Love for Mexico

Mexican Food Abroad vs. Mexican Food in Mexico August 12 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

Tacos and enchiladas on a combo plate filled out with rice and refried beans covered with a mound of melted yellow cheese and a dollop of sour cream – yeah, it sounds delicioso, but that’s not something you’re likely to find at a restaurant in Mexico. Even as the growing Mexican-American population has been raising the visibility of authentic Mexican cuisine across the United States, there’s still a disconnect between what people outside Mexico think of as Mexican food versus what the food is actually like in Mexico. Here are a few examples.

Cheesy Mexican-American food
Photo by Alexandra Golovac on Unsplash

Nachos are Not Really Mexican

Let’s get just this one out of the way to start with: Nachos are not really Mexican. Although the mythology has it that nachos were invented by a guy called Nacho in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, it should be understood that the plate of totopos topped with melted cheese and jalapeños was supposedly created for a group of gringas who were hungry at a time of day when Mexicans don’t usually eat meals.

What you will find in some restaurants in Mexico is that totopos may be brought to the table as an appetizer along with pico de gallo or other salsas piquantes, although you’re just as likely to receive bread or rolls.

Mexicans Aren’t Cheeseheads

If the nacho creation story is true, I guarantee that those first ones were not coated with Velveeta or any other type of processed cheese product that has nothing to do with actual cheese besides the name.

So what kind of cheese might Nacho have used? Maybe queso Chihuahua, which was introduced to Mexico by Mennonites and is the closest thing there is to cheddar in the country. Other possibilities would be queso asadero and queso manchego, which also melt well. 

Note that none of these cheeses even comes close to the sharpness of cheddar or the strong flavors of many European cheeses, and that Monterey Jack is often used for Mexican-American dishes precisely because of its mild flavor.

As for the impression that there’s lots of melted cheese involved in authentic Mexican food – it’s just not true. Queso panela, queso doble crema, and requesón are used for different purposes, but if there is a cheese topping on hot food, it’s likely to be salty, crumbly queso Cotija. In general, Mexico is not much of a cheese culture.


Tex-Mex and Other Varieties of Mexican-American Cuisine

Until fairly recently, many foods that passed as Mexican were actually Tex-Mex, including chili con carne, fajitas, and chimichangas. I grew up thinking that those envelopes of chili powder and taco seasoning for the ground hamburger we used to put into pre-formed hard taco shells held the flavors of Mexico, only to learn that the cumin in those is peculiar to San Antonio and the Moroccan influence of workers brought over from the Canary Islands by the Spanish during the 16th century. In reality, chili powders in Mexico have salt and lime flavoring but not cumin.

And of course, the other border states of New Mexico, Arizona, and California have made their unique contributions – take New Mexico green chiles, for example – and cities from New York to L.A. have their own riffs on Mexican-American cuisine.

The Farther Away from Mexico You Get...

Don’t assume that you’ll find Mexican food throughout Latin America, because the farther away from Mexico you get, the less likely you are to find authentic flavors and textures of the real thing. Argentina and Chile are a long way away and lack the indigenous influences that exist in Mexico.

Also, if you ever find yourself in Australia craving Mexican food, be warned! There aren’t many Mexicans in this far-flung corner of the world. But that hasn’t stopped enterprising Chileans from posing as Mexicans, opening Mexican restaurants, and serving food that resembles Mexican food – or at least what they believe to be Mexican food (marinara sauce and salsa roja are interchangeable, right?!)

The moral of the story, kids, is that if you want real, authentic Mexican food, come to Mexico!

JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/

Behold Mexico's Amazing Biodiversity June 04 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

Mexico is famously rich in culture, history, gastronomy, and natural beauty. But did you know that while it only makes up 1% of the land on Earth, Mexico contains 10%-12% of all the different types of living species on the planet?

Axolotl salamander

Mexico ranks #1 in biodiversity of reptiles, #2 in the number of mammal species, and #4 in amphibians and plants, while ranking fourth in the total number of species it hosts.

A member of the exclusive club of 17 nations known as “mega-diverse countries,” Mexico is also home to a large amount of species that only exist in one particular geographic location, and the country ranks second in the number of ecosystems that exist within its boundaries.

Why Mexico is so Rich in Biodiversity

One of the main reasons Mexico enjoys such rich biodiversity is because it’s in the tropics. But also, the country is muy montañoso, which creates multiple levels of altitude as well as pockets of unique microclimates that result in a variety of soils, climates, and habitats. Mexico also has two long coastlines, where the meeting of coastal dunes, mangroves, and lagoon systems with other ecosystems encourages biodiversity, and the country’s geography ranges from the rainforests of the southeast to temperate mountain forests in the center of the country to the deserts of the north, to name just a few of Mexico’s many ecoregions.

Why is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity is really important because every living thing plays some part in the ecosystem where it evolved; and the more different species there are, the more productive, resilient, and sustainable the ecosystem is.

The Laguna Miramar in the Lacandon Jungle

Mexico’s Rich Biodiversity Brought Us Maize and Zapote

Mexico’s rich biodiversity has played a huge role in shaping the region’s development reaching all the way back to when Mexicans began growing maize 9,000 years ago, since it provides an assortment of “natural services” including ecological processes like the soil formation and nutrient recycling that helped make the cultivation of maize possible.

And the wealth of plant biodiversity in Mexico has continued to influence the cultural development of the region since then. Maize may be the foundation of Mexican civilization, but ¿Qué sería México sin tomates, frijoles, calabaza, o los diversos chiles – o el cacao? Or “exotic” fruits like tuna, zapote, and pitaya, or veggies like chayote and jicama?

That’s biodiversity at work for you!

Mexico’s Biodiversity Provides Recreation and Tourism

With 182 federally protected natural areas covering more than 25 million hectares of land throughout the country, Mexico has a lot to offer nature lovers, outdoor sports enthusiasts, adventure travelers, and curious tourists alike, including 42 biospheres, 67 national parks, and a bunch of other designations that set the land aside to help protect the nation’s natural heritage and promote ecotourism in Mexico. People from all over the world come to Mexico to get a peek at wildlife ranging from huge wales to prowling jungle cats to delicate monarch butterflies to Xochimilco’s endangered axolotl salamanders – and so much more that Mexico has to offer!

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/