Those who don’t know any better give Mexican food a bad rap for being cheap and greasy. However, the Mexican culinary world expands far past Taco Bell and Taco Cabana. Authentic Mexican food is fresh, bold, delicious and versatile.
In fact, Mexico is responsible for one of the biggest fine dining staples there is.
Mexico is, in fact, the birthplace of the creamy and crisp Caesar salad.
As the story goes, the Caesar salad was created in Tijuana, Mexico by an Italian restaurateur named Caesar Cardini. It was 1924 when Cardini established his restaurant in the tourist destination to cater to American guests escaping prohibition. While no one really knows the true story, most agree the salad was created over 4th of July holiday weekend.
Supposedly, the dish was completely improvised. Cardini is said to have thrown together several ingredients he had at his disposal and it created the fresh, delicious gourmet salad.
According to What’s Cooking America, the original recipe used a base of romain lettuce leafs. Additionally, garlic, parmesan cheese, croutons, boiled eggs, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce were added.
Rumor has it that it was Cardini’s brother, Alex, that added anchovies in 1926. He named his remix the “Aviator’s Salad.” Still, this anchovy-filled dish was so popular that it became known as the official Caesar salad.
Parts of this story is hard to prove, but it comes with a famous witness to offer some legitimacy to it.
The famous English chef, Julia Child, shared her first encounter with the iconic salad. In her book, “From Julia Child’s Kitchen,” the chef recounted her experience in a Tijuana restaurant. She wrote:
“My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don’t. They only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe.”
It’s popularity in Europe cause people to mistakenly think the Caesar salad is Italian.
However, the dish is 100% authentically Mexican cuisine. To recognize the delectable salad, in 1953, it was declared “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years” by the International Society of Epicure. We wouldn’t expect anything less from this Mexican classic.
Latin American food is one of the richest in the world. It is the product of processes of colonization and cultural mishmash: indigenous ingredients and techniques, European complexity, African spice. Latin American food has it all and people the world over visit the region to taste both top restaurants and street staples that have survived for generations.
Here are a few of our many favorites, 17 dishes that preserve the colorful soul of the continent and the deceptive simplicity of highly complex creations. Buen provecho.
1. Not all tacos are created equal
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Oh, the wonderful taco, the epitome of Mexican food. The taco is a miracle of history: the corn from Meso American cultures, the fillings from animals brought by the Spanish and all tied together by the influence of Middle Eastern cuisine, which uses grilled meets and pita breads as staples. Tacos are miraculous and surprisingly healthy. Sometimes chefs get their fancy on and create authentic rainbows of gorgeous smells and flavors like this lobster and black bean variation. Very Baja! Yummo!
2. Some ceviches are prettier than others
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Ceviche is to Peruvian food what tacos are for Mexican cuisine. The Peruvian restaurant Astrid and Gaston, which often appears in the lists of top restaurants of the world, has achieved visual and culinary perfection with these little bowls of joy and beauty. Just look at the colors basically piercing our eyes and our souls.
3. Enrique Olvera, the superstar Mexican chef, is a Michaelangelo of the kitchen
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Enrique Olvera has taken Mexican food to the next level in his restaurants, particularly Pujol, which is often ranked among the best 15 in the world. Just look at these works of art. The darker mole in the middle of the last row has been simmering for years. Yes, literally for years! It is such a treat.
4. Ice cream macarons from a legendary Peruvian restaurant? Foodgasm alert!
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Astrid and Gaston again! But how could we not include these ice cream macarons, a very unique take on a classic from French patisserie? They have very Peruvian flavors, with local fruits being the core of the palette. Oh my, just by looking at them we start salivating.
5. Fried piranha skins are always pretty in a baroque kind of way
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Virgilio Martinez is the new superstar of Peruvian food. He travels his country in search of new and exciting ingredients, and his degustation menu is a trip through the geography of the South American country. He loves to surprise and confront, and what better way to do this than presenting the patron with a deconstructed piranha. It is beautiful just like bloody baroque art is: art is sometimes violent and decadent in its depth.
