Is all Mexican food spicy and unhealthy? We’re here to correct the record.
10 Myths and Misconceptions of Mexican food – Part 2
10 Myths and Misconceptions of Mexican food. Part 2
Is all Mexican food spicy and unhealthy? We're here to correct the record.
Myth #6 – Mexican food is unhealthy, and there are no vegetarian options.
Like in every other cuisine, there are some unhealthy dishes in the Mexican repertoire, but these are your celebratory and special occasions dishes.
When traditional Mexican food is made at home it is fresh and can be healthy without compromising on flavour and authenticity. Because traditional Mexican does not make use of liquid cheeses, marinades and salsas packed with sugar, or mysterious and highly processed ingredients, the result is a more balanced meal.
If you go back in history, you will find that indigenous communities that inhabited what we call Mexico today used to eat a mainly plant-based diet with occasional meat. ‘Unhealthy’ ingredients were added with the arrival of the Europeans to America, for example, cattle meats and dairy and refined sugar. More processed ingredients, like liquid cheese, fried hard shells, sour cream, etc. were added as Tex-Mex food, waiving the ‘Mexican flag’, became a global phenomenon.
The healthy diets of our ancestors are still practised by some indigenous groups that remain isolated in Mexico and Latin America. Currently, there is a push to rediscover them and learn more from these ancient practices and the many years of accumulated wisdom.
Here is a list of quick tips to make your Mexican meals healthy:
- Replace lard for appropriate oil or margarine, depending temperature and cooking methods.
- Make your own fresh salsa at home and avoid recipes that have excessive sugar. I personally do not use any sugar because there is already enough natural sweetness in the tomatoes and chillies.
- Use corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Corn tortillas, especially those made with nixtamal, are made with whole corn grains versus flour in wheat tortillas. Moreover, wheat tortillas usually have a higher content of saturated fat, calories and sugar.
- Use cheese and cream as a garnish, not as the main ingredient, and in moderation.
- Replace meat with veggies for a more balanced diet 🌱
Myth #7 – Corn chips are a snack in Mexico
This will come as a surprise to many, but corn chips are not a snack in Mexico. Mexicans prefer potato chips, especially freshly fried on the streets and swimming in lime and hot chilli sauce. There are, however, snacks made from corn in Mexico, but they don’t look anything like the typical rounded yellow corn chips you find in supermarkets outside of Mexico. Corn snacks come in different shapes, consistencies, and forms, but they all share one thing: they are covered in chilli powder.
So “what about totopos?” you may ask. Totopos, are generally used for cooking and garnishing. At home, we use old tortillas to make totopos by leaving them uncovered on the bench or fridge overnight, and frying or baking the next day. Totopos are more sturdy and morish than your regular corn chip, and they are perfect for chilaquiles or dipping into thick salsas and beans.
As a Mexican, it fills me with pride seeing corn tortilla chips conquering the stands of supermarkets around the world to be devoured as a crunchy and fun snack. They may be used differently but I’m certain it is enjoyed equally 🌎
Myth #8 – Beef mince and chicken are the main taco ingredients
Contrary to what you may find in most Tex-Mex and some ‘Mexican’ restaurants overseas, beef mince and chicken are not common as a taco ingredient in Mexico. Pork is king in Mexico! The most eaten taco in Mexico is Al Pastor, a mouth-watering marinated pork taco with roasted pineapple. Pork and beef make up for the vast majority of the tacos eaten on the streets of Mexico, followed by vegetarian tacos such as rice with beans and ‘rajas con crema’.
Chicken is not commonly eaten on a taco in Mexico, especially not in a flour tortilla and lots of cheese like you would find in some Tex-Mex menus. However, you can find chicken used in an endless repertoire of Mexican recipes, this is not surprising given that chicken is the most consumed protein in Mexico, just not in 🌮
Now let’s talk about mince beef in tacos. I personally have never seen mince being used for tacos in Mexico but it is very common to find on hard-shell tacos. Perhaps mince was introduced in Tex-Mex food as an easy replacement of ‘bistec’, thinly sliced beef filets prepared with chopped onions, which is very popular as a taco filling.
So next time you’re having a taco, maybe you want to try a pulled pork recipe or the world-famous ‘carnitas’, pork chunks slow-cooked in their own fat. 🐷
Myth #9 – All Mexican food is street food and therefore cheap
Regardless of the cuisine, there is a difference between the food you find on the streets and what you can have at restaurants. I believe Mexico has a unique mixture of street and restaurant food and each play an important role in the food culture in Mexico. It is true that some of the food dishes you find at restaurants in Mexico are inspired by street food but they usually have a twist and added experience at restaurants.
It is also true that most of the Mexican ‘fast-food’ is inspired by street food but the difference is that the secrets and flavours of your taquero cannot be replicated. ‘Mexican’ fast food, which is really Tex-Mex food disguised as ‘Mexican’, has taken over the world by a storm pushing this idea that Mexican food should be cheap.
Traditional Mexican food is elaborated, refined and uses gourmet and exotic ingredients. It is not surprising that many of the top restaurants around the world serve Mexican cuisine and many of these run by top Mexican chefs.
Choosing quality and fresh ingredients will make your Mexican food and experience much more enjoyable and tastier but it shouldn’t break your bank account. Using in-season ingredients will make your recipes cheaper to prepare.
Myth #10 – Burritos are eaten all over Mexico
Whilst burritos are eaten in parts of the north of Mexico, they look different to the ones you find at ‘Mexican’ fast-food chains. Burritos in the north of Mexico, also known as ‘Burritos Norteños’, are a large wheat tortilla stuffed with beans and shredded beef meat and rolled in a tubular shape. It is believed that they were invented in Ciudad Juarez, a border city with the USA but there is no concrete evidence about this.
The version that you find in the USA and many fast-food chains around the world was made popular in California, most likely San Francisco during the mid-1900s. This Cali-Mex version added the rice and cheese making the shape look more like a parcel. From there, many different variations were created and the popularity of the burritos soared and soon was part of the USA menu and later the world.
Outside of the north, burritos are still a foreign food to most Mexicans, so don’t be surprised if you get a strange look when asking for one. If you’re lucky, someone may bring you a little donkey, which is the literal translation for ‘burrito’ to Spanish.
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