What to eat in Mexico? Mexican food dictionary A to Z

Come on an adventure and savor the Mexican cooking. Here you will find a finger-licking Mexican food dictionary from A to Z. Enjoy your meal!

What to eat in Mexico? Mexican food dictionary A to Z
Mexican food. Photo by Tai's Captures / Unsplash

It is estimated that 30% of American and Canadian tourists have established the reason for their trip to Mexico to enjoy its cuisine, and 17% of national tourists make tasting local dishes their first activity in a destination. This dictionary of Mexican cooking covers the most exotic food items, from A to Z. Now, find out for yourself.

Avocado, huitlacoche, jícama, cacao, amaranth, chia, chilacayote, and huauzontle are just a handful of the many products originating in Mexico, which long ago, ancient Mexicans domesticated to expand their diet and which, when interacting with other cultures, shared to delight of all humanity.


Achiote: Its seeds serve as a condiment and colorant; it is very important in the cuisines of the southeastern part of the country. From Nahuatl achiotl, which means red dye.

Avocado: Oval-shaped fruit. Its name derives from the Nahuatl ahuacatl, a testicle, and refers to its resemblance to that part of the body, from which derives the belief and its use as an aphrodisiac.

Aguachile: Typical dish from the west coast of Mexico, whose ingredients are raw shrimp, fresh or dried chiles, lemon, and water, although it is common to accompany it with fresh vegetables.

Anafre: Stove made of clay or metal. It is designed to contain the embers or coals that heat the pot.

Antojitos: It is usually a corn-based food, rich in fat (often fried) and accompanied by a chili sauce. It is usually part of a fast and informal meal.

Atole: Hot, thick drink made from cooked corn, ground, and dissolved in water.


Barbacoa: Preparation of lamb or goat meat wrapped in maguey stalks and cooked in an earth oven. The barbacoa of the center of the country finds its origins in the pib, Mayan earth oven.

Birria: Barbecue of lamb or goat meat, seasoned with chili peppers and spices. It is considered one of the most representative dishes of the state of Jalisco, along with pozole and menudo.

Birote: Mexican bakery term for wheat bread of dense dough and hard crust, with a particularly elongated shape, similar to a rhombus.

Bolillo: White bread or French bread. An economical and quite popular type of bread, made with wheat flour. It is not considered sweet.

Burrito: Northern dish consisting of a wheat flour tortilla rolled into a cylindrical shape, which is filled with grilled meat and refried beans.


Cacahuate: From Nahuatl tlalcacáhuatl, from tlalli, earth, and cacahuatl, cacao: cocoa of the earth. The Mexica ate it roasted and in salty or sweet preparations.

Cacao: From the Nahuatl cacahuatl, and from the Mayan kakaw, strong red fruit. Chocolate is produced from its beans.

Cebiche or Ceviche: Dish consisting of marinated meat -fish, seafood, or both- in citric seasoning.

Champurrado: Atole generally composed of pinole or corn dough dissolved in water with metate chocolate, toasted and ground corn, and piloncillo.

Chapulines: Insects that provide significant amounts of protein. Due to their crunchy consistency, similar to that of other fried foods in the country, they are popular as marinated and grilled snacks in markets and street stalls in central and southern Mexico.

Chicharrón: Food that in some countries is obtained after melting the pork fat; in others, the fat is used to cook the meat, and in still others, it consists of frying of the animal's skin, with or without meat.

Cochinita pibil: Dish prepared with a piglet or pork meat, seasoned with red recado, dissolved in sour orange juice with other spices such as cumin and Tabasco pepper, and wrapped in banana leaves. Recaudo or recado rojo or colorado is a spice mixture popular in Guatemala and Mexico.


Damiana: A popular light green beverage with aphrodisiac properties; it is obtained from the maceration of damiana leaves in alcohol.

Dedos de charro: Preparation of rolls made with corn dough, stuffed with pork loin stewed in a mole made with pasilla, mulato, and ancho chiles, and thickened with tortilla and sesame seeds.

Desbarbar: To cut off the fins of raw fish with scissors. This is done with all fish, except very small fish, such as sardines and smelt.

Deflemar: Technique used to remove the strong flavor of food. In Mexico, onions are most commonly defoliated by soaking them in hot water or curing them with vinegar, lemon juice, or sour orange.

Día de Muertos: Religious festivity, with deep pre-Hispanic roots, that celebrates the visit of the dead who, according to the belief, return from beyond the grave to eat, drink and live with the living.


Elote: In Mexico, this is the name given to the tender corn cob.

Enchilada: Mexican snack made from corn tortillas dipped in sauce and filled with a stew, particularly beans or chicken.

Escabeche: Vinegar preservation technique used in Mexico with a great variety of products such as garlic, cauliflower, chiles, onions, potatoes, carrots, and jicamas.

Escamoles: From Nahuatl azcatl, ant, and molli, stew. They are ant larvae that can be found wild in arid or wooded places. Preparing them in dishes is a challenge due to their delicate flavor.

Epazote: Aromatic herb used in the center and south of the country for cooking. Its name derives from the Nahuatl epazotl, from epatl, skunk and tzotl, dirt, or skunk dirt.


Flor de calabaza: Flower of the squash family ("cucurbitaceae"). There are many dishes made with squash blossoms, which are eaten raw or stewed.

Frijol: There are about 470 different breeds of beans. It is a very important food since pre-Hispanic times, as it was part of the tribute paid by the conquered peoples to the Mexica.

Fritura ("frying"): Cooking food by rapid immersion in a bath of very hot fatty matter.

Fundir ("to melt"): To apply heat to a product (chocolate, butter, etc...) so that it becomes liquid.


Gordita: A type of corn muffin stuffed with a stew, which is fried or cooked on a comal. It is called gordita because it is much thicker than a tortilla, which allows it to be opened for stuffing.

Guajolote: Name given to the turkey; probably the term comes from the fact that when this bird inflates its feathers it looks fiercer than it really is.

Guanábana: Tropical fruit of the anonáceas family. The pulp is white, fleshy, fibrous, juicy, and sweet and sour flavor, with many shiny black seeds. It should be eaten ripe.

Guava: From the Caribbean Taino language, guava. Sweet and acid fruit of the myrtaceae family. In Nahuatl, it was known as xalxocotl, which means sandy fruit.

Gusanos de maguey ("maguey worms"): They are species of lepidopteran larvae that breed in the pencas (leaves) of the species of the agave family. There are several ways of preparation, but they are predominantly fried.

Guacamole: From Nahuatl ahuacamulli, from ahuacatl, avocado and mulli, mole or sauce. Sauce of ripe avocados, mashed and mixed with green chile, tomato, onion, and cilantro.


Habanero: Cane liquor typical of Tabasco, although it is also used to drink in the south of Veracruz and the Yucatan peninsula.

Hechizo: Homemade sweet bread made with the dough of leaves and yeast. It is traditional during New Year's celebrations in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo León.

Hoja santa: Aromatic and velvety heart-shaped plant. It is used in Mexican cuisine to wrap fish and meat. It is also known as acuyo.

Huitlacoche: It derives from the Nahuatl cuitlatl, excrement, and cochtli, asleep; that is to say, sleeping excrement. Parasitic fungus of corn. Huitlacoche is one of the most popular mushrooms among Mexicans in the center of the country.


Icaco: Fruit of the chrysobalanaceae family, globular in shape, 2 to 4 cm in diameter, with white, pink, or purple rough skin and white, creamy, juicy, and sweet pulp. It is found on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas.

Iguana: Reptile. Its meat is used in various dishes in Chiapas, Colima, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Veracruz. Also known as cachora, garrobo (male iguana), gorache, huele, huico, jiota, tepanche.

