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Mexican cuisine entails the traditions and culinary techniques of modern Mexico. It dates back to the Mesoamerican age when maize was first domesticated, and several Mesoamerican groups developed their unique foodways and cooking methods. The history of Mexican cuisine, which spans several centuries, has been strongly influenced by migration (particularly after the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec empire) and trade routes and is, therefore, a fusion of indigenous and foreign ingredients and culinary methods (Crowley, 2019). This outline will discuss the geography of Mexican cuisine concerning the four geographic concepts of regions, cultural landscapes, diffusion, and distance decay.
I chose this topic because of the overall richness and regional variance of Mexican cuisine, reflecting different climates, culinary techniques, histories, and traditions.
Owing to the varied geography and history of Mexican cuisine, this outline will discuss several essential regions (Northern Mexico, Bajacaliforniano, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Jaliscense, Yucateco, Veracruz, and Poblano) and their distinctive characteristics in terms of geography, cuisine, and climate. It will also discuss how the different forms of Mexican cuisine have diffused to America and become mainstream dishes.
Mexican cuisine involves a broadly variable food landscape, each with distinctive characteristics from staple crops to geography to climate. For instance, Northern Mexico’s climate supports a strong ranching tradition, and the cuisine revolves around cattle products. Dishes in this region include grilled beef, a variety of cheeses, together with hearty staples such as pinto beans, flour tortilla burrito, and rice. Bajacaliforniano’s climate and geography favor wine production and fishing; therefore, the cuisine in this region is primarily seafood-based, including the popularized fish tacos, grilled lobster, and ceviche (Richards, 2021). Spanish colonizers less influenced the Oaxaca region of the South Pacific coast, and therefore much of the cuisine retains the culinary traditions of the indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. Black beans, corn, and chocolate are primarily used in Oaxacan dishes. The cuisine of the Chiapas region shares many similarities with Oaxaca, but there is more emphasis on the use of spicy chiles, vegetables, cheese, and common meats like pork, beef, and chicken in dishes.
The Jaliscense region has the most varied Mexican cuisine because of its rich cultural and natural resources. It contains much of Lake Chapala (the biggest freshwater lake in Mexico), more than 200 miles of coastline, snowy peaks and arid plains, Guadalajara (Mexico’s second-largest city), and Puerto Vallarta (a resort town). The cuisine of the Yucateco region is very different from that of other areas owing to its geographical location in the Yucatan Peninsula, which resulted in strong Mayan, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and French culinary influences. Most dishes entail tropical fruits, seafood, and spices. The Veracruz region is primarily dominated by indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences and dishes include herbs, olives, capers, tropical fruits, peanuts, plantains, sweet potatoes, and seafood (Bernstein, 2016). The Polano region is primarily a cosmopolitan urban hub, and therefore the cuisine is as diverse as the people. Dishes use various Spanish and indigenous-influenced ingredients, while others like tortas and tacos are sold as street foods.
The mingling of indigenous and foreign cultures that gave rise to Mexico’s rich and diverse cuisine has shaped the landscape of the regions, especially concerning land use and food production. For instance, the previous woody landscapes of Oaxaca’s northern highlands have given way to large tracts of coffee plantations and farm plots that grow various crops that predominantly feature the region’s dishes. Another example of how Mexican cuisine has influenced the cultural landscape is the floating gardens of the Polano region. Farmers are revitalizing traditional agriculture using the concept of chinampa to cultivate crops including assorted greens, onions, radishes, fruits, tomatoes, mushroom tamales, and avocadoes (Tomky, 2017). These chinampas have changed the landscape of the region of Lake Xochimilco as more floating islands, raised fields on which vegetables and fruits have been grown, line the canals and ditches of Xochimilco.
