The Many Foods of Mexico: A Guide to Mexican Food Regions

Mexican food is one of the defining characteristics of Mexican culture. But did you know that Mexican food is more than just burritos, tacos, and quesadillas? Mexican cuisine is one of the most culturally vibrant culinary traditions in the world. With the mix of indigenous, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines, some see Mexican food as one of the first true “fusion” foods in the world.

Part of what makes Mexican food so varied (and delicious) is the distinct flavors and ingredients of each region. In this month’s post we’ll lay out all of the regions of the country and the culinary traditions of each. Then, we’ll go over popular dishes found in each region.

Let’s dig in!

 

Northern Mexico

This region covers the states of

  • Baja
  • Sonora
  • Chihuahua
  • Coahuila
  • Durango
  • Zacatecas
  • Aguascalientes
  • Nuevo Leon
  • Tamaulipas

What is Northern Mexican cuisine known for?

The region, known locally as El Norte, compromises almost half of the country of Mexico. The region is host to a strong tradition of ranching, making beef the meat of choice for most of the region.

In addition to the prevalence of beef, the ranching culinary tradition has also made cheese incredibly prevalent in the region. Some cheese known in the area includes:

  • Queso fresco (fresh farmers’ cheese)
  • Ranchero
  • Cuajada
  • Requesón
  • Queso menonita

Unlike many other regions of Mexico where corn tortillas are prevalent, the flour tortilla reigns supreme in El Norte, with almost 40 different variations available. It’s the prevalence of the flour tortilla that allowed burritos to become popular, given the pliability of the style of tortilla.

Popular dishes of Northern Mexico

The non-pretentious, everyday style of cuisine that El Norte is known for has made the region’s culinary delights known throughout the world. In fact, what most people in the United States and elsewhere think of as “Mexican food” is actually the cuisine of northern Mexico.

Some of the dishes the area is known for are:

  • Burritos
  • Fajitas, or Arrachera as it was originally known
  • Cabrito, or roast baby goat
  • Machaca, which is rehydrated dried beef simmered in its own juices

 

 

The North Pacific Coast

This region covers the states of

  • Sinaloa
  • Nayarit
  • Jalisco
  • Colima

What is North Pacific Mexican food known for?

This region, along the Pacific Ocean, is known for a cuisine that relies heavily on seafood, which is commonly cooked with european spices and locally grown chile peppers. Some popular seafood in the region includes

  • Marlin
  • Swordfish
  • Black sea bass
  • Snapper
  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Octopus

Jalisco is known throughout the world for it’s biggest export: tequila. The region is a hotbed for the agave plant that tequila is made from, particularly in the city it’s named after, Tequila, which is 40 miles north of Guadalajara, the region’s gastronomic capital.

Popular dishes of Mexico’s North Pacific Coast

  • Aguachile, a spicy shrimp dish served with vegetables
  • Ceviche, which consists or fish or shrimp “cooked” raw in lime juice
  • Torta ahogada, a torta “drowned” in a spicy red sauce
  • Birria, a stew of pork, mutton, or beef with chiles or spices

 

 

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The Bajio

This region covers the states of

  • Michoacán
  • Guanajuato
  • San Luis Potosi
  • Queretaro

What is Food from the Bajio known for?

The Bajio consists of a large plateau surrounded by mountains, which the original Spanish colonists found to be like their home in the Spanish plains. For this reason, the region’s food is heavily Spanish influenced. This includes the prevalence of pork and rice.

The region is also known for desserts, such as cajeta, which is caramelized goat’s milk, as well as Cotija cheese, which is named after the town bearing the same name.

Popular dishes of the Bajio

  • Morisqueta, a sausage and rice dish
  • Carnitas, pork fried in lard
  • Arroz con leche, otherwise known as rice pudding
  • Chirupa, a beef, vegetable, and chili broth
  • Enchiladas mineras, tortillas stuffed with cheese and topped with veggies and chili sauce

 

 

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Southern Mexico

This region covers the states of

  • Campeche
  • Yucatan
  • Quintana Roo

What is Southern Mexican cuisine known for?

