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Mexican and American Food
Food is one of the most important parts of a culture that serves to set it apart from others. It also transcends barriers to create connections with people of different backgrounds. In fact, some of the most beloved foods in the U.S. such as pizza and tacos are staples of other cultures and have been brought here by immigrants.
Communities share and bond over a love of these cultural foods, but just how authentic are they to the culture they come from?
We’ll be talking about, you guessed it, FOOD. But not just any food. Our focus will be on Mexican food and Mexican-American food, and particularly, their similarities and differences.
That’s right, the two may be synonymous but are nowhere near the same thing, and you’re going to have to watch till the end of the video to find out how.
But first, we’ll really dig into what it means to be Mexican-American and what Mexican-American culture is like. Then we’ll talk about some of the most popular “Mexican” foods available in the U.S. which are actually just Mexican-American, followed by talking about some authentic Mexican foods.
If this sounds like something you want to know about, keep watching. And if you find the video helpful, please consider subscribing to the channel and checking out our other videos. Now let’s get into it.
Mexican vs Mexican-American Culture
We often hear that the United States is a melting pot of cultures, with influences from all over the world. The population is one of the most diverse ever, and owing to the sprawling immigration system (which happens to be the largest in the world), many people can directly trace their roots to countries other than the U.S. And by many, we mean the approximately 26% of the U.S. population which is made up of immigrants and the first-generation children of immigrants.
These immigrants brought their culture and traditions with them when they came to the United States, and over time, their language, food, music, and even some holidays became assimilated into mainstream American culture.
Perhaps there is no better example of this than the fact that Spanish is the most spoken language in the U.S. after English, and flour tortillas outsell white bread, wheat bread, and bagels in the country. Therefore, it’s no wonder that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, who comprised 11.3% of the U.S. population and 61.5% of all Latino Americans in 2019, have a strong influence on American culture.
In fact, since the U.S. shares a border with Mexico, Mexican food is very popular in southwestern states such as Texas, Arizona, and California. It has also mixed with the local cuisine to birth what is now known as Tex-Mex or Mexican-American food, which is in turn eaten all over the nation.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about what it means to be Mexican-American.
Defining What it Means to be Mexican-American
Mexicans are people who were born in Mexico, though they may no longer live there. On the other hand, Mexican-Americans are people who were born in the United States but have Mexican descent through their parents and grandparents.
Mexican-Americans may also identify as Hispanic/Latinx/Chicano or Chicana depending on their preference. Though they have a strong tie to Mexican culture, Mexican-Americans have an identity and culture that is discrete from it.
It’s not easy to define Mexican-American culture as it is actually a very broad term that means something different to every Mexican-American, which is generally the case for almost every culture worldwide. Since Mexican-Americans are exposed to both cultures, Mexican as well as American, they are able to adopt and drop practices from both.
Some people have embraced many of the traditions of the parent Mexican culture, while others have a more Americanized Mexican culture.
Mexican-Americans may or may not speak Spanish, though most Mexican-Americans are fluent in both Spanish and English. They may or may not be church-going, even though Mexican culture is deeply religious. They may or may not celebrate Mexican-American holidays such as Cinco de Mayo, but they do celebrate American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
So, as you can see, there are plenty of individual differences in the Mexican-American community. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the same holds true for its cuisine.
Mexican-Americans may or may not regularly eat Mexican cuisine, but they do have their own version of it- which is the Mexican-American or Tex-Mex cuisine. When Americans think of Mexican food, they think of tortillas, tacos, burritos, and of course, salsa.
But while all of these foods are a part of Mexican cuisine, the versions that the average American or Mexican-American are eating are very different from their Mexican counterparts.
As a general rule, Mexican-American cuisine, is well represented by the food available at restaurants like Taco Bell or Chipotle Mexican Grill. These restaurants were designed for average Mexican-American, someone who has been exposed to more American than Mexican food.
Therefore, Mexican-American food tends to be less spicy and more cheesy, with many new ingredients added that wouldn’t be found in authentic Mexican food. An example of this would be flour tortillas, which are a staple of Mexican-American food.
