Traditional Mexican cuisine is so much more than authentic dishes and spices; it’s a vibrant, lovingly preserved, cultural heritage.
Handcrafted recipes passed down for generations…
Planting and harvesting native ingredients such as corn and chile peppers in chinampas…
Manually grinding grain for tortillas on stone and mortar…
Traditional Mexican cuisine embraces an entire heritage of culture dedicated to maintaining Mexico’s indigenous customs and cultural traditions.
So much so in fact, it’s now internationally recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Traditional Cuisine!
The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexican Cuisine
Identified by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a “comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners,” in 2010 traditional Mexican cuisine was officially Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
UNESCO further defines Intangible Heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions,
as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artefacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.”
What could be more representative of such a heritage than the rich tradition of Mexican cuisine?
But What, Exactly, Is Traditional Mexican Cuisine?
First and foremost, traditional Mexican cuisine only applies to authentic Mexican dishes. Even as close to the border as we are in San Diego, most Mexican food served in the U.S. is far from authentic or traditional. Burritos, chili con carne, chimichangas, hardshell tacos and enchiladas (as we know them in the U.S.), queso dip, nachos . . . all Tex-Mex.
Even fajitas are a Tex-Mex invention (offered to tourists in Mexico now because so many Americans associate fajitas as authentic).
Tex-Mex is a cuisine only very loosely related to Mexican cuisine. Invented by early Texas settlers, Tex-Mex was inspired by, and adapted from, Mexican cooking, however the ingredients and culinary practices associated with traditional Mexican cuisine aren’t at all a part of this U.S.-based type of “Mexican” food.
In contrast, most authentic Mexican food derived from a combination of ancient Aztec, Mayan and Spanish traditions. Quoting Cristina Potters of Mexico Cooks!, “There are specific recipes to follow, specific flavors and textures to expect, and specific results to attain. Yes, some liberties are taken, particularly in Mexico’s new ‘alta cocina’ (haute cuisine) and fusion restaurants, but even those liberties are based on specific traditional recipes.” For example, the traditional dish of “…carne de puerco en chile verde–as served in the North of Mexico, in the Central Highlands, or in the Yucatán. There may be big variations among the preparations of this dish, but each preparation is traditional and each is authentic in its region.”
Here are a few key signature aspects of traditional Mexican cuisine to help you distinguish authentic Mexican from Tex-Mex dishes:
- fresh and healthy ingredients such as tomatoes, chiles, not jars of store-bought salsa for example
- traditional spices (such as coriander and epazote) instead of cumin or dry oregano
- maize-based tortillas, not wheat tortillas
- soft tacos, not crisp taco shells
- white cheese (like cotija or fresh cheese) instead of yellow (cheddar) cheese
- cooked corn grains and complete corn cobs rather than salsas and dishes with sweet corn as an ingredient
- frijoles prepared from scratch, not Americanized refried beans
Traditional Mexican Cuisine North of the Border?
Yes, you can actually find authentic, traditional Mexican cuisine in the U.S., just not at Taco Bell or Chili’s…
Aqui es Texcoco is proud to be forwarding Mexico’s cultural heritage of traditional cuisine by bringing authentic Mexican barbacoa to our restaurants in California. Every dish is traditionally prepared using recipes and culinary methods steeped in the heritage of Mexico.
PS: Did you know Texcoco caters too? Bring Mexico’s traditional heritage to your next event!