Thursday, April 14, 2011

Culture Lesson: "Mexican" Food

Do you wish you were a more adventurous eater? Do you have a daughter who would, if she could, eat chorizo tacos for the rest of her life and nothing else? Would you order chorizo tacos if you could just remember what they're called? I'm here to help.

Burrito A burrito is like a giant taco, with extra fillings. (See my note on "real" tacos below!) A burrito is a large tortilla filled with meat, cheese, beans vegetables, and sometimes cheese, lettuce, beans, and sour cream, and tightly wrapped. Some would argue it's not a burrito without beans. Burritos tend to be quite large.

Chimichanga Deep fried burrito. And you though deep frying was American! Just kidding, this food product may have been invented in Arizona in the '20s.

Empanada A pastry turnover, filled with chopped meat, vegetables, or fruit. (Fruit empanadas are usually "dessert.") Empanadas are Latin American, European, and Caribbean in origin.

Enchilada This is a giant tortilla, filled with meat and cheese (and sometimes more), and covered in a chile sauce and cheese. (You'll need a fork.)

Fajita These are noisily delicious. Fajitas are often brought to the table on a steamking skillet. The meat and vegetables (usually green peppers and onions) are grilled and served with tortillas on the side. The steak here is usually skirt steak. Fajitas are considered Tex-Mex, and therefore inauthentic Mexican food. Whatever. Give me more.

Flauta A tortilla is filled (usually with shredded meat), rolled tightly, and deep-fried.

Pupusa This food is Salvadoran. It's delicious and becoming super popular on the East Coast. (OK, I can't prove that. But it seems that way.) This is a thick corn tortilla (it's more like bread) with shredded meat and/or cheese. There is sometimes a salsa served on the side.

Taco A taco is "A Mexican dish consisting of a fried and folded or rolled tortilla filled with chopped meat, shredded lettuce, etc." (Webster's New World College Dictionary) I am assuming WNW means the hard shells when it says "fried."

Tamale A tamale is "a Mexican dish consisting of cornmeal dough around a filling of minced meat and red peppers, the whole then wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves and cooked by baking, steaming, etc." Tamales are pretty plain, but incredibly delicious.

Taquito See flauta.


Ground beef and chicken chunks are the American standard. In a more authentic restaraunt, or even Chipotle, your options are carnitas (pork, usually shredded), barbacoa ("barbequed" meat, usually beef), bistec (beaf stec), and chicken (occasionally called "pollo"). I gave up ground beef for New Year's a few years ago and never looked back. If you see chorizo, it's pork sausage. It's usually seasoned. Depending on the origin, the sausage is crumbled or sliced into rounds (like a pieces of a hot dog).

Adobada Marinated pork!

Al pastor Grilled meat! (This technique is of Lebanese origin. There are many Lebanese people in Mexico.)

Carne Asada Barbequed beef!

Carnitas Roasted or braised Pork!

Chorizo Sausage. I love chorizo in all of its forms, which vary. (This Washington Post article explains in some detail)

Pollo Chicken!


The main salsas you'll fine in America are pico de gallo (an uncooked blend of onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and chiles), roja (cooked tomatoes and peppers, this is a red sauce), and verde (a hot green sauce made with chiles). You can usually also order guacamole (avacadoes, salt, lime, tomatoes, and spices) and sour cream on the side.

The establishment will probably define the meat and products for you, especially if it's an Americanized/Western dining establishment (Chipotle, for example).

Additional Resources
More chorizo to love, The Washington Post

No comments: