A Brief History of Mexican Cuisine

Learn the origin and history of traditional Mexican cuisine. Knowing the historical processes makes your preparations delicious.

A Brief History of Mexican Cuisine
Plates with Mexican dishes, dips and salsas. Photo by Jennifer Griffin / Unsplash

Mexican cuisine is the result of a journey through centuries of history, with time, techniques of fusion between pre-Hispanic, Mesoamerican, Aztec, and contemporary gastronomy have been experimented with. The historical circumstances in what was known as New Spain led to the birth of a particular way of looking at gastronomy in Mexico.

The local cuisine was adopting the new ingredients that the Spaniards had brought with them during the conquest, but the customs of that culture had few results within this theme; since the gastronomic variety of those lands helped its people to widen their horizons, originating emblematic dishes with more than 3,000 years of history.

Strange techniques are named to all those procedures of cooking food that was carried out in Mexican lands and that gave origin to names such as "frying". During the XVI and XVII centuries, towards the north of our country, there were Native Americans in what is known today as Texas; the people of this part of the territory combined their techniques with Spanish cuisine resulting in the first version of the cuisine called Tex-Mex.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a writer from New Spain and an advanced cook ahead of her time, left a very important legacy in the gastronomic field, which was captured in the pages of what is considered the first recipe book of Viceroyalty Mexico. In that important writing, there were all those preparations such as cheese fritters, black-headed ante, beet ante, jericaya, rice cake, corn turco, cacahuazintle, Oaxaca clemole, stew prieto, spinach purin, curdled gigote, manchamanteles, and Portuguese chickens.

In post-revolutionary Mexico, the aristocrats, after the Mexican nationalism generated by the Mexican Revolution, turned, valued, and rediscovered the traditional Mexican cuisine.

In the 20th century, a new custom of Mexican gastronomic street vending emerged, selling tamales, sweet and savory bread, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob or shelled corn in modalities such as carts, redesigned bicycles, and improvised stalls. At the end of the twentieth century, the resurgence of hospitality activities and signature cuisine restaurants, caused a focus on the ideas generated by the Chef, causing an image of the chef to use classic recipes in a combination of flavors used with traditional techniques.

The dishes belonging to Mexican cuisine may seem like a journey through time; as mentioned in this section, the road that Mexican gastronomy has traveled has not been easy, everything that we know recently is the product of a strong beginning of the constant impact that makes the food consumed in our country and some parts of the world more and more perfected.

The dishes belonging to Mexican cuisine may seem like a journey through time; the road that Mexican gastronomy has traveled has not been easy, everything that we know recently is the product of a strong beginning of the constant impact that makes the food consumed in our country and in some parts of the world to be more and more perfect.

Pre-Hispanic cuisine

Mexican cuisine is an ancient cultural manifestation, it has always been characterized by its great diversity of ingredients, techniques, and procedures. Each of the processes that exist in our dishes has contributed to our identity with a distinctive touch in terms of color, flavor, texture, smell, and seasoning.

In pre-Hispanic gastronomy, there were customs and traditions; citing a clear example, the traditional festivities of the Day of the Dead, food enjoyed by the deceased in life. As a tribute, an offering was placed with these characteristic foods that stood out on the table belonging to this theme carried respectfully by the hand of Mexican gastronomy.

The pre-Hispanic cuisine amazed the Spaniards so much that they decided to adopt the techniques and ingredients to join them in their cuisine and create what is known today as Spanish gastronomy (formerly Moorish cuisine). The most outstanding ingredients of Mexican culinary culture are corn, chiles, beans, tomatoes, avocados, pumpkins, chocolate, guajolotes, pheasants, grasshoppers, jumiles, partridges, and maguey worms.

The techniques and utensils also occupied a very important place that is still in use today; the molcajete, the metate, the molinillo, the comal, the barbacoa, the mixiotes, and the nixtamalization.

Colonial kitchen

Livestock and agricultural production in Mexico were key to the gastronomic sector since the contribution of this segment is key to generating the main proteins used in the preparation of the most outstanding dishes of our cuisine. The utensils used in the elaboration of Mexican food together with the food preparation techniques were considered the most complex with a unique contribution that was projected in the color, aroma, and flavor of what was presented on the table.

During the colonial period, many foreigners entered the country bringing their food customs, which Mexico was already reproducing for generations. Popular recipes were taken as a reference to provide creative vitality to the gastronomy of our country, responding to the new tastes of the diners, thus giving a context of modernity.

The elaboration of sweets was one of the activities that began to gain strength; since raw materials such as pumpkin, quince, figs, and tejocote, among others, were available. Families were established that were dedicated to the transformation of these ingredients into sweets, which caused the beginning of the sustainable industry of its products.

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican and generally Mesoamerican celebration that honors the dead. It takes place on November 1 and 2 and is linked to the Catholic celebrations of All Souls' Day and All Saints' Day. It is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and to a lesser extent in Central American countries, as well as in many communities in the United States, where there is a large Mexican population. In 2008 Unesco declared the festivity an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Mexico.

The passage from life to death is an emblematic moment that has caused admiration, fear, and uncertainty to human beings throughout history. For many years, various cultures have generated beliefs around death that have developed a series of rites and traditions to venerate, honor, frighten and even mock it. Mexico is a country rich in culture and traditions. One of the main aspects that make up its identity as a nation is the conception of life, death, and all the traditions and beliefs that revolve around them.