Traditional Mexican Food—A Treat for All the Senses

July 28, 2019  - by 

Authentic Mexican food is more than just something you eat—it is something you experience.

Traditional Mexican food has a vibrant history and is tied to the heart of Mexican culture and values. Indeed, one of the best ways to understand your Mexican heritage is to understand its food.

History of Mexican Food

Many of the tastes, sights, and sounds of authentic Mexican food stem from three main Mexican cultures: Mayan, Aztec, and Spain, with Spain being the most heavily represented.

Mayan Influence

The Mayans were hunters and gatherers, and some of the most traditional foods come from the Mayan culture. Food made from corn was a staple, which is where corn tortillas derived. Mayans would often eat corn tortillas with a bean paste.

A woman making a corn tortilla

Aztec Influence

By the 1300s, the Aztec Empire was in full swing, but many of the Mayan foods were still at the forefront. The Aztecs would add salt, peppers, and even chocolate to their way of life. While the Aztecs often ate wild game, turkey and duck were domesticated by the Aztecs and more popular.

Spanish Influence

Two hundred years later, Spain invaded Mexico, and a whole flurry of new foods were introduced to Mexican culture. Dairy products, garlic, and many herbs and spices were introduced. New livestock—sheep, pigs, and cows—were also being eaten, with more emphasis on pigs.

Someone making Mexican street food>

The Spanish invasion brought with it tastes from many parts of the world, including Caribbean, French, and West African cuisines. Dishes also vary between Mexican regions.

Mexican Food Staples

Elote

Corn

Corn has been a main staple in traditional Mexican food for centuries. You can find it in some form at almost every meal in a Mexican home, whether in the form of a corn tortilla, tamales, a pozole (a rich and hearty corn stew), or countless other popular recipes.

One popular dish, elote, is made with grilled corn on the cob, chili powder, Mexican cheeses, and other seasonings.

Beans and Peppers

Beans and peppers are also widely served because they are inexpensive and grown natively, which means that they are easily accessible for almost everyone. It’s not uncommon for a Mexican household to always have a pot of beans cooking on the stove.

One common dish that involves both corn and beans is fresh, homemade corn tortillas served with homemade frijoles (beans).

Celebrations with Traditional Mexican Food

Delicious food traditions go hand in hand with Mexican celebrations. When the Spanish ruled over Mexico, most Mexicans converted to Christianity, making Christian holidays a big time to celebrate. Many distinct dishes accompany these holidays.

Among these religious holidays are Dia de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) and Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which both involve the making of special sweet breads.

 Dia de los Tres Reyes traditional sweet bread

Día de los Tres Reyes

Día de los Tres Reyes, or Three Kings Day, commemorates the wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and is celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. Three Kings Sweet Bread is a traditional sweet made for the special occasion.

The bread is in the shape of a wreath, and baked into the treat is a small figurine of baby Jesus. Traditionally, whoever finds the infant figurine of Christ in their piece of the treat is supposed to host the party on Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas) on February 2.

Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is a day for Mexican families to remember their dead by visiting and decorating graves, telling stories of their ancestors, and feasting on traditional Mexican foods. Pan de Muertos, another sweet bread, is made on this holiday.

Pan de Muertos, a sweet bread made on Dia de los Muertos

The bread is made to represent a body, with the side pieces symbolizing the bones and the center piece representing the head.

Mexican Food Traditions—A Delight in Your Own Home

Cooking and celebrating with traditional Mexican foods is a great way to remember ancestors and understand your heritage. Eating recipes from your heritage while chatting around the dinner table is a tradition you can create in your home.


Discover Your Mexican Heritage

A Mexican family smiles and looks at each other while eating at the table

Rachel Trotter

Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer and editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com, FamilySearch.org, and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

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