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Mexican Cuisine: World-Class Gastronomy

Mexican Cuisine: World-Class Gastronomy

A recent story in DESTINO, Cabo’s bimonthly magazine, addressed a topic near and dear to Cabo residents and visitors alike: Mexican gastronomy, aptly described as “a rich blend of history, tradition and irresistible taste.

“Rooted in pre-Columbian times, (Mexico’s) culinary heritage has not only captured the hearts of food enthusiasts worldwide, but has also earned recognition as a UNESCO-designated Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” the magazine reported.

Mexico’s foods are centered on corn, beans and chili, with native ingredients such as tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla augmenting the basic staples. Unique farming methods and cooking processes, along with the use of grinding stones, stone mortars and other utensils, contribute to a cuisine that is elaborate, symbol-laden--and very tasty.

Here are a few fun facts about a beloved cuisine that “expresses community identity, reinforces social bonds, and builds stronger local, regional and national identities,” according to UNESCO.

1. The Cookbook. The first French cookbook, “Le Cuisinier Francois,” was published in 1651. In Mexico, hundreds of traditional recipes were gathered in 1831 for a three-volume edition titled “The Mexican Cook, or A Collection of the Best Recipes for Cooking in the American Style.” Food history buffs still consult it.

2. Global Acclaim. Last year, TasteAtlas, the international food guide website, ranked Mexico the seventh best cuisine in the world, one spot ahead of France (!). According to TasteAtlas, Mexico’s five most popular dishes are carnitas, carne asada tacos, esquites (street corn), cochinita pibil (marinated, slow-roasted pork), and chilaquiles, followed by guacamole, Oaxaca cheese, quesadillas and many more.

3. Chili Peppers. According to the National System of Phytogenetics for Food and Agriculture (Sinarefi), Mexico grows 64 different types of chilies, 25 of them from Oaxaca. The hottest of the bunch is the habanero, followed by chiltepin, tabasco, serrano, chile de arbol, and jalapeno. Peppers are an essential ingredient in Mexican cuisine, dating back more than 6,000 years to traditional cookery in east-central Mexico.

4. Mole. Mole (pronounced MOH-lay) is a blend of chilies, seeds, fruits, herbs, nuts, spices (black pepper, cinnamon, cumin) and often (but not always) chocolate. The classic version of this rich, earthy sauce, famously produced in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca, is mole poblano, typically a dark red or brown sauce served over meat or chicken. Mole variations are endless. Family recipes are passed down for generations. Because it can take up to a week to make, mole is usually reserved for special occasions.

5. Nachos. Mexico’s most popular appetizer was created by accident one day in 1943 in Piedras Negras, in the state of Coahuila across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. A group of women, wives of U.S. military officers, dropped by the Victory Club restaurant. The restaurant was closed, but chef Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya came to their rescue. In a moment of culinary inspiration, Anaya cut corn tortillas into triangles, fried them, added shredded cheese, heated them, added sliced pickled jalapeño peppers, and voila! The rest, as they say, is history. Named for the eponymous chef who created them, nachos are a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.

6. Fajitas. Fajitas have grown from humble south Texas roots to become a mainstay of Mexican cooking. Fajitas originated in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas and northern Mexico, where in the 1930’s skirt steak and throwaway cuts were often used as payment to vaqueros (Spanish for “cowboys”). The vaqueros soon became adept at marinating the meat and cooking it over open flames, creating delicious dishes in the process. Fajitas went mainstream in the 1970s, as south Texas eateries revived the cowboy tradition by grilling skirt steak on sizzling platters and serving them with flour tortillas. Ingredients quickly grew to include guacamole, grated cheese and pico de gallo, a combination of fresh onions, tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. The tradition of delivering them to the table on a sizzling platter, capturing diners with aroma and spectacle, boosted their popularity.