However, flour tortillas are barely ever used in Mexico unless one is making something like quesadillas. While delicious, flour tortillas are only used in northern Mexico next to the U.S. border. Instead, corn tortillas are used in authentic Mexican cuisine.
Another example would be salsa. Mexican salsa, ranging from chiltomate to salsa verde cruda and everything in between, has many more delicious varieties that aren’t normally included in Mexican-American food.
So, this should give you a fair idea that the Mexican-American foods inspired by Mexican cuisine are only inspired by it. And interestingly, some of the foods in Mexican-American cuisine are not Mexican at all. You’ll be surprised to know that this includes many American favorites.
Keep watching to find out which of your favorite Mexican foods are Mexican in the first place.
First up, we have fajitas. Fajitas may be available in every Mexican restaurant in the U.S., but that doesn’t make them any more Mexican. By no means does this make fajitas any less popular in the U.S. though, especially as a backyard and campfire dish, and this is unlikely to change.
This meaty delicacy originated in the 1930s with Mexican workers in Texas, so it’s technically Mexican-American or Tex-Mex, but definitely not Mexican.
The dish has an interesting history. Mexican ranch workers in West Texas worked and lived near the Mexican border and were sometimes paid in meat, usually cuts that wouldn’t sell. This included the head, entrails, and skirt steak, and the workers had to find some use for these otherwise undesirable parts.
So, what they did was take the skirt steak, marinate it in lime juice, pound and tenderize it, and then grill it over a fire. They then wrapped the meat in a flour tortilla and ate it, and that became fajita.
The name fajita, or skirt steak, was first used in print to refer to the dish in 1975, a good 30 or 40 years after the invention of the dish.
Nowadays, fajitas are made with the soft sirloin section rather than skirt steak, though beef, chicken, shrimp and other meats and vegetables can be used as well.
The recipe has evolved with time and the fajitas we eat now are quite different from the ones those Mexican ranch workers did.
Next up, taco salads. You can’t mention Mexican cuisine without immediately thinking of tacos, and I don’t blame you because they are common in Mexico, especially as street food, not to mention absolutely delicious.
Mexican tacos are a bit different from Tex-Mex tacos though, with Mexican tacos being simpler and having more variations. However, none of these variations includes the taco salad.
That’s right, the meat, beans, cheese, and vegetables served in that crunchy tortilla bowl was actually invented and popularized in the U.S. It was initially called the Tacup by Elmer Doolin, the founder of Fritos and the person credited with developing the first taco salad.
Taco salads likely became popular through Fritos and the company’s restaurant in Disneyland, Casa de Fritos. From there, the popularity of the dish soared and led to us having the taco salads that we know and love today. But, as I said earlier, taco salads are purely Tex-Mex and not authentic Mexican cuisine. And to add to this, another taco variation, which is made using a pre-formed and pre-fried taco shell is also not Mexican, since authentic Mexican food is known to use fresh ingredients, which preformed taco shells are not.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find hard taco shells in Mexico (no pun intended), even though they’re a staple of Mexican-American cuisine now.
Burritos are another very popular dish in Mexican as well as Mexican-American cuisine, and their jumbo-sized cousins- mission burritos- might be even more so. But, in case you haven’t guessed already, mission burritos are not authentic Mexican food. If you don’t already know, mission burritos are jumbo, overstuffed versions of burritos, with more ingredients and a larger serving size.
It is made using an extra-large flour tortilla, and has a filling of meat, beans, salsa (of course) and includes extra rice. On top of these ingredients, cheese, sour cream, or guacamole can also be added, depending on the customer’s preference.
But, as with fajitas and taco salads, mission burritos did not come from Mexico, though they do have Mexican roots on account of being developed by Mexicans in the U.S.
This style of the burrito was developed in the 1960s in the Mission District of San Francisco, California, which is why it’s called a Mission burrito, and is widely popular in the country.
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican burritos, you should go for a simple burrito that contains traditional beans and rice. But if you want a larger, more fulfilling meal with more ingredients and a decidedly American touch, mission burritos are the way to go.
While there is no doubt that tequila originated from Mexico and is definitely Mexican, what may come as a surprise to you is that margaritas are not Mexican, but Mexican-American.
