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Mexico - Food and Drink
The Mexican diet can be broken down into three main components — corn, supplemented by beans and chilies. There are a seemingly endless number of ways that these three ingredients can be prepared. The beans (frijoles) are generally kidney or pinto beans and are eaten refritos which means that the beans are boiled, mashed and then refried. Corn is mainly used for tortillas which can then be eaten in a number of different dishes — from internationally popular items like tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas (of which there are many different types) to more locally popular dishes such as chilaquiles (leftover tortillas torn up and cooked with meat and hot sauce) and tlacoyos (tortillas made with blue corn flour and stuffed with mashed beans). Tamale, a popular dish in Mexico, is made by steaming corn flour with a sweet or savoury filling in corn husks or plantain leaves.
Mole (pronounced MOH-lay) is possibly the most famous Mexican cuisine. Three states claim to be the originators of mole: Oaxaca, Puebla, and Tlaxcala. Mole is prepared in prepared in many different ways across Mexico and it can range from a thick, dark sauce to being bright green with a soup-like consistency. Mole poblano de guajalote (turkey in mole sauce) is considered the national dish. This mole is made with about twenty ingredients and includes chocolate to balance the spice of the chilis without overwhelming the other flavours in the dish.
The ingredients of mole can be grouped into the following: chili, sour, sweet, thickeners, and spices. Some moles may use as many as a hundred ingredients and up to ten kinds of chilis. The ingredients are ground into a powder or paste according to family recipes passed down for many generations in most Mexican families. Because the process of making mole is very time-consuming and labour-intensive, it usually made in large quantities, traditionally for weddings and other celebrations. It is also possible to buy mole pastes and powders which are sold in many markets across the country.
Mexican food also has a wide array of choices for vegetarians and many Mexican dishes are originally vegetarian. Rice, salads (with nuts and seeds), vegetable soups and stews, quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas are served with non-meat fillings. There is also a large number of interesting and delicious fruits and vegetables that vegetarians can try. However, at a restaurant, it is advisable to check if the food is fully vegetarian since it is normal for beans to be cooked in water with a bone and for most food to be fried in animal fat.
The national liquor of Mexico is one of the best-known liquors in the world — tequila. It is, for Mexicans, much more a symbol of their country’s culture than merely the national drink. The alcohol is made from the blue agave plant that is grown in the areas around the city of Tequila in the highlands in the western state of Jalisco. By law, tequila can be only be produced in Jalisco and in limited regions in other states. The two types of tequila are 100% agave tequila and mixtos, which refers to at least 51% agave with different kinds of sugars. The traditional way to drink tequila is neat, without lime and salt. In some regions, fine tequila (usually aged and made from 100% agave) is drunk with an accompanying sangrita which is a sweet, sour, and spicy drink. Fine tequila is usually sipped, much like good whiskey, and not drunk as shots.
Beer is popular in Mexico and typically tends to be lagers that are light in both colour and flavour. Wine is not particularly popular but Mexico does produce some wines. Another popular traditional drink is atole. This is made from cornmeal and consists of vanilla bean, cinnamon infused water or milk, and cane sugar. Atole is drunk at room temperature or a little warm and is usually consumed on the Day of the Dead, served with tamales. Other traditionally Mexican drinks include mescal and pulque. Mescal is almost the same thing as tequila but is made from the maguey cactus and is less refined than tequila. Mescal is also usually consumed unaged. Pulque is a milky and mildly alcoholic beer, also made from maguey, and is the traditional drink of the poor.
Breakfast in Mexico is usually a light affair that is eaten quite early in the morning. The meal itself can be as simple as coffee and some sweet rolls. Most people eat a snack by mid-morning, which is usually an enchilada or a taco. Lunch time is between 1pm and 5pm, and set menus are available in most restaurants for about 5 USD. Dinner or supper is eaten late and, as is common across the world, this meal tends to be light.
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