Tamales and Quesadillas

Mexico is famous for its cuisine, which of course varies by region. It is made up of the per-Colombian staples of corn, beans, squash, chili powder, tropical fruits, and avocado. Visitors to the Yucatan will find corn tortillas and beans as staples, as well as chicken-based dishes that characterize the Maya diet.

A main component of the Mexican diet today is the same as it was in the time of the Maya and Aztecs; corn. Hominy is used in dishes such as pozole (meat stew) and is also processed into dough or masa which is extremely prevalent in Mexican cuisine. This dough can be used to make many things, for example, tamales. These are masa dough parcels containing meats, beans, eggs, mushrooms or even fruits. Dishes like tamales are often wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. One way to cook them is to put the wrapped parcels in the embers of a burnt out.

Masa is also used to make tortillas which are involved in a huge number of dishes and are guaranteed to be encountered on any Mexico vacation. Tacos, burritos, enfrijolades and enchiladas all involve tortillas. Tortillas are baked over a wood fired griddle or on a stove in a comal pan.

Chillies are ubiquitous in Mexican cooking and have been since the earliest civilizations. Different varieties and different cooking techniques create signature flavours which mark the authenticity of regional dishes. A dish like chile rellenos (stuffed chillies) is heavily influenced by the type of chillies used. In Oaxaca this dish will often be made with chile de agua whereas in the north of the country poblano chillies are more commonly used. Meals are usually served with sauces and salsas separate so they can be added to taste. The warmth of these earthy flavors, colorful combinations and intense aromas help make Mexico travel such a unique experience.

A vacation in Oaxaca provides quite possibly the best food in the country. Quesillo is a type of salty cheese that is now exported all over the world. Oaxaca is also famous for chapulines, which are barbequed grasshoppers.

A major ingredient in Mexican cooking are various pastes. These are preparations of herbs and spices. Yucatan is famous for the brick coloured Achiote paste which is sold all over Mexico. Achiote is made from achiote seeds, garlic, herbs and spices.

On the coast shrimp, marlin and clams are caught in view of the beach-side eateries where they are cooked and served. Fish are cooked over open fires, sometimes using grilling baskets which are flipped while sauce or butter is applied as the meat cooks. As in many types of Mexican cooking local wood is placed over the coals to infuse the food with distinctive flavours.

Mole (mo-lay) sauce is the name for a number of different preparations of sauces that are integral in Mexican cuisine. A common mole is poblano, a red brown sauce served with meat or chicken. Oaxaca is sometimes called “the land of seven moles” due to its range of distinctive moles of different colours. The most famous of these is their black mole which contains chocolate and hoja santa.

Other staple ingredients are pumpkin seeds, rice, beans, garlic, roasted tomatoes or tomatillos (green tomatoes), squash blossoms, lime juice and white onions. Exotic ingredients include armadillo, snake, spider monkey, insects such as Chapulines (grasshoppers common served fried in Oaxaca), Iguana and corn fungus.

A cruise to Mexico will likely feature such mouth-watering favorites as tamales and quesadillas, mole sauces, soups, carne asada and chorizo. Mexico is also famous for its chocolate, which has a cinnamon twist and is excellent hot.

All of this will most likely be accompanied by good Mexican tequila or mezcal, which is produced in abundance from the agave plants that grow so well in the region. Mexico tours through villages will bring travellers into contact with more exotic specialities than are found in cities.