Last week we shared some spooky stories with you in the spirit of Halloween season, but this week we thought we’d write about something much less scary and much more wholesome. Being a Mexican cuisine inspired food truck and restaurant, we thought it would be interesting to write about the history and origin of modern Mexican cuisine.
Mexican cuisine can be traced back as far as 7000 BCE, before colonization, when the indigenous people were largely hunters and gathers. Around 1200 BCE, corn was domesticated and became a main staple in the local diet. As the area did not have much large game, the indigenous people turned to beans as an important source of protein. The chili pepper was one of the most popular plants in the region and was frequently consumed. Prior to Spanish influence, most dishes were based around the chili pepper for flavor and spice. Other main staples of Mexican cuisine, such as rice, were not introduced into the local diet until after colonization by the Spanish.
The domestication of maize through the process of corn nixtamalization was created by the Maya and other indigenous agricultural societies over 9000 years ago. Nixtamalization is a process where maize is soaked and cooked in lime water; it is then washed and hulled for food preparation. This cooked corn was predominately ground and made into tortillas, atole, tamales, and other items. Most tortillas in Mexico today, are made of corn and are eaten with almost every meal. As an added bonus, the process actually increases the nutritional value of the corn than that of its unprocessed counterpart. While most tortillas are made of corn, after Spanish colonization some parts of Mexico started producing flour tortillas, which is very common in the United States today. In fact, many parts of northern Mexican eat more flour tortillas than corn tortillas. At North Shore Tacos, we offer both flour tortillas and corn tortillas for our fresh fish tacos. Corn tortillas are a great option for someone looking for gluten free options.
Atole and tamales are also very popular in modern Mexican cuisine. Atole is a hot corn beverage made from masa, water, cinnamon, vanilla, and unrefined sugar cane. Atole is often consumed around Christmas time and is made with chocolate or fruit. It is also the traditional drink of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. However, the beverage is made year-round and is often served off of local food trucks. Atole is traditionally served with hot tamales. Tamales are masa mixed with cheese, meat, fruit, or vegetables stuffed in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed. The wrapping is usually removed before eating, but some prefer to keep the wrapping and eat out of it like a bowl.
In addition to corn, beans were and still are a large staple of Mexican cuisine. As meat-based protein was not largely available in the area, the indigenous people relied heavily upon beans as a source of protein. Although they did consume chia and amaranth, which are also a good source of plant protein. Chicken, beef, dairy, and cheese were not introduced into local cuisine until the Spanish conquered and colonized the Aztec Empire in the 16th century. Only coastal areas of Mexico, such as Baja California, consumed fish as a source of protein. But even with the addition of fish, beans are a huge part of Mexican culture and food.
Another huge staple of Mexican food and easily one of the most recognizable foods and flavors is the chili pepper. Mexican cuisine is known to be spicy, since chili peppers are widely used in a variety of dishes, beverages, and desserts. Many Mexican people believe you are not eating without the addition of chili. Many Mexican dishes are accompanied by a sauce, or salsa, and chili peppers are often added for spice and flavor. Even when dishes do not call for the use of chili pepper, hot sauce is often added. Chilis are even added on top of fresh fruit and sweets. But not all chili peppers used are spicy, many green chilis are very mild and used for their flavor in dishes such as tacos, salsa verde, tamales, and pozole soup. If you’re not keen on spicy foods, don’t worry you’ll still love our savory fish tacos.
Other than corn, beans, and chilis the indigenous people of Mexico ate a variety of vegetables and grains. These included squash, amaranth, chia, avocados, tomatoes, tomatillos, cacao, vanilla, agave, turkey, spirulina, sweet potato, and cactus. After Spanish colonization in the 16th century, foods such as rice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, cinnamon, dairy, pork, chicken, lamb, and beef became incorporated into the local diet. As a result, Mexican food today is a mixture of delicious Spanish and indigenous foods. North Shore Tacos wouldn’t be able to serve our community with such amazing fish tacos, sauces, nachos, and more without such a rich history of food culture in Central America. We take great pride in our food and its history, and hope that this article helped build your admiration for traditional Mexican cuisine. Although, who already doesn’t love tacos as much as the next person.