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by Alexander Quebec with A LOT of help from Catherina Silva
Mexican cuisine is much more than just tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. I mean, those things are EVERYTHING, but they are not everything if you know what I mean. Every 5th of May brings out the Mexican in everyone, with taquerias and cantinas and bars all over the USA brimming with guests in the pre-COVID-19 world.
Of course, with America’s tendency to misconstrue perceived cultural tropes to almost hyperbolic levels, there’s going to be an overabundance of “basics” (in other words, appropriators..) going around thinking that the proper way to celebrate the 1862 defeat of the French by Mexican troops in Puebla, Mexico is by chugging tequila, binging on tacos and party drugs while wearing serapes and sombreros and acting out every Mexican stereotype for a few hours on the night of the 5th. While I’m not trying to be a wet blanket on anyone’s good time, but I’m going to ask if that’s really your plan for that day, please don’t do it lest you want to end up on the wrong side of a Tik Tok video that ends up with you in the unemployment line. You don’t see us getting drunk and fist fighting over the last bowl of corn beef and cabbage or some green beer on St. Patrick’s Day do you?
And just because we’re in a lockdown doesn’t mean that someone won’t try anything. Believe us, the basics are resourceful when it comes to questionable and otherwise offensive behavior, even when in the safety and comfort of the indoors.
So, what does Mexico have to offer? Check out three states (yes, they are called States in Mexico, just like here) that offer unique food items that you might be able to find here stateside, or perhaps try them out yourself.
Puebla – Of course, we must start here because this is the place that has made this holiday possible. Puebla is best known for the dish, mole poblano, which is made especially for weddings because it takes days to prepare. They’ve perfected this mole and it is quintessential to their cuisine. Originally made by nuns in Santa Clara, they used ingredients introduced to the region from European (almonds), Asian (cinnamon), and African (plantains) origins. Pueblans also utilize the poblano chile in their dish, chiles en nogada, an intriguing and flavorful take on a stuffed chile. Inside the poblano, a picadillo, a stuffing of beef, apples, peaches, pears, and dried fruits. Then a walnut cream sauce is doused on top, and then pomegranate seeds are sprinkled on top. Lastly, tacos arabes was created in Puebla by Iraqi and Lebanese immigrants who most likely came to the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The base of the taco is called “pan arabe”, which is used instead of a traditional tortilla, and then the inside of the “taco of Puebla” consists of pork seasoned in a chipotle sauce.
Jalisco – There’s a saying that goes “Mexico es Jalisco” as a majority of the cultural items that make up Jalisco are core to Mexico’s Identity to the world. Tequila is just one major export, as its produced mainly within Jalisco’s borders, note that just like champagne, Tequila can only be called Tequila if it’s made within a certain geographical region. Birria is another dish that hails from Jalisco, stewed meat that is either made with beef, goat, or pork that is often served with tortillas, cilantro, and lime.
You’ll notice that those two use a lot of tomatoes, I mean, a lot of tomatoes. Another dish called Torta Ahogada is a sandwich made with pork that has been soaked in tomato sauce served on a specially made french roll called a brioche. Pollo a la Valentina (not named after the Ru-girl) is another tomato sauce heavy dish, featuring chicken covered in sauce and served with a green salad and french fries.
Veracruz – A combination of indigenous Mexican, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean with a heavy focus on Seafood. One of the most important dishes is Huachinango a la Veracruzana or Veracruz style snapper, which is a fish baked in a tomato-based sauce. Arroz a la Tumbada is another specialty, a rice dish made with a sofrito that is infused with spices and bits of seafood, as this was a poor man’s dish, this was meant to stretch out whatever seafood they could catch.
For those not a fan of seafood, Mole Xiqueño is one of the variations of moles found all over Mexico that calls this area home. Featuring a combination of the mulato and ancho chilies, it can be combined with all sorts of ingredients like almonds, peanuts, and even bananas. Since this is a labor-intensive dish, this is typically served on special occasions.
As you can see, Mexico is more than just carne asada tacos, enchiladas, and burritos. It’s got lots of delicious things to eat, with culinary delights of all kinds, from spicy meat dishes to sweets and everything else in between. Get out of your comfort zone and order something new at a Mexican restaurant in town once SIP restrictions ease up in your county, or if local Mexican restaurants are on your food delivery app of choice, show some support during this financially volatile time. Perhaps you might stumble upon a dish you didn’t even know existed!