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Getting to Know the Different Regions of Traditional Mexican Food

April 6, 2014 0 Comments
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Lionfish Ceviche in a Watermelon Gazpacho

Lionfish Ceviche & Gazpacho

If you’re looking for bold tastes and delicious cuisines, look no further than Mexico! Mexico hosts multiple regions with distinct flavors that can offer even the most seasoned international eater something new and exciting. Native Mexican cuisine can include such staples as tomatoes, avocados, cocoa, squash, vanilla, edible flowers, and tropical fruits. Corn is a large staple in the food whether eaten fresh or dried and ground with lime to make dough that is used widely in tamales, tortillas, and sopes. Spices are what give many Mexican dishes their valiant flavor. Some of the most popular are chili powder, onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Because Cozumel, Mexico is the largest cruise ship port in the world, the island attracts workers from all over the country, and we are fortunate to benefit from the unique flavors of the various parts Mexico they bring with them! In this article we will broadly discuss some of the more popular cuisine regions including Oaxaca, Northern, Puebla, Jalisco, Yucatán, Sonora, and Veracruz.

Oaxaca is a popular tourist destination with over 310 miles of sandy white beaches along the Pacific Coast. With their mountains, stunning colonial architecture, and archeological ruins, Oaxaca entices travelers from around the world annually. The cuisine there is no exception. The dietary staple in Oaxaca is corn which is dried and ground to create dough that is used in many dishes such as empanadas, tamales, and entomatadas. The delicious food you can find here is unlike any other place in the world and is often touted for its unique combination of ingredients normally not found in other places in Mexico. The main flavoring agent you will find is the chile pepper which comes in a wonderful range of varieties including amarillos, costeños, chilhuacles, chilcostles, with the most distinguishing being pasilla oaxaqueña chile. Here you can also find unique Oaxaca cheese, edible grasshoppers that are fried and seasoned with lime, salt, and chile pepper, and traditional tamales which are wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with mole filling. This region is known for their moles which are complex with most having well over 30 ingredients. While the ingredients can vary, the staple for Oaxaca moles are poblano, ancho, or amarillo chiles and their staple passilla oaxaqueña sauce which is described as having a bright and smoky flavor. The most famous offering though is their chocolate which is said to be the best in Mexico. It is grown right in the region, hand ground with cinnamon, almonds, and other ingredients and drank as a hot beverage.

The Northern area of Mexico is very different from its southern counterpart. Due to the dry and sandy land found in Northern Mexico, the native inhabitants here were more hunter-gathers rather than agricultural. Because of this a lot of the dishes found in the Northern area are meat based with beef being the most popular. Their use of cows has led to a booming ranch market which makes Northern Mexico the largest variety of cheese producers. Here you can find the sweet and creamy cuajada, smoky and semi-soft asadero, a ricotta like requesón, and fresh farmer’s cheeses including ranchero and queso fresco. The desert like climate here has made it possible to grow many varieties of wheat that are used to create over 40 different types of tortillas. These larger tortillas allow for more filling and wraps which eventually became what we know as the burrito. In fact, most of the food commonly known as Mexican food such as tacos and the aforementioned burritos were taken from Northern Mexico.

Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico and boasts a healthy economy and delectable cuisine. Their biggest claim to fame is being the birth place of mole. Mole poblano is one of the best known varieties of mole sauce and came from the Puebla region. Made with cocoa, peanut butter, chile peppers, and a list of over 20 other ingredients, mole is often served over chicken or turkey at weddings, birthdays, and Cinco de Mayo. Another dish famous to this region is chiles de nogada which is prepared to resemble the colors of the Mexican flag with green poblano chile peppers, white walnut sauce, and red pomegranate seeds. While here you can also find Rompope which is best compared to eggnog and a treasured holiday beverage. The main ingredients to this delicious drink are egg yolks, milk, and vanilla, though locals often make it at home and add their own twists with various nuts, cinnamon, and strawberries.

