Mexican food continues to grow in popularity year after year — in fact, according to Franchise Chatter, Mexican restaurants overtook pizza chains as the nation’s second-favorite type of quick-serve restaurant (with burgers continuing to hold the top spot). If you want to experience some of the best that Mexican cuisine has to offer, however, you’re going to need to think outside the Taco Bell box and expand your outlook beyond what Chipotle’s menu has to offer.
Mexico is a large, diverse country and each region has its own unique character, which is reflected in its culinary offerings, ranging from the familiar-to-us burritos and refritos of Norteño to the Mayan-influenced dishes of the Yucatan and the iguana tamales of Oaxaca (via The Spruce Eats). While you might want to pass on the last-named dish, and likewise the chapulines (fried grasshoppers), there are still a ton of Mexican dishes that you owe it to yourself to try at your earliest opportunity.
Alambre, according to Casa Blanca, is a dish made of grilled beef, bacon, peppers, and onions served with cheese, salsa, and avocado and (of course) tortillas, although it can also be made with al pastor (spit-roasted and pineapple-marinated) pork. The name comes from the Spanish word for “wire,” and refers to the fact that the meat and vegetables used in alambre were traditionally cooked on a skewer, a la shish kabob — at least in the northern part of Mexico.
Today, both meats and veggies are just as likely to be cooked in a pan or on a grill, but this “Mexican stir-fry meets… cheesesteak,” as Eat Your World calls it, is bound to be delicious no matter how it’s prepared.
Birria is a traditional dish native to the state of Jalisco. Food Republic describes birria as typically consisting of either goat meat or mutton that has been stewed with chiles. The Spruce Eats adds that it is often served as a stew or a taco filling and is a popular brunch food, most likely due to its supposed hangover-curing properties.
The Milwaukee Record also speaks of birria as a magic “too-much-cerveza salve.” They describe the dish as having a salty broth that contrasts nicely with the tender, earthy meat, particularly when livened up with a squirt of fresh lime and a dab of zingy salsa.
Camarones a la Diabla
According to food blog Mexico in My Kitchen, Camarones a la Diabla (deviled shrimp) is so famous in the seaport town of Veracruz that it’s featured on just about every restaurant menu. The recipe involves marinating shrimp in lime juice and then cooking them in a sauce of roasted tomatoes and chipotles along with a some onion and garlic. The camarones are then served atop or alongside white rice.
The Milwaukee Record enthuses over diabla sauce, calling it “a rich red gravy [that is] the perfect Mexican ideal of a Buffalo sauce,” perfectly coating the shrimp, but also just as tasty when it runs off into the accompanying rice.
Chiles en nogada
Food Republic describes chiles en nogada, a specialty of the state of Pueblo, as one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes. BBC Good Food also notes that it is one of the nation’s most patriotic dishes, as well, since it comes in the colors of the Mexican flag: green from the roasted poblano chiles that are filled with picadillo (ground meat, fruit, and spices) to form its base, white from the walnut-based cream sauce that tops the peppers, and red from the pomegranate seeds that decorate its top. Legend has it that this dish was first served to Don Agustin de Iturbide, the liberator who then became Emperor of Mexico.
Poc Chuc, which comes from the Yucatan Peninsula, has been described by Mexican cooking guru Rick Bayless as the simplest of dishes, but it can also be one of the tastiest. It consists of thin-cut pork steaks or chops, which are first marinated in sour orange juice and then grilled over a charcoal fire. The meat is served with onions that have been grilled over the same charcoal fire, as well as other garnishes including chopped cilantro, avocado, and cabbage and a side of the ubiquitous tortillas. Bayless also suggests that the perfect condiment for this dish is a fiery roasted habanero salsa.
Pozole is one of the tastiest dishes you’ll ever want to eat, with one of the most gruesome histories — but you will still want to eat it, even after hearing the sordid backstory. Pozole, it is said, originated as a stew made by the thrifty Aztecs out of the leftovers from certain religious rites they performed… yes, those rites, the ones the Aztecs are notorious for, that involved cutting out human hearts. Since it seems that the hearts were the only parts the Aztec gods had any interest in, that did leave a whole lot of, well, remains to be seen. And to be disposed of, in a non-wasteful way.
Today’s pozole is made from chicken, pork, and/or vegetables, along with hominy (parched corn) and various herbs and spices, then served topped with radishes, lettuce, onions, limes and chiles. It might not sound too fancy, but this special-occasion soup with the shady past made BBC Good Food’s list of “Top 10 foods to try in Mexico.”
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