican cuisine lies in its rich history, flavors, and variety, which have transcended borders and influenced the cuisines of other countries.

It is so valuable that it was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO on November 16, 2010.

Among the gifts that Mexican cuisine has given to the culinary world, many have certification of origin, including:

  • Rice from the State of Morelos
  • Bacanora from Sonora
  • Grijalva Cacao from Tabasco
  • Coffee from Chiapas and Veracruz
  • Charanda from Michoacán
  • Habanero Chili from Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo
  • Ataúlfo Mango from Tapachula, Chiapas
  • Mezcal from Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas
  • Sotol from Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango
  • Tequila from Jalisco
  • Vanilla from Papantla, Veracruz

Mexican cuisine is a collection of exquisite typical dishes, most of which have maize as the main ingredient, a dietary staple from ancient times.

Among the most famous are tacos, tlacoyos, tlayudas, and tamales, as well as beverages like pozol, atole, and tejuino.

Born from mestizaje (cultural mixing), you’ll find mole poblano, chiles en nogada, enchiladas, cochinita pibil, to name a few of the most famous.

Typical dishes of Mexican cuisine are many and varied, as each of the 32 states that make up the country has its own traditional cuisine.

However, there are dishes, desserts, and drinks that are well-recognized and can be savored when you visit Mexico.

Among these typical dishes of Mexican cuisine are:

  1. Tacos, which are corn tortillas filled with various types of fillings and are found throughout the country.
  2. Mole, with various regional variations, such as the famous red mole from Puebla, known for its complex sauce made with several chili peppers, spices, and even chocolate.
  3. Chiles en Nogada, also from Puebla, a dish that can only be enjoyed in August and September when the ingredients for the sauce, including castile walnuts and pomegranate, are in season. It’s known for its colors, representing the Mexican flag.

TYT Newsroom

more recommended stories