The last couple of years have marked a revival of enthusiasm for Mexican food in the UK. Mexican cuisine first arrived in Great Britain under the influence of the US new found love for Mexican dishes or more specifically Tex-Mex food, in the 1970’s.
In 2015, the number of Mexican restaurants throughout the UK grew by 71%, undeniably revealing Britons appetite for central-American food. Taco Bell, the California-born restaurant chain, made a come back in the UK in 2010 after a rough series of closures during the 1990’s.
The very first Scottish branch of the Mexican food chain opened in 2017 and seemed to have been well received by Scots as the Pepsi owned brand announced the opening of a second branch up-north this year.
The success of this cuisine coming from the other side of the world is probably due to its flavourful dishes and fresh ingredients that can be eaten as much on the go than at a full table service restaurant.
Given British people lunch habits, it was easy for bean, rice and salsa filled burritos to replace our daily white bread sandwiches. On the other side, Wahaca, whose first branch opened more than ten years ago, has been accustoming our palates to Mexican street food, taking the country by storm and opening 25 branches in a decade.
Indian food may remain the favourite cuisine of British people, Mexican is not far behind and not unlike India, Mexico’s cuisine varies significantly from state to state and region to region. North Mexican food, which was the primary influence to Tex-Mex food since it shares a border with the US, could not be more different to South Mexican.
It had to happen: Indian and Mexican food collided. But rather than pitting them against each other, Birmingham-based chain Wrapchic decided to embrace the fusion, following a similar trend born in Los Angeles where Mexican and Korean cuisine came together in critically acclaimed dishes served out of food trucks.
So why is it that Mexican food seems to be able to blend with every flavour and influence you throw at it? How did street food dishes make it on the menu of the fanciest Mexican restaurants?
Let’s dig a bit deeper and uncover the roots of the world-wild Mexican food frenzies.
“Eating a burrito is like eating a living, breathing organism – you can feel the burrito’s ingredients sigh inside with each bite, each squeeze.”
Every year in San Diego California, chefs and taco enthusiast meet for Tacotopia. During the festival, tens of thousands of tacos are served to hungry festival goers. (by Rob.Bertholf)
With more than 9,000 years of culinary heritage, Mexican food is one of the oldest cuisines in the world and its part of the world’s culture or so through the UNESCO in 2010 when the organisation listed the traditional Mexican cuisine of its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The unique cultural model made of millennia-old rituals, techniques and customs uniquely intricated with unique farming methods and food processing ways are what made Mexican food one of the most beloved cuisine in the world.
Given Mexico’s complicated and tumultuous relationship with its northern neighbour, i.e. the US, it is sometimes surprising when you realise how much of Mexican cuisine elements have made their way through to the American mainstream culture.
Texas used to be Mexican, so did California as well as the most obvious of all, New-Mexico state (though it was name New-Mexico well before Mexico existed as a country).
The earliest example of Mexican cuisine making its way into American food culture is Tex-Mex. Standing for Texas-Mexican, this type of food was born from Texans of Mexican descent living in the Southern Region of Texas during the Spanish era of Texas.
This kind of food was shared on both side of the border and heavily relied on cattle culture products such as dried beef and barbecued meats.
Today Tex-Mex popularity has reached far beyond the US Southern states and is favoured through the world.
Another example of mixed influences is the fusion cuisine born in Los Angeles at the end of the 2000’s. The city of Angels extremely diverse population and food culture brought traditional Mexican-American food elements and Korean cuisine together.
Barbecued meat met vegetable kimchi, and Korean bulgogi marinated meat was incorporated into burritos.
Though Korean tacos have existed in California since a Santa Monica restaurant started serving lettuce wraps filled with Korean staples, Los Angeles food trucks are what brought Mexican-Korean fusion under the spotlight.
Takorea is one example of a restaurant fusing Mexican dishes and Korean cuisine. A very popular type of food in California. ( by Foodie Buddha)
Many Mexican born or Mexican-American people feel that most of the Mexican food served in branded restaurants such as Taco Bell or Chipotle are far from serving traditional Mexican food.
