Taste the world, that is what I want to do! It is one of the big benefits of traveling and eating local food is a great way to experience a country. Most countries have their own specific kitchen or at least a couple of special dishes. Some countries are even world famous because of their food. Mexico is one of them. When I walk around in my hometown in Holland I see lots of Mexican restaurants. In the supermarket you can buy all kind of ingredients to make your own tacos or fajitas and I love the food. So you can imagine I was really excited when I took the plane to Mexico so I could eat the food in the country itself.
The first thing I always realize is that foreign food in my country has little to do with the food they eat in the country of origin. Yes, it is some kind of version but the recipes and flavors are often modified. When we make tacos here for example we use hard and crispy shells to put the meat in. In Mexico they use a soft tortilla and the flavors are totally different as well. So after a lifetime of fake Mexican food, I finally got to taste the real deal. Because I stayed in one place, I had the opportunity to explore and search for the best food and in the last couple of six weeks I have tasted some great Mexican dishes. I will tell you some more about it.
Stereotype Mexican food
First of all, you can certainly find all the stereotype dishes you know about Mexico in the restaurants. Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, name it and they have it. They are cheap, tasty and you can fill them with all kinds of stuff like chicken, fish, shrimps and vegetarian in some cases. Go a little bit outside the big tourist area and you will find more honest food. My favorites are the vegetarian burrito filled with vegetables, beans, lettuce, tomato completed with a nice spicy sauce and the spinach/cheese quesadilla. But it is actually a bit of fast food and Mexico has a lot more to offer.
El menu del dia
One of the great things some restaurants offer in Mexico is ‘el menu del dia’. You can find the menu of the day usually in the smaller local restaurants and it is perfect for a lunch. Next to what they usually offer they prepare one or more special dishes every day. In most cases it comes with a soup, a drink and the main dish. I had great meatballs for example and breaded chicken, beef, all combined with rice, beans and a small salad on the side. It is also super cheap. For three euro you can have a complete lunch. Just ask inside what they have to offer and try it if it sounds good.
Personally I think eating on the street is the best way to learn about a county’s real kitchen. It is honest and cheap food and the flavors are often very good. I must say that I was a little disappointed about this in Mexico. Maybe it was the place where I stayed but I simply could not find a lot of street food. There were taco stalls and they sold different kinds of tasty tacos filled with shredded meat and spicy flavors but that was just about it. Luckily there were a lot of other good places.
Peppers and lime
Actually, when I think of the Mexican kitchen I have to think about two ingredients, peppers and lime. The food can be quite spicy sometimes but you will find the real kick in the sauces and salsas they offer on the side. Wow, did I burn my tongue sometimes. But try it more often and it will get addictive. The lime will add a lot of freshness to the dishes. A delicious dish is ceviche. It is originally from Peru and it is made of raw fish and/or shrimps and octopus, marinated in lime and in Mexico often finished with chopped onions and tomato. It is ideal for a nice light lunch on a hot day and it is so fresh.
Meat versus fish
I always thought that Mexico was a real meat country and although they have it a lot, it is not entirely true. I stayed in the Yucatan area, close to the ocean and the fish and seafood were excellent. In my opinion even better than the meat. Fried fish, breaded fish, ceviche like I said, seafood cocktails and all so fresh. I definitely had much more fish because the quality was so good and it was something I did not expect.
Two favorite dishes
My absolute favorite food were the tostadas in a restaurant called Los Aquachiles in Playa del Carmen. They are fresh, they look amazing and they taste so incredibly good. Imagine yourself a round and crispy corn tortilla, then add a layer of fresh raw tuna topped with colorful chopped vegetables. It is just so good! Or a big lettuce leaf filled with lime flavored seafood, mixed with tomato and onion. Truly a real treat.
Another dish which I really loved is one I was not sure about at first. It is the Coctel de Camarones and it means a cocktail with shrimps but you can also add chops of octopus for example. It looked a bit weird in the beginning. They serve it in a big glass and what you see is shrimps floating in a sort of tomato juice. It cannot be nice I thought. But then I tasted it…Wow that was nice! The flavors are fantastic and go very well together. You taste the tomato, coriander, avocado, lime, some sweetness, a bit of a spicy kick combined with very fresh seafood. Even when I write about it now I can still taste it and I will definitely try to make it myself.
So Mexico is a very interesting country for food with its own specific dishes. A lot of restaurants offer western food as well like pizza and pasta and although the quality is not even that bad, I advise you to try the local food as much as you can. Touristy restaurants are much more expensive and of less quality so try el menu del dia for example and you will not be disappointed.
Have you ever been in Mexico and what was your favorite food?