The cuisine of Mexico is unique for many reasons, including its geographic location, the historical influences of various ethnic groups and the natural food sources that are readily available. Geographic influences had a major effect on the cuisine of Mexico, including access to the coast and seafood, and the lack of fertile crop lands (ICS 2008).
Mestizaje means a mixing of influences that created the fusion that is now known as Mexican cuisine and mole poblano is often an example of this (Pilcher 1996). Another impact that geographic location had on the development of Mexican cuisine was that it was a crossroads of Spanish and traditional Native Aztec culture due to its proximity to Columbus’s discovery of land in the Caribbean and the subsequent influx of the Spanish into the Americas. The Aztec cuisine based on the natural plants and animals of the area were a great influence, and these included squash, beans, domesticated turkeys, games such as deer and rabbits and grasshoppers (Kraig & Sen 2013).
The trade which came with the Spanish was another influence, and this brought wheat, lemons, pork, cheese, cilantro, garlic and oregano. The Creole and French traditions were a further influence, both because the French influence on food was felt in Europe, but also because of connections and proximity to the French in the Americas. It was nuns in a convent in the late 17th century combined the seasonings such as onions and garlic that were traditionally used in Spain with chile peppers, chocolate and spices from the New World such as cinnamon to create this classic Mexican sauce and the sauce was served over the only meat at the convent, an old turkey (Pilcher 1996). Today it is a national dish served on special holidays.
Corn is a key ingredient in Mexican cuisine, one with deep historical ties. It is used in nearly every traditional and modern Mexican dishes such as tamales, enchiladas, tacos and burritos. A battle for ethnic influences and Mexican identity was that of corn versus wheat. Corn was the staple food of the Native Indians and those who lived in the traditional native way, but the early Mexicans with European ancestry and alignment still relied on wheat. Still, the interconnectedness is apparent in the result, as today both corn tortillas and flour tortillas are staples of Mexican meals.
Mexican cuisine was added to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list (Peralta, 2010). There are in fact many traditions of Mexican cuisine, rather than just one, often based on the geography and available food sources in that region (ICS 2008). Coastline areas feature mariscos or seafood dishes, and in the mountains there is a tradition of stews and sauces with a close relationship to the historical Mexican relationship to corn (Ibid.). The cuisine of desert regions often features cactus in its dishes (Ibid.).
The Yucatán is one region has struggled with the idea of Mexican cuisine in the singular, as the national Mexican cuisine is centered on Mexico City and the Spanish legacy, while Yucatan was not part of the Spanish colonial activity (Zeigler 2012). Yucatan was more influenced by its Mayan history and trade routes and closeness to the Caribbean (Ibid.). The Yucatan was isolated from colonialism and rooted in the Mayan civilization rather than Aztec culture (ICS 2008). The region did absorb some European ingredients and traditions. Spanish ingredients such as oranges, garlic, oregano and cinnamon are a trademark spice signature of the Yucatan, as is Edam cheese from the Netherlands (Ibid.). The distinctive fusion is created with the help of the traditional ingredients such as game meats, squashes, ground spice pastes and black beans as well as traditional ways of preparing foods using a pit and coals to cook banana leaf wrapped meats (Ibid.).
The cuisine of Mexico is one with a history and influences that are as colorful and spicy as the dishes of Mexico.