Dissecting A Mexican Menu Of Traditional Favorites
You anxiously await to deplane. The flight attendants open the door and as you emerge onto the jetway, the warm, tropical air greets you with a welcoming embrace. Delighted to officially begin your vacation in Mexico, you arrive at your lodgings and settle in. After the day-long journey, you have a hankering for a cold beverage and a bite to eat.
With over 700 hundred dining establishments to choose from in Playa del Carmen, the city has become a foodie heaven, bursting with flavors from hundreds of different regions of the world. If you are embarking on an inaugural trip to this land, rich in beauty and culture, this diverse nation offers a long list of delicious culinary creations worth devouring, I mean sampling. Here is a breakdown of our top 10 list of traditional dishes which will help in navigating the menu on your next Mexican getaway.
- Ceviche – a perfect snack or lunch at the beach, this tangy appetizer’s best friend is a bucket of ice cold cervezas. Light, white fish (pescado) has been cured in lime and salt, then combined with colorful ingredients such as cilantro, tomatoes, onion and avocado. Other versions are made with prawns (camarones) or a mix of seafood (mixto) and are served with a side of tortilla chips.
- Enchiladas – this flavorful dish features rolled soft tortillas filled with meat, cheese, beans, potatoes or seafood covered in a chile pepper sauce. They are typically topped with mild red and green salsas, but some recipes take the spice level up a notch. One of my preferred selections on the menu, are enchiladas stuffed with chicken and covered in a rich mole sauce (chocolate is actually one of the at least 30 ingredients in an authentic mole!)
- Pozole – there is no denying that Mexican cuisine is one of my favorites and this hearty white hominy soup is another reason why! Made with a variation of pork, chicken or both, this specialty has been known to remedy a throbbing headache among other hangover symptoms. The whole corn kernels (hominy) add a stew-like dimension to the broth which can be clear, red, or green depending on which recipe you opt for. Fresh toppings include slivered lettuce, radishes, cilantro, and diced onions with a squeeze of lime.
- Chile Rellenos – Another plate I request most when dining out here in Playa del Carmen are roasted poblano peppers, stuffed with cheese or a ground meat and raisin mixture and coated in a light egg batter. Most often they come smothered in a mild red salsa while other versions are topped with a creamy, walnut sauce. In any case, your tastebuds will shout «gracias!»
- Chilaquiles – As unusual as the idea of frying tortilla chips in salsa and serving them soft sounds, this traditional breakfast food will subdue the skeptic in you the moment you delve into this tasty dish. Drizzled with thick cream, and garnished with avocado, cilantro, raw onion slices and crumbled cheese, you can also add an egg or meat to this Mexican food fan delight.
- Empanadas – I would describe these as Mexican pizza pops or perogies. A thin circle of dough made from corn meal or flour is stuffed with a variety of ingredients including chicken, ham, cheese, beans, potatoes or vegetables then folded, pressed on the edges, and fried. Common toppings include pickled red onions, cream, shredded cabbage and salsa.
- Tamales– A thick, corn-based dough envelopes a filling of meat, beans, cheeses or fruits and is wrapped in dried corn husks and steamed. In our family, we look forward to the tradition of feasting on pork and chicken stuffed tamales every New Year’s Eve.
- Sopes – refried beans are spread upon a mini pizza-like, fried corn flour dough and served with toppings such as steak, chicken, chorizo, milanesa (a breaded veal, beef or pork), and garnished with shredded cabbage, pickled red onion, cream, crumbled cheese and salsa.
- Molcajete – This rich and cheesy entree made of beef, chicken or shrimp and bell peppers is baked in a traditional stone bowl, typically used as a grinding dish. The savory melted mixture is served with warm soft tortillas and a roasted tomato or tomatillo salsa.
- If you come to Playa del Carmen, one of the most popular weekend outings is a late night stop at a taco place for Tacos al Pastor. A boneless pork shoulder is marinated in spices and dried chiles then placed on a vertical rod to roast. Thin slices of this perfectly seasoned pork is cut from the spit and served on small tortillas with cilantro, onion, radish, pineapple and a squeeze of lime. These taco diners often offer a variety of salsas which tend to pack a mighty spicy punch. To avoid unsightly steam blowing out from your ears, try washing your tacos down with a cold Modelo beer or a tall glass of horchata, a creamy drink made from rice, vanilla and cinnamon.
These top 10 menu selections will give you a scrumptious sense of the authentic flavors of Mexico. So now that you know, go ahead and explore these and the many more fascinating aspects of this vibrant culture!