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What is Mexican Cuisine To You?

Related to the thread where the Aussie Mex-Food virgin was trying to get an understanding of the cuisine... I would love everyone's thoughts on what Mexican cusine mean to you? What is its raison d'etre in your life?

I would expect that for most people its a festive, colorful, assertively flavored, fun cuisine. To me sure there is a festive component that is very important... but that is the exception... the weekend fiesta at a friend's home, the town's annual 2 week fiesta... to me its mostly Central Mexico... its the daily meals at home, it is the true traditions... those that predate industrialization.

Its going to the mercado everyday for fresh ingredients, and using chiles, herbs, tomatoes, tomatillos and a sparse amount of meat to flavor vegetables & legumes... its respecting the ancient balance of cold & hot foods, raw & cooked in every meal. Its the cuisine where eating 10 servings of fruits, vegetables & legumes every day is effortless and delicious. Its embodied by classics like Pozole with a little bit of meat, hominy & dried chiles to flavor the broth that will absorb piles of raw, crunchy vegetables... and your basic millenary peasant meal of clay pot beans with greens, handmade corn tortillas, spicy salsas washed down with a clay mug full of nourishing amaranth, corn & chile atole.

I know we all have different ideas of what it is to you?

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  1. My favorite and what I usually crave is Tex-Mex, because I live in Texas...I have tried all of the different Mexican foods, and I like them all, but Tex-Mex rules...That involves enchiladas, refried beans (usually the best are fried in lard!...didn't say it was healthy...), rice, guacamole, chips, salsa, queso, and homemade corn and flour tortillas...along with great Margaritas....For dessert, flan or mexican pecan pralines....

    31 Replies
    1. re: jinet12

      Question... what is Queso to you? I always thought in Texas it would mean Queso Fundido... basically melted Chihuahua (similar to Muenster) or Oaxaca (similar to Mozzarella) cheeses spiked with a little something... Chorizo, Mushrooms, Chipotles in Adobo or Poblano strips. But another CH insists it means nacho cheese.

      Could you please clarify? Gracias.

      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        I do love Queso Fundido, but no...Queso is usually a mixture of cheese, with, I think probably some Velvetta or "nacho" cheese as well...This, believe it or not, is important for melting and texture reasons...My favorite is always the spicy one, which also has onions and jalapenos in it...Sometimes if it is not spicy enough, we put some of our salsa in it....

        1. re: jinet12

          Do people use the canned / processed stuff... or do they make from scratch vis-a-vis combining cheddar cheese with cream cheese & salsa etc.,?

          1. re: Eat_Nopal

            I think that most people use "Velvetta" cheese...But when you combine it with other cheeses, it really does not taste like Velvetta, but adds the melting cheese that is needed for a smooth queso

        2. re: Eat_Nopal

          Queso IS cheese. That's what the word means! So...as with fromage...queso has many permutations.

          1. re: Alice Letseat

            Thank you.

            I felt for a minute like I was in the twighlight zone. Queso is Cheese. Period. Now let's go ahead and talk about the different spins put on it...

            1. re: tiamarty

              Queso means cheese, but in most Mexican restaurants in the States it's that melted gooey mess made with Velveta.

              Also, what is that the difference between Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican food? From my limited experience the restaurants that cater to the American taste use cheddar or Monteray Jack cheeses and the ones I call authentic that cater to Mexican imigrants use queso fresca (sorry about spelling). What other differences are there?

              1. re: jackrugby

                There are so many differences but the basic ones are:

                > Flavoring Schemes.... Tex-Mex usually relies on "Taco Seasoning" and other spice mixes + simplistic techniques like just liberally seasoning meats or vegetables with the crude spice mix... these are rarely used south of the border.

                Mexican cuisine usually involves a laborious process of roasting chiles, garlic, tomatoes / tomatillos, and mixing with herbs.. a modest amount of spices and other ingredients to come up with complex pastes, sauces, marinades etc., to provide assertive but elegantly constructed flavors.

                Tex-Mex also tends to involve other short cuts like canned tomatoes etc., Further Tex-Mex seems firmly grounded in the 1950's ideals of proportion, elaboration & science versus art... wheras in Mexico there is much earthier & yet more refined approach. Take for example Enchiladas... in Tex-Mex this usually means a Tortillas heavily stuffed with bland cheese & shredded chicken.. then drowned in a cumin dominated sauce made from canned tomatoes topped with yellow cheese and overcooked in an oven / casserole paired with Tomatoe-Rice & Refried Beans. In Mexico... Enchiladas means freshly sauced tortillas straight from the griddle, folded over with a small amount of cotija or fresco cheese... topped with onions, herbs & crunchy vegetables... maybe a dollop of soothing crema... the flavor pairings are more assertive yet sophisticated, balanced & "real" tasting.... whereas the Tex Mex versions seem rather "fake" & detached from the original ingredients.

                > Menu Choices.... throughout most of Mexico... Mexican restaurants are rather scarce... and by Mexican restaurants I mean those that only serve a narrow range of Classic dishes that became popular and somewhat standardized when travel picked up in the 20th Century. Instead Mexico's restaurants tend to be highly specialized around ingredients & regional techniques... and these types of dishes almost never make it to Tex-Mex menus which seem to evolve around the same usual suspects where ever you go.

                I don't know how many categories of restaurant concepts there are in Mexico... but in Mexico City alone its a couple hundred... everything from neighborhood eateries that specialize in Trout or Mushrooms done 30 different ways, to the Ceviche Bars... to the Nahuatl speaking lady that only makes deep fried quesadillas with fillings like Squash Blossoms, Huitlacoche, Sauteed Agave Worms etc.,

                > Identity.... Tex-Mex seems to be stuck in a place & time... wheras cuisine in Mexico is both closer to pre-hispanic roots, and yet close to modern cutting edge trends. For example, it was in Mexico that Italian Sushi (Crudo / Sashimi Carpaccio) first became popular in the mid 90's not in NYC, Italy or Tokyo (as other people might assume).