Ijar: Name given, in Chiapas, to a cut of beef located near the rib and breast. In other parts of Mexico, it is known as suadero.

Indio lucero: Fish with red body and head, about 20 cm long. It is caught incidentally throughout the year in the Gulf of Mexico. Its meat is white, spiny, and tasty.


Jícama: Edible tuber that is accompanied with salt, lemon, and chili.

Jícara: Clay vessel, or made from the fruit of the jícaro or guaje. In its oldest definition, it appears as a "small earthenware vessel", used to drink chocolate.

Jitomate: Globose fruit of spherical or ovoid shape. The use of tomato in Mexican cuisine is infinite: it is used to prepare all kinds of red sauces, broths, stews, and moles, it is eaten raw in slices, roasted or cooked, and so on. It is undoubtedly one of the pillars of Mexican cuisine.

Jumil: Edible mountain bug or xotlinilli.


Kab ik, kabik or kavik: Maya word meaning chili stew. Currently, this name designates different preparations made in the Yucatan peninsula. It is a stew with chile and achiote; sometimes it is thickened with corn dough.

Kamata: Purépecha word that literally means "atole". It is drunk on its own or with pieces of piloncillo or mezcal.

Kery: Plant similar to purslane. The Huicholes grind these leaves in a metate until they obtain a paste that they cook with water and salt, and shake it until it takes on a yellow color. They eat it as a soup.

Kool, cool, or kol: It comes from the Mayan k'ol, which can also be written as k'ool. It is a thick sauce used in the kitchens of the Yucatan peninsula. There are many variants and different uses.


Lacrar ("sealing"): To ensure the water tightness of a bottle with the help of special wax, the sealing wax. The cork stopper is sunk to the rim of the gland, and this is immersed in a bain-marie, then left to harden for 20 minutes.

Lagartija: Reptile similar to the lizard but smaller; it is consumed by the inhabitants of desert or semi-desert areas, such as the Paipais, in Baja California, and the Otomi in the Mezquital Valley, in Hidalgo.

Sopa de Lima: Typical soup from Yucatan that is prepared with chicken broth, to which tomato, sweet chile, and onion are added, chopped, and sautéed in oil.

Longaniza: Long sausage prepared with highly seasoned pork meat.


Machaca: Dried beef or fish meat.

Mamey: Ovoid fruit; its skin is brown to reddish-brown, hard, brittle, and rough. Its Nahuatl name tetzontzapotl means tezontle-colored zapote.

Metate: From Nahuatl metatl. The square stone surface on which, kneeling, indigenous women used to grind food, such as cocoa or corn.

Memela: Tortilla made of corn dough, spread with lard and ground beans. They are browned over low heat and covered with green or red molcajete sauce, sprinkled with cheese or quesillo.

Mixiote: A dish of steamed enchilada meat, wrapped in a film that comes off the stalk of the maguey pulquero.

Mole: From Nahuatl mulli, sauce, or stew. A term that designates an infinity of complex stews usually made with a thick sauce. The best known is a dark mole, which is known throughout the country as Mole poblano.

Molcajete: Concave stone utensil used to make sauces.


Nacapitú: Gordita or tamale prepared with popped corn dough and lard; it is customary to fill it with cooked pataxetes beans and brown it in the oven. It is prepared in several localities of Chiapas.

Nachos: Snack originating in northern Mexico and the southern United States consisting of fried corn tortilla chips, topped with melted manchego or yellow cheese. They are accompanied by slices of serrano chile, tomato, and chopped onion.

Nogada: Sauce made with fresh walnuts and various spices that serve as the base for Chiles en Nogada, a typical rainy season dish.

Nopal: Generic name used to designate various plants of the opuntia genus, native to the American continent. They are cacti with tender stems or stalks.


Obispo: It is typical of the State of Mexico and consists of a pork belly sausage stuffed with pork viscera, fried and finely chopped, seasoned with herbs. It is usually eaten in tacos.

