Dining in Mexico
Dining in Mexico
Experiences and Perspectives from Around the Country from Mex Insurance Store
Story by Jim Foreman
One can’t reflect on Mexico for very long without thinking about Mexican Food. Nearly everyone loves the rich flavors originating from our southern neighbor.
Fortunately, many Mexican expats have brought their family recipes north. What happens though, when other country’s culinary traditions try to make their way south? In truth, it doesn’t always work out. It’s not for lack of trying. Simply put, many of the ingredients and spices used in international cooking aren’t available or are prohibitively expensive in Mexico. Also, factor in that Mexico still relies heavily on locally sourced seasonal vegetables and spices. While healthier and fresher than products shipped from thousands of miles away, the variety is much more limiting.
Naturally, Mexican Food is phenomenal in Mexico. Whether it’s a mobile street vendor or a high-end restaurant, the rich and colorful flavors of Mexico satisfy even the most discriminating palate. Mexican food, of course, varies throughout the different regions of Mexico. Often the difference is quite substantial. It’s easy to understand why since Mexico is a huge country with many different agricultural regions and influences. The state of Oaxaca, for example, is known worldwide as having some of the best and most flavorful regional food. The heavy influence of the indigenous people and the superb growing conditions make this southern state an epicurean paradise. Beef is primarily sourced in northern states like Sonora and Chihuahua, so expect those regions to have some of the best steakhouses in the country. Mexico also has one of the largest coastlines of any country. Excellent seafood is abundant and inexpensive.
It’s increasingly difficult to write a story like this without the pangs of hunger and the salivating in anticipation of the flavors one conjures up.
Below is a list of some other popular nations food styles and cooking and some thoughts on how well Mexicans can bring it to life.
American diets and foods are typically not very difficult to source in Mexico. Steaks, Hamburgers, Fries, Donuts, Chicken tenders, and other traditionally American edibles are relatively common. With notable exceptions, most Mexican restaurants don’t get steak quite right. For many cafés, it’s grilled on a flat burger grill and often overcooked.
Curiously, the most flavorful, impeccably textured, and otherwise best damn Apple Pie (Pay Manzana) this author has ever enjoyed, anywhere in the world, is served up at El Meson de Mustafa in Valle de Guadalupe, mentioned later in this story.
Otherwise, the mostly disgusting foods that make up a typical American Diet are easily found in Mexico.
Mexicans usually get this right because foods typical in Italy are also conventional in Mexico. Pasta is widely available as well as the incredible seafood used in dishes originating in Italy. Pizza is often pretty good though some valiant attempts do fall a little short.
In the US, it’s rare to be in a Japanese Restaurant and not see Mexicans doing the cooking. In Mexico, however, it’s just not the same. Many places offer sushi, but even the most expensive dining options don’t quite get it anywhere close to what it’s like in Japan. While one can easily source Tokyo grade sushi in many parts of the USA, it’s simply not happening in Mexico.
What they do serve is often good, if not a unique take on sushi. If you’re expecting Tokyo grade meals though, forget it.
Thai and Vietnamese Food
This is a tough one for Mexico even to attempt. The spices used in Thai cooking are barely available, only at a premium. Furthermore, there aren’t very many people of Thai and Vietnamese descent living in Mexico, so there is not much demand. If you’re craving decent Thai or Vietnamese food, look to restaurants in Ajijic, CDMX, Cancun, Oaxaca, and Playa del Carmen.
In the late 1800’s many Chinese people moved south from the USA and settled In Mexico. Cities like Mexicali and Tijuana have a robust Chinese population, and they have thrived. These cities also easily source ingredients from the USA and bring them back several times a week, in their cars, going back and forth, across the border. In Major cities like Guadalajara and Ciudad Mexico, there are also many third and fourth generation Chinese people living there. Unfortunately, those unique ingredients are more difficult to import and get deeper into the interior of Mexico.
On a recent trip with Chinese nationals, we chose the high-end Chinese restaurant Shang Hai in Guadalajara. The Chinese guys in the group walked in first and enjoyed speaking in Mandarin with the owner and his daughter. He later told us that upon the welcome, she said in Mandarin, “Don’t expect too much.”
The group, including the Chinese guys, greatly enjoyed the meal, as did the rest of the patrons who all seemed to be of Chinese descent.
If your idea of Chinese food is Panda Express, you won’t be disappointed, but if you’ve been to China or authentic Chinese restaurants in the USA, you will probably need to lower your expectations, just a little.
In Puerto Vallarta, there is an excellent restaurant owned and run by a German expat. The food was excellent as well as the bottles of Warsteiner, available for guests. Having spent a lot of time recently in Germany, one does have a good sense of the German cuisine. Mike at Hacienda Alemana is often seen and welcomes visitors from Deutschland in their native tongue.
Elsewhere, wherever you encounter a community of German expats such as in Ajijic, Playa del Carmen, Queretaro, Oaxaca, or CDMX, you’re bound to find some hearty German food. Fortunately, German food is not difficult to make with Mexican ingredients. German beers however are much more difficult to source, but a delight when you do.
If it’s Mediterranean food you crave, some excellent restaurants are found in Mexico. The bulk of those are, of course, found in Tijuana, and CDMX. There are other regions and cities that also rightfully boast excellent food from the middle east. Ophelia in Ensenada is surprisingly good. El Meson de Mustafa in Valle de Guadalupe also serves up some spectacular dishes from their home country of Morrocco. Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel also feature some excellent dining options. Many expats from Iran, Egypt, and other countries throughout the Middle East find the climate in the Yucatan Penninsula to be very reminiscent of home.
With the exception of Tijuana, you’re going to find authentic Cocina Francés primarily in the major cities, and places where French expats have decided to settle. This means that resort areas such as on the Riviera Nayarit and the Yucatan Penninsula, tend to have small inns owned by French expats that also serve up some delicious French Cuisine. One example of excellent French dining can be had at Le Bistro in Bucerias, Nayarit. Mexico City does thrive with excellent French restaurants. Many Mexicans who have traveled to Europe and France have will recommend Gloutonnerie as one of the city’s best.
If it’s deep fried fish and chips you’re craving, you can find it in most resort towns. It’s not hard but finding it made of Cod may be more difficult. It’ll probably be Tilapia, in Mexico.
Mexico isn’t known for too many East Indian expats, and as such, there is little demand for Indian food. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but it’s very hit, or miss and most of the spices are remarkably difficult to source in Mexico. Again look to Tijuana, CDMX, and Cancun for the sources of excellent Indian dining.
The significant exception to all of these is Tijuana. Given it’s proximity to the USA, it’s easy to source exotic spices, oils, and ingredients for any cuisine. That’s one reason why Tijuana is an international food destination. People from all over the world come to sample the exotic and splendid culinary offerings available in Tijuana. Many Americans are also rediscovering Tijuana, and it’s recent reputation for incredible culinary offerings.
When traveling overland through Mexico, it’s easy to practically eat your way across the country. Whether it’s learning the different flavors and styles of Mexican Food throughout the country or sampling flavors from home, it’s fun and easy. All one needs is their passport and Insurance for Mexico to begin enjoying the culinary delights of this rich and diverse land. Provecho!