The history of Mexican food is a diverse history believed to have started as far back as the Mayan Indians.
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The Mayans were nomadic hunters and gathers of food. Tortillas with a bean paste were a common meal, much like refried beans of today. Of course they were also hunters to include wild game and fish to their diet.
During the rise of the Aztec Empire in the thirteenth century, chili, honey, salt, and even the earliest use of chocolate in food found its way into the cuisine.
Even though the stables of today’s Mexican cuisine can be traced back to the Mayan and Aztec Empires, it was the Mexico invasion by Spain in 1521 that had the most influence over the nation’s diverse food culture.
The invasion of Mexico brought ingredients to the culture such as garlic, wheat, herbs, and a variety of spices. Along with the Spaniard invasion came the influences of the Caribbean, South America, French, West Africa, and even Portuguese. This began the vast diversity of Mexican cuisine and also the varied recipes between regions that still remain true in today’s Mexican food.
Native Mexicans prepared food over open fires using iron skillets and ceramic ware. Steaming was also popular with suspending meats wrapped in cactus or banana leaves over a boiling pot of water.
The metate y mano method was used to blend seasoning and mix foods, which is now commonly used in Mexico kitchens, the molcaiete.
Found on every dinner table in Mexico is the popular Aztec market sauce known by its Spanish word, Salsa. Salsa uses many of the most common ingredients of the Aztec era, including the tomato, chili, tomatillio, and the staple of Aztec seasoning, the chipotle.
The Aztec and Mayan cultures also made chocolate popular and was responsible for the European introduction of chocolate in the mid 1600’s.
Popular foods like the Tamale were introduced by the Aztecs as well, traced back to the earliest record in the 1550’s as a meal the Aztecs served to the Spaniards.
While the taco is thought of having deep tradition in Mexico, it actually is from the 18th century mining era. The word “taco” referred to little pieces of paper folded and filled with gun powder to blast away silver in the mines.
The taco took on a national presence in Mexico City’s middle-class neighborhoods during the industrialization of Mexico in the early 1900’s. Families from around the country relocated to the city for work, including many women seeking light industrial work. With the women came their own regional style of cooking that makes Mexico cuisine a national treasure, transforming Mexico City into the melting pot of Mexico’s cuisine.
Women in Mexico City began selling their regional recipe tacos on the streets during lunch time to the labor workers during the city’s construction boom, the first real introduction to street food in Mexico. It was affordable for the middle class, easily eaten with hands and no table needed, and more variety and flavor than the big city restaurants that were being established in the city for wealthy international business men.
The taco was more than cheap street food for the middle-class labor workers of Mexico City, it evolved into an important social and cultural event as well. Not much has changed in the last 100 years of the taco reaching popularity as Mexico’s number one street food.
Other foods you might consider as Mexican, like Flan and Ceviche were brought into the country after the Spanish invasion.
Flan is a traditional Medieval European meal and Ceviche is an Inca tradition as they ate their catch of the day raw. The Central Americans eventually added the citrus to make today’s Ceviche.
Mexican cuisine has influenced the world just as much as the world has influenced Mexican cuisine, making it a true International Food. It’s why it was named an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.