by Buck Reed
Mexican cuisine is regional. No one would think that New Orleans prepares their beans the same way they would in Boston. And nobody does beans like California. That being said, we have to look at Mexican cuisine in the same way.
There are a variety of regional cuisines in Mexico. Some of the best can be found in the following states:
Puebla: Located about 100 miles south of Mexico City. This region is famous for mole sauce, which can take a day to make but a lifetime to perfect. This sauce was first prepared by nuns for a visiting dignitary and served on roasted turkey. Coffee is grown in Puebla and is served with the area’s many unique desserts. Pastry shops are abundant, and there are as many here as there are churches.
Yucatan: The land of the Mayans, this southeast region is recognized for using more fruit-based sauces as opposed to chilies. One of these sauces, pibil, is made from red annatto seeds and flavored with Seville oranges, pepper, garlic, and cumin. It is then spread over pork or chicken and baked in a banana leaf.
Veracruz: This western region is home to a busy port and is well known for fish and other seafood dishes. Tacos, tamales, and enchiladas are all made with fish. Any fish dish a la Veracruz means it will be served with a sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers, and chilies and leaves a definite European footprint.
Oaxaca: Arguably the coffee capital of the world and is usually prepared a la olla, made with sugar and cinnamon, and left to simmer in a large pot for hours. The resulting brew will definitely wake you up. Oaxaca also is known for mescal, a type of tequila. Mole Oaxaqueno is a sweeter version of mole made with bananas.
South America was known in Europe as the “New World” for the fact that so many new foods were introduced to the explorers.
Beans: Mexicans embrace almost all these legumes and use them in many dishes, including soups and stews. Small beans are often served refrito (refried in lard; tasty but heavy) or de la olla (boiled and served in a light broth).
Chilies: Used both fresh, dried, and smoked, Mexicans prefer to recognize the difference between heat and flavor, something that can be lost on the untrained palate. Popular varieties are jalapeno, poblano, serrano, guajillo, chipotle, pasilla, habanero, ancho, mulato, and cascabel.
Chocolate: Easily one of the most important foods found in the New World; even today, there is no cuisine in the world that does not embrace this as a food stuff.
Fruit: Mango, papaya, coconut, and pineapple are all eaten fresh, as well as used in sauces and desserts.
Corn: Most commonly used for tortillas, the warm, flat rounds that accompany or enhance many dishes. Also used for tacos (tortillas stuffed with chicken, beef, fish, or cheese) and tamales (steamed and stuffed with meat or vegetables).
Tomatoes: This ingredient is used extensively throughout Mexico in fresh salsas, as well as soups, stews, and sauces for main dishes and side dishes. Tomatillos are small green tomatoes covered in a stiff husk—they’re more tart and often used for tomatillo salsa, which is made with spicy chilies.
Vanilla: “Food of the gods,” vanilla, like chocolate, is also prepared in an intricate set of steps and became a staple in many of the world’s dessert shelf.