Mexican cuisine has spread to many regions globally, especially the United States, owing to its culinary adaptability and popularity. Its diffusion into America’s mainstream dishes is essentially the result of immigration and globalization. The earliest entrance of Mexican cuisine into the United States was during the Mexican-American War when many Mexican citizens in the American Southwest became American citizens and maintained their traditional culinary traditions. The influx of Mexican migrant workers into America over the years and globalization have buttressed Mexican cuisine as a culinary staple, even in regions that had previously little to no ethnic influence from Mexico (Friesen, 2012). As more fast food businesses and celebrity chefs began to mass-produce Mexican foods and cookbooks, Mexican cuisine was made available to more Americans. It became a regular constituent in most homes.
Mexican cuisine has changed as it diffused away from the regions of its origin. Many companies and restaurants have capitalized on America’s interest in Mexican cuisine to develop their cuisine versions. One famous version is the Tex-Mex cuisine, a distinctly Northern cuisine that employs different ingredients from the authentic cuisine. Tex-Mex uses beef, canned vegetables, cumin, black beans, and yellow cheese, which are usually not engaged in traditional Mexican dishes outside of the Oaxaca and Northern Mexico regions. Besides, TexMex dishes are different from those of the Polano region in that they contain more starch and cheese and less of the original ingredients. On the whole, Mexican-American cuisine is a condensation of Northern Mexico dishes and Texan rancher culinary techniques into one Americanized Mexican cuisine (Lapetina, 2014). This distance decay has been facilitated by the rise of fast-food enterprises that useless ingredients and time in Mexican food preparation.
Mexican cuisine is a rich and diverse cultural model comprising geographical, culinary, traditional, ethnic, and historical factors. While it is founded in Mesoamerican cuisine, cultural influences by other peoples and geographical conditions have resulted in a complex cuisine with varied culinary techniques.
The diversity of Mexican cuisine reflects different climates and ecosystems and certain ingredients are specific to particular regions of Mexico. Consequently, the Mexican cuisine can be divided into seven areas, each with a distinctive food landscape: Northern Mexico, Bajacaliforniano, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Jaliscense, Yucateco, Veracruz, and Poblano.
Mexican cuisine has shaped the cultural landscape of each of the seven regions. For instance, Oaxaca’s traditionally woody northern highlands have been altered by the rise of large-scale coffee production and extensive subsistence farming. Moreover, the landscape of the Polano region has been impacted by the growing number of chinampas (floating islands on which crops have been cultivated) along the canals and ditches of Xochimilco.
Mexican cuisine has largely diffused into America due to immigration and globalization and has become a staple in many American homes. However, many American businesses and restaurants have capitalized on its culinary adaptability and popularity to produce Americanized Mexican cuisines such as TexMex.
This topic was of interest to me because of the unique variance of Mexican cuisine in terms of cooking and ingredients used and concerning climates, ethnicities, and geography. In addition, I found it interesting to learn that Mexican cuisine dates back to the pre-Hispanic period (1200 BCE) when corn was first domesticated.
Bernstein, N. (2016, May 4). A guide to the regional cuisines of Mexico. Retrieved from Food Republic: https://www.foodrepublic.com/2016/05/04/a-guide-to-the-regional-cuisines-of-mexico/
Crowley, C. E. (2019, March 4). Regional Mexican cuisine: all about Puebla and Central Mexico. Retrieved from Seriouseats: https://www.seriouseats.com/regional-mexican-cuisine-what-is-pueblan-food
Friesen, K. J. (2012, May 3). Where did the taco come from? Retrieved from Smithsonian: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/where-did-the-taco-come-from-81228162/
Lapetina, A. (2014, May 1). What’s the difference between Tex-Mex and REAL Mexican food? Retrieved from Thrillist: https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/what-is-tex-mex-food-difference-between-tex-mex-and-mexican
Richards, A. (2021). The seven regions of mexican cuisine. Retrieved from Picos: https://www.picos.net/the-seven-regions-of-mexican-cuisine/
Tomky, N. (2017, January 31). Mexico’s famous floating gardens return to their agricultural roots. Retrieved from Smithsonian: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/mexicos-floating-gardens-return-their-agricultural-roots-180961899/
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