Birria a Typical Mexican Food from Jalisco

Birria from Guadalajara, Mexico

Many characteristic traits and cultures of Mexico such as mariachi, bull riding, and tequila come from Jalisco. Their unique food does not dissatisfy either. While travelling in and around Guadalajara you can find a savory goat stew called birria, a spicy pork sandwich named tortas ahogadas, and plenty of tequila which Jalisco is the largest manufacture in the world of. In the region of Jalisco you will find Tonalá which is said to be the home of pozole. Pozole is a broth rich soup composed of hominy, meat, chili peppers, and various other seasonings. If you are in the mood for something sweet you can search out alfajor which is a traditional confection made with spices, nuts, and honey. The food in Jalisco is as rich as its history and culture and should definitely not be passed up.

In Yucatán, corn is a big staple similar to other regions in Mexico. However, the food here is unique from the rest of the country due to its influences from Caribbean, Mayan, French, and Middle Eastern cultures. The main spice used in Yucatán is achiote, which is from the annatto seed. This pungent spice is a rich red color, and has an aroma similar to pepper with just a touch of nutmeg. One of the most popular spice mixes made with achiote is recado rojo. Originally a Mayan blend, this rich earthy flavored paste is used in one of the Yucatán’s most popular dishes, cochinita pibil. In this dish a meat, usually pork, is marinated in a citrus juice, covered with recado rojo, and roasted in banana leaves. The achiote gives the meat a vibrant red hue of color and it is said to be one of the juiciest, tender, and flavorful pork dishes one will ever have. Another popular dish that can be found here is poc chuc. Tender slices of meat are marinated in sour orange juice, then grilled, and served with a tangy sauce. Finally, one would go a miss without trying papadzules. Commonly referred to as an egg taco, a tortilla is filled with hard boiled eggs and smothered in a savory sweet pumpkin seed sauce. Many other unique, hybrid dishes can be found here and are a fascinating find for any traveler.

Sonora in northwest Mexico is commonly known for its cowboy culture. This state is the second largest in Mexico and is prized for its succulent cuts of beef. Brisket and skirt steak are often cooked over an open flame and enjoyed in popular dishes such as carne asada. This area is one of the few that uses wheat tortilla over corn and it makes up a large base of the food. Residents go into the mountains here to harvest the wild growing native chiltepines, which is used in place of chile peppers in most dishes. Since Sonora is off of the Gulf of California, you will find a lot of fresh seafood including shrimp, flounder, marlin, sardines, and squid. This tasty seafood is often served in stews, tacos, or made into meatballs. Menudo is a traditional soup native to this area and is made of tripe, corn, and chile, with modern versions adding cilantro and lime for extra flavor. With their exceptional blend of tasty beef cuts and fresh seafood, the Sonora region should not be overlooked.

A port city found along the Gulf Coast is Veracruz. Since they are a port city many of their dishes can be found to incorporate flavors from around the world, including plantains, yucca, and peanuts from West Africa, as well as pineapple and sugarcane from the Caribbean. Commonly used ingredients here are corn tortillas, native vanilla, and herbs such as hoja santa and acuyo. Due to the heavy influence of African and Caribbean cultures, corn is not as heavily used in the region and has mostly been replaced by rice. Tropical fruits such as papaya and mamey and herbs such as parsley, thyme, cilantro, and marjoram are very prevalent among many dishes. Similar to Sonora, you will find a wide variety of seafood here to choose from. A popular dish, Huachinango a la Veracruzana is a classic red snapper dish – though I really prefer to eat the invasive lionfish, which is found in abundance in the Gulf of Mexico, in the same recipe. It is made with a whole fish which is marinated in lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and nutmeg. After marinating, a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, capers, and olives is made and the fish is cooked inside the sauce until it is tender. Another popular dish that shows African influence is pollo encacahuatado, which is a moist chicken covered in a rich and creamy peanut sauce which is flavored with chile and garlic. The mix of culture and cuisine here make Veracruz an intriguing and delightful dining experience.

Mexico is a fascinating country filled to the brim with rich history and culture, which their cuisine certainly reflects. In Cozumel, Mexico one could certainly go on a food tasting trip across all of the regions of Mexico never leaving the island and not be disappointed! If you are looking for rich, creamy, savory, and mouthwatering dishes to sample, look no further than Mexico, you will surely not be disappointed.

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About the Author:

Julie Harrell is the CEO and masterful mom of the Harrell family. Prior to choosing life in Cozumel, she excelled in a career spanning 20 years of shopping center marketing and property management. She has developed deep insights in travel and destination marketing and now applies that experience through her work with tourism and hospitality related clients.

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