The drink is made using tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau or Triple Sec, and is loved equally by Americans and people all over the world. Though we know where the drink was invented — the United States –, we do not know for sure who invented margaritas. Many people have claimed to come up with the idea.
According to Texas Monthly, the inventor was a man named Pancho Morales from El Paso who invented margaritas when a customer asked for a Magnolia and since he didn’t know how to make that, he made this drink and told the customer he thought she’d said margarita.
Another account says the drink was created at the bar The Tail O’ The Cock in Los Angeles. Yet another account says that Carlos “Danny” Herrera created margaritas in 1938 at his restaurant Rancho La Gloria while he attempted to make a drink for a customer named Marjorie King who was allergic to all hard liquors except tequila.
These are only a few of the many popular stories surrounding the invention of the margarita, and we’re unlikely to ever find out which one is true. What we do know is that the frozen margarita machine, which helps to make the popular frozen form of margaritas, was invented at Mariano’s in Dallas in 1971 by restaurateur Mariano Martinez.
The original machine is held in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and frozen margarita machines over the country haven’t looked back since.
Authentic Mexican Food
Now that we’ve talked about popular foods that are Mexican-American rather than Mexican, let’s talk about a few authentic Mexican dishes.
First up, we have mole. When it comes to food, Mexicans know how to make the marinade or sauce at par with the dish itself.
Mole, not the burrowing animal mole, is a term derived from the Aztec word ‘mōlli’, which means sauce. Mole is commonly referred to as mole sauce in America and other regions, which literally translates to ‘sauce sauce’. It’s kind of like saying ‘sushi fish’ instead of just sushi. The mole is famous for its rich, textural, sweet cum spicy flavor that will keep you coming back for more.
It’s not an easy feat to master, however, as it contains 20-40 ingredients, particularly native spices that give it its unique, unforgettable taste. The main magic ingredients include chiles, a blend of flavorful spices, tomatillos, dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate. That’s right, the addition of chocolate in the sauce adds a dimension of richness that isn’t overpowering or too sweet.
Instead, each ingredient compliments the other and produces a flavor that can’t be defined as other than mole. Once a paste is formed with the blended ingredients, it is mixed with broth or water to simmer and form a thick sauce.
While the mole is celebrated and paired with anything from chicken or beef dishes to vegetable courses, it is a stand out sauce that you’ll have a hard time not licking it off the ladle. Mole is native to the Oaxaca region in Mexico and is considered the country’s national dish. Just think, if there is so much hype and craze in the entire nation about mole, it must be one of a kind.
Well, not quite, as it has multiple renditions and variations across Mexican households and restaurants. Each kind of mole represents its own distinct, dominating flavor, and every single one is addicting.
The Mole Poblano or ‘red mole’ is a prominent variation of mole and the most popular. Dried fruits and nuts, including peanuts, raisins, and almonds are used along with a small amount of chocolate for sweeter tones. The pasilla, ancho, and Mulato chillies add the spice to the Mole Poblano, resulting in a sweet and spicy delectable sauce.
Chiles En Nogada
Moving on, we have Chiles En Nogada. The Chiles En Nogada is more than a dish, it is a symbol.
The look and presentation of this meal imitate the Mexican flag, with green, white, and red colors. The dish constitutes a stuffed green Poblano chili, topped with the white nut sauce called ‘nogada’ and a drizzle of red pomegranate seeds. Not only is Chiles En Nogada aesthetically pleasing, but the sweet, sour and salty flavor is also a salute to a consistent quality of Mexican food: deliciousness.
There is history associated with this dish, which makes the experience of eating this meal more meaningful for Mexicans. It is associated with an event that occurred in Puebla, celebrating Mexican Independence in 1821. Chiles En Nogada was prepared in tribute to the Don, Agustin de Iturbide, who played a frontal role in the rebellion and freedom of Mexico. It was meant to honor independence and is celebrated and consumed today as a symbol of Mexican heritage.
Unfortunately, the dish is seasonal and is available from September through December in popular Mexican restaurants. It is customarily served in the Mexican Independence Day celebrations, which is fitting. Some Mexican households have also mastered the art of cooking the tasty Chiles En Nogada, but it’s no easy feat.
