The history of Mexican food has been greatly influenced by the Spanish. In the 15th century, the Spanish arrived in Mexico to search for fortune, but instead they discovered a wealth of exotic culinary specialities such as chocolate and spices, chillies, herbs and tropical fruit. In turn, the Spanish introduced the country to lavish domestic meats, poultry, milk wheat, sugar cane and wine.
The combination resulted in an exotic, rich, spicy and fragrant cuisine which bursts with an array of exotic and different flavours. We introduce you to just some of the basic ingredients and flavours that gives Mexico its reputation of being a bohemian and exotic haven of foods unexplored.
Without a doubt Tortillas are the most well known product that Mexico has refined. Made with traditionally ground corn as well as flour, they resemble thin and flat pancakes and are consumed as an accompaniment to many varied Mexican dishes.
When I think of Mexico, one of the first things that come to mind is (besides the feisty Latin flavour) is chillies! Hot chillies. Some of the most popular chillies that are native to Mexico is the spicy jalapeno, the serrano and poblano. These specific ones (and trust me when I say, that there is a huge variety) are found in almost every Mexican dish , from soups and salsas to sauces and mole. They can be used fresh, whole, smoked, dried or powdered and can be considered a spice.
And Mexico is big on their use of spices.
Oregano, chilli powder, Epazote, Cinnamon, cloves, cocoa and anise are some of the spices used to add flavour to traditional Mexican dishes.
Oregano is used to give their dishes an earthy and rich flavour and is especially used with tomato based dishes. (Pizza anyone?)
Epazote may not be a well- known spice, but it is used to give added flavour to beans and is also used in strong Mexican teas. However it is a very pungent spice and should be used sparingly or in small doses as it is poisonous in large amounts.
Then there are the more familiar spices such as cinnamon, anise and clover… and then there’s cocoa.
As we all know, traditionally cocoa is used to make chocolate and yes, the Mexicans do use it for chocolate drinks and chocolate desserts, chocolate dishes, chocolate anything!
But it is also used along with peanut butter to flavour Mole. (Mole is a thick sauce which is often served over chicken).
Mexico encompasses all that is exotic and bohemian. So before I leave you with the taste of Mexico lingering on your tongue and senses, I highly recommend that you read Like water for chocolate by Laura Esquivel and The discovery of chocolate by James Runcie.
Yes, they’re novels but if ever you want to capture the essence of Mexican food culture and history then the lyrical prose in which these books were written will transport you to the heartbeat and rhythm of Mexico’s food culture…
I leave you to linger over the exotic flavours of Mexico…
Image: by Fairlady