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  As time goes on, I bet more and more cooks in Mexico will take shortcuts. From what I hear, pre-prepared mole, sold in blocks, is already popular.

                  1. re: Brian S

                    Yes there are short cuts taken there. But there are short cuts & then there are short cuts... usually what they do in Mexico maintains the dish's integrity (for example using Bouillon in a Cooked Salsa instead of Chicken Broth).... wheras in Tex-Mex they completely alter (and in my opinion) depreciate the result.

                    Tex-Mex and Northern Mexican are generally not that different in composition & concept... but there is a huge difference in quality. Its hard to describe but Tex-Mex is consistently "fake" and low quality relative to Northern Mexican.

                    A perfect example is Queso & Nachos. The original Nachos... invented in Chihuahua as an after school snack is more comparable to a Fondue with its homemade chips, a fondue of very decent real Chihuahua / Menonite cheese & sublime pickled jalapenos, onions with strong garlic, bay leaves & Mexican oregano. It may not be adult upscale gourmet food... but for a kid's snack its pretty impressive.

                    Wheras its Tex-Mex counterpart involves canned yellow processed "cheese"... taco seasoned ground beef, whole beans etc., and has an air of cheapness, Taco Bell & trailer park about it.

                    I am too sleep deprived to come up with some fancy, academic terminology but hopefully the image of the related snacks highlights what seems to be the comparison of Tex Mex to Mexican.

                    Now the article's premise of if the French like it, so should we is laughable. These are the same French that in Mexico have refused to eat handmade corn tortillas because that is livestock feed in their country... what the heck do they know?

                2. re: jackrugby

                  One of my favorite food writers is Robb Walsh. A few years ago he wrote a really terrific book about Tex-Mex food. Check it out at your local book store or library. There's a HUGE difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican and I think Robb does a pretty good job at presenting the differences.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    A Houston newspaper did a six-part history of Tex-Mex. Here's part one
                    and here's part two:

                    1. re: Brian S

                      I got to page 2 of part 1... and had it with all the incorrect information. The article is pretty much worthless.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        And you know the information is incorrect because???????

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          Come on... there are no crispy tacos in Mexico? I know what the writer is getting at, but it is just one example of very sloppy assertions.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Well, I have eaten tacos dorados in Mexico and Cristina's Fish-Taco-Stand-That-Shall-Remain-Nameless serves crispy tacos de jaiba. The last time I checked she still lived in Guadalajara and that's still a city in Mexico. Are crispy tacos prevalent in Mexico, no, not so much. But they do exist and if you want to get into the whole tacos dorados by extension, it fits the bill.

                            My objection was to the sweeping statement that the article was "worthless" with no other explanation as to why you thought that. It's okay to disagree with the author, or have a differing opinion, but ya gotta back it up with something! Inquiring minds want to know........

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Ah... I just saw the very shallow approach to the subject and it reminded of some NY food writer taking a 5 day tour and all of a sudden becoming an "expert" so I just felt a little disgusted by it. Continuing... he states that the Mexican culinary tradition began with Tamal & Prailine vendors in the early 20th century? How about at least a hundred years earlier?

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                I believe he was referring to Texas and since I'm not nearly that old, I wouldn't know ;-).

                                Most Robb Walsh article are pretty well researched, take a look at his book(s) before you completely write him off.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  In the article, Robb Walsh is talking solely about Tex-Mex regional cooking in the United States. He does occasionally paint what is and isn't Mexican with a broad brush, but by and large he's correct on the major points.

                                  Tex-Mex is not Mexican food. "Queso" may literally translate to 'cheese', but don't tell that to a Texan. In Tex-Mex lingo, it's something altogether different. Nobody in Mexico ever served a tamal (one is a tamal, two are tamales) with chili gravy. Nachos and fajitas aren't native to Mexico.

                                  But so what? Nobody, including Robb Walsh, is claiming that he's writing anything definitive about Mexican cooking. He's pure Tex-Mex and his articles and his book are excellent. The book opened my eyes to the realities of Tex-Mex, stopped me from thinking of it as a lesser version of 'authentic' Mexican cooking, and made me think twice before sneering at food that thousands upon thousands of people eat every day.

                                  And yes, I still live happily in Guadalajara, where it's easy to buy taquitos (little rolled deep-fried crunchy tacos, of jaiba or chicken or beef) at many a street corner puestecito and at many a fonda.

                                  What's the argument, folks? Eat Nopal started a thread about Mexican cuisine. Why are we even discussing Tex-Mex?

                                  Link: http://mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                  1. re: cristina

                                    Maybe I just can't enjoy Tex-Mex for the perceived baggage it puts on Mexican cusine and the perceived uphill battle I think all of us that love & promote Mexico's culinary tradition wage... but I am not ready to let Tex-Mex off the hook so I easy.... I do see it as an inferior & poorly done shadow of Northern Mexican cuisine. Not that I think Northern Mexican cuisine is the end all of the culinary world, by any stretch of the imagination.

                                    The one thing that I think Texas has inherited from Mexican culinary tradition, protected & maybe even improved is BBQ... but that has just been absorbed into mainstream Texas culture and isn't given the slight treatment of "Otherness" that most Tex-Mex receives.

                                    Other than that I will take Chilorio & Carne en Chile Colorado over Chili, and Queso Fundido over Texas Queso etc.,

                                    Lets put any Mexico baggage aside... I just don't see Tex-Mex being on the same plane as Cajun or some other regional U.S. culinary traditions.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      I have heard from one source that Texas BBQ is German (smoked roasts, I think), and now you say it's a Mexican tradition. Could someone clear this up?

                                      1. re: Leucadian

                                        I don't know the exact origins of Texas BBQ - but I know it was heavily influenced by German immigrants.

