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When it’s dinnertime and you don’t feel like cooking, what’s your top restaurant choice? If you’re in a group, people might suggest a pizza, or Chinese food, or maybe Italian cuisine. Yet many hungry people would chose a Mexican restaurant if given a choice. Have you ever wondered why Mexican food is so delicious, and appeals to so many different people?
The answer is easy, as all you need to to is think about a couple of popular Mexican dishes to know. Consider the ease of picking up a few tacos from a street vendor. Or the satisfaction of having a big plate of enchiladas when it’s been a very long day. It’s comfort food. But do you know the history behind it?
It has to do with how the Mexican dishes we know today came to be. The earliest estimates of what could be called Mexican cuisine actually began about 2,000 years ago, with many historians suspecting heavy influences from the Mayan Indians. That is one thing to keep in mind when discussing the history of Mexican food, as with most cultures, they would learn from other cultures and incorporate techniques into their repertoire to create something new, something delicious.
But there is also some influence from the Aztecs, who are credited with using food as a serving vehicle for other foods. The word “enchilada,” first mentioned in the U.S. in an 1885 publication, actually means “in chile,” which references the sauce that covers the tortillas wrapped around a hearty filling.
Mexican restaurants, like all restaurants, can differ in quality. An authentic Mexican restaurant is frankly always celebrated among the community. What separates “authentic” from “inauthentic” has to do with the ingredients used in the dishes, and the techniques used to cook those dishes.
Unlike a franchised taco bar, a good Mexican restaurant will use an array of ingredients, such as white corn, beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, and chipotle peppers. These ingredients might be pounded into a flour to make tortillas, such as with white corn. Or they might be grilled over an open flame, such as with tomatillos.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at the menus in some of the popular but inauthentic Mexican restaurants, but Mexican food is very diverse. In fact, the country of Mexico is one of the few countries that can boast of being “megabiodiverse.” This means that 60 to 70% of the entire planet’s plant diversity is found in Mexico. That is quite a lot of options that may show up on your plate.
This fact has stunning implications for your health. While anything cooked with a large amount of fat and thickly covered in cheese is not exactly good for your body, good authentic Mexican food offers you something different. Smoked or simmered dishes made from fresh vegetables with freshly made tortillas served with a side of beans are the norm.
The history of Mexican cuisine is too varied and interesting to include here. In many of today’s restaurants, talented chefs continue on the cooking traditions that have grown and evolved over time. The next time you’re stumped on where to go for dinner, consider finding the nearest authentic Mexican restaurant.