Eating and drinking in Mexico

Food

Eating is a great pastime in Mexico and food is an integral part of the national identity: it's how people socialize, celebrate and do business.

Of all the Mexican staples, corn, or maize, is the most common and has been cultivated over millennia, probably originating in the Valley of Mexico. There are hundreds of dishes or snacks containing corn -
tortillas
being the most obvious. Tortillas are used as the base for myriad dishes;
tacos
,
burritos
,
enchiladas
,
tostadas
,
sopes
and
quesadillas
- anything can be neatly stuffed into the bread and eaten any time of day.

No tortilla is complete without a
salsa
(sauce); Most restaurants have at least two small bowls of salsa on every table. Most establishments and homes make their own salsas, so they are rarely found ready-bottled.
Salsa roja
is based on red tomatoes (
jitomates
) and
salsa verde
on green tomatoes (
tomates
). A basic salsa only contains four to five ingredients, but few taste the same. The secret is in the use of chillies, another Mexican staple that we've come to firmly associate the nation's cuisine with hot and spicy dishes. This isn't strictly true, since there are some 300 different types of chillies and by no means all of them are hot.

Chillies can be used fresh, as well as dried, smoked, roasted or pickled to achieve different flavours. Some dishes, such as
mole
, contain various types of chillies to get the balance of flavouring right, including
serrano
,
ancho
and
pasilla
. The best-known chilli internationally is the
jalapeño
, popular in pickled form.

Other staples include avocado-based
guacamole,
often served alongside salsas.
Frijoles
, the ubiquitous beans, usually refried, also accompany most meals any time of day. Rice dishes are often referred to as
sopa seca
(dry soup) along with any other dish that has been boiled in water or broth, such as pastas and risotto.

Mexicans like eating well and often; breakfast can be anything from coffee and a roll, to a full-blown meal of
huevos rancheros
(eggs with red chilli sauce),
chilaquiles
(day-old tortilla wedges smothered in red chilli sauce),
carne asada
(roasted meat) and of course tortillas and
frijoles
. Business breakfast meetings remain ever popular in Mexico and chain restaurants such as
Sanborns
and
Vips
do a brisk morning trade in the cities.

Then
almuerzo
(brunch or lunch) is a quick snack to keep you going until the main meal of the day:
la comida
. Traditionally
la comida
is a two-hour sit-down meal, eaten at home between 1400-1600. It involves three to four courses: the meal starts with a liquid soup, followed by a 'dry soup' of rice or pasta, the main dish (usually meat or fish) and finally a
postre
(dessert). In rural Mexico most people still return home for
la comida
, but in the cities where people often work far away from their abode, this is no longer possible. Many restaurants offer excellent value lunchtime specials: the
comida corrida
('meal on the run').

La comida
ought to set you up nicely for the rest of the day, but there is also a chance to have the
merienda
, in the late afternoon - a snack to fill the gap until
la cena
(supper) in the evening. This is usually a lighter meal than
la comida
, often just
recalentados
(leftovers) from the main meal of the day. Alternatively
antojitos
(snacks) - anything from a tiny taco, to a large
torta
- can be eaten anywhere, at anytime.

Up north you'll find Tex-Mex style cooking, such as
fajitas
and
nachos
and the tortillas tend to be wheat, rather than corn. Along the coasts there is excellent fish and seafood is abundant; hearty, warming stews and broths characterize the Central Highlands; and Yucatán has the hottest chillies (
habaneros
) and the best pork.

Mexico can be rather heavy on the meat, so vegetarians fare less well, but it's still possible to get a good meal and vegetarianism is becoming better known, particularly in places on the tourist trail, such as the coasts, Oaxaca and San Cristóbal.

