Quick. What do you think of when you hear the words “Mexican food”?
Yes. They’re Mexican foods.
But one of the many cool facts about Mexican food is that it also encompasses some very complex and sophisticated dishes.
The Mexican colonial city of Oaxaca, for example, is home to some of the world’s best restaurants – the city dares even the most discerning foodies to turn up their noses at Oaxacan cuisine.
Indeed, the traditional Mexican cooking style of rich homestyle food is dripping with culture and heritage.
This art of cooking is special to many families in Mexico.
Facts about Mexican food
So let’s take a look at Mexican food culture in more depth – because these fun facts about Mexican cuisine are a real eye-opener.
Interesting facts about Mexican food
1) Mexican food is often made with lots of veggies and fruit
Most people think of refried beans and rice when they go to a Mexican food restaurant. But the country is full of healthy veggies and fruit.
Traditional Mexican cuisine includes corn, beans and chili peppers.
Some of the unique vegetables found in Mexican food dishes include quintonil, chayote (vegetable pear), cactus, and romeritos (wild-growing green plants).
Mexican fruits feature significantly too.
Mangos are often tossed in salads. Vegan tacos are made with jackfruit.
And pomegranates are a key ingredient in chiles en nogada (a mouth-watering dish of poblano chile peppers stuffed with shredded meat and fruits, then topped with walnut cream and pomegranate seeds).
2) Caesar salad was invented in Mexico
Who knew that Caesar salad was invented in Mexico!
It’s true. We usually think of Caesar salad as being quite American – the perfect accompaniment to steak and baked potato.
But no, we can thank Caesar Cardini for our favorite salad.
Let’s go back in time to 1924. Caesar was an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant in Tijuana (called Caesar’s) to “attract Americans frustrated by Prohibition.”
Over the July 4th weekend, supplies ran low in his kitchen. So he tossed together ingredients he had on hand – romaine, garlic, croutons, Parmesan cheese, eggs, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce.
Later, Caesar’s brother, Alex, added anchovies to the mix.
And that’s how the Caesar salad came to be!
3) Tomatoes originated in Mexico
Sorry, Italy! Even though you’re famous for your pasta sauces, you can’t claim tomatoes as a national food.
When the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 16th century, they discovered that Aztecs used tomatoes in their cooking.
The conquerors then brought tomato plants back to Europe.
4) Nachos were invented on the spot by Mr. Nacho
When talking about Mexican cuisine, you have to know some facts about nachos.
Nacho is a very common nickname in Mexico.
One night in 1943, Ignacio Anaya Garcia (known as “Nacho”) threw together ingredients to make a plate of snacks for a group of U.S. military wives visiting his restaurant in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras.
He fried up tortillas and served them warm, with grated cheese and jalapeno peppers on top – and called the dish “Nacho’s especialies.”
5) Ummm… Guacamole means “testicle sauce”?
Okay, so you know avocados are used to make guacamole.
But you probably don’t know one of the most interesting facts about guacamole. It’s this: When Aztecs discovered avocados in 500 BC, they named the fruit itahuacatle – which means “testicle.”
Some people say that guacamole therefore means “testicle sauce” – but Mesoamerican language specialists have debunked this.
6) Mexican avocados were banned from the US.
Another of our interesting guacamole facts is that one of the most popular avocados you can find – the Hass – wasn’t allowed to be imported into the United States, starting in 1914.
The USDA finally lifted this 83-year ban in 1997, but only approved the exportation of avocados from certain Mexican farms and only to a few states.
Finally, in 2002, Hass avocados were allowed in all 50 states.
7) The fajita craze only started in the 1970s
Mexican cowboys in Texas started eating fajitas in the 1930s. They grilled their skirt steak with veggies and served it as an appetizer with a tortilla.
The first print recipe of a fajita was in 1973, and fajitas were first on a menu in 1975 at Ninfa’s restaurant in Houston, Texas.
8) You’ll need special gadgets to whip up some Mexican dishes
Molcajete is used to grind up salsa or spices.
Molinillo is a whisk that’s great to make chocolate foam.
And most people use a flat pan called a comal to make those famous Mexican tortillas.
9) Tamales have been around for centuries
Fajitas may be a new thing, but tamales are ancient, dating back about 8,000 years.
The word “tamale” stems from tamalii, a Nahuatl word spoken by the Aztecs that means “wrapped food.”
