By: Lisa Coleman
My friends (who shall remain nameless to protect them from further ridicule) are crazy about “Mexican” food, or what they believe to be something that originated south of the border. When I get dragged to an evil chain restaurant, I usually settle for chips and salsa, as I can’t bring myself to order from a menu that insults the culinary genius that is real Mexican cooking. For the people of Mexico, food is more than a necessity; it is a symbol of their heritage. Trust me when I tell you it’s not Taco Bell or any franchise derivative thereof.
Just in case you were wondering…. Cheddar Cheese hails from the English village of Cheddar… in Somerset…. in ENGLAND. It has driven me crazy for years (and I tend to obsess) that Americans seem to somehow believe that authentic Mexican food involves orange cheese, hard shell tacos and heaven forbid…. the Chimichanga.
According to Wikipedia, this lovely food item may have originated in my home state of Arizona. (I am not proud of this.) “One source says, the founder of the Tucson, Arizona, restaurant El Charro, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a pastry into the deep fat fryer in 1922. She immediately began to utter a Spanish curse-word beginning “chi…” (Spanish speakers insert full word here), but quickly stopped herself and instead exclaimed chimichanga, a Spanish equivalent of thingamajig. Fortuitously, the euphemism was a well understood Indianism for the standard Spanish “chango quemado”, meaning “boiled monkey.” That explains it… don’t you think?
In Mexico, cuisine is culture. Layered by time, and influenced by its European conquerors, this is the original birthplace of fusion cooking. They have always believed taste, smell and visual beauty of food enriches and inspires the spirit. Their interpretation and preparation of food is a mystical experience, a tribute to the great Mexican imagination.
Mexico has a remarkably powerful indigenous ancestry. As a result, it’s one of the world’s most captivating yet subtle cuisines. Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular, monolithic “Mexican food.” The dishes of this fascinating country are diversified by region, each as unique and distinctive as the area and its people. Throughout time, traditional regional dishes have come to represent unity, identity, and the foundation of a heritage.
With over 6,000 miles of coastline, fish is a staple… grilled, not deep fried. Meats are carefully prepared in countless ways, each with its own nuances. Tortillas are handmade and never frozen. And tacos, depending on the region, are made with local grilled fish (pork or beef), lime, maybe some chiles, a few onions and tangy salsa fresca…. And they never, ever come in a hard shell. The cheeses are always fresh and aren’t packaged by Kraft. You just can’t add a mariachi and a margarita and call it authentic…just sayin.
But there is some good news for those of us who fight for the dignity of Mexican food. According to the Associated Press, Mexico is so proud of its cuisine that the government lobbied UNESCO to declare Mexican food an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” And a year ago, it became official. And, if you really want to know what’s what in terms of Mexican cuisine, there are some amazing blogs out there. (I am a huge fan of Mexico Cooks! and its incredibly passionate and talented creator, Cristina Potters.)
So next time you’re in Mexico, drop by a local little restaurant. Make sure there are no gringos within a city block, put on your best smile, and simply point to something on the menu. Now that’s real Mexican food!
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.