10 Myths and Misconceptions of Mexican Food - Part 1

You'll be surprised to know that items commonly referred as ‘Mexican’ are not consumed in Mexico! #MexicanMythbusting

10 Misconceptions of Mexican Food

What the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Mexican food?  I’m sure your mouth is watering just thinking about tacos, margaritas and guacamole! But you will also be surprised to know that of the items and ingredients commonly referred to as ‘Mexican’ are not consumed in Mexico.

Tex-Mex and Mexican fast food have come to define what people think of ‘Mexican’ food outside of Mexico.  Mexican food is a fusion cuisine; a blend of indigenous and European ingredients and techniques and varies from region to region so much so than a similar dish could be called completely different things in two parts of Mexico.  However, it is clear to me that traditional Mexican food has a strong connection to its indigenous past and that is where the line can be drawn with other Mexican inspired cuisines like Tex-Mex, Cali-Mex and ‘Mexican’ fast food.   Here are some misconceptions that may separate traditional Mexican from others.

Myth #1 – Cumin on everything

One of the things that surprises me when I look at ‘Mexican’ food products on shelves outside of Mexico or read recipes from non-Mexican authors, is the abundant use of cumin. I have also noticed that when cumin is present, there tends to be an absence of chilli as a condiment which sounds to me as if cumin is being proposed as a substitute, but both are quite different.

Cumin was introduced by Spaniards to Mexico in the 16th Century.  At that time cumin was used extensively in the Mediterranean countries and had a high trading value.  As part of the fusion of Spanish and Indigenous cuisine, cumin was adopted for marinades, stews, and thick sauces – like mole. Because of its bitter flavour and potent smell, it is usually found on red meat recipes but always as a complementary spice and used in small quantities. When cumin is used in Mexican cuisine when used, it is used in combination with other Mexican spices and chilli.

My suggestion would be to exercise moderation when using cumin when cooking Mexican food and use more fresh chillies whenever possible.  Some extra chilli and a few sweat drops will not kill you 🌶️

Myth #2 – Salad on every taco

Other than calling Mexico part of South-America, I don’t know of anything else that makes a Mexican more upset than a taco with a salad on top.  Tacos are Mexico’s national food, and Mexicans are tough critics when it comes to them.  I personally define tacos as the perfect trilogy of a soft corn tortilla, a filling, and salsa.  If you replace one, this is no longer a taco.

In addition to salsa, you will find that your favourite ‘taquero’ will offer some additional toppings for your tacos, including finely chopped onion and coriander, pickled chillies, radish slices, sometimes cucumber, limes, etc.  But there is no lettuce, tomato slices, cabbage – with the only exception being fish tacos.

To me, the addition of a salad is a shortcut to a fresh salsa.  Next time you are making tacos, try to make your own fresh salsa! It will not only make your taco much better, but it will be packed with veggies goodness.  Salsas are a tasty and fun way to eat your veggies 🍅

Myth #3 – Hard-shell tacos are a thing in Mexico

I have never seen a ‘hard-shell’ taco in Mexico.  Maybe you could find them at some of the Tex-Mex or American chains that have found a way to establish themselves in Mexico, but they won’t be found at a restaurant that’s authentically Mexican. Hard-shell tacos were invented in the USA and perfected by Mr Bell in 1954, the mastermind behind Taco Bell. Taco Bell took the quintessential Mexican street food, the taco, and tropicalised it to the local Texan palates. Nowadays, the hard shell taco is a must-have in Tex-Mex fast-food menus in the USA and has achieved international fame.

Tex-Mex is to me, an extension of Mexican food, a new cuisine that has emerged from the fusion between Mexico and USA.  And hard-shell tacos have also their place on the table. They come ready to be eaten, don’t require reheating, and are fun to fill up with meat and veggies. These hard-shells are a hit in many households around the world.

Hard shells are not as healthy as a soft corn tortilla and not something you want to serve to any Mexican.  Thinking about what is the closest to hard shell tacos in Mexico, and two things come to mind: tostadas and tacos dorado

A tostada is a flat hard-shell corn tortilla which has been either fried or baked preserving its original shape.  The tostada is then topped with refried beans, different proteins, vegetables, cheese and salsa.  There are numerous variations in Mexico and you will get a different combination and order of the ingredients depending on who you ask.  But one thing is certain, just like their Tex-Mex counterparts, they are messy!

A taco dorado is a deep-fried tortilla stuffed with your favourite filling and garnished with salsa, fresh cheese and Mexican cream on top.  Depending on where you are in Mexico they are also known as flautas or taquitos, are they are definitely not your first choice if you looking to lose a few kilos 💪🏽

Myth #4 – Nachos are Mexican

Well sort of but not really 😊

Nachos were invented by a Mexican, Ignacio Anaya, and at a restaurant in Mexico, in a town south of the USA border known as Piedras Negras in 1943.   The story goes that ‘Nacho’, the short name for Ignacio, was without a chef in his kitchen and had to cook for members of the USA army and their wives. So, to get out of the predicament, Nacho quickly fried some tortillas and whilst still hot, added shredded cheese and jalapeno slices on top.  The dish was an immediate hit! The popularity of the dish spread throughout Texas with the name of his inventor, Nacho, and from there went to conquer the world.

In Mexico, you can find nachos in Tex-Mex restaurants, some cinemas and occasionally at theatres.  But don’t expect to find them at Mexican restaurants and fondas. Instead, you can order the hearty and always ready to please Chilaquiles. The main differences between chilaquiles and nachos, are that chilaquiles use totopos instead of corn chips (more on that below – item 7). The totopos are soaked in salsa and typically mixed with chicken, Mexican cheeses and cream (more on that below).  But just like most Mexican dishes, the combinations are endless.

Whilst Nachos are a Tex-Mex dish, they have a Mexican heart 💛

Myth #5 – All Mexican food is spicy

Chillies, alongside beans and corn, are the foundation of Mexican cuisine and found in most Mexican dishes.  All chillies in the world are originally from the American continent, and Mexico concentrates the most varieties with at least 50 of them registered. It’s not surprising to find them in most recipes!

However, not all chillies are spicy and not all Mexican dishes have chilli in them.  To be truthful, chilli in Mexico is used as a condiment because of its flavour and not the heat.  There are some chillies that have no spice to them, like poblanos and bell peppers, also known as capsicums. Most chillies lose their spiciness when cooked and mixed with other ingredients like dairy, acid, sugar, etc.  But if that is still too hot, chillies can be deseeded and soaked in water and vinegar to neutralise the capsaicin for a couple of hours before using.

Because not all Mexicans tolerate spicy food, a majority of the meals and recipes in Mexico have little to no spiciness when served. The real kick is in the salsas served on the side, and most restaurant tables and stands have a selection of fresh salsas – going from mild to the hottest – so you can turn up the heat to your desired level 🌡️


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10 Myths and Misconceptions of Mexican Food – Part 1

You’ll be surprised to know that items commonly referred to as ‘Mexican’ are not consumed in Mexico! #MexicanMythbusting