Today, a tamale refers to a Mexican food dish made of seasoned minced meat and corn flour, wrapped and steamed in a maize husk.
10) Not every region in Mexico serves the same type of Mexican food
People in the northern part of Mexico prefer meat-based cuisine. Mexicans in the southern part enjoy chicken and veggies.
And when meat is used, most of the regional Mexican food dishes don’t use meat as the main ingredient. Instead, they use it as a relish.
Fun facts about tacos and tortillas
11) Mexican families gobble up to two pounds of tortillas a day
According to Mayan legend, the tortilla was invented by a peasant trying to please his hungry king. The thin, round, unleavened flatbread was made from cornmeal.
The Spanish brought wheat into the New World, creating flour tortillas.
As well as inventing tortillas, the Mayans also created spectacular cities: See the 7 most beautiful Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
12) Americans eat more than 4.5 billion tacos a year
People are crazy about tacos – it’s probably the most popular Mexican food dish.
In Mexico, roughly 50 billion tacos are consumed each year.
Tacos are best washed down with cold beer or Mexican margaritas.
13) Glen Bell of Taco Bell didn’t invent the taco shell
Some people think the first taco was eaten as far back as 500 B.C. No one called it a taco back in those days, however.
The first actual reference to a thing called an actual taco was in the 18th century. This taco snack was served in Mexican silver mines and it became a staple of working-class Mexicans. So you can probably say that Mexican silver miners “invented” the taco.
After Mexicans started moving to the U.S. in the early 1900s, tacos were introduced to Americans.
Glen Bell opened his first Taco Bell in California in 1962. Customers called his Mexican food product “tay-kohs.”
14) There’s a National Taco Day
Yep. National Taco Day in the U.S. is October 4.
But in Mexico, Dia del Taco (Day of the Taco) is celebrated on March 31. Go figure…
15) Tacos are lunch food. Or not…
The word “taco” roughly translates to “light lunch.”
Most people don’t care when and how they eat a taco, but tradition states tacos were meant to be eaten at lunch. The only time you could have dinner tacos was when you were eating antojitos, known as street tacos.
And here’s another bizarre taco fact: According to tradition, seafood tacos are supposed to be eaten at lunch, while street tacos are meant to be eaten at dinner time.
We confess: After a morning of snorkeling, whale watching or other fun water activity in Los Cabos, we love the shrimp tacos at Gardenias in Cabo San Lucas (our fave taco joint!)
16) You don’t have to be picky with your taco insides
One of the most important tortilla facts to remember is that you can now forget all the “rules” we just talked about!
Mexican dishes are made with barbecued beef, beef tongue, fish, pork, shrimp and other meats and seafoods. Put whatever you want on your tortilla to turn it into a taco or fajita that you like.
Some people in Mexico even eat their tacos with grasshoppers, eggs, Korean barbecue or tripe.
You can have dessert tacos too (filled with fruit) – and topped with ice-cream.
Fun facts about chocolate from Mexico
17) Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate
The word “chocolate” derives from the Aztec word Xocolatl.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the early 1500s, they discovered that the Aztecs drank a bitter chocolate liquid mixed with spices, made from cacao seeds (cacao plants are native to Mexico).
The great Aztec emperor, Montezuma II, drank his hot chocolate from gold goblets.
Some early Mexicans also mixed vanilla and honey with their chocolate, creating the early version of today’s chocolate milkshakes.
18) Mexican chocolate is different from other kinds of chocolate
It’s grainier than European chocolate and, today, is made with cacao, sugar and cinnamon. European chocolate is smoother.
19) The best hot chocolate is found in Mexico
The most popular way to consume chocolate in Mexico is as a hot chocolate drink.
But Mexican hot chocolate isn’t your everyday hot chocolate. It’s made from a rich aromatic paste of ground cacao, sugar and cinnamon, not cocoa powder. (In Oaxaca, ground almonds are also blended into the paste.)
You can also buy chunks or tablets of Mexican “table chocolate” containing cacao paste, sugar and cinnamon to make your hot chocolate.
We still blissfully remember drinking Mexican hot chocolate at Café Tacuba – a wonderful traditional restaurant in Mexico City – where the chocolate was boiled with milk, brown sugar and spices, then poured at the table into our cups. Totally delicious!
Recommended reading: Fine dining in the capital city is one of the best things to do in Mexico
20) Chile-chocolate is a popular form of Mexican chocolate
Hot peppers taste great with chocolate. Really!