                                        1. re: Leucadian

                                          Ah we are back to the tangled web of the origins of U.S. BBQ tradition... first off its a fairly complex subject. This used to be my case for a Mexican origin of BBQ:

                                          1) Mexico has the oldest known Closed Pit Cooking (aka True BBQ) tradition in the world (dating back to pits near the Yucatan about 4,500 years ago).

                                          2) Barbeque is an Anglicized word dervied from Barbacoa, itself a Hispanicized word of Carribbean origin... where the Spaniards first encountered BBQ prior to landing on the Mexican mainland (from which BBQ was likely spread).

                                          3) Texas (and the rest of Northern Mexico) had a BBQ tradition before the first Anglo or German-American ever arrived.

                                          4) A documentary I saw on BBQ revealed that in many Southern places like Missiissiipii, Tennesse & others.... the first known references to BBQ were restaurants in X town opened by African Americans in the Post Emancipation industrialization era... as you go East from Texas it seems that BBQ caught on later & later indicating an Eastward diaspora emanating in Texas

                                          However, in the last year Low Country Jon made a very passionate argument for why North Carolina's BBQ tradition existed before Texas Annexation citing colonial era references to BBQ parties... and provided examples of the close trading & cultural relationship between the Carolinas & the Carribbean during that time. In other words, he made a good case for North Carolina's BBQ tradition being derived from the Carribbean. Which makes sense because the BBQ of the Carribbean whether in the Yucatan, Hispanola or other places mainly used Boar & Fish... as compared to inland Mexico where the preferred meats were red such as Deer, Sheep & Xolocuintles (a particular breed of canine).

                                          I don't know enough about German cuisine to analyze what contributions were made by them... what I do know is that Texas BBQ is fairly similar to what was being done in the Mexican interior.... heavy smoke, closed pit, red meats. The one major difference is that interior Mexico's BBQ almost always involves a steam component as well that Texas BBQ often ignores.

                                          Another thing to note is that Pork was the staple meat in the U.S. prior to annexation... Pork is still the staple meat in Germany.... and most contemporary U.S. cattle breeds still descend from the Angus cattle brought by the Spaniards.

                                          Now one last bit of thought provoking tid bit.... the current article of the National Geographic places a firm 3 sisters agricultural tradition among the Pawtahan tribe (think Pocahontas) at the time of Jamestown's founding. The more I learn about U.S. Native history the more I realize how much trading & cultural exchange was really going on with Mesoamerica. The uncanny Mayanesque of the mound culture up in Illinois (I believe) just speaks of lots of exchange.... perhaps BBQ was part of the exchange.... and the Carribbean term just stuck because things like that happen.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            Hi EN, thanks for the informative response. Is cochinita pibil the proto-BBQ? Pit cooking (pib) doesn't produce much smoke, or does it? I've never had it, but the modern descriptions don't sound like the 'heavy plank' that distressed John Stevens in the 1800's.

                                            1. re: Leucadian

                                              Yes, Pibil is what I was referring to as Yucatecan BBQ. Is it smokey or not? Many modern (lazy) versions are done in the oven... and obviously exclude smoke completely but the real deal does use smoke. Even then its not as heavy on the smoke as say an Hidalgo or Mexico State style Lamb Barbacoa or a Nayarit style Pescado Zarandeado... but there is smoke and I just consider it a different regional style of true BBQ just like the Carolina styles are still true BBQ even if the result isn't particularly smokey.

                                        2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          EN, let's say you're an Xopytian from Xopytia who landed on Earth and had to eat Tex-Mex, New Mexican, or Cajun. Other Xopytians landing in Cambodia, Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, the UK, Finland, or elsewhere may well be very jealous of you when you all get back to your planet.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            You're right, Tex-Mex may not be on the same plane as cajun or other American regional cuisines...........most Texans and more than a few folks outside those state borders will tell you it's W-A-Y better.

                                            Tex-Mex has baggage, who knew? By whose perception? Certainly not a Texans.

                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                              Absolutely agree!!! When we go out of the state, we truly enjoy other types of cuisine...BUT...the first thing we do when we come home is to head to the nearest great Tex-Mex restaurants!

                                          2. re: cristina

                                            I think we're discussing Tex-Mex because to many Americans that is what they consider Mexican food. I think Eat_Nopal started a pretty lively discussion and I've learned some things I didn't know.

                                            Not living in the SW (I live in SW Ohio, but that's not the same) my first experience with 'Mexican' food 35 years ago was Taco Bell. I loved it, it was the experience that has led me to explore more authentic Mexican food as it has grown in popularity.

                                            Never having been to Mexico, I still have many questions about Mexican cuisine and look forward to trying it. And this is going to make a lot of you cringe, but I still enjoy Taco Bell when I need a quick fix.

                                  2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    The reason I liked these articles is that I always assumed that Tex-Mex was invented because the CEO of a big chain told his subordinate, get a committee of marketing experts and dumb down Mexican cuisine so that North Americans will eat it! But that's not true. It was created by the delicate (and at times comic) interplay between immigrants and potential customers, with adaptation due to available ingredients and sometimes chance.

                                    1. re: Brian S

                                      Ah I see what you say... very valid.

                    2. peppers. ancho, jalapeno, habanero, pablano. and fresh flour tortillas.

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: luniz

                        cheese, tortilla, sauce, and your choice of meat

                        1. re: luniz

                          Where in Mexico do they use habanero? (I'm serious, I always thought it was more of a Carribean pepper).

                          To me it has lots to do with cilantro, lime, corn tortillas and mole.