This region is known for its culinary independence from the rest of Mexico, with a deep Mayan tradition and a heavy influence from the Caribbean Islands and and the rest of the world.

Corn and achiote are the main flavors of the region, as are habaneros, which are generally used as a condiment. The area is known for the pibil cooking style, in which foods are wrapped in banana leaf, buried, and slow cooked in a pit.

Another defining characteristic of the area is the use of tropical fruit in recipes. These fruits include:

  • Tamarind
  • Plums
  • Mamey
  • Avocados
  • Bitter oranges

Popular Southern Mexican dishes

  • Cochinita pibil, or slow pit-roasted pork in citrus juice
  • Mero, or grouper
  • Panuchos, or thick tortillas fried and stuffed with beans and topped with cabbage and meat

 

 

The Gulf region

This region covers the states of

  • Tabasco
  • Veracruz

What food is Mexico’s Gulf region known for?

While the world famous Tabasco sauce hails from this region, the area is likely best known for its seafood. There are a number of shellfish varieties unique to the area, which you can find in all sorts of dishes. The area pulls influence from everywhere from Africa to Cuba to New Orleans, as well as the indigenous people who are from the area.

Many African ingredients have made their way into the cuisine, such as plantains, yucca, and sweet potatoes. While vanila, papaya, and corn are native to the region, European influence brought other herbs such as cilantro and parsley that now dominate the region’s cooking.

Popular dishes in Mexico’s Gulf region

  • Huachinango a la veracruzana, or red snapper with tomato sauce, capers, olives and onions, and sweet peppers
  • Pollo encacahuatado, otherwise known as chicken in peanut sauce
  • Chilpachole stew, which features seafood such as shrimp, oysters, and crab
  • Arroz a la tumbada, a seafood and rice dish

 

 

Central Mexico

This region covers the states of

  • Puebla
  • Morelos
  • Tlaxcala
  • Hidalgo
  • Distrito Federal (Mexico City)

What is food in Central Mexico known for?

Central Mexico’s most famous and culturally popular area is Mexico City. Like most capital cities, Mexico City has some of the best dining in the whole country. That said, it’s likely best and most prominently known for its abundance of street cuisine. This style of cuisine is perfect for the more fast-paced lifestyle that the city presents.

Also a hotbed of street food, Puebla is known for its traditional Mexican cuisine. The state also has a middle-eastern influence, with the use of a pita-style bread tortilla with tacos

Popular dishes in Central Mexico

  • Tacos
  • Barbacoa, or barbecued goat meat
  • Chalupas, lightly fried tortillas topped with salsa, onion, and meat
  • Chiles en nogada, or stuffed chiles fried and served with walnut sauce

 

 

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The South Pacific Coast

This region covers the states of

  • Guerrero
  • Oaxaco
  • Chiapas

What is the food in the South Pacific Coast known for?

This southern coastal region is best known for its indigenous roots, which extends deeply to the culinary tradition of this region.

While the region often cooks with Mexican staples such as chicken and pork, it also includes many indigenous animals, such as armadillos, rabbits, and even insects. In Taxco, julies, a type of stink bug, are used in a variety of dishes, including in a traditional preparation of a nutritious salsa.

Oaxaca is known for its use of chocolate, both in dishes such as mole negro sauce, which tops a variety of dishes, and also drinks. A cheese variety is named after the state, which is a mild variation of mozzarella cheese.

While chile peppers are used throughout Mexican cuisine, in this region they are used primarily as a condiment. Black beans are the beans of choice in this region.

Popular dishes on the South Pacific Coast

  • Mole, of which there are 7 different types popular, ranging from a chocolatey mole negro to a tomatillo based mole verde
  • Enfrijoladas, or enchiladas drenched in purated black beans
  • Estofado de pollo en frutas, a stew of chicken and fruit

 

Ready to dig deeper into Mexican culture?

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