In order to understand Mexican cuisine, you have to look at it from a few different angles: geographical, cultural, and seasonal. In 2010, UNESCO officially declared Mexican cuisine an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the result of hundreds of years of traditions, techniques, and ancestral knowledge.
Roaming from the Mediterranean to the tropics means tasting a huge variety of dishes. The northern coasts of Baja California gave birth to Baja Med cuisine, a combination of typical Mexican, Mediterranean-European, and Asian traditions. Great quantities of fish and seafood come from this area, and its Mediterranean microclimate is excellent for winery, making the Guadalupe Valley the largest wine region in the country. Sonora is famous for its prime meat cuts and barbecues, Sinaloa for its fresh aguachile made from shrimp, cucumber, red onion, and plenty of lime and chile. In Nuevo Leon you can try its famed goat, which is charcoal roasted for two hours to produce deliciously soft meat.
The centre of the country is where you'll encounter Pre-Hispanic techniques, ingredients, and utensils, such as the metate and volcanic stone molcajete used to grind and make sauces. In Oaxaca, in addition to eating insects such as toasted grasshoppers with chile, or chicatana ant sauce, seven varieties of mole have been created – black, red, yellow, coloradito, green, chichilo, and chicken and olive stew. The complexity of their preparation astounds even the most demanding of palates. Mezcal, an ancestral alcoholic drink made from agave, is also indigenous to Oaxaca.
In Puebla you can taste Mexico’s deep history. Chiles en nogada are chiles from Puebla filled with dried fruits and minced meat, then drenched in a nut cream sauce and topped with pomegranate, a fruit harvested between the end of August and September. Additionally, its repertory of cuisine includes over 300 typical sweets, such as cocadas and muéganos.
In the south of Mexico, the cuisine from the Yucatán and its Mayan influences stand out. Cochinita pibil, a slow roast pork dish made with annatto seeds and served with a fiery Habanero chile sauce; lime soup, made with chicken, lime juice and fried tortillas; as well as recados – pastes made with numerous ingredients for seasoning stews.
Mexican gastronomy has gone through many transformations; from the incorporation of European ingredients such as beef, pork, chicken and lamb, to spices which arrived from Africa and Asia. Most recently, there has been a surge of New Mexican cuisine, which incorporates traditional techniques and ingredients with modern trends. One of its pioneers is Chef Enrique Olvera owner and executive chef at restaurant Pujol in Mexico City. Since being opened in 2000, the international gastronomic gaze landed on Mexico, as the most typical recipes were being transformed in creative and elegant ways. Using the chemistry of molecular cuisine, Pujol has held its place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list since 2011.
Despite modern trends, and thanks to Mexican cuisine being labelled as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it seeks to return to its origins by rescuing Pre-Hispanic techniques, customs, and ingredients. A clear example of this is Jorge Vallejo’s restaurant Quintonil, which offers ingredients from his own urban garden and from producers close to Mexico City.