The Mexican cuisine is the fusion of Spanish and Middle Eastern influences yet it is unique in its own right. Even before the blending of cultures, the Mexican ancestors were already cooking up their very own dishes that are still known up to this day. There are a lot of local spices and ingredients that give the Mexican cuisine a distinct flavor.
Mexican food has a long and interesting history and has evolved through time. Probably the earliest known origin is that of the Mayan culture of the 320 AD, of which the staple food was rice, beans and maize. The Mayan Indian Empire covered the regions of Guatemala, Belize, Veracruz, Yucatan and the entire southern Mexico. A war broke out between the periods of 700 AD to 1000 AD that resulted to the Toltecs of northern Mexico to take over and dominate the region of the Mayans. For the next 200 years however, the Aztecs came and fought against the Toltecs and Mayans to seize control of the region. The Aztecs brought along a piece of their food culture by introducing avocados, honey, squash, and guava among others, and the consumption of ducks, pigs and turkey. The Mayan staple food stayed for most of the dishes, though.
More than anything, maize or corn was the most basic and common staple food of the early Mexicans. Fresh ones are used for salsas, while some are dried to preserve it. The dried corn would be processed first by cooking and soaking in lime water to produce hominy which are whole kernels that have removed skins and are washed a few times. This hominy is actually the base for masa or dough – corn that is ground using a molcajete or the modern day mortar and pestle – needed to make tortillas and tamales.
The Mayan lifestyle depended on their regions with Mexico having a variety of locations. Obviously, the people would have fish and seafood in their diet if they lived along the coastline, and they have a more balanced diet compared to their counterparts living on the low and high lands. Vegetables, chilies and fruits, however, became constant among all peoples of Mexico.
Chocolate became present in Mexican cooking and the Aztecs claimed that they were the ones who introduced it to the local cooking scene. It is believed, however that the Mayans were already using it hundreds of years prior to the Aztec claim. The Aztecs, they say, only raised the chocolate up a notch by claiming that is should be exclusive only to nobles and warriors, and must be served only for certain special occasions. The cacao from which the chocolate is made became so prestigious that the Aztecs and Spaniards desperately fought to possess the cacao plant land from the Mayans.
The Mexican diet is a fusion of the past and the present. Some of the important ingredients to it are: Corn, Chilies, Beans, Tomatoes, and some fruits & special elements. Corn is commonly used for tortillas and the masa or corn dough can be utilized for a lot of dishes. Chilies are vital parts of Mexican cooking. Anything that is not spiced up with chilies is hard to classify as Mexican. Some popular varieties of chilies are jalapeño, poblano, guajillo, mulatto and ancho. Beans are found in several soups and stews. They can also be served as refried or simply boiled & served in a light broth. Tomatoes are the main ingredient to salsa, and most sauces for fish and beef dishes. Fruits work best as tomato alternative in salsa or served as desserts. Mexicans usually use mangoes, pineapples and coconuts in their meals.
In spite of the many influences in Mexican cuisine, the Mexicans thrived to keep their food fresh and healthy. Technology and modernization have somewhat changed Mexican food drastically with the presence of extra minerals and preservatives that are not necessarily healthy. It is now our choice whether to eat healthily or fall into the junk food pit.