Mexican culinary history is believed to date back 9000 years to 7000 BC. That's nine millennia of refinement and perfection we are talking about. Something that very few cuisines the world over can boast. Mexican cuisine is an interesting mix of many cultures, from Mayan to Inca, and Aztec to Spanish and also the French, thanks to a brief French connection in the 1860s.
The influence of Spain
Mexican food that we know of today has ingredients that are both native to Mexico and those brought in by the Spanish conquistadors. Around 1521 when the Spanish invaded Mexico, they introduced the natives to livestock and dairy products as well as garlic and other spices. So now Mexicans could add to their ingredients comprising mainly of peanuts, chili peppers, chocolate, vanilla, beans, avocados, coconuts, tomatoes, corn, and squash.
The most modern influence for Mexican food has been from Texas. Tex-Mex is today a favourite the world over. A fusion of Mexican and American cuisines, Tex-Mex borrows from the culinary traditions of the Tejano inhabitants living in Texas. Cheese plays a much bigger role in Tex-Mex food than in mainstream Mexican cuisine.
Sauces and Peppers
Apart from corn, that is the staple starch, sauces play a huge role in Mexican dishes. In fact, sauces define these dishes. Salsa or pickled chilli peppers accompany dishes that don't use sauces. This includes street foods such as tacos, tortas and soups. Chilli peppers are used for their flavours and not just their heat, defining the main flavour of dishes.
Places doing Mexican right
El Publico, Perth’s modern Mexican restaurant and bar has the game right. Their menu takes inspiration from tlayudas - the traditional Oaxacan street food from Mexico’s south. Their tlayudas are served with a homemade salsa roja base, topped with Oaxaca cheese that has a mozzarella-like stringy texture.
Mejico in Sydney’s CBD offers the conchinita pibil – a citrus and Yucatan spiced pulled pork, served with hot sauce. They even add a creative twist with smoked eggplant. That's the beauty of Mexican cuisine. It can adopt and take on inspiration from a variety of cuisines and make it its own without losing identity.
Besos Latinos promises to romance your palate with a mouth-watering exploration of authentic traditional Latin American cuisine. The first restaurant of its kind in New Zealand, it offers traditional Mexican fare (along with other Latin American cuisine). Even most of the staff are native, and so are always ready to guide diners through their tantalising menu. Their Mexican jalapeño poppers filled with cheese, or coxhinas is a divine exploration of flavours.
Mamasita’s signature dish at a recent edition of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival was chargrilled corn served with mayonnaise flavoured with Kakadu plum from the Kimberleys.
Recipes to inspire your Mexican menu
Staying with the pork, which was incidentally introduced to Mexico by the invading Spaniards, we have the BBQ Pork with Smoked Pineapple Pico De Gallo - pork cutlets amped with the chunky salsa again. Pork and Mexican flavours are in perfect tango in both these dishes.
Duck Quesadillas with Chipotle Salsa and Goat Cheese brings on a heavenly smooth and creamy textured dish made robust by the KNORR American Chipotle BBQ Sauce. These tortilla sandwiches make for great share plates. We have more exciting Mexican recipes here.
Getting your menu right is a matter of understanding the cuisine and then adopting to your own style. For inspiration on Mexican ingredients, we have you covered.