Before the Mexican cuisine of today, the Aztec nation a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521 drove the gastronomy.
The foods they grew and foraged for included chilies, elderberries, tomatoes, chocolate, cassava or yuca, honey, salt, tropical fruits like guavas, papayas and avocados.
Try this Mexican recipe made with avocado a food familiar to the Aztecs – Making Fresh Guacamole With A Molcajete
The most important staple was corn with the other major foods being beans, squash and grains like amaranth and chia.
They also drank fermented beverages made from honey, cacti and various other fruits.
Meat included a variety of fish, various fowl, pocket gophers, green iguanas, salamander, crayfish, variety of insects, larvae and insect eggs.
Aztec men sharing a meal. Florentine Codex, late 16th century
Basically, the staples that have formed the foundation of Mexican cooking are white corn, beans, squash, tomatoes and chiles.
Now let’s examine how other cultures and the foods they cooked with were intertwined with the foundation of Mexican cooking to form the Mexican cuisine we have today.
The Roots Of Mexican Cuisine
The Spanish were the first to arrive, and after they conquered the Aztec empire a number of foods from different countries were introduced.
Spaniard Conquest Of The Aztecs
Mexican cuisine is rooted in a combination of these different food sources via Spain.
Food sources from Italy, Germanic tribes, North Africa, Asia and including Lebanon and the Fertile Crescent or Middle East among others.
Meat or protein sources included domesticated animals, such as pigs (from Germany) sheep, goats, chickens (from Asia) and cows.
With the cows and goats came milk. Goats milk is used in making cajeta (caramel sauce) and cows milk is used for making a bread pudding called Capirotada.
Capirotada originated from a 15th-century Spanish dish that was heavily influenced by Moorish cuisine – Capirotada Mexican Bread Pudding
Asia introduced rice to Mexico through the Spanish. Wheat was also brought, with its origins being first from the Middle East to Germany and the rest of Europe.
When wheat arrived to Mexico it was first cultivated by the indigenous people in the Baja California peninsula. The main crop was common wheat. The first wheat flour mill in Mexico was built in 1577.
Harvesting Wheat In Sonora Mexico
Wheat is grown mostly in Northern Mexico as the conditions are favorable. And therefore, flour tortillas are popular food item.
Flour tortillas are mostly produced in Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora and Sinaloa, where it is more suited to growing wheat than corn – Homemade Mexican Flour Tortillas
Africas influence on Mexican cuisine was due to the invasion of Spain by the Moors (from North Africa) in 711 when they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian peninsula. They controlled the area until 1492.
The Moors in Spain: History of the Conquest, 800 year Rule & The Final Fall of Granada
The foods introduced by Africa through the Spanish included: coriander, cumin, cinnamon and clove.
The Spanish also brought sugar to Mexico. Sugar cane was grown extensively in Southern Europe following the Persian conquest of the region (800-900 C.E.) it was primarily grown in Sicily and Spain.
Today, the sugar industry in Mexico is the second largest with the first being maize or corn.
Maize was the single most important staple of the Aztecs. It was consumed at every meal as well as played a central role in Aztec mythology – Now Try This Mexican Cuisine – Turning Hard Corn Kernels Into Something Eatable
The Lebanese arrived to Mexico in the 1890’s. They opened restaurants and prepared foods that were most familiar to them, including the shawarma, which are slabs of meat that are roasted on a spit.
Slabs Of Meat Roasted On A Spit At A Mexican Restaurant
If you have ever eaten a plate of “tacos al pastor” (spit-grilled meat tacos), then you have eaten a dish influenced by the Lebanese culture.
Tacos al Pastor are from central Mexico prepared from shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants
The Farmers Of Mexican Cuisine
Farmers of modern day Mexican cooking live in what is called the Bajío. It is a large agricultural region that runs down the center of Mexico.
The Bajío includes the states of Querétaro, Guanajuato, parts of Jalisco, Aguascalientes and parts of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Michoacán.
The indigenous Mexican people or better put, descendants of the Aztecs who live in this region grow the same food crops their ancestors did. Like corn, beans, peppers, fruits, and vegetables.
As we have seen, foods common to the Aztecs and foods brought by the Spaniards have influenced greatly the foundation of Mexican cooking and the Mexican cuisine today.
Now click here and find out one of the centuries old cooking utensils that the Aztecs used to cook their food with and is still used today – Cooking With A Molcajete
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