Mexican Cuisine: A Rich History in a Modern Context
While Mexico only became an official country in the 19th century, Mexican food carries with it an extremely diverse set of influences spanning several thousand years of complicated history, encompassing the indigenous tribes that originally settled the area, as well as the Europeans who colonized the region in the 1500s. However, it wasn’t until the past century that this rich culinary history broke out of its central American roots and became an important part of the North American diet.
The interaction between the cultures of the Spanish conquistadors and the native people of Mexico produced much of what we consider today to be traditional Mexican cuisine. The intersection between the corn and bean based diet of the Aztecs and the meat-heavy diet of the Europeans gave rise to many of the popular dishes we know today, such as enchiladas and quesadillas.
Perhaps the largest impact of traditional Mexican food has been its influence on “Tex-Mex” cuisine, which initially gained popularity in the American southwest but has since spread through the United States and throughout the world. This largely coincided with the development of the tortilla press during the 1920s, which allowed for the more rapid and efficient making of many traditional Mexican dishes, encouraging its spread into the United States. While based on and inspired by Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex has taken on a life of its own and introduced new innovations that have placed it in a distinctly new category. The differences mainly stem from differences in ingredients, such as beef, cheese, and tomatoes, which historically have been much more readily available in the United States. Today one would be hard pressed to find an American city that did not have a Tex-Mex restaurant nearby.
In more recent years, traditional Mexican food has earned its place among other ethnic cuisines as a respected aspect of fine-dining. As people of Mexican descent have begun to spread around the world and bring their culinary skills with them, areas of the world that had not previously experienced Mexican cuisine now have premium restaurants serving Mexican inspired dishes. In many cases, these chefs combine the recipes they grew up eating with the flavor palette of the region they are now living in, giving rise to countless novel dishes.
Occurrences like these are a testament to the enduring character of Mexican cuisine. It maintains its essence and influence despite countless iterations and outside influences around the globe. Each new instance of Mexican food popping up in an area manages to keep the fundamental characteristics that have defined it for thousands of years. This resilience is what has allowed it to develop and change in a new age and in new geographic areas, and impose such great influence on the culinary art of the world.