When someone in America, not of Mexican heritage, thinks of “real” Mexican food, nachos, beef and chicken tacos, and cheesy quesadillas are probably some of the first things that come to mind. But it would probably surprise many Americans to know that those foods aren’t good representations of the traditional dishes that come from the country.
Mexican food, when created properly and authentically, is a little more simple than we think. Flour tortillas are often replaced with soft corn tortillas — not hard shell tacos — and three cheese tacos are few and far between.
If you’re not sure what the big difference is, here are 12 things that America tends to get wrong about Mexican food.
Quesadillas are made differently.
In America, quesadillas are known to include a flour tortilla. That isn’t the only way they’re made, however. Saul Montiel, executive chef of Cantina Rooftop, told INSIDER that there are different varieties of real quesadillas.
“Quesadillas are not always made with flour tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, cheddar, and monterey jack cheese,” he said. “We don’t eat this type of cheese in Mexico! At Cantina Rooftop we make our tortilla with organic blue corn tortillas, oaxaca cheese, squash blossoms, queso fresco, avocado, tomatillo sauce, and summer squash.”
Pico de gallo is more American than you think.
Although America thinks of pico de gallo as a side dish served with nearly every Mexican dish, Montiel said that this is far from the truth. It’s actually not as common in Mexico.
“We also don’t eat pico de gallo with every meal,” Montiel told INSIDER. “I did not discover pico de gallo until I came to America.”
Real Mexican dishes are simple.
America may love to eat big, heavy meals, but traditional Mexican food is not that. Traditional Mexican prepared meals are quite simple, Viviana Werner — whose family lived in Mexico — told INSIDER.
“Real Mexican food is not heavy or cheesy. Really, it’s all about the simple details, but they are delivered in an elaborate way,” she said. “One example is a ‘common dish’ of stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms. It was so simple to make, but super fancy looking and delicious. Bugs, like Chapulines (dried grasshoppers), are also commonly eaten.”
Ceviche is not exclusive to Mexico
Contrary to popular belief and many Americanized restaurants that cite Ceviche as a Mexican dish, Montiel told INSIDER that technically, this is not accurate.
“Ceviche did not only originate from Mexico,” he said. “It comes from different parts of South America like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica. A more traditional Mexican ‘dish’ would be Vuelve a la Vida — which is a seafood cocktail meaning ‘return to life’ — and we serve it at Cantina Rooftop. We use Spanish octopus, hake fish, Ecuadorian shrimp, spicy cocktail Mexican sauce, avocado, heirloom tomatoes, and serrano peppers.”
The cocktail is also traditionally served when one is in need of a hangover cure.
Mexican food is not overly spicy.
Another big misconception that America has about Mexican food is the level of spice that’s needed to create dishes.
“Many Americans think that all Mexican food is spicy. They are totally wrong though,” Santiago Gomez, executive chef of Tacology, told INSIDER. “Yes we have around 64 different kinds of peppers, but Mexican food is full of flavors and the peppers just add more flavor. That doesn’t mean all Mexican food is spicy.”
Hard shell tacos are not the only type of shell eaten.
When you hear anyone speak of “traditional” Mexican food, the go-to usually consists of something with a hard shell. According to Montiel though, this is not the only type of shell eaten with the beloved food. Tostadas are quite popular, too.
“Tostadas are crispy flat tortillas and we eat them with fancy fish,” he said. “Hamachi, aji amarillo, avocado, and heirloom cherry tomatoes can be added.”
Corn chips are not common in Mexico.
Although chips are eaten quite frequently with Mexican dishes in America, Joseph Creech — owner and chef at Hunger Street Tacos — told INSIDER that they are not a big hit in the country.
“Corn chips are not a huge thing in Mexico,” he said. “Actually, potato chips smothered in Valentina and lime are much more common. Corn chips are saved for chilaquiles.”
Kiss those nachos goodbye.
Chicken tacos are more American than anything.
America’s choice of tacos may be beef and chicken, but if you ask Chef Montiel, chicken isn’t even a real option in Mexico.
“We never eat chicken tacos. It’s almost an insult to eat that,” Montiel told INSIDER. “We use chicken to make soup, stews, and tamales. We love to eat tacos campechano, which are made with steak, chicharron, chorizo, morita sauce, tomatillo sauce, onions, and cilantro.”
Things will taste differently when made in America versus if it was made in Mexico.
America tends to think that Mexican food is supposed to taste the same when it’s made in Mexico as it would be in America. According to Navy vet and experienced chef, Isaac Walker — also known as Chef Izzo — this is an absolutely incorrect way of thinking.
“America has to understand that just like any other country, America has different regions where food grows and the availability that they will grow is affected by that,” he said. “The ingredients that Americans use are not the same as those in the regions of Mexico, so the taste will also be different.”
True Mexican food is not cooked stove-top.
If you’re looking to indulge in some real Mexican food, it won’t happen if you’re making it on a griddle on stove-top.
“America puts their meat on the griddle, but mostly all Hispanic dishes are preferred to be prepared on a wood fire grill to add a bit of smoke,” Chef Izzo told INSIDER.
Likewise, true Mexican food is not “cheap.”
John Calloway of Black Rooster Taqueria in Orlando, Florida, told INSIDER that the last thing Mexican food should be referred to is “cheap.”
“Everyone associates Mexican food with being ‘cheap.’ It’s not cheap to make from quality ingredients, and therefore, not a cheap food,” said Calloway, who spent four years opening restaurants in Mexico City, Acapulco, and Punta Mita. “It’s not supposed to be covered in cheese, cream, and sauce. Nachos and burritos are not traditional Mexican dishes.”
Mexican food is bright in color.
Though America’s spin on Mexican food has it jam-packed with everything you can think of, Chef Izzo told INSIDER that this is not traditional.
“The freshness and bright bite of all sauces and salsa is missed out on. We add too much in order to make it our own instead of enjoying the simplicity of fresh fruits, berries, beans, and more.”
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