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Mexico has long been among the world’s most popular holiday destinations, attracting sun seekers and food lovers alike. If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip, make sure you sample the best tastes and flavours the country has to offer with our roundup of the top 10 dishes to try while you’re there.
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Don’t leave Mexico without trying…
This popular traditional breakfast dish features lightly fried corn tortillas cut into quarters and topped with green or red salsa (the red is slightly spicier). Scrambled or fried eggs and pulled chicken are usually added on top, as well as cheese and cream. Chilaquiles are often served with a healthy dose of frijoles (refried beans).
Try making your own… chilaquiles
According to anthropologists, this pre-Hispanic soup was once used as part of ritual sacrifices. These days chicken, pork and vegetarian pozole versions are readily available in more everyday surroundings. Made from hominy corn with plenty of herbs and spices, the dish is traditionally stewed for hours, often overnight. Once it’s ready to serve, lettuce, radish, onion, lime and chilli are sprinkled on top.
3. Tacos al pastor
This historic dish is one of the most popular varieties of tacos, with origins dating back to the 1920s and 30s and the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants to Mexico. To create tacos al pastor (meaning ‘in the style of the shepherd’), thin strips of pork are sliced off a spit, placed on a corn tortilla and served with onions, coriander leaves and pineapple.
What should you do with stale tortillas? Why, fry them of course! Literally meaning toasted, tostadas are a simple but delicious dish involving corn tortillas fried in boiling oil until they become crunchy and golden. These are then served alone or piled high with any number of garnishes. Popular toppings include frijoles (refried beans), cheese, cooked meat, seafood and ceviche.
Try making your own… tostadas
5. Chiles en nogada
Boasting the three colours of the Mexican flag, chiles en nogada is one of Mexico’s most patriotic dishes. Poblano chillies filled with picadillo (a mixture of chopped meat, fruits and spices) represent the green on the flag, the walnut-based cream sauce is the white and pomegranate seeds are the red. Originating from Puebla, history relates that the dish was first served to Don Agustin de Iturbide, liberator and subsequent Emperor of Mexico.
You’ll find someone selling elote, the Mexican name for corn on the cob, on nearly every city street corner in Mexico. The corn is traditionally boiled and served either on a stick (to be eaten like an ice cream) or in cups, the kernels having been cut off the cob. Salt, chilli powder, lime, butter, cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream are then added in abundance.
Try making your own… elote
Enchiladas date back to Mayan times, when people in the Valley of Mexico would eat corn tortillas wrapped around small fish. These days both corn and flour tortillas are used and are filled with meat, cheese, seafood, beans, vegetables or all of the above. The stuffed tortillas are then covered in a chilli sauce, making for a perfect Mexican breakfast.
Try making your own… enchiladas
Three states claim to be the original home of mole (pronounced ‘mol-eh’), a rich sauce popular in Mexican cooking. There are myriad types of mole but all contain around 20 or so ingredients, including one or more varieties of chilli peppers, and all require constant stirring over a long period of time. Perhaps the best-known mole is mole poblano, a rusty red sauce typically served over turkey or chicken.
Try making your own… mole
Guacamole is undoubtedly one of Mexico’s most popular dishes, but few people know that this traditional sauce dates back to the time of the Aztecs. Made from mashed-up avocadoes, onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and chilli peppers (and sometimes a clove or two of garlic), guacamole is often eaten with tortilla chips or used as a side dish.
Try making your own… guacamole
Watch our video guide on how to make the perfect guacamole:
Tamales were first developed for the Aztec, Mayan and Inca tribes who needed nourishing food on the go to take into battle. Pockets of corn dough are stuffed with either a sweet or savoury filling, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, then steamed. Fillings vary from meats and cheeses to fruits, vegetables, chillies and mole. Remember to discard the wrapping before eating!
Try making your own… tamales
Katja Gaskell is a freelance travel writer living in Mexico City. She has co-authored numerous travel guidebooks for Lonely Planet, scoured boutique hotels for Mr & Mrs Smith and is the co-founder of globetotting.com, a family travel website.
Are you a fan of Mexican cuisine? Do you agree with our selection or have we missed your favourite? Share your must-try dishes below…