Traditional, Authentic, Tex-Mex are all buzz words used to argue what Mexican food is really Mexican food. Here are 5 steps in the creation of today’s Mexican cuisine. It’s all authentic – in its own way!
1. What the Aztecs Ate… that’s the beginning of Mexican food. The staples of the Aztec diet remain part of the Mexican diet today. The Aztecs enjoyed corn (maize), beans, avocados, chilies, and tomatoes. Of course, those tomatoes were different than the variety brought by the Europeans that are used today. The nopal cactus was also used and still is – although maybe not at your local Mexican restaurant.
2. Two Big Players in Mexican food diet of the past were chili peppers and salt. They were so important that special religious events involved fasts that avoided them. That had to be hard. Can you imagine any of your Mexican favorites with the chili pepper spice? Another staple, the tortilla, is still prepared much the same way as it was in more ancient times with maize and lime.
3. The Europeans arrived and brought new things with them – including those tomatoes. The European additions included many of the ingredients we enjoy today – chicken, pork and beef in the meat department. Cheese, garlic, onions and rice were also added. They became ingredients in traditional Aztec and Mexican dishes. An addition that continues on today.
4. Texas – you can’t deny the influence whether you want to call it Tex-Mex or just Mexican food. As Anglo-American settlers moved further and further west, they met a new culture and cuisine. They found exotic new food – Mexican food. And, they found them tasty. Once again, new ingredients were introduced – this time more beef, including ground beef, and wheat flour. Mexican food was changing again.
5. Texas Restaurants also played a role. They blended more “gringo” ingredients into dishes – think of a ground beef enchilada – to feed their growing clientele. The burro is probably more Tex-Mex than Mexican and nachos are probably a blend of both. You decide if this Tex-Mex adaption is just another evolution in Mexican food or if it is a break for a brand new cuisine.
Mexican food is continuing to evolve in American as chef’s are inspired to make new combinations of those tried and true ingredients. Much of the chef inspired dishes reach gourmet status. When you enjoy Mexican food – enjoy it everywhere. From the local taco stand or truck, to America’s fast food version to a “traditional” Mexican restaurant to the wonderful mix of traditional and new tastes at a more upscale Mexican restaurant with a chef on staff. It’s all there for you to enjoy – authentic, traditional or Tex-Mex. If you enjoy it just call it Mexican food.