                            1. re: ccbweb

                              Habaneros are used throughout Mexico in small quantities... they are more of a curiosity, exotic product etc., However, they are THE chile of the Yucatan peninsula from Campeche to Chetumal... the Habanero rules.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                Thanks for the heads up, I didn't know that. Very cool! Or, rather, hot.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  I would add that while people in Central Mexico don't consume huge quanitities of Habaneros, they do have the Manzano which is a close cousin of the Habanero and very common in Central Mexico's hot lands:


                            2. re: luniz

                              I realize that flour tortillas are more common in some regions in Mexico, notably in the north, than they are in much of the country, but still, to me, freshly made corn tortillas are Mexican, and flour tortillas are Tex-Mex.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                I agree totally that freshly made corn tortillas mean Mexican to me. But also: carnitas wrapped in those tortillas with some salsa, a little cilantro and onion and a grilled cebollita (green onion) on the side; a torta with a freshly made bolillo; soups, ceviche; those big shrimp cocktails someone mentioned, and last but not least:...quesadillas made from fresh masa hand-formed into thick tortillas with various fillings and deep fried.....A "quesadilla" formed from a pre-made flour tortillas and then grilled to melt the cheese is definitely Tex-Mex....

                                1. re: janetofreno

                                  half of it is the memories: when you say 'tortas' I remember sneaking out of class to head to the torta place and then heading over to Chapultepec...but when I think tacos, it isn't carnitas...it is al pastor. real al pastor, with cebollitos, eaten late at night: why is real al pastor so elusive here in the bay area?

                                  I think it's been too many years for those quesadillas. Yes, they are Mexican food to me also: going to get them every Friday night from the Senora de las quesadillas from her little stand set up on the corner next to the bakery, with her young daughter to help her shape them by hand...But I could swear they were griddled, not deep fried... whatever: not too much grease, hot masa and cheese oozing out...I have promise myself that I will go to the coner on my next trip to DF: I have this fantasy that the daughter will be there making them, or better yet, that she has expanded the bakery and opened a succesful restaurant next door....after all, those quesadillas are deserving of fame and fortune.

                                  As much as I love high end Mexican cuisine, when I think of Mexican food invariably my thoughts return to street stands: quesadillas; fruit with chile and lime in a paper cone, perhaps with a few cucumbers and some jicama as well; elote also with chile and lime; sweets; churros.....

                                  And then there is breakfast. Eaten at an outside table overlooking a zocalo somewhere: chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, perhaps some papaya.....

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    Susan you are right about the quesadillas... most people refer to the deep fried ones as Mexico City style... perhaps this is where they were created. However, the griddle version are just as common (and more traditional imho).. in fact in the Southern part of the city... i.e., Xochimilco where there many more native Nahuatl speakers.... I don't remember ever seeing the deep fried type.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      we lived in Condesa....so not in the south of the city, but of course I don't know where La Senora was from, and now that I think about it, she didn't speak much, could be that her Spanish wasn't that great....but hey, after 35 years, who knows who has the better memory, me or Janet (well, she is ten minutes younger after all :-))...all I know for sure is that La Senora used coal to heat the griddle or burner and pan or whatever it was she was cooking those quesadillas in, and that they were the best quesadillas, and one of the best street foods, ever, anywhere!

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        You know, you might be right...they might have been griddled. I suffer from a severe case of CRS (can't remember S&*t). But the point is that the tortillas was not a pre-cooked tortilla that was then stuffed....it was masa that was hand-formed, stuffed and THEN cooked. That's the important distinction. And you are absolutely right....When I think of Mexican food I too think of street food. Everything from those quesadillas to the mango paletas.

                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                          How to eat mango paletas: buy a mango paleta and a coconut paleta. take a bite of each in turn... :-)

                                          1. re: janetofreno

                                            Have a few quesadillas in Colonia Roma, México, D.F. Avenida Tlaxcala, a few blocks east of Ave. Insurgentes. Good fillings. Very popular, with longish lines at peak hours.

                                            1. re: Anonimo

                                              For some reason, I didn't click on this link till I was checking this thread when reporting on the quesadillas estilo DF I had this weekend in LA. These indeed look good, but they aren't the quesadillas of my dreams, since it is pretty clear to me from the pic that that tortillas are made first, then stuffed and griddled. In the style I dream of, the masa and fillings cook at the same time....

                                              Here's my post on the LA version I found this weekend (and what a find it was):


                              2. Mexican food for me is

                                * the exquisitely ripe fruit
                                * soups with intensely flavorful stock bases with deep, deep, flavor
                                * red tomatoes and green tomatillos and chiles in a riot of colors, sizes, shapes and degrees of piquancy
                                * a pot of black beans cooked with epazote
                                * corn tortillas that taste of corn, have a velvety texture and char marks from the comal or grill. Inhaling deeply at the tortilliaria
                                * refreshing nieves in flavors that defy the American imagination
                                * Indio, Victoria, Leon or Montejo beer
                                * Mexican chocolate and cinnamon
                                * eating corundas stuffed with doble crema and rajas, drenched in chile manzano based salsa and crema on a stool in front of the basilica in Patzcuaro
                                * enchiladas placeras, an evening meal
                                * street vendors selling everything from deep fried hot dogs, to syrupy camotes, pan dulce vendors that still make house calls
                                * chorizo that actually has texture and doesn't melt
                                * moles and pipians where the sauce is the star not the protein
                                * remarkably fresh fish even in the landlocked central part of the country, particularly dorado or huachinango
                                * mariscos cocktails to feed an army
                                * pork, pork and more pork
                                * gelatina creations
                                * agua frescas and sidewalk cafes where you can simply sit and watch the local ebb and flow of the local life
                                * nopales
                                * the first taco upon landing in Mexico whch is inevitably al pastor or chorizo
                                * Don Julio straight up, no chaser, no sangrita
                                * meals that last for hours because everyone is talking, laughing and having a good time
                                * guacamole
                                * lime wedges with everything

                                Mexican food defies pigeon-holing by dint of it's sheer diversity. This is part of the allure and charm for me. The flavors run from subtle to bold, mild to strong, I find discover something new with each visit or cooking experiment at home. The one thing Mexican food is not to me, is what is typically served NOB, i.e. overstuffed burritos, mounds of molten yellow cheese, soggy chile rellenos, etc.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  Great answer... Although I'm not such a fan of Don Julio, I'm more of a Centinela 3 años kinda guy. I can do without the lime on everything... and fish in the north is... *cringe

                                  About Habaneros (ccbweb): Yucatán Peninsula is the place to go for them.

