Mexican Food Culture
One thing that surprises many foreigners when they come to Mexico are meal times. It’s not easy to find a cafe opened before 9 am or even later. Lunch at 12 pm? You might be the only one at the restaurant, and that’s if it’s even open.
Mexicans eat lunches between 2pm and 4pm, and dinners from about 8pm to 10pm. Lots of places stay open until midnight.
Unless you go to fine dining places like the infamous Pujol (which personally I don’t recommend as I don’t think it’s worth the hype and price), you’ll be eating with your hands.
Most Mexican food dishes are eaten by hands and if they’re not you’ll be given tortillas or totopos (tortilla chips) to dip in things. It’s just part of the Mexican culture.
Also check my recommendations for Mexican breakfasts, along with some recipes 🙂
Is Mexican Food Always Spicy?
One myth about Mexican food is that every single dish is spicy. Many Mexican chefs will always tell you pica mucho (very spicy) when they see a foreigner, but it’s not always the truth.
You can easily find dishes that aren’t spicy at all or simply not put salsa on it (ask for sin salsa). Many salsas might look innocent but they might contain serrano or jalapeño chilis.
There’s no reason not to put a tiny bit on your plate first, try it and then decide whether to dump more on your food. Mexicans do that very often actually.
Best Mexican Dishes to Try in Mexico
When most people think of Mexico they associate it with burritos and tacos. And I guess guacamole. There are even emojis for that. But, burritos can only be found in northern parts of the Mexico.
When it comes to tacos, there are plenty of types and kinds that they deserved another post. Check out my ultimate guide to Mexican tacos to know what to order.
Guacamole can easily be found everywhere in Mexico. Many restaurants will make it fresh at the table, some will just give you some on the side.
Truth to be told, I’ve learned to make the best authentic guacamole over my years spent in Mexico. My recipe is coming soon.
Tortillas are served with everything, everywhere. They’re thin crepes made of mushed corn and water masa pressed together.
If you walk around any city you can often peak into a tortilla making shop where they press them. You can even see them being made just like bread at any major supermarkets.
Tortillas will slightly defer in taste depending on where you are. My favorite ones are northern ones which are often made of flour. They’re slightly wetter than regular corn ones.
Pozole is a soup made of broth, corn and meat. The recipes change across the country – in Mexico City it’s a red thicker broth, while in Oaxaca it’s clear.
Many Mexican families will eat pozole on a weekly basis, as it’s so easy to prepare. Personally, I think it’s too blend but to each their own.
Mole is a very interesting part of Mexican cuisine. It’s a sauce that you either love or hate. It’s hard to describe a taste, just something you need to try.
The main misconception about mole is that it contains chocolate, it just may look like chocolate. The ingredients of mole includes chillies, cloves, anise, coriander, raisins and almonds, all ground to a smooth paste and slow-cooked for hours. fMole poblano for example, contains 35 ingredients – chiles, spices, seeds, fruits.
Note that there are many different types of moles (poblano, verde, oaxaceno, negro), but the most famous mole comes from the state of Oaxaca.
Chiles en Nogada
A dish so popular that’s seasonal and most popular around Mexican Independence Day on September 16th. It contains poblano chiles stuffed with picadillo peppers and beef, topped with a walnut-based cream nogada sauce and pomegranate seeds.
It’s neither hot or cold, simply served at room temperature.
Originated in a city of Puebla, near Mexico City, chile relleno is surely my favorite dish. It’s a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with plenty of cheese and if you like – seafood or minced meat.
Then covered in fluffy batter and deep-fried. Chile relleno is usually served with rice and beans and covered in salsa roja.
It’s actually my favorite dish, so I order it everywhere. It’s also impossible to screw up if you’re making it yourself.
Rajas con queso
Also from Puebla, rajas con queso also known as salsa poblano are basically roasted poblano peppers sauteed with onions and corn, and topped with Mexican cream and cheese, which makes a creamy sauce.
It can be eaten as a starter or main dish, or also inside a taco if you wish.
Sopes are another example of what one can do with masa. It has nothing to do with a soup. They’re thicker than tortillas, but not as thick as gorditas. Always pinches on the edge so the topping doesn’t come off.
They’re grilled with ingredients on top – queso, crema, lettuce, frijoles (refried beans), salsa – either roja or verde, and your choice of meat. Some call it a Mexican pizza.
Mexican Side Dishes
Elotes & Esquites
Mexicans love corn and they have many different types of it. The most popular ones are elotes & esquites and if you ask me, the best place to eat them is on the street in Coyoacan in Mexico City.
Elotes is a corn on the cob covered with mayo, lime juice, queso fresco and chili.
Esquites is shaved corn that has been removed from the cob and cooked with chile. It’s served in a cup topped with mayonnaise, lime juice, Mexican white cheese, and chili powder.
Some top both with a Mexican spice called Tajin which combines chilli and lime flavor.
Quesadillas | Nopales & Huitlacoche
Quesadillas are made of thinly pressed corn masa grilled together with cheese (unless you’re in Mexico City, then you need to ask for cheese).
They can be filled with many different fillings. It can be chicken, chorizo, but also vegetarian fillings like rajas (chiles), nopales or huitlacoche.
Nopal is a pad of cactus. It has a unique flavor but I quite like it.
Huitloche is a mushroom that grows on corn. It’s black, tasty and often called a Mexican truffle.
Gorditas, as the same translates to little fatties, are somehow like thicker quesadillas. They’re first deep-fried.
Then, they’re cut in the middle, stuffed with cheese, cream, lettuce, refried beans and optionally some meat, and grilled.
Huaraches are different version of gorditas, but longer – shaped like a sandal called huarache. Stuffed with the same ingredients as gorditas.
You just need one for a meal, trust me.
Tostadas / Aguachile
Tostadas are the closest to Tex-Mex hard-shell tacos. They’re flat and crispy tortillas, topped with meats, cheese, lettuce or whatever you want them to be.
If you’re in the Yucatan or any seaside town, they’ll be topped with ceviche or grilled seafood. Always with onions.
They’re extremely messy to eat, but also very delicious.
Ceviche needs no introduction to those who visit Latin America. Mexico adopted ceviche from Peru. It’s made of fresh raw fish or other seafood with lots of onion, lime and spices.
The best places to eat it are naturally coastal towns. When I lived in Playa del Carmen I had my favorite local spot – so much fresh ceviche for a cheap price.
Churros are popular in Mexico, but not as popular as some foreigners may think. When I lived in Mexico I think I ate them a few times over the course of the years.
Now there’s Churreria el Moro, a popular chain of cafes specializing in churros.
They’re basically fritters that are crispy on the outside and soft inside. The best way to enjoy churros is to dunk them into a chocolate cinnamon-infused dip, or dulce de leche.
Arroz con Leche
Arroz con leche is basically what it says: rice with milk. It’s a traditional rice pudding with sugar, cinnamon and sometimes raisins. It has a thick gooi consistency.
If you look at any menu you’ll notice cerveza – beer, michelada, as well as cerveza con clamato.
Michelada is a beer with lime juice, spices and salt. If you order clamato you’ll basically get a michelada with spicy tomato juice on the bottom.