You find candy bars with chile everywhere in Mexico. From spicy chocolate bark to chocolate-dipped cayenne mango, spicy Mexican chocolate is a coveted treat.
Weird Mexican food facts
21) No, mole isn’t a strange Mexican animal
The term mole refers to different traditional Mexican sauces. Typically, mole is made from fruit, chile peppers, nuts and spices and like pepper or cumin. Some mole sauces contain cinnamon and chocolate.
Certain regions in Mexico have their own signature mole. Puebla, for example, is famous for its mole poblano made with chocolate and roasted poblano peppers.
22) Mexicans eat insects regularly
One of the strangest Mexican food facts is that the most edible insects in the world are found in Mexico.
Grasshoppers are a favorite. Don’t diss them! Grasshoppers are protein-rich.
Sometimes Mexicans cover these fellows in chili powder and lime juice. They like to put them in tacos and sprinkle them over sauces, too. (We tried fried grasshoppers as a snack in San Miguel de Allende. Crunchy!)
23) Mexican cuisine often uses unique (weird?) ingredients
Grasshoppers are only one of the weird Mexican foods found in the country. (And we don’t mean this disparagingly. Grasshoppers are just weird to us as a food because, well, insects aren’t something we eat in Canada.)
Anyway, you can use some crazy ingredients to make a tasty meal in Mexico. As well as grasshoppers, Mexicans love to prepare food with other insects – like ant larvae in scrambled eggs and maguey worms in tacos.
Mexicans also love to eat flowers, like pumpkin flowers for soups and yucca flowers for stew. And they use native mushrooms called huitlacoche (mushrooms that grow on organic corn) for quesadillas.
24) A prized soup is made with beef stomach
The Mexican soup of menudo is made with tripe, the meat from a cow’s stomach.
And it has to be mentioned in our list of weird Mexico food facts because, while strange to us, everyone in Mexico seems to love it!
Tripe has a tough odor so it must be boiled with onions to help reduce the smell. Sometimes menudo also includes the feet and tendons of a cow.
Because it takes a long time to prepare (the tripe takes hours to cook), this special soup is traditionally only served at holiday celebrations and weddings.
Sweet facts about Mexican desserts
25) Mexican desserts have their own special holidays
One of the sweetest facts about Mexico food is that many Mexican desserts have special days.
Calabaza tacha (pumpkin cooked and soaked in a caramel sauce) is a traditional Mexican dessert served during Day of the Dead celebrations.
At Christmas, Mexicans have a special tradition where they decorate tiny ring-shaped butter cookies with red and green sprinkles, turning them into miniature edible wreaths.
The very important day of Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is celebrated with churros covered in coconut sauce. (For more about churros, see #29 below.)
26) Tres leches cake is heavenly!
We dare you not to tremble with pleasure over your first bite of tres leches cake.
This spongy vanilla cake is soaked in three milks – evaporated, condensed and whole or cream – then topped with whipped meringue. If you haven’t yet tried it, you’re in for an addictive treat!
27) There’s a corn pie
You probably know corn is a beloved Mexican ingredient. But did you know it’s made into a pie in Mexico?
Corn custard helps make pan de elote, a creamier version of a cake-like pie (sweetened with condensed milk).
Don’t think cornbread, like you get in the U.S.
Mexican corn pie looks a little like cheesecake, but tastes like a blend of custard and cornbread.
28) Mexicans eat tuna ice cream
No, not fish ice cream. Tuna fruit is prickly pear, or the fruit of the nopales cactus. The ice cream is made with burnt milk, sugar and the cactus fruit. And it has the texture of a creamy sorbet.
Maybe cactus flower ice cream would be a more tempting translation?
29) Churros are better than doughnuts
You can’t forget facts about churros when talking about Mexican food facts.
Introduced to Mexico in the 1500s, these “Spanish doughnuts” were originally the size of a normal breadstick. Today, they’re smaller – thankfully, for the waistline!
They’re usually fried and then sprinkled with sugar. In some places, they fill churros with dulce de leche (caramel cream); we love ours dipped in chocolate sauce.
The tasty treats aren’t just for dessert either – Mexicans also love to eat them for breakfast.
So what do you think of these fun facts about Mexican food?
You should be craving some great Mexican cuisine right now! (We got hungry writing this.)
From tacos and tortillas to Mexican chocolate and churros, you can’t go wrong with yummy Mexican food. Let us know in the Comments below your favorite food from Mexico!