                                  1. re: cookiejesus

                                    By north I suppose you mean Nuevo Leon & Ciudad Juarez as oppossed to Ensenada and even Torreon (land locked but great Trout, Bass & Catfish) etc.?

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      Pretty much thinking about Nuevo León and Saltillo... I have to admit that I totally forgot freshwater fish. Still going to the supermarket makes me stick to shrimp. It's a crime the way they treat their fish... We need some sort of Whole Foods around here.

                                      1. re: cookiejesus

                                        I never even saw fish offered in Monterrey and have never been to Saltillo... what is the deal? I would think that proximity to the Tamaulipas would bring some great Red Snapper no?

                                        You just reminded me of what I saw in the Inca Sacred Valley... unrefrigerated ocean fish just hanging out in outdoors markets, eyeballs completely clouded... people must not get sick however.

                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        I had some great fish in Valle de Bravo, I typically don't like landlock fish. However, the water is pretty clean in this area and the rainbow trout and black bass dishes I sampled were amazing.

                                    2. It's mostly a Holy Grail I can't even attempt to find or cook here in Canada! It fuels many fantasies of trips to Mexico.

                                      1. US included, or is Amerimex a seperate category?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                          Its whatever you associate with Mexican Cuisine... for some people the distinction doesn't exist...

                                        2. Love this topic! Many things come to mind, depends on what part of Mexico. I have been lucky to have experienced many regions, non touristy food from high end to street vendor foods and in Mexican's homes.
                                          I am think central mexico-
                                          Right now dreaming of ensalada de nopales-marinated cactus paddle with serranos chili peppers, celantro, queso fresco, lime, oregano and onions served in a Molcajete Tejolote with marinated carne asada and fresh corn tortillas.. ice cold mexican beer.

                                          Freshly baked Gicela's pan de muerto (bread of the dead) with hot chocolate! YUM the best smell.

                                          Requeson right off the shelf or in enchilades, chiles en nogada (stuffed peppers with walnut sauce), various moles and chiles chiles in every color and hot!!!!

                                          Any style of tamale but I am thinking adobados corundas and uchepos freshly made right from the source in the jardin early mornings!!!!

                                          Pambazos rellenos de chorizo (sandwich with chorizo) carnitas sandwich from the mercado, cecina de Yecapixtla ( meat dishes with cheese, beans and avocado), corn gorditas topped with salsa, cream and cheese, salsa, salsa, salsa... pastes- turnovers stuffed with potatoes, leeks, meat, pineapple and other spices and ingrediates..empanadas de carnitas, my favorit breakfast rabo de zorra with salsa and tortillas.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Lori SF

                                            Thanks for your post.... rabo de zorra???

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              All of these replies are very interesting - I myself have a vision like jinet12 (Tex Mex) - and found myself wondering why.
                                              Until very recently in my life (and until I found Chowhound), I had a very narrow view of Mexican food - I've grown up with Sonoran/Tex Mex, because that's what has been around me, and what my family eats. I'm half-Mexican, my mother is full Mexican, and my grandmother and grandfather came from Mexico (my grandmother from Chihuaha). I believe my grandmother lived in Texas for awhile in her youth, thus maybe the Tex-Mex influence - ?!!!!
                                              So this thread has been very interesting for me.

                                              1. re: aurora50

                                                Thanks Aurora, I appreciate your insights.

                                                1. re: aurora50

                                                  I grew up on the border in San Diego, CA eating Cal-Mex food and, much like you, thinking it was the greatest stuff in the world. Then I landed in central Mexico in the mid-80s and lived with a family while attending a school there. Oh, my god, what an eye-opener. I had loved Mexican food my entire life, but when confronted with the real deal, suddenly reazlied I had not clue :-D.

                                                  I'd heard about some of the dietary customs and exotic foods, but until I actually got to eat them I really didn't have a frame of reference. Nearly 25 years later I still very clearly remember my first night when a fork with a bright magenta barrel looking thing was thrust into my hand for me to eat. It was a tuna - prickly pear cactus, not the fish - and I had no idea it had a bunch of seeds inside. So when I ended up with the mouthful of seeds I had the choice to either swallow them or (be rude and) spit them out. I chose to swallow them and what ensued has been a fantastic culinary education, dining experience and general overall love affair with Mexican food.

                                                  As I'm typing this I'm sitting here sipping on an aesepticly packaged drink - jugo de nopal con naranja (cactus juice with oj) - that I picked up before leaving Guadalajara last week. I can't decide if I like it or not. It tastes sort of like nopales, sort of like tequila, and sort of like orange juice. It's low in calories (less than 100), relatively low in carbs (16 gms), contains some fiber (2 gms), and protein (3 gms), has no added sugar or preservatives and the nopales are organic to boot. Try finding that in a boxed drink in the U.S. If I had the opportunity to buy it again would I? Not sure, but it was at least fun to try it. It's weird, it's wonderful and thoroughly Mexican.

                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      Dining Diva, thanks. The post are wonderfully constructed and marvelously insightful; a grerat window into the sensibilities of the cuisine.

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    Sorry see picture of dish above-
                                                    Rabo de Zorra is a breakfast dish that is served in San Miguel Allende- eggs soft (like poached) cooked, with green chilies, onions, garlic, tomatoe, spices, lard cooked in a small clay serving pot with a lid and served with corn tortillas. It sounds simple and might have additional an ingredient and it's the technique that makes this dish so wonderful. The best place to try this is El Correro(best version) and La Finestra Cafe (second best version) both in SMA. I've only seen this dish in SMA.