The stuffing of the Poblano chili is picadillo, with ground pork being commonly used along with select vegetables. The Nogada nut sauce topping is walnut based and can include a variety of seasonings. The sprinkling of pomegranate seeds atop the concoction adds a further flavor that balances sour and salty tones.
Next up is Chilaquiles. American breakfast is considered a top tier meal with a variety of bacon, eggs, waffles, pancakes, and toast.
In Mexico, the first meal of the day comes with a bang too. Chilaquiles are a beloved and easy to make breakfast dish, and they don’t hold back on the spice-rich flavor Mexican cuisine boasts. This dish consists of fried corn tortillas, a Mexican household ingredient, typically cut into quarters. It is sauteed with salsa, which can either be red salsa, known as Chilaquiles Rojos, or green salsa, which is called Chilaquiles Verdes.
The salsa is where the true spicy flavor comes from, and can be moderated according to your palate. Mexican restaurants usually serve Chilaquiles that are moderately hot. For some, specially seasoned Mexican cuisine consumers, they’re not spicy enough.
Luckily, this breakfast dish is not difficult to make, and the fruit your effort bears is so sweet it’s spicy! The dressing on top of the fried tortillas is Mexican crema, which balances the hot flavors of the salsa.It is typically a cream sauce that has a liquid consistency and can be seasoned with herbs like epazote.
Shredded or crumbled cheese, refried beans, and traditional seasoning are also preferred toppings.
You don’t have to stop there, though! The exciting part about traditional Mexican dishes is that they can be coupled with additional ingredients or tweaked to find the perfect match for your taste buds. You can add scrambled eggs and pulled chicken for an extra dose of protein in your Chilaquiles breakfast.
A barbecue on a sunny day with hotdogs on the grill sounds like a party in America. For Mexican cuisine, the barbacoa is a traditional and time-honored method of cooking meat.
The term barbacoa is of Caribbean Indian descent, and has nothing to do with cooking. Barbacoa is, however, the original term that eventually became barbecue. Yet, the way barbecue is prepared couldn’t be further from the Mexican Barbacoa tradition.
Barbacoa involves a long-term process of slowly steaming and cooking goat, beef, or sheep meat in an underground oven. That’s right, this age-old cooking technique involves slowly cooking meat in a brick-lined oven, usually three feet deep over a fire.
More modern renditions of the Barbacoa opt for cooking the meat over an open fire, but the long cooking period is what makes the meat tender, juicy and flavorful.
For preparation, a giant pot is filled with some water or pulque, along with vegetables and herbs for seasoning. The meat itself is placed on a grill so it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot and is wrapped in maguey leaves. The meat can also be topped with herbs, spices, and chiles for an extra flavor that oozes into the meat.
After several hours of cooking, the meat is taken out and served with sides. It is also used as filling for tacos, along with red salsa and vegetable seasonings.
This list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention tamales, so here it is. When it comes to emblematic and staple Mexican food, tamales top the list.
Due to their wide availability from street vendors and easy recipe for homemade goodness, tamales are a go-to meal, snack, or even dessert! This Mesoamerican dish is old too, dating as far back as 8000 BC, and it’s no wonder it’s still adored by the Mexican population.
The main ingredient of tamales is the masa, or corn-based dough, which is either freshly ground or nixtamalized (prepared in a particular way) and dried.
The masa contains a filling that varies from region to region in Mexico and includes meats, vegetables, cheese, chilis, fruits, or a combination of many. It all depends on whether you’re looking for a savory, spicy or sweet taste in your tamales.
The masa is filled with the desired sauce and wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. The tamales are then steamed and cooked and served hot. The corn or banana leaves are removed before eating the delicious tamales or can be used as a plate for the dish. In the Oaxacan region, there is a traditional version called tamales oaxaqueños.
The dough or masa is created in a different manner, which gives it a sweeter tone and wetter texture. The tamales are filled with the Mexican favorite mole and wrapped in banana husks, after which they are steam cooked, creating authentic and delicious tamales.
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