A Guide to the Different Regions of Mexican Cuisine

A Guide to the Different Regions of Mexican Cuisine

When planning a trip, one of the things you must consider is the kinds of food you’ll come across in your travels. For example, if you’re big on eating beef, you probably shouldn’t travel to India without first trying out some local Indian food places.

Mexico is one of the most culturally-rich countries in the world, and their food reflects that. While it’s easy to sample authentic flavors like Don Emilio’s spicy salsas, immersing yourself in the cuisine can be an intense experience. 

Mexico was originally inhabited by the Mayans and then colonized by Spain. Over the years, different areas have adopted different aspects of those respective cultures. As you might expect, this also affected the food. Before you choose your Mexican vacation destination, try getting to know the different regions of Mexico.

The North

Known for its ranch culture, the north of Mexico (El Norte) produces the widest variety of cheeses throughout all of Mexico, including ranchero, queso fresco, cuajada, and Chihuahua. Much of the farmland in El Norte is used for cattle farming, and as a result they produce many different dairy products as well as a large amount of beef. This region is also where burritos originate from, as there are over forty different kinds of flour tortillas that can be traced back to El Norte. Locally grown, a popular addition to many of the regional delicacies is morita pepper salsa, which you can buy straight from Don Emilio. The area also lays claim to Baja California, which is home to the oldest wine-making community in Mexico.

The North Pacific Coast

This region’s location along the Pacific Ocean means that seafood is the foundation for many of its local dishes. While there are a number of dishes from the region that are made with pork and beef, there is a massive variety of fish native to the area, such as black sea bass, tuna, shrimp, and swordfish. You can even find octopus! These seafood-based foods include aguachile, ceviche, and torta ahogada. The area is also home to Jalisco, which is one of the only places in the world were tequila can be made—all of which are in Mexico. Jalisco has over 80% of the world’s blue agave in it, and Mexican laws forbid any drink made outside these specified regions to be called “tequila.” Any similar drink made from blue agave is called “mezcal.”

The Bajio

The Bajio is known largely for its various desserts endemic to the area. Cajetas, chongoes, bunuelos, and arroz con leche are all dishes that come from the Bajio. Beyond that, there is morisquesta, which is made from sausage and rice, and carnitas, or deep-fried pork. Many characteristics of the area are similar to the central plains of Spain, such as the large plateau with mountains all around it. As a result, many of their dishes are new takes on traditional Spanish dishes. Cotija cheese is also a staple of the region and is used widely through the rest of Mexico. It shares many qualities with Parmesan cheese and can be used in almost any dish that uses cheese.

The South Pacific Coast

One of the more interesting areas of Mexico in terms of the cuisine, the South Pacific Coast region is known for its use of classic indigenous recipes. Though many recipes can be updated to use chicken and pork, many locals still use rabbits and armadillos where they can get them. It’s not uncommon to even use julies, a variety of stink bug, in some dishes like salsas. This region is home to Oaxaca, which also has its own kind of cheese. Interestingly, while chile peppers are used throughout the world as a spice and are largely ground and sprinkled throughout dishes, they are used more so as condiments in this region of Mexico, often having full dried peppers on the tops of their food. This is a must-stop destination if you want to get to know the different regions of Mexican cuisine.

The South

Southern Mexico is largely separate from the rest of Mexico, staying away from traditional Mexican and Spanish dishes and instead adopting the pibil cooking style. Pibil is where foods of all kinds are wrapped in banana leaf and then cooked in a fire pit underground. The hot smoke from the fire gets into every part of the food, giving it a unique smoky taste. Foods traditionally cooked pibil style are also marinated in very strong citrus juices prior to being cooked, giving dishes the combination of sweet and smokey—a rare, delicious flavor. Perhaps the most popular local dish is cochinta pibil, which is made with pork, orange juice, lemon juice, and habanero peppers.

The Gulf

Tabasco sauce is from the Gulf region of Mexico, but many of its most famous dishes are seafood. Influences of the culinary culture of the Gulf come from Africa, Cuba, and even New Orleans, which itself borrows many qualities from the Caribbean and France. Due to the shape of the region and its long shoreline, there are many popular ports where adventurers and settlers landed and started their own settlements. Many dishes are known for using cilantro and parsley, which were originally grown in Europe. Some of the most well-known foods of the area are pollo encacahuatado, better known as chicken in peanut sauce in English, chilpachole stew, which contains a variety of seafoods, and arroz a la tumbada, which is another seafood dish with rice.

Central Mexico

Containing major cities such as Puebla, Hidalgo, and Mexico City, Central Mexico is largely known for its wide array of street foods. The cuisine of the area has evolved to keep up with the people that live there—street tacos evolved from people in the cities having to rush around and not having the time to wait. From there, quick, freshly made food began to take off across the world with food trucks in almost every major city. This can be traced back to the rise of street food in Mexico City. It’s common to find trucks and vendors all over the place selling street tacos as well as elotes, sopes, and tamales. All these dishes are fairly quick and easy to make and taste delicious when prepared correctly.

No matter where you decide to travel in Mexico, you’re sure to stumble across some new, interesting cuisines that might even bring you out of your comfort zone. Eating the local dishes is all part of the travel experience, and while you may not like everything, you’re bound to find something new that you like. Whether you’re in the Gulf for the pollo encacahuatado or the South Pacific Coast for salsa con julies, let your palate explore just as much as the rest of you!

Getting To Know the Different Regions of Mexican Cuisine: A Guide