                                                2. A friend and I drove down the coast of Mexico-Mexican food to me is fresh yellow snapper with a green sauce or garlic and oil or veracruzana (cooked tomato,pepper and onion sauce)tomato avocado soup with fried tortilla chips on top-fresh tortillas with salsa-red or green-chilaquiles(sp) with green sauce-huevos rancheros,jamaica juice,horchata,melon batidas,watermelon juice,and wonderful palates(ices or ice cream pops)made with fresh fruits.Don't forget tres leches cake.

                                                  1. Well, I'll have a go as well.

                                                    During the peach harvests (and packing) in the 50s-early 70s in the Central Valley of California, our (extended) family hired a woman from southern Mexico to do all the cooking for lunch. We all ate and liked Mexican food. The woman's food was great, varied, and--as I learned much later--much like what you get in some high end places in Mexico. Little did we know how lucky we were. It did spoil most of us by making it impossible to settle for bad Mexican food. Fortunately, those years also meant good Mexican restaurants around pre-chain Fresno. Before I left for Asia, I spent almost a year in Albuquerque, where I got to learn to make a lot of New Mexican dishes.

                                                    In my occasional work in Mexico to date, we are mostly in remote rural areas of Chiapas and Vera Cruz. I love all the food we encounter. CHers have heard me praise the street and market foods of Mexico. I've had relatively little opportunity to eat at higher-end, urban restaurants (we blew our one night in DF on my last visit)--but when I have, I'm usually taken back to something quite like those harvest season mid-day meals in California.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      You make a very important point... the difference between good regional cuisine (often with a very heavy indigenous hand) and high end Mexican cuisine is really only presentation, atmosphere and maybe a few contemporary additions (like using a rare filet mignon etc.,). I am always taken aback by the sophisticated use of herbs & cooking techniques among very humble, indigenous cooks.... you almost have to have eaten the world's best regarded Chefs to begin to appreciate the use of Cactus, Huitlacoche, Avocado Leaves, Hoja Santa etc.,

                                                    2. Living in Queens, to me it is lengua taco from a truck chased by an ice-cold El Jarro, steaming hot tamal from a push cart, fresh cut fruit salad drizzled with savory hot sauce from the corner store. Homemade cecina and chorizo from the butcher and those tasty green onions with fattened bulbs. A smell of fresh baked corn tortillas on the way to work (tortilla bakery right by my subway stop).

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                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          Living in cali--
                                                          -it means roadside taco stands in 115 degree heat, ordering quesadillas and carne asada tacos one at a time and eating them as they come off the grill until we can't stand it any more and retreat to the cool of the car AC.
                                                          -it means fresh whole fish like you can't seem to get in the states with tons of garlic.
                                                          -it means the hole in the wall mexican places I grew up with, getting chilequiles for breakfast and chile relleno at La Superica with fresh horchata.
                                                          - and...yes...it means hopping across the border for tacos and cervezas in TJ.

                                                          I probably don't know anything about 'real' mexican food, but thats what I think of.

                                                          1. re: Jeters

                                                            I grew up eating at La Superica this was well before it became famous, it was near my high school, yum!. La Tolteca use to make the best salsa this was the place that is responsible for my salsa addiction, I remember going there with my father when I was 6 years old and getting chips, salsa and their wonderful enchilladas with that great red sauce.. I don't think it's as good as it was in the 70's.

                                                            Then there is the Roberto's stand south of Del Mar.

                                                            1. re: Lori SF

                                                              Santa Barbara High right =)

                                                              I didn't know how lucky I had it in high school, so close to the mexican places on milpas, that awesome italian specialty food store, our daily bread, Sojurner..
                                                              ...and I went to Taco Bell often as not. what was I thinking?!

                                                              1. re: Jeters

                                                                well taco bell was just around the corner...yes good old SBHS.

                                                                Oh do NOT for get Tino's

                                                        2. re: welle

                                                          oops, I meant Jarrito - mexican soda, El Jarro used to be a name of our fave resto in Queens.

                                                        3. My Mexico memories - Jugo de pina or horchata on a hot day, especially the grainy remains at the end of the cup, tacos of huitlacoche, tinga de pollo, flor de calabasas. Earthy mole poblano with a hint of fire. Streetside vendors selling fire roasted corn with queso, spicy tamales, slightly acidic pulpo ceviche. Sweet pastries and fresh papaya in the morning with hearty cafe con leche.

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                                                          1. re: kayonyc

                                                            Wow so hard to answer because I just love so many of the different regional foods of Mexico. From the thick and savory stews with fresh tortillas, REAL chile Rellenos that are just perfectly made, salsas that vary vastly, and the fresh crunchy vegetables and fresh food, My most memorable, a HUGE avocado stuffed with spicy marinated shrimp and sauce, a perfect relleno with ooozing gooey cheese goodness. tomatoes that are out of this world, and ice cold little corona beers being popped open all day long. Perfect frosty tangy marqaritas with just the right salt. A mole that I thought was the meal of a lifetime. Then the fruit cups to snack on while walking and talking and a wonderful hot chocolate with cinanmmon. I dont' know all of the authentic names, but it was wonderful. So when I think of the Ultimate Mexican food that is where my mind goes.

                                                              1. re: Lori SF

                                                                Thanks LoriSF now I need to make flight reservations, no kidding!

                                                          2. I've never read Proust but we all know about his famous madeleine. A taste brought childhood memories flooding back. I've noticed this happening here, especially among posters lucky enough to have visited Mexico. Mixed in with the tastes are memories of sun-dappled streets, crowded plazas teeming with energy, the slow steady pulse of long tradition, generations of love which seep into the cooking. The food's a synecdoche here. And for those of us who, like me, have never been to Mexico, the food of Mexico comes to symbolize a cessation of stress, a time for relaxation and sunlight, a Platonic ideal not only of cooking but of life.

                                                            Okay, to give you more of the answer you're looking for, my Mexican is one tiny place in Queens.

                                                            1. Dining Diva has me beat by a longshot with her wonderful descriptions and memories, but my year of living in the D.F. definitely delivered great food memories of all sorts of things, from delicious to dangerous, so figured I'd add them anyway.

                                                              As I was living there on business, most of my experience is in dining out or cooking at our apartment, although we did get invited to people's homes a couple of times, which we understand is an honor.

                                                              - A leisurely four-hour dinner at the San Angel Inn in the D.F. once a month involving perhaps 100 separate serving pieces for a table of five.
                                                              - A dripping torta Cubano at a ramshackle stand with teeming flies buzzing and a pack of dogs watching me eat it (our office was in a rather decrepit part of town)
                                                              - Tableside Caesar salads with actual eggs (and mashed anchovies)
                                                              - Going to the markets with my roomate where we'd look at stuff and have the following conversation, "You ever heard of this?", "Nope.", "Wanna try it?", "Sure".
                                                              - God-awful Domino's pizza with ham and pineapple (by far, the favorite pie of my Mexican coworkers, who ordered these in at least 3x/week and thought they were the height of "norteamericano" cuisine)
                                                              - Deep yellow chickens at the supermarket (I thought it was from cornmeal feed, but I was informed it was marigolds)
                                                              - Nothing wrapped in plastic - always bakery tissue, twisted on the ends
                                                              - Fresh pico de gallo at almost every meal
                                                              - Constantly being reminded to not eat the strawberries by our hosts unless "bleached" first
                                                              - Making notes on who served the best chilaquiles in town and enjoying that journey
                                                              - Getting served a plate of tacos al Pastor from a gondola on a canal in Xochimilco and chasing it with an ice cold Modelo on a hot Sunday afternoon
                                                              - Bull testes on the hibachi (forget what they were called, but they were like squingilli in texture, sweetbreads in flavor)
                                                              - Relaxing around outdoor kitchens in the countryside
                                                              - Huachinango hand rolls at Mr. Sushi in Polcano
                                                              - That once you've ate a handful of fried maguay worms, you'll always want another
                                                              - Camarones swimming in just about any and every kind of chile sauce imaginable
                                                              - Being invited for dinner and being served bowl after bowl of dishes I'd never experienced before and enjoying it all
                                                              - Sampling the goods from Illegal tequila"micro-distilleries"
                                                              - Morning coffee and pastries at Sanborn's (and cafe de olla... still haven't seen that in the States)
                                                              - Fresh tamales cooked with dozens of different fillings and sauces unheard of in the Northeast US
                                                              - Totally forgettable breads and rolls... stick to tortillas
                                                              - All the fruit seems bigger and looks brighter
                                                              - Not getting sick once over the course of a year.

                                                              Unfortunately I know live in a city (Pittsburgh) devoid of any Mexican except Tex-Mex. And my wife isn't a big fan of tortillas or chiles, although she loves most anything Veracuzana.

                                                              1. Tender chord here. 1972: hitchhiking from New Haven to Acapulco on winter break to see the Pacific for first time. Mexican cuisine on a sophomore's budget was chicken tacos with foot hanging out, tiny tiendas for roadside refresco, pineapples in San Blas that were like yellow water balloons, mosquitos be damned. Villages were homes of adobe and coke signs, with burros, chickens and pigs. Many rides were on trucks with animals.
                                                                Fast forward: first pescado entero in Zijuatenejo; magical. My initiation as an "hermano" in Cozumel by 13 mayan mexicans, featuring a huge redfish baked in the earth pibil style, with trigger fish livers (aparte); my ladyfriend in DF buying all the cuitlahoche in every town in Guanajuato and Michoacan for what I called "corn cancer casserole"- tan sabroso; watching her prepare chiles en nogada in season- peeling walnuts and poblanos. God, what work, what love. Her 3 gallon or so tin of miel (honey) in the kitchen, used somehow with almost every meal. Arrachera steak with chimmichura sauce at a sidewalk cafe late at night in DF, and my waitress would always play the Ray Charles/ Henry Mancini song "I can't stop loving you" whenever this gringo arrived for cena. What a memory.
                                                                And now, 35 years since my first experience in Mexico, so many of those rural homes are masonry, with Rotoplasts on the roof, often with satellite dishes and cars in the drive. So much has changed for the good where it was needed, sanitation especially, and other places remain magically frozen in time, like Holbox and the Baccalar lagoon. From folk art to cuisine, Mexico shines with a culture that is connected to the earth in a special way.
                                                                Thanks, Eat_Nopal, for a chance to share and reminisce.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                                  That's beautiful! (sniff)
                                                                  Makes me ever more proud of my heritage, and appreciate it more.

                                                                2. To me, in no particular order:
                                                                  Sopa seca de fideos, papadzules, tortas ahogadas, huevos rancheros, huevos a la mexicana, tamales, agua de jamaica, tacos, flautas, conchas, flan, carne asada, huachinango a la veracruzana, cocada, mole, elotes on the street, sopa de tortilla...

                                                                  Sitting to lunch at 2:30, 3 pm and late dinners - el camotero whistling under your window -

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                                                                  1. re: sandra in australia

                                                                    As an ex California I would also add to your list - chilli rellenós, molé, ropa vieja and homemade salsa.

                                                                  2. what a huge topic.

                                                                    Mexican food to me is
                                                                    Chile fresco
                                                                    oja de laurel

                                                                    and time...

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: tiamarty

                                                                      Excellent topic, EN. Your posters might like to have a look at *Mexico Cooks!* for more information--and photos--of the infinite possibilities of the cuisines of Mexico.

                                                                      Every region, every state, every city, every town, and many home kitchens of Mexico, from the far north to the Yucatán, have their own cuisine. It's all but impossible to generalize as to what a single cuisine of Mexico might be.