Drink

Mexican
beer
is well-known internationally and there are a number of brands that can easily be found in bars from Helsinki to Hong Kong, notably
Sol
and
Corona
. Other beers worth sampling include
Dos Equis-XX
,
Montejo
,
Bohemia
,
Superior
and
Tecate
. These are mostly light lagers, but there are also some dark beers, such as
Negra Modelo
,
Indio
and
Dos Equis Obscura
, although the latter can be harder to find. Beer is ever popular, easy to buy and usually relatively cheap. Some beer is drunk with lime juice and a salt- rimmed glass, or as a
michelada
, served with ice, lime, salt and chilli sauce.

Mexican
wine
is cheap and steadily improving in quality; try
Domecq
,
Casa Madero
or
Santo Tomás
.
LA Cetto's
wines have been recommended, including their Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Fumé. Some of the best wines produced in Mexico are those from Monte Xanic, produced near Ensenada, Baja California, but these can be expensive.

Although Mexicans love their beer, the nation is best known for its
spirits
. By far the best known, tequila, is made from the fermented juice of the blue agave in the state of Jalisco - originally in a village called Tequila, but now made across the state and in some neighbouring states. Tequila has become increasingly popular internationally, slowly shedding its image as a 'rough spirit', to be drunk for the sake of getting drunk. Instead more refined and aged (
añejo
) tequilas are reaching the market. It's possible to visit some of the distilleries on day trips from Guadalajara:
Sauza
,
Herradura
and
José Cuervo
are all open to the public.

Lagging behind somewhat in terms of worldwide popularity, mescal is a forerunner to tequila and also made from the agave plant, although not the blue agave. Chiefly produced in Oaxaca , mescal has yet to be taken over by large-scale production and remains more low-key, although it is starting to attract international attention. In Oaxaca many bars and restaurants have their own brands sourced by local producers. Some of the younger mescals are an acquired taste. It's often these rougher mescals that have the (in)famous
gusanito
(worm) added - originally a marketing ploy that worked a little too well, making the worm image somewhat hard to shed.

Pulque
is another native brew made from the agave plant, well worth a try. The Aztecs were already making it when the Spaniards arrived and it's pretty potent, so go easy. Rum and brandy are cheap and plentiful, as is the distilled sugarcane spirit,
puro de caña
. The latter is known as
posh
in the southern state of Chiapas where it comes in various flavours (cinnamon and hibiscus flower are delicious). Most of these 'homebrew-style' spirits are drunk in
cantinas
- still firmly a male domain, particularly in rural Mexico. Although women often have a tipple at home during festivities and celebrations, it's mostly in the bigger cities and resorts that women are seen drinking in bars.

Among the
non-alcoholic
 drinks
(
refrescos
) are a number of international brand soft drinks as well as local ones. It often costs more to buy the bottle with the soft drink, so to safe money ask for a
bolsa con popote
(a plastic bag with a straw). Even more popular are the
aguas frescas
(fresh fruit juices), made with all sorts of fruits, such as mango, lime or watermelon. These are usually sold at street stalls or markets. Mineral water tends to be used, so they are mostly safe to drink, but take care and check the stalls for hygiene.
Licuados
(fruit juices mixed with milk, rather like a milkshake) are usually safe to drink.

Mexico is a great coffee-producing nation and particularly in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz, excellent locally grown coffee can be had.
Chocolate
, another local product, drunk by the Aztecs with water and spices, is still the drink of choice for many, particularly in the highlands in winter. Other non-alcoholic beverages include
atole
(a corn-based hot drink) and
champurrado
(a chocolate
atole
). If there is a weak spot in Mexico's delicious selection of drinks,
it's their tea and those who enjoy a nice cuppa would do well to bring their own tea bags, since good quality black tea can be hard to find. Herbal teas, such as chamomile and mint, on the other hand, are very good and readily available.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Cancún & Yucatán Peninsula Handbook

Take a plunge off Mexico's Caribbean coastline and marvel at the coral and plants that have been...

Belize, Guatemala & Southern Mexico Handbook

Blessed with a tropical climate, abundant wildlife and a varied landscape, it's easy to understand...

Central America Handbook

The Central America isthmus is home to exuberant swathes of rainforest and a tapestry of cultures....
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...