Mexican cuisine is one of the most popular ethnic cuisines consumed in the United States. You can find it anywhere, and in a variety of forms -- it's served in five-star restaurants and food trucks, and everything in between. For most Americans, Mexican cuisine is as familiar as American fare. But how much do you know about the Mexican foods that you commonly order? Take a look at a few things you didn't know about popular Mexican foods.
Tacos Are Newer Than You Think
Tacos may be the first type of food you think of when you think of Mexican cuisine, but they haven't been around for as long as you might assume. Mexican cuisine has a long history dating back to the ancient Aztecs, but historians believe that the taco was created during the 18th century, most likely by Mexican silver miners.
The word "taco" first referred to pieces of paper wrapped around gunpowder. Miners would insert them into holes carved into rock face when they were excavating silver ore. When tacos first started showing up as a food item, they were called tacos de minero, or miner's tacos.
The soft-shell taco is closer to the original miner's tacos, but tortillas bent into a u-shape and fried were described in Mexican cookbooks dating back to the 1940s. This invention was probably what made fast-food tacos possible, but contrary to popular belief, it was a Mexican innovation, not an American one.
Mole Isn't All About the Chocolate
It's a mistake to think of mole sauce as "just a sauce". This famous sauce is Mexico's national dish, and it's very much the feature of any dish that it's served with, not an afterthought. Most Americans know mole as a chocolate sauce – a curiosity in the US, where chocolate is usually used in sweet dishes, not savory ones. But chocolate isn't the thing that makes mole sauce special.
The Oaxaca region alone has at least seven different varieties of mole that they're known for, and not all of them even contain chocolate. Verde mole contains pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, cilantro, and jalapenos. Amarillo mole is similar to a curry, and Manchamantel mole blends hot spices with sweet plantains and pineapples for its signature flavor.
What makes mole special is the complicated blending of a variety of ingredients, including various peppers, spices, and vegetables. If the only mole you're familiar with is the kind that contains chocolate, you're missing out on a great variety of flavor combinations. Take a chance on an unfamiliar mole the next time you eat out.
Tamales Are a Celebration Food
Unlike tacos, tamales actually do date back to ancient Aztec times. Back then, they were stuffed with delicacies such as honey, fruit, and surprisingly, bees. And while they've become increasingly popular in fast food and restaurant menus as well as grocery store frozen food section, they were once thought of as a food for special occasions.
Tamales are traditionally part of the Christmas meal, and might also be made for other special occasions, like town festivals and family gatherings. Tamales are also very versatile, and like mole, come in many varieties. In addition to the meat tamales you may be most familiar with, tamales can also be sweet, containing pineapples or sugar, or contain no filling at all. The next time that you choose a Mexican restaurant for a celebration, tamales are the perfect celebration food. Order them with a filling that's new to you for a taste treat.
Understanding more about the history and making of Mexican food can help improve your enjoyment and appreciation of it. The next time you're at a Mexican restaurant, branch out and try a traditional dish or a new spin on an old favorite. If you're looking for more information online, you could try here, or similar sites.