1. Mexican food’s all about tacos.
Although Mexico’s traditional kitchen is heavily based on corn, not everything in the country is tortilla-related. The culinary diversity of Mexico is huge, and there are local specialties in every single region — and sometimes in every single town. You could go all around Mexico surviving on tortilla chips, tamales, and chilaquiles, or dig a little deeper into the local specialities. Try some Mayan cuisine in Yucatán with a lima soup (it’s not lime soup or lemon soup, it’s lima soup), get a hold of one of Ensenada’s famous fish tacos or dare confronting the classic super-spicy pork sandwich from Guadalajara: the torta ahogada. If there are options for every single kind of Mexican out there, there surely is an option for you.
2. The best Mexican mole comes from Puebla.
Reducing mole to one recipe is like thinking that guacamole is the only Mexican salsa. Mole is a generic term to describe a type of sauce that shares a characteristically complex recipe with an incredible amount of ingredients. Chocolate, pumpkin seeds, onion, clover, sesame seeds, and half the catalogue of Mexican chilis are common participants in this baroque culinary expression. Of course mole from Puebla is amazing, but don’t leave Mexico without trying mole negro de Oaxaca, amarillo, pipián, coloradito, chilmole or the classic mole de olla, which is completely different to the others, but somehow still maintains the mole-ness.
3. Whatever you do, stay away from the chili.
Of course you can follow the usual advice and be safe from our extra-hot eating habits, but staying categorically away from chili means staying away from the vast majority of traditional dishes. Besides, not everything in Mexico is hot as hell even when chilis are part of the recipe (take chiles en nogada for example). Not every Mexican craves spiciness and most restaurants have learned to keep things mild. This is the reason why restaurant tables always include salsas, which also come with different levels of fuego.
You’ll have to try the food for yourself in order to decide if it’s tolerable. Travelers have the bad habit to ask Mexicans if their dish is spicy or not…I think you can figure out why this is a very bad idea. Try going for milder options at first and push it a little bit every time you get comfortable with the flavor. Avoid going for habaneros immediately, remember that chilis always burn twice.
4. You must avoid the street stalls.
Mexico has some of the best and most varied street food in the whole planet. However, don’t blindly trust the first stall you find after going out of a Metro station in Mexico City’s downtown. Try asking locals for recommendations and make sure the place you pick is clean. A crowd around the vendors is usually a sign that you’ve found a good spot.
Of course, you can also try tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, and tacos al pastor in their more touristy version at a restaurant with a view, but the original flavor, the diversity of options, and the sense of adventure will no longer be there.
5. There’s no need to go to fancy restaurants while around Mexico.
Mexican high cuisine is fucking amazing and the fusion elements found in international restaurants are a clear proof that the ubiquitous elements of Mexican food like coriander, chili, hibiscus, marjoram, cacao, and even insects, are great elements to experiment with. Mexican and international chefs who have ventured into new directions with the traditional flavors of Mexico never return disappointed.
6. Mexican food is alright, but better stay away from all the “disgusting stuff.”
This disgusting stuff usually comes in the form of insects, mushrooms, and parts of animals that you normally won’t find for sale in your usual farmer’s market. Sure a handful of chapulines might not be as appealing as those fresh tangerines next to them, but trust Mexicans. With that kind of look, the taste has to be absolutely great for people to continue eating them…am I right?
7. Mexico must be the place to try the best chili burritos ever.
Mexico is NO place to try Tex Mex food! We don’t like Tex Mex food and the great majority of us only knows it by name. So don’t expect to find taco platters with grated Monterrey cheese in the menu of every traditional restaurant you enter. You can find burritos in the North of Mexico, but they’ll be a little different from what you’re expecting, and you can find nachos next to the popcorn stall in movie theaters. A piece of advice: if there is chicken, beef or mixed fajitas in the menu, you’re not experiencing Mexican food in the clever original way you might be intending. Oh, and never -and I mean never- try to convince a Mexican that chilaquiles are just like nachos.
And now for the uncomfortable truth:
1. You’ll get sick from eating Mexican food.
Well, I’m not really sure if that’d be a consequence of the food, but it’s quite probable you’ll get a little sick during your visit to Mexico. They call it Montezuma’s Revenge, and even I have experienced it after being abroad for a while. Some will say it’s the water, some will say it’s the chili in the air, but the truth is that nobody really knows why one of your first nights in the country will seem longer than usual. Nothing a bottle of Pepto can’t handle.