Most people get excited when they are offered to go eat tacos or quesadillas, but what really is Mexican food? In the United States most “Mexican food” is what we consider Tex-Mex–which means their version of Mexican food. Even though delicious, if you were to take an authentic Mexican to Taco Bell they would probably die! In the United States a burrito is a mix of everything that sounds Mexican thrown into a flour tortilla: rice, beans, tomato, onion, lettuce, chicken or meat, guacamole, jalapeños … all in that flour tortilla, given to you in a foil wrap. In Mexico, or at least in my house, a burrito is just a flour tortilla with Monterrey Jack cheese and fried beans (fried beans: smooshed normal beans with olive oil and onion for seasoning).
I personally love the take that Northern Americans have on quesadillas. I´ve eaten many quesadillas in the United States and they were ALL very different. I ate a quesadilla one time that was a huge flour tortilla and in it was a mix of cheeses: American, Swiss, and probably mozzarella, it also had chicken, and on top it was splattered with sour cream and Pico de Gallo. Another time, I ate a quesadilla that seemed like a deconstructed version of the Taco Bell burrito, it came out looking like a huge “Mexican” pizza with a lid! I don´t want to disappoint anyone … but quesadillas in Mexico are just corn tortillas with quesillo which is Oaxacan cheese. Sometimes when you eat at the local mercado, which is a market, quesadillas will be a mixture of chicharrón, huitlacoches, cecina, etc. and in Mexico City quesadillas will sometimes not even have cheese!
Another Mexican food, probably the most common and known one are tacos. Tacos in the United States come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Shrimp tacos, fajita tacos, chicken tacos, soft shell tacos, hard shell tacos, etc. Now, before I go anymore further let me explain that a taco does not come in a “shell.” Hard shells and soft shells are something completely Northern American. In Mexico tacos are either in small corn tortillas, flour tortillas or a specific tortilla that we call “Pan Arabe,” which is the bread used for Arabian gyros. Taco Bell tacos are made with ground beef, mixed with chili pepper, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, avocado, etc. all served in a Dorito shell… nacho cheese or cool ranch! That´s really nothing like a real taco.
Tacos in Mexico can be made using any type of meat, but the most common tacos are either tacos al Pastor or tacos Arabes. Tacos al pastor are called this way because of their meat, it is marinated in axiote and pineapples. Normally, they are served in a small tortilla and the portion is normally four or five taquitos per serving, they come with cilantro, onion, pineapple and usually eaten with lemon and salsa. And that´s it. No Pico de Gallo, no beans, no rice, no white queso, nothing else. Sometimes this type of tacos can come with cheese, we call this a “Gringa”; it is a flour tortilla filled with everything listed above and melted cheese folded in half. Then there is the taco Árabe, literally an “Arabian taco.” This taco was made in Puebla by the Arabian community and it isn´t common to see in other parts of Mexico. This taco comes in that gyro tortilla, with a bit of cilantro and jocoque. Jocoque is literally sour yogurt, purposely left to “go wrong”, but it is completely safe and delicious to eat!
To conclude, Mexican gastronomy is much different to what is presented in the United States. Restaurants like Taco Bell, Chipotle and Chilis do not do our gastronomy any real justice. Our gastronomy is much more complex and at the same time much simpler. Sometimes we go along with what is given to us, but I believe I must do our gastronomy justice by being able to explain it through words. I hope someday you can prove my words for yourself and try our wonderful food in this amazing country! Who wants some tacos?