Mexico is undoubtedly one of the culinary capitals of the world. The food is full of flavour, diverse, and cheap! Here are some of my favourites from my two months there.
- Cafe de Olla – Coffee with cinnamon, piloncillo (unrefined Mexican cane sugar), and sometimes orange peel. It’s very sweet, quite strongly flavoured, and a very interesting twist on your morning coffee!
- Chilaquiles – This dish is like nachos, but better! It starts with a base of chips (like nachos), and is then covered in sauce of your choice. Usually your choices are salsa verde – a green sauce based on tomatillos (which are a Mexican member of the tomato family, but smaller, with a papery husk around them, and quite tart in flavour), with chili and other spices; salsa roja – based on red tomatoes, with chili and other spices; or mole (my personal favourite; pronounced “mole-ay”) – a phenomenal sauce traditionally involving over thirty ingredients, including several different types of chili, chocolate, and spices. The chilaquiles usually come with shredded chicken or fried eggs, avocado, slices of onion, and a crumbly cheese. I often enjoyed this incredibly tasty dish for breakfast/brunch in my beautiful temporary hometown of Puebla, always with mole and huevos (eggs) – yum!!
- Esquites – a cup of corn kernels, served with mayonnaise, chili powder, chili sauce, and lime juice. The corn is traditionally boiled in salted water, and then sautéed, before being scooped into a polystyrene cup and topped with whichever toppings you choose. Beware of the chili options: they are HOT!
- Mezcal – an absolute must-try for those over 18 in Mexico! Mezcal is an agave-based spirit, commonly misunderstood as a worse or cheaper version of tequila. In fact, there are many differences between the two, and mezcal ends up being a much more diverse and interesting spirit. Tequila can only be made from one type of agave, mezcal can be made from many. Mezcal can be smoky, earthy, sweet, spicy, or a combination. It’s incredible, fascinating, delicious, and my new favourite spirit! Start with espadín; it’s the most common and will give you an idea of whether or not you like mezcal.
- Agua de sabores – Sweet, flavoured water. You can buy a large cup or an enormous cup, always for a very cheap price, and there are tons of different (really interesting) flavours. My absolute favourite is agua de jamaica (hibiscus, pronounced “ha-may-ca”), which is tart but sweet and always delicious and refreshing!
- Mexican cerveza – You might have tried Corona or Sol, maybe even Negra Modelo; but you have to try Indio, Bohemia (their Oscura dark beer is lovely!), and any others you come across!
- Tejocote – This is a delicious small orange coloured fruit, it looks like an apricot, but tastes like applesauce! In Mexico it’s really quite common, and you can find it in ice-cream form (a MUST try), or whole cooked fruit in syrup from street vendors, usually served in a cup for ridiculously cheap prices. It quickly became one of my favourite fruits; so different to anything we have at home and an absolutely sensational treat!
- Chile en nogada – This traditional dish consists of a whole poblano chili stuffed with various ingredients; mainly fruits, spices, and often shredded meat; then topped with a walnut-based sauce and pomegranate seeds. It is a renowned traditional dish from Puebla, and the dish is interestingly made up of the three colours of the Mexican flag – the green chili, white sauce, and red pomegranate seeds. It’s best to try this in season, as the dish is far tastier and more fresh when eaten in August and September (from what I’ve heard). I was able to find a restaurant serving them while I was there in January, and had to give it a try. It’s amazing how the flavours complement each other, but it was too rich for me, and would be best for two people to share as a starter to get an idea of the flavours but not feel overwhelmed at the end.
- Chocolate caliente – Hot chocolate; it’s best if you can try this in Oaxaca where the best chocolate in the country comes from. Bonus points if you can watch it being made in the traditional way – with a large spoon that looks like an enormous honey dipper, rapidly twirled in a large jug of hot water or milk, until the chocolate has melted and mixed in. The hot chocolate tastes totally different to anything I’ve tried before, and was addictive, delicious, and perfect to warm up on a chilly Oaxacan evening!
- Crema de mezcal – These creamy liqueurs are the texture of Baileys, and come in many different flavours. If you walk through the main streets of Oaxaca, you will hear offers of “mezcal o crema de mezcal?” extremely often. It’s worth trying a few; the flavours can be really interesting and tasty! I prefer standard mezcal, but it was interesting to try this drink I’d never heard of before!
- Quesillo – This is a stringy white cheese, made in Oaxaca. It’s totally unlike anything else, and is amazing! Salty, a little rubbery, but totally delicious when melted and served on a torta (sandwich), taco, or any of the other many things you can try it on!
There are many different kinds of food and drink available in Mexico that you won’t find anywhere else; the basic rule of thumb is that you should try everything! Particularly food or drink traditionally found in the region you’re in – there are many. In Puebla, there are several different types of sandwich, and several different types of bread; you should try everything you can! Tortas are cheap, filling and delicious; cemitas are a type of sandwich served on an eggy bread roll similar to brioche; you also obviously have to try tacos, and everything else!
One tip: if you’re not a huge chili fan, the phrase “sin picante, por favor” is crucial – “without chili, please”.