There are a lot of reasons to visit Mexico — from the beautiful sun and surf to the vibrant history and lush landscapes, Mexico is an enchanting country for any traveler. No visit to the country is complete without indulging in the creative local cuisine, though! To ensure you taste the best Mexico has to offer, we’ve put together our top 10 favourite authentic Mexican dishes you have to try during your vacation. How many have you tried?
A traditional Mexican stew, pozole is made with hominy, shredded cabbage, chile peppers, onion, garlic, avocado, lime, and either chicken or pork. Pozole is a delicious comfort food served on days of celebration — so if you’re in Mexico celebrating a birthday or anniversary, you’ve got to try out the popular dish! Part of what makes pozole pop is the presence of hominy, a traditional step in making masa, a corn-based flour popular in a lot of Mexican cuisine. The corn is made into hominy through the process of nixtamalization, a method of processing corn that dates back to 1200 – 1500 BCE in Mesoamerica!
2. Frijoles de la Olla
Translated as beans cooked in a pot, frijoles de la olla are a simple-but-tasty Mexican staple. Often served with other dishes as a side, the beans in frijoles de la olla form the base for refried beans as well as being delicious in their own right. Because beans vary widely in taste and texture, no two frijoles de la olla dishes are exactly the same! You don’t want to be leaving Mexico without trying the beans at at least two different spots. The dish is great for lunch — and served nearly everywhere in Mexico!
Horchata isn’t a dish — it’s a drink! The kind of horchata popular is Mexico is specifically called horchata de arroz, distinct from the horchatas made from tiger nuts or jicaro seeds in other areas of the world. Rice, water, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and (sometimes) milk make up the base — and while vanilla horchata is delicious enough on its own, you can find some spiked with flavors like coconut. Horchata made its way to Mexico through the Spaniards, who in turn got the drink from their African neighbours. Given it doesn’t have to contain dairy, horchata is a popular choice for a cool drink that won’t spoil in the heat.
4. Tortilla Soup
Popular both in Mexico and out, tortilla soup — also known as sopa azteca — is a spiced tomato broth-based soup with fried tortilla pieces, chiles, garlic, and onion. It’s often garnished with sour cream, cheese, avocado, and even pork cracklings. As a comfort food, tortilla soup can’t be beaten! Though the history of the soup is a bit muddied — origin stories point to Central Mexico and Mexico City both — it’s a favourite around the country for a reason. Like frijoles de la olla, no two tortilla soups are exactly the same, so don’t be afraid to try multiple different versions!
5. Mango con Chile y Limon
Mango flowers encapsulate and in many ways define Mexican street food. They’re simple, and yet they’re delicious — and they’re beautiful, too! Street vendors cut up whole mangos into either a flower or pinecone shape, then sprinkle over the sweet fruit chile powder and lime juice. That’s it! While the combination of mango and chile may seem unusual to outside palettes, it’s a popular street food pairing for a reason. Truly authentic tastes of Mexico aren’t complete without this street snack!
Another popular street food, elotes draw on the long tradition of using corn in Mexican cuisine. Husked corn on the cob is charred on the grill, then sprinkled with salt, chile powder, cotija, lime juice, and either mayo or crema fresca. It’s a spicy and creamy way to enjoy corn on the go! Every street vendor will have their own take on elotes, but they all have a woody, grilled flavor from the charr on the corn. If you’ve previously only had corn on the cob boiled or cooked in the husk, this is a method of preparation you can’t miss out on!
7. Chiles en Nogada
Feeling like a Mexican patriot after all that great food? You’re in luck — there’s one dish that has been developed specifically to fill up the patriotic tastebuds! Chiles en nogada is a dish that showcases the three colours of the Mexican flag, reportedly created in the state of Puebla for the future emperor, Agustin de Iturbide. Traditionally, chiles en nogada comprised of a bright green poblano chili filled with picadillo — meats, fruits, and spices — and covered in a creamy walnut sauce. It’s finished off with bright red pomegranate seeds, which makes it particularly popular between October and January, which is pomegranate season.
Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican staple! Corn tortillas are cut roughly into quarters and then lightly fried before being covered with either mole or red salsa and then simmered. Toppings vary widely — you can find chilaquiles topped with scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, raw onion, avocado like many other Mexican dishes, chilaquiles are versatile! Depending on where you are in Mexico, you may encounter a different take on chilaquiles that doesn’t simmer the tortillas for as long. This version, found in Central Mexico, keeps the tortillas crisper than others!
Like popsicles found in other parts of the world, paletas are made with either flavored water or milk — the difference is in the flavors! An average paleta is made with fresh fruit local to Mexico, like tamarind and nance. Other flavors you can find in paletas are a little less traditional to people outside Mexico — flavors like chile pepper and chamoy! Want a little spice with your ice? Try a paleta!
10. Tacos al Pastor
Leaving Mexico without trying the local taco fare is unthinkable — and there are a lot of different kinds to try! While you certainly donâ€™t want to pass up any of them, you should particularly look out for tacos al pastor, a dish that could be considered some of the first modern fusion cuisine! Tacos al pastor, you see, are a marriage of traditional Mexican cuisine to the tastes of Lebanese-Mexican immigrants. Similar to shawarma, pork meat is cooked on a spit, then shaved and served on a corn tortilla with chiles, spices, and pineapple. Other toppings vary by region and vendor, but they’re all delicious! Is your mouth watering yet?…