Ojite: Aquatic plant similar to sweet potato, whose root is cooked in water with salt and ashes, and served with milk. It is consumed in Escuinapa, Sinaloa.

Olote: From Nahuatl olotl. The central part of the cob, from which the kernels are detached. It is used as fuel, to make corn shellers, and as animal feed.

Oreja: Bread or cookie that is prepared from sponge cake or puff pastry, which is sprinkled with sugar, which caramelizes when it is baked in the oven.


Panucho: It is a small handmade corn tortilla, which has a cut through which a bean-based stew is inserted and then fried in oil or lard.

Papadzul: Corn tortilla filled with egg and covered with a pumpkin seed mole.

Pipián: Sauce is made with toasted and ground pumpkin seeds, or with corn mixed with achiote, and is used to marinate meats.

Piña ("Pineapple"): Juicy fruit. It is native to the tropical zone of America, perhaps Brazil, Peru, or Paraguay, where the natives called it ananás, a Guaraní word meaning excellent fruit. The Mexica called it matzatli.

Pitaya: Name was given to several fruits that grow in the cacti. They can be red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, or white and are consumed as fresh fruit, in water, candy, or ice cream; its flowers can be eaten fried, roasted, or scrambled with egg.


Quelite: Vegetable or tender edible plant that has its equivalent in several languages. In general, the term quelite applies to all flowers, leaves, bulbs, and buds of tender trees.

Quesadilla: Small snack made with folded corn tortilla and cheese or with some kind of stew. They can be fried or grilled.

Queso Cotija: Originally from Michoacán, it is a hard, dry and crusty cheese.

Quijote: Stew made with minced beef and pork, vegetables and tomato, thickened with Tabasco plantain and bread crumbs, traditional from Chiapas.


Raicilla: Mezcal produced in Jalisco.

Raspada: Corn tortilla from which one of its sides is removed and is used to make tostadas or flautas.

Rebozar ("batter"): To cover some food, such as meat or vegetable, with a mixture made with egg, flour, and some liquid, such as milk, beer, or mineral water, or only with beaten egg, to later fry it.

Romerito: A quelite with tender stems and leaves. It is widely cultivated due to the great demand during Lent, Easter, and Christmas.


Salbute: Corn tortilla fried in oil or lard so that it is slightly puffy and soft. It is served with lettuce, julienned tomato, tanned onion, shredded turkey or chicken, and avocado.

Salsa borracha: Dressing prepared with pulque, chile pasilla, garlic, and onion.

Sincronizada: A small snack made of two tortillas between which ham and cheese are placed. It is heated on a griddle until the surface is slightly browned and the cheese melts. It is usually served with pico de gallo.

Sope: Another type of food derived from corn. It is made of corn gorditas in the form of small casseroles or recipients so that they can contain the stews.


Tamal: It is generally prepared with corn dough filled with meats, vegetables, chiles, fruits, sauces, and other ingredients.

Taxcalate: Drink prepared with corn, cocoa, achiote, sugar, and cinnamon, which is traditional in the state of Chiapas, whose consumption dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

Tatemado: Technique of roasting or cooking food, preferably meat, on a comal or directly on the fire in an oven.

Tejuino: From the Náhuatl tecuin, to beat the heart, it is a corn beer served with ice, lemon juice, and salt. In some places, it is accompanied by lemon snow.

Tlayuda: Corn tortilla of about 30 cm, originally from Oaxaca. It is similar to a dry tostada.

Tomato: From Nahuatl tomatl. It is of very varied use in Mexican cuisine and indispensable as a base for raw, cooked, or roasted green sauces to use at the table or to prepare chilaquiles or green enchiladas.

Tuna: Oval fruit with a thick shell and small spines that look like fluff. Its entire interior is filled with a fleshy, soft, and sweet pulp, with many edible seeds.


Uacares: Black roots that look like mushrooms. The Purépechas, in Michoacán, cook them with honey to eat them like candy.