6. Quinoa never looked so chingonamente hermosa
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Among the ingredients that Virgilio has made his own is quinoa, the ancient grain that has fed indigenous Peruvians for centuries and that is now a staple of hipster food, even though its mass consumption means that many poor Peruvians can’t afford it now. Here it is presented in a dignified, natural, deliciously primal state.
7. When the plate is a canvas and ingredients a work of art
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And really, we can’t think of a more exciting foodie destination in Latin America than Central. Just look at this plate, the colors, the perfect harmony and exciting combination of textures. If it is as pleasing to the taste as it is to the sight, we are all in.
8. No mordida on our cakes, please
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We couldn’t help but to include this cute and deceptively simple llama cake. It is a work of art that respects tradition, evades cultural appropriation and is just testament of a baking virtuoso. No mordida here, please…. you might be poked by that cactus!
9. A classic sculpture of culinary genius: mango with chilito
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Not all gorgeous food needs to be fancy or high end. A staple of Mexican street food that has migrated to the Southern United States is luscious and it basically makes our culinary desire salivate. A simple fruit like mango is cut in intricate flower-like shapes and crowned by that proof of the existence of beauty: Tajin.
10. What? Mexican sushi? You bet, compa!
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Mexicans have made sushi their own for the past two decades. Mexican sushi is unlike any other: it combines Japanese tradition with very local ingredients such as chili and chipotle mayo. Mango and chamoy are also often combined with meats, rice, and seafood. And Mexican sushi chefs sure make sure that it all looks pleasing to the eye and feels soothing to the hungry stomachs and souls of comensales.
11. Brazilians have elevated BBQing to a fine art
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If you are a carnivore and you have not tasted a traditional Brazilian churrasco, then you are in for a treat. Brazilians sure know how to enjoy life, and getting together over a BBQ is a way of enjoying each other’s company. Brazilian grilled meats are crispy, salty and sooooo pleasing to the eye. Just look at these beauties, perfectly sliced and cooked to absolute perfection.
12. Alfajores are a bite del cielo
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This Argentinian crumbly pastry filled with dulce de leche are gorgeous in a homey, cozy kind of way. Just by looking at them our hearts melt, become gooey like the dulce de leche that stretches as we sigh in pleasure. Try them for yourself if you don’t believe us.
13. Look at this dulce tradicional mexicano, though
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One of the most overlooked treasures of Mexican cuisine are dulces tradicionales. Take these gummy fruit treats, for example, perfectly laid out in a spiral of sweet delight.
14. Seriously! We are nuts over these palanquetas!
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Nuts are a staple of Mexican candies. Peanuts, pepitas, and grains like amaranth are all stuck together with honey or piloncillo (cane sugar). These are so popular that you can even buy them from vendors in Mexico City traffic! Put them together, however, and they form an uncanny tapestry of symmetry that you could hang in a museum!
15. We don’t know if we should eat these or hang them on a wall and just admire them
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OMG! Look at these paletas! No kid can resist to them: they just hypnotize you with their twisty patterns and shiny colors. They speak of the joys of childhood and the talent of dulceros artesanales that are a true treasure of humanity. Everyday creativity on full display.
16. Nopales: the gorgeous green that takes us back to the beginning of time
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Sometimes the prettiest foods are pure ingredients. Take nopales, for example, a type of cactus that has been consumed for centuries. The vibrant greens and their infinite hues seem like an oil paint from Tamayo or Orozco, master painters who translated the palettes of nature onto their canvases.
17. And of course, nothing surpasses the brutal beauty of a trompo de pastor being caressed by fire
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But let’s be honest. Few foods despiertan tantas pasiones like tacos al pastor. They are a full-fledged attack on the senses: visually it is an incandescent carnal treat, its smell elicits dreams and memories, its taste has the perfect balance of sweet, salty and spicy. Doesn’t get any better than this.
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