Somehow they’re not exactly wrong.
Most of the Mexican dishes that made their way onto the US favourite Mexican-American restaurants’ menu (which later came to the UK) are from the Northen region of Mexico, the part of the country sharing a border with the US.
The main difference in diets in the regions that make Mexico today can be explained by the variation in climate and topography and by the various degree of Spanish influence.
The Northen region of Mexico was found suitable for cattle ranching by the Spaniards, and most of the local cuisine involved grilling and barbecuing. Wheat was also introduced there and hold the same place as corn does in other parts of the country as it could not be cultivated easily in this region.
What people may refer to as “traditional cuisine” would include Oaxaca cooking, Veracruz food or Yucatan dishes.
Given the many different styles of food, one can encounter on a journey through Mexico; it is hard to decide what would constitute the best Mexican dishes.
One of the most famous Mexican dishes though is probably Guacamole. This dish was already consumed by the Aztecs before Spanish conquistadors invaded the area. The traditional recipe was made by blending avocado and sea salt using a mortar and pestle. Today’s recipes usually call for the addition of tomato, onion, garlic, lemon or lime juice, chilli or cayenne pepper and coriander.
Another classic Mexican dish would be Huachinango a la Veracruzana or Veracruz-style red snapper). Using a whole red-snapper fish, gutted and descaled, the recipe includes marinating the fish in a lime juice, salt, pepper, nutmeg and garlic. The fish is then baked in onions, garlic, tomato, jalapenos, olives and herbs until nice and tender.
Mole sauce is also an essential part of Mexican cuisine, especially in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, where many indigenous ethnicities, as well as numerous microclimates, are spread over the region. The state often referred to as the “land of the seven moles” offers Negro, Amarillo, Coloradito, Mancha Manteles, Chichilo, Rojo and Verde mole.
Each of them uses a different combination of herbs and chilis but the most famous of them, mole negro (black), uses chilli, peppers, onion, garlic and hoja santa (an aromatic herb native from Mexico) as well as chocolate, which gives the sauce its darker hue.
Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico city, is famous for its market, not only selling local craft objects but also delicious Mexican food.
Mexico being the land of chocolate, it is surprising to find out that native did not have much of a sweet tooth.
Chocolate was mainly consumed as a drink, often spiced vanilla, chilli peppers or annatto.
It was not until Spanish invaders brought sugar cane to Mexico, where it grew very well, that sugar became a part of the Mexican diet.
One of the most popular sweets in Mexico is called Alfenique. This style of sugar confection originated in Italy, where figurines were made for religious occasions. In Mexico, the native already used to make altar figurines out of amaranth. Sugar replaced amaranth but and today Alfenique are very popular, especially during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Another Mexican dessert, originating from Oaxaca, is called Nicuatole. Existing before the arrival of Europeans in the region, this dessert is made from ground maize and sugar mainly in the form of fruits such as coconut, pineapple or mango. Later on, refined sugar and milk were added to the recipe.
Thanks to the popularity of Mexican cuisine, numerous cookery schools have been offering Mexican cooking workshops where one can master the Mexican culinary style.
In London, the Cookery School based on Portland Street near Oxford Circus offers a 3-hour class where you will learn to make the essentials of Mexican cuisine.
That will include making handmade corn tortillas, crunchy tortillas topped with shredded chicken in a chipotle, tomato and tomatillo sauce, fish in a spicy pumpkin seed, roasted tomatillo and green chile sauce, spinach salad with hibiscus flower dressing, Mexican rice pudding and hibiscus flower iced tea.
In Manchester, the Wilmslow Cookery School offers a similar workshop focusing on Mexican street food dishes including Chipotle Chicken, Fresh tortillas, smokey black beans in a fresh tomato sauce, Blackened salsas, green rice and dips.
And if you are based in Birmingham, the Urban Artisan Food School will cover your need for Mexican staple. With them, you will be able to explore less common ingredients which are an essential part of the daily food lives of Mexicans such as quinoa, corn tortillas, chayote, black beans, ancho and chipotle.