About the food of Mexico

My first time to Mexico was all “rainbows and puppy dogs.” In fact, the only reason I got to go was because a co-worker broke up with his girlfriend and his two free tickets were simply passed down the line to me. A totally free vacation! In all my 27 years I had never won anything like this.

The scene was set for perfection.

There was just one catch: I found out on a Tuesday. The flight took off on a Thursday. There wasn’t much time to plan.

Keith (a.k.a. Mr Picky) – who had been my boyfriend of a just a few months – would be my companion. He had never left the country.

He didn’t even have a passport.

Thankfully, this was in the days before passports were required to enter Mexico. He simply had to track down his birth certificate.

This first trip to Mexico would be his initiation (at age 36) into the world “out there,” beyond the border.

Let’s just say I’d be watching for signs of an open mind and general willingness for Adventure.

I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed.

We were scheduled to stay at the Hilton, which is exactly the type of place I would never stay at, if only because I could never afford it. In an effort to really live Mexico, we rented a car and happily trolled through the scrubby, cactus spiked hills of Cabo. We eventually made it all the way north to Todos Santos (supposedly home to the original Hotel California).

During this short but glorious trip, we ate great meals. I should add that none of them were at the Hilton. Instead we stopped at dilapidated food shacks, bulked up at the local grocery store, and had picnics on remote beaches and in our room.

The remote beaches could be peaceful or …. surprisingly exciting.

I’ve never seen waves like I did at this beach – I wish I knew its name (we found it between 15 donkeys and nowhere, without a map).

Speaking of donkeys, there were a lot of them. Some of my fondest memories include nibbling incredible fish tacos and guacamole while donkeys ambled through the sandy parking lot, just feet away.

While eating a fish taco was a first for me, the guacamole was a first for Keith (and my first real conquest over my stubborn Mr. Picky). He’d never tried guacamole until this trip – in fact, he flat out refused. The quality and flavor was so incredible, I told him he’d regret it his entire life if he didn’t try it. Perhaps a smidge dramatic, but it worked.

He has loved a good quality, chunky guacamole ever since.

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook. Photo of La Paz, Mexico

While there, we also had many a slow roasted meat, like pork al pastor. Enchiladas, tacos, burritos, tamales, and tortillas (wheat in the north, corn everywhere else [recipe]) were on all the menus. The base of most cuisine is corn and beans, roasted and smoked peppers (even in dips like rajas con crema [recipe]) with a healthy smattering of chiles, cilantro, oregano, and other herbs.

Even with all this goodness, I didn’t know very much about Mexican food. There are variations from north to south and east to west. I’d learn much later about the glorious Mole sauces of Oaxaca, which have many variations and whose roots trace back into ancient Mayan times.  The most popular is Mole Poblano [recipe] – a rich, hearty sauce made with a laundry list of ingredients, including dried poblano peppers, chocolate, and nuts.

We also failed to explore traditional Mexican beverages. The truth of the matter? On our first day, we shared a pina colada and loved it so much, we simply never ordered anything else. How I wish we would have sampled horchata [recipe] or some of the other fresh fruit juices sold on the streets of Mexico.

In 2008 we spent our honeymoon on the opposite site of Mexico, near Tulum. We thought it would be fun to explore a totally different part of the country. Instead of scratchy hills, this region is dense and tropical. We were surrounded by walls of jungle growth. And there were ruins galore.

Mexico will always be home to some of my happiest memories.

What is the best thing you’ve eaten from Mexico?

Have you ever been? Where did you go?


  1. Jill says

    I first found your adventure with Mali and I’ve been hooked ever since! I’ve made a few things, I’ve told eleventy-seven people about it, and I’ve been waiting for Mexico! (Portugal, too, but I’ll just have to be patient. Not my strong suit…)
    Thank you for cooking the world. I’ve been to some of these places, and want to visit more…

    • Sasha Martin says

      Very cool! I’m so glad you found the Adventure and even tried some recipes 🙂 I am not the most patient either – you should have seen me during the first year of GTA … thankfully I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the ride, or I just might have gone insane by now 🙂

  2. Jessica Bennett says

    Great stories you’ve shared here! I make Mexican dishes often and love the vibrant culture, but sadly, even though I lived in Phoenix for a couple years, I only got as far as exploring the area around Nogales once (and a friend wanted to go to Tijuana when we were in San Diego- so we went there for a couple hours). Oaxaca is definitely somewhere I’ve been wanting to go!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks – it’s funny that Mexico was my first standoff with “Mr Picky” – little did I know where we’d be today ha ha 😉

  3. Caroline says

    Living in southern Arizona for the past decade, I’m quite partial to Sonoran style Mexican, but nothing beats a good fish taco. And margaritas. For awhile I think that might have been all my best friend and I ate when we were together. Quite honestly, that hasn’t really changed. I’m really excited for the menu reveal tomorrow, Viva Mexico!

    • Sasha Martin says

      A best friend and a margarita – sounds like perfection to me!

  4. Richard Westwell says

    Hi , Picky shouldn’t worry too much about a passport, because the USA is so huge only about 40% of Americans have a passport! Remember the Governor of Alaska Mrs Palin, running for Vice President didn’t have a passport!!
    Because here in good old England we have so many countries nearby to visit we get passports for our babies!!!!!!
    Fantastic journey of world food Sasha, love it!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Passports for babies – now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! 🙂

  5. John Goodenow says

    Sasha, last week was one of your best, but this week is going to be EXCEPTIONAL!! Can hardly wait.

  6. Brian S. says

    Finally Mexico. I’ve never been and even if I had I could never top your meaningful journey. But you asked about my favorite Mexican food and about that I do know something…

    Moles!! I don’t think there is any doubt that Mexican cuisine is the most complex and sophisticated in the New World. (Sorry, Peru!) Many of the dishes date back to pre-Columbian times, and their startling blend of flavors seem like relics of an ancient, long-forgotten and inscrutably alien civilization. And the pinnacle, the absolute apex of Mexican cuisine is moles.

    Who are the world masters of cuisine? You think immediately of France, Italy, or China. But few if any recipes from those countries can rival the rich, complex Mexican sauces called moles (pronounced moh-lays) There are many of them, and they vary widely from region to region. The best, I believe, are the seven classic moles of Oaxaca. Especially the Mole Negro, which won Top Chef Masters for Rick Balyess. Aside from these Oaxaca sauces, the best known mole is Mole Poblano, which comes from Puebla in south-central Mexico and was invented around 1680 by, legends have it, nuns in a local convent, the Convent of Santa Rosa. (The Convent, which used to be a refuge for Spanish aristocrats’ daughters — which is why they were such sophisticated cooks — was disbanded long ago, but the building may still be visited in Puebla.)

    Legend aside, moles have their roots in Aztec and pre-Columbian cuisine. In the Nahuatl language, the language of the ancient Aztecs, they’re called mullis. Before the Spanish arrived on the scene, they were far less complex than the Oaxacan moles. These and indeed most modern moles are a marriage of indigenous and Spanish techniques and ingredients. Mole Poblano has 30 ingredients, including mulato, ancho and pasilla peppers — and, yes, chocolate! — and takes hours to prepare. Try them!

    • Sasha Martin says

      I hope you get to go someday – you’d love the real deal. I can totally see you making Mole with locals…

  7. Erin says

    The furthest into Mexico from the California border that I’ve ever been is Rosarito Beach, where my roommate’s family has a summer vacation home. But I’ve only ever been down for day trips (road trip for tortas!). I love the versatility of the basic Mexican staple foods. How you can slow cook a giant pork shoulder and serve it a myriad of ways (tacos, burritos, tortas, chile verde, etc) to a crowd of people.

    Tortas are definitely my favorite Mexican dish, with any type of meat filling. I’m totally in love with horchata. And I live for Christmas time when my friend’s family has their tamale gatherings and makes atole (the masa at the bottom of the cup is super tasty and is exactly what regular hot chocolate is always missing). And pan dulce.

  8. Ruby says

    Look at you guys, look so good and happy! Have been a few times to Mexico and there isn’t really a dish I didn’t like, but their cactus dish was nice and unusual and a sandwich with soft Mexican cheese at the Las Brisas in Acapulco is something I will always remember, it was so amazing. I can taste it rigt now. Looking forward to your choices.

  9. Mexico to me is a longing. It’s the food my friends from California were craving while in Europe, and we hunted in too many mediocre ‘Mexican’ restaurant. It is food to be made via stove top travel for the moment, with ingredients that are luckily getting easier to find, but creative substitutions are always needed. I’m really looking forward to this week’s recipes!

  10. The best meal I had in Mexico was on a tour that took us to a Mayan Village. The chicken was the best. I’ve tried to find recipes for the chicken, but have had no luck… 🙁

    • I think I might know precisely what chicken recipe you mean. Is that recipe, by any chance, the mayan “pibipollo”? It’s the most traditional way to prepare chicken in that part of Mexico.
      If that’s the case, I’d be glad to share the ancient family recipe with you. My familia comes from the southeast of Mexico.

  11. I know this is three years after the fact, but foodie tourism doesn’t have an expiration date. I’m spoiled, because my parents retired to La Paz, BCS, Mexico (about an hour northeast of Todos Santos on the gulf side of Baja Sur – the capital of Southern Baja) and in the 14 years they’ve lived there, it’s become my hometown. As you probably know, Baja food isn’t really like Mexican (as in mainland Mexico) food; it shares more in common with Mediterranean cooking, to the point where contemporary Baja food is known as “Baja-Med.”

    What do I love? Street tacos made with fresh-caught dorado or Sonoran beef, washed down with Indio or Negra Modelo beer. Classic meat pies filled with a mixture of ground meat, olives, and raisins. A fish burrito found in a tiny cafe in Pescadero (South of Todos Santos on the way to Cabo) that involves scallops, shrimp, lobster, and octopus wrapped in a fillet of fish and covered with a green chili sauce. The traditional Caesar dressing made table-side almost everywhere, but especially the way it’s made at Tres Virgenes in the heart of La Paz (Caesar dressing was invented in Tijuana, by the way.)

    Mexican food is so much more than what most Americans think it is.

    • I’m with you. Mexican food is much more diverse and complex. It has a huge variety from region to region.
      And you are still very likely to find great food almost everywhere in the street or at little home-style diners.

      Oaxaca alone contains amazing exuberance of flavours. But there’s also Yucatan, The Gulf Coast, Puebla, The Bajio, The Volcanic Woodlands, Jalisco, The North, The Northwest coast… all of these regions with a unique identity and ample variety of dishes and local ingredients.

      Not to mention indigenous exotic cuisine. Have you tried “escamoles”, the Mexican ant egg caviar?
      Or “pulque” (the milk of the Earth) a kind of “wine” made with the sweet milky juices of maguey (agave cactus)? Try it mixed with fruit molasses, in a version called “curado”.

      If you visit Mexico city, please try them!!!

      “Escamoles” is pronounced “Ays-kah-moh-lays”
      “Pulque” is pronounced “Pool-kay”
      “Curado” = “Coo-rah-doh”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.