While many associate Northeastern Mexico (and Southern Texas) with barbecues and charro beans, this region of Mexico actually has a much more ancient and ample food culture stemming from the mix of its earliest European transplants and native flora and fauna. While the specific origins of these first settlers differs depending on which researcher you speak with (some say they hail from Andalusia, Spain, some say from the Portugal) it's generally agreed that the early colonizers of Nuevo Leon were of Jewish and Middle Eastern descendant.
There aren't many places left in the world where you can stop on the street and snack on something made in almost the exact same way as it was 500 years ago. Mexico happens to be one of those places. While certain items have become so ubiquitous it seems Mexican cuisine couldn't exist without them – pork, garlic, lard, citrus fruit – the staples of the pre-Hispanic diet still remain a very real part of everyday eating south of the border. Let's dive back and get a pre-Hispanic food primer.
In the United States, you have BBQ. In Mexico, there’s barbacoa. Barbacoa refers to a way of slow cooking meat at low temperatures, that leaves traditionally tough meat pull-apart tender. Though usually made with lamb or goat, these days, you’ll most likely find beef versions. You’ll find barbacoa served one of two ways: watery or dry. Watery barbacoa is served in consommé or juice (think of sandwiches au jus) and dry barbacoa is usually served as a stew, with rice and beans.
While Mexico City has gotten major press in the last few years for its wellspring of great food, art, and culture, Guadalajara, flying under the radar, is forging its own reputation for excellent food and drink.
So you've already been to Mexico. You're an expert on vitamin T (tacos, tlacoyos, tlayudas...). You fear no salsa. You feel pretty good about your Mexican foodie knowledge. But what about tejate, tepache, and pozol? Ponche, rompope, and a pulque curado? What happens when you find yourself around six steaming metal buckets of atole in a chaotic market at breakfast rush hour?
There's more to Mexican cocktails than the margarita. Next time you find yourself in Mexico City, branch out and try one of these favorites. They're full of local infusions, endemic flora, and surprising flavors.
“We put out our shoes and in the middle of the night the three kings come and put gifts in them … and maybe a chocolate,” says Mercedes Heide. Mercedes is a 9-year-old Argentine slightly obsessed with chocolate. She, her brother Felipe, and her sister Amalia, are telling me how they celebrate Three Kings Day in Argentina.
When Sylvia Plath's tiny cupcakes came out served under a bell jar, I was officially enchanted. The only thing better than reading about an exquisite meal, is eating one yourself. Those two pleasures combined? Well it's almost too much for those who geek out on great food and great literature.
In Mexico they don't just celebrate independence on one special day, but have an entire patriotic month, September, that arrives as a blur of red, white, and green. Flag sellers set up on street corners starting the end of August and excitement builds as residents young and old wait for the early morning hours of September 16th and the grito de independencia, when Miguel Hidalgo cried for freedom from the steps of his church back in 1810 and the War of Independence from Spain officially commenced.
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