Uchepo: Name of a typical tamale from Michoacán, made with tender corn.

Uliche: Chicken or turkey stew in which the broth is thickened with corn dough, parsley, garlic, chile amaxiato, and lard. It is served with toasted and ground pumpkin seeds. It is important for the Day of the Dead celebration in Nacajuca, Tabasco.

Uvate: Sweet made of peeled grapes cooked in water with sugar and cinnamon. It is a kind of ate, typical of San Luis Potosí.


Vainilla: A member of the orchid family, it is an epiphytic vine with greenish-yellow flowers. It received the name " vainilla" by the Spaniards because its fruits resemble the pods of swords.

Vajilla (" tableware "): Set of pieces and accessories destined for table service, except glassware and cutlery. The set of pieces made of gold or silver consists of pieces made without soldering.

Vampiro: Mixture of beet and orange juices that sometimes includes celery or carrot and lemon juice, and is sold in street stalls. It is also a cocktail with tequila and sangrita.

A la Veracruzana: Food prepared with a sauce called a la veracruzana, which includes ripe and chopped tomatoes, garlic, onion, bay leaf, oregano, parsley, green olives, and capers; in some versions, raisins are added.


Wilimole: Fruits and leaves of various plants that are used, especially in certain areas of Oaxaca, for the preparation of a variety of yellow mole. In the northern highlands of Puebla, its leaves are used to wrap tamales.

Weurai: Name was given to two species of pigeons consumed in the country. They are not commercialized; their consumption is strictly regional.


X'culum: Quelite with which the quelites are prepared with beans, in the northern highlands of Puebla.

Xámitl: Semi-toasted tortillas, triangular in shape, made with corn, piloncillo, cinnamon, and carbonate. They are typical of the huastecas and it is customary to accompany them with coffee.

Xoconostle: Name of a sour prickly pear with a high content of vitamin C, with which stews and drinks are prepared.

Xocoxóchitl: Known as Tabasco pepper, with a very strong aroma and flavor.


Yaca: Breadfruit tree. It was introduced to Mexico from Asia and Oceania and is found in the states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Puebla, Nayarit, and Chiapas.

Yagual: From Nahuatl yahualli, a thread woven with bejuco wicker, which serves as the base of the jícaras to keep them on the table without them rolling and spilling the liquid they contain.

Yecapixtla: Promontory, an artificial hill that hides some pyramid or teocalli. It is a town in the state of Morelos, famous for the high quality of its beef jerky.

Yorique: In Sinaloa, raw corn, ground and cooked in water to obtain a very thick gelatinous gruel. In some cases it is covered with cooked nopales and liquefied with arí; in others with apple vinegar. In the state of Chihuahua, it refers to a compound of cornflour with goat meat.


Zacahuil: From Nahuatl zacahuili, with a zacate flavor. Large tamale prepared with martajada corn dough, pork and chicken or turkey meat, Chinese and cascabel chili sauce, and spices. Everything is mixed, wrapped in layers of banana leaves, and cooked in a wood oven or texcal.

Zambaripao: Morisqueta mixed with cooked beans. It is customary as part of daily meals in the Costa Chica of Guerrero. Its name is of Malay origin.

Zapote: From Nahuatl tzapotl, sweet fruit. It is also round and spongy sweet bread that is decorated with a strip of flour paste and granulated sugar.

Zocata: From Nahuatl tzoactl, wrinkled fruit. A term that designates any ripe, damaged, or shriveled fruit, generally due to frost.

Tex Mex cuisine is one more testimony that food is culture and that with it the highest peaks can be conquered. It is no coincidence that around 110 million Americans consume tortillas or that Mexican avocado is one of the two best-selling products on Super Bowl day, in 2018 alone around 40 thousand tons were shipped to the United States.

Source: Lo que se come en México panorámica de la gastronomía mexicana via Comercio exterior