What is "real" Mexican food?

I have heard, from several sources, that most of the food you find in Mexican restaurants in this country (i.e. tacos, nachos, burritos, etc.) are not authentic Mexican dishes, but rather Americanized, “Tex-Mex” food. If this is true, what are examples of true Mexican entrees?

That’s a lot like asking “What is real American food?” It’s a pretty diverse country with several distinct regions. Some generic things that you may have had which could be more or less authentic:

tacos (usually just a corn tortilla with any of a variety of different meats, plus onions and cilantro. Often served with a wedge of lime)
enchiladas (meat in a tortilla baked with in a red sauce with cheese)
carne asada (grilled meat served with various side items which can be combined into tortillas)
quesadillas (again, a bit different than what you are used to)

Basically, think meats (either grilled or steamed), soups, rice, etc. Often flavoured with cilantro or cumin, chiles, onions, etc.

Man, I can’t believe I forgot tamales (usually meat wrapped in corn meal then steamed in a corn husk, served with a red chile sauce) and tostados (meat, lettuce and curd cheese on a flat tortilla shell). Then you’ve got flautas (tortilla rolled around meat), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), etc.

As you get toward the coasts, of course figure in a lot more fish dishes.

Remember than arroz con pollo and carne asada are entrees not only in Mexican cuisine, but in different parts of America(the continent).

Yeah, I often get that after Mexican.

my abiding memories of travelling around mexico in the 80s on the cheap is tasteless refried beans and flat bread with everything, and huevos rancheros (eggs and tomatoes) for breakast. Tried the traditional chicken with chocolate (pollo mole?) which didn’t impress, but that may have been the restaurant. After 8 weeks on the road, got to Mexico city, found a Dennys, and pigged out on real bread.

IMHO Tex mex is far tastier than “real mexican” food.

For starters–if it has cheddar cheese or jack cheese in the dish, it’s Americanized. Cheese does exist in authentic Mexican cuisine, but in much different forms. There are cheeses like Panela (similar to mozzarella) and Cojita (similar to parmesan) that are used often in authentic cuisine.

Since you asked for examples of authentic dishes, I’m going to crack open my copy of My Mexico by Diana Kennedy (a very well-researched cookbook on authentic Mexican cuisine), and give you a list of some of the dishes:

Chiles Pasillas Rellenos de Papa --Pasilla Chiles stuffed with potato
Chicharron de Pescado --Crisp-fried Fish
Torrejas de Frijol --Bean fritters in chile sauce
Puerco en Pipian --Pork in pepita (pumpkin seed) sauce
Sopa de Haba Seca --Dried fava bean soup
Gorditas de Frijol --Masa cakes filled with beans
Every area of Mexico also has a version of mole–usually either chicken or pork, and the sauce varies from a bright red and spicy to a mellow, dark sauce that has a slight sweetness (and the addition of unsweetened chocolate). And, as mentioned above, things like tamales, rice, tacos, and tostadas are also authentic–it just depends on how they’re made.

Dagnabit, JavaMaven now you’re just making me hungry! And if I want something like that up here in the 'Nati I gotta make it myself. :smiley:

Well, if you eat cheap ya get cheap food . .

I am not sure where you, but sound like you ate in too many cheap torterias. If you went south of Tamaulipas, most food is accompanied with corn tortillas & chile.


(faint) NOMBRE HUEY! . …jeez . . .!


When people talk about real Mexican food or real chinese food they are really thinking of is peasant food. When that food is Americanized a lot of the changes simply have to do with the fact that as a country even our ‘peasantry’ can afford much better ingrediants. A poor farmer can’t afford high quality meat in every dish, and on the occassions they do it is much less of an emphasis than when the same meal gets Americanized and we have three pounds of chicken with a couple greens on the side… Fajita itself refers to skirt steak, which you have to marinate and grill the hell out of to be able to eat it. But we borrow the general idea and use it on much better meat. ‘Real’ food is based around grains and high efficiency vegtables and legumes, Corn and beans in the Americas, rice and soybeans in Asia. The food we like is usually more based on the food the rich and elite ate.(It’s not Private Tso’s chicken after all). And then obviously it gets substituitions for what proportions and spices we are more used to.

Since nobody’s mentioned it yet, there’s also milanesa. It’s a breaded piece of beef or pork fried up and topped with lettuce, cheese, chiles, etc… Yes it’s a lot like chicken fried steak, and it seemed to me that it served the same function as a truckstop and businessmans restaurant staple.

Wolfman, rather than “peasant food” I’d call it comfort food, unless any culture’s or nation’s cuisine is likewise peasant food.

As for some authentic Mexican dishes that haven’t been mentioned:

  • Pozole, a stew of hominy with pork or chicken.

  • Chiles en nogada, a poblano chile pepper stuffed with ground beef and smothered with nutmegged cream, pecans and pomegranate seeds.

  • Barbacoa, roast goat (or dog if you’re in Tampico :wink: ) slow cooked in a deep pit. Consomé de barbacoa is the resultant fatty broth, with rice and garbanzo beans.

  • Crepas de huitlacoche, crepes stuffed with smut (black corn fungus).

  • Tlacoyos de haba, blue cornmeal stuffed with fava-bean paste, covered with nopales, grated white cheese and green tomato sauce.

  • Chilaquiles, stewed corn tortilla with red sauce, Oaxaca cheese, onions, and chicken.

What is Cilantro?

It is a gift from the gods. It looks like parsley but has a really unique, fresh taste. We have some growing in our garden at all times.

Counterpoint, if I may. The supposed “fresh” taste of cilantro is that of cut grass. As in lawn clippings. If mowing your lawn gives you the munchies, then cilantro is made just for you.

Can you use grass cuttings as a substitute then?

unless you’re one of the small percentage of people who think cilantro tastes like a mouthful of soap. Unique, yes. Fresh, no. Not something I consider a gift from the gods. The first time I ever ate something with cilantro in it, I thought someone had put soap shavings in my food.

Um. Let’s try to stick to the facts here please.

The OP is an interesting question, one I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been watching a new show on FoodTV, “Rick Bayless’s Mexico”, I believe, which is filmed in Mexico; Bayless visits restaurants, cooks, and talks about recipes which are much different than our same old/same old cooking up here.

As far as the OP, I believe our recipes are “authentic,” but very limited. In the U.S., who sees anything different than: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas and taquitos? El Mariachi Loco, your dishes sound like what I’d like to try making at home, so I’ve ordered up one of Rick Bayless’s cookbooks. Got a recipe for those stuffed chiles? Post it over in Cafe Society, if you do!

Hey, Rick Bayless has a restaurant in Chicago, doesn’t he? There are a lot of Chicagoans posting here - has anyone been to his place and experienced some different Mexican food and can fill us in?

As others have said, an aromatic herb. Fresh and added to meats, it tastes good(after it has been cooked). As with any herb, I don’t eat it raw, I add it to the meat or sauce and season the food.

It is peasant food many times, only it has been altered to make it look less cheap than it is. I’ve cooked fried rice with leftovers, tasted as good as one in the fancy restaurants…I think that was what the original fried rice was about, using up all the possible ingredients to make a new food.

Typical foods in the Caribbean include rice, beans, and tubers such as mandioca, yams, batata, etc. All of those are inexpensive food items.

The food with meat that you see shown as typical…yes, peasants could have made those food for special occasions(which also make the food comfort food), but it was not their everyday meal.

As someone already said, if you go to cheap restaurants, you get cheap food. This is not exclusive of one country or another, it’s universal.