                                                                      Link: http://mexicocooks.typepad.com

                                                                      1. re: cristina

                                                                        Thanks Cristina nice Blog you got working there.... I would be most interested in a well researched & thorough analysis of atapakuas.

                                                                    2. Mexican food to me are the chile rellenos my sweet Mexican nanny made for us as a child, growing up in Los Angeles! She bathed the relleno batter in so much egg, it kind of tasted like a crunchy omlette with a plump chile smothered with melted cheese. ...and to wash it down, she would also make her own horchata from scratch, since we weren't allowed to bring stuff like that into our kosher kitchens. I have been looking for a better chile relleno since!

                                                                      1. Mexico is my mother in laws house on the last street in Imperial Beach, CA, overlooking the field that separates San Diego from Tiajuana. Looking out the window with Aqua Caliente in the distance, while she makes fresh tortillas and stirs a great big pot of Chili con Nopales because all the kids are coming over for any of the thousand celebrations large Mexican families have.

                                                                        It's the little push carts that make wonderful tacos at 1 in the morning.

                                                                        It's Mariachi.

                                                                        It's anything but tex-Mex.

                                                                        1. For me its very simple. Es mi abuelitas comida de la cocina! Its funny how not festive
                                                                          the food I ate growing up was compared to all the stuff I see in Mexican restaurants. But man oh man was it good!!! Its the smell of Menudo on a Sunday morning after a long night of partying. Its a cookout with Carne Asada from the local Carniceria. Its Tamales and Posole during the holidays. Its my moms homemade Mole on my birthday (she always made it because its my favorite). I couldn't give a damn about sour cream or lettuce or tomato or whatever the hell else people seem to like put in "Mexican" food.
                                                                          but what its really about is being home and being with my familia.
                                                                          Enjoy the eats!!

                                                                          1. I lived for over 15 years in San Antonio, and I see Texas-Mex and Mexican food as distinct categories. To me, Mexican food is fresh ingredients and full flavors (not just spicy)... and my absolute favorite Mexican food is mole.

                                                                            1. hot tip for people in NYC
                                                                              Diana Kennedy is doing a book signing at a wine store on 19th St called Bottlerocket, tonight 6-8pm
                                                                              thanks to her, Mexican cooking to me is not Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex

                                                                              1. I have an ignorant question about Mexican food. Why is it that I don't see a lot of vegetable options at Mexican restaurants? I only see the usual peppers/chiles, tomatoes, corn, cactus being used in the cuisine. Why is this? I've never been to Mexico except for a lost-weekend at Club Med which doesn't count so I'm very curious about this.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: KathyM

                                                                                  It's not the Mexican food - it's the marketing. If you go to an 'Authentic' Mexican cuisine restaurant, and they are few and far between, you will see more vegetable choices. 'There are so many vegetable choices in Mexican cuisine that it's actually quite easy to be a vegetarian. It's the same reason why we're familiar wtih Chow Mein, Kung Pao, Pad Thai, Chana Masala, Paneer, Babaganoush, and not with other more complex dishes of these cultures - it's what the restaurant owner perceives the american diner is familiar with and wants.
                                                                                  Look for mexican restaurants with a menu not driven by american palette (or by someone with a narrow understanding of consumer expectations) and you'll find a more varied menu. Usually you'll find a pretty exciting and daring chef there too.

                                                                                  1. re: KathyM

                                                                                    There is also a value-perception component. Most people in Mexico are practically forced vegetarians... in fact the soul of everday Mexican cooking (and eating Tacos, Enchiladas, Carne Asada or Carnitas on a regular basis is not a traditional practice there) is using Sazon (flavoring) & a little bit of meat to enhance vegetables & legumes.

                                                                                    A perfect example of a home cooked, every day meal in Mexico is poaching one scrawny chicken, using the broth to create a Tomato-Jalapeno Caldillo (a thin cooked salsa) then adding back the shredded chicken and whatever fresh picked vegetables were available in the mercado typically Mexican Zucchini, Chayote Squash, New Potatoes, Green Beans, Wild Greens, Mushrooms, Onions, Whole Tomatoes, Fresh Garbanzos, Fresh Peas etc., you load up with as many dirt cheap vegetables as possible (but without diluting the flavor).... served with handmade corn tortillas, blackened jalapenos, a side dish of refried beans.... and that serves 8 people (possibly twice).

                                                                                    Now to the point... this type of eating (while enthusiastically embraced by low metabolic suburban office workers & whole foods eaters) is seen as poverty food particularly among Mexican immigrants in the states. After a lifetime of eating like that they value the meats & beans (which by the way beans are more expensive & valuable in Mexico than vegetables).

                                                                                  2. in addition to my prior post--jugo de naranja-watermelon juice and mangos with hot sauce

                                                                                    1. Sorry Sarah but Chevy's is barely related to Mexican food. BUT if you enjoy eating that and it makes you happy, then it's served it's purpose.

                                                                                      As for the burritos, they sound delicious, and are, as you point out, a great vegetarian dish. But they probably fall on the fringes of authentic Mexican food.

                                                                                      1. I am so sorry to missed this post the first time around! Thanks susaninsf for brining it to our attention on the L.A. board!!

                                                                                        It’s been a pleasure reading everyone’s comments, but being Mexican, to me, Mexican food is about love. I am also a student of Mexican-American culture and I recently read a book where the girl described that Mexican food is the way a mother shows her commitment to family. She stands all day while preparing it… and she stands all the while you eat it (constantly heating up tortillas). I do have to say… I love when my partner stands up and prepares more tortillas for the both of us. :)

                                                                                        Because of this, Mexican Food at home, because for me, it always requires a bit of thought and planning. We don’t cook it as often as most would think because of that, afterall, we can go to a taco stand anyday! But when I truly get inspired or get a hold of some wonderful ingredient (I picked up some Verdulagas at the Farmer’ Market! I can’t wait to use them this week! :)), then it is more than worth the effort and time. :)