La Comida en León y México

(The Food in León and Mexico)

A small restaurant where I ate dinner my first night in León.

What we think of as Mexican food here in the U.S. is somewhat different than what you actually get in Mexico. There is a whole world of cuisine to explore and discover other than tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas.  This section describes some of the foods I had while I was in Mexico, as well as some that I discovered through my Mexican friends before my trip.

                  To begin with, not all Mexican food is spicy. While they do use a lot of chiles and peppers, they also use a lot of limes in their cooking.  We had dinner one night at the home of my friend's boss in Guanajuato. We had beef tacos, but the beef was seasoned in lime juice and spices, and then cooked outside on a grill with charcoal wood chips. It was served with homemade salsa, made with chiles that were not hot, and rice. 

                My first day in León, I ate lunch at my friend's mother's house, where she served chicken (or "pollo" - pronounced POH-yoh) with mole (pronounced MOH-lay). The mole sauce does have chiles in it, but it is not very spicy. An interesting ingredient in the mole is chocolate! This dish can also be made with turkey instead of chicken. Look for a dish called "Mole Poblano" (pronounced MOH-lay poh-BLAH-noh) on the menu the next time you go to a Mexican restaurant, and this is what you will get.  We also had rice (or "arroz" - pronounced ah-ROHS) and chiles rellenos (pronunced reh-YEHN-yohs), or stuffed chiles. In this dish, the chiles are stuffed with meat and/or cheese. Chiles rellenos are one of my favorite Mexican foods. But be careful when you get near the stem of the chile to watch out for seeds. The seeds are what make them hot! 

          Also on my first day in León, my friend gave me some tunas (pronounced TOO-nahs) to try. Tunas are the fruit of a cactus that grows in Mexico (shown left). They are deep pink in color and are similar to kiwi fruit in flavor. They have a lot of juice in them, much like a watermelon, but they also have a lot of small seeds as well. There are so many seeds, in fact, that it would be impossible to remove them from the fruit. So the tunas are eaten with the seeds and all. I thought they tasted good, but I did not enjoy having to chew up the seeds. At least I know that if I'm ever stranded in a desert and find some cacti, I can eat the fruit! To learn more about tunas and other cactus fruit, click here to read about edible Mexican cacti. (Photo at left used from this website.)

                My first night in León, we stopped at a couple of different places to eat. First, we stopped at a small stand that sold tamales and a drink called atole (pronounced ah-TOH-lay). They had different types of tamales, including sweet tamales with cinnamon in them. All of the tamales were a little too spicy for me, so I got one of the sweet ones and a cup of atole de cajeta (pronounced ah-TOH-lay day cah-HAY-tah). This is a hot drink made with milk that was flavored with cajeta, a caramel-like candy. I really liked this drink a lot, and it was especially good because it was raining and was a little cool outside. 

                Next, we went to another restaurant, shown in the photo above, to get some soup (or "sopa," pronounced SOH-pah). I had heard that Mexican soups are one of Mexican cuisine's hidden secrets, and that they are really good. So we stopped to get some pozole (pronounced poh-SOH-lay), which is a type of soup made with hominy corn and pork. However, pork prices had gone up very high at the time I was there, so people were making this soup with chicken instead of pork. It was a very tasty soup.

                On one of the days that we visited Guanajuato, we stopped at a street vendor for gorditas (pronounced gor-DEE-tahs). These are nothing like the gorditas you buy in the box here. These gorditas are made with corn tortillas, split like a pita pocket, and then stuffed with meat, beans, vegetables, or anything else you want. Most all tortillas you get in Mexico are made of corn instead of flour, although you can get flour tortillas too. 

                Corn is one of Mexico's staple foods as it is used to make tortillas, which they eat as we eat bread in the U.S. And they love corn! You can buy huge ears of corn on the cob from street vendors. It is not uncommon to see someone walking around eating an ear of corn on a stick, particularly when there's a street vendor nearby. (It is funny, though, to see kids eat it because they get the corn and butter smeared all over their little faces!) On the afternoon that we visited San Miguel de Allende, we stopped and got some corn for a snack from a street vendor, though it was not on the cob. We got it cut off the cob and served in a cup, topped with lime juice, mayo, and cheese. On another night in León, we visited a downtown block where there were several ice cream shops all in a row. They even have corn ice cream! I know it may sound strange, but when you think about it, a lot of desserts and ice cream are made from corn syrup. I tasted a sample, and it was really good. But I went with another flavor that I was craving at the time.

                On the day we visited San Miguel de Allende, we ate at a really nice restaurant for dinner called Pueblo Viejo. In San Miguel, a large percentage of the people there speak English since it's a popular retirement town for Americans. So the restaurant menu was available in Spanish and in English. I actually used both menus. I found what I wanted to order first (shrimp, or "camarones," pronounced cah-mah-ROH-nays) on the Spanish menu. And then when they brought me the English menu, I used it to see how it was prepared. But I ordered it in Spanish. 

                After dinner, we did a little more sight-seeing, and then we stopped at a café to get churros for dessert. Churros (pronounced CHOO-rrohs) are like a fried cruller (similar to a doughnut) that are long-shaped and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. We got ours drizzled in a chocolate syrup too. Churros are usually served with hot chocolate. But since we got our churros to go, so we didn't get the hot chocolate. Mexican hot chocolate is good also, and is served with a touch of cinnamon.

               Another drink I had in Mexico, and that I had at the local Mexican restaurant here before my trip, is called horchata (pronounced or-CHAH-tah). Horchata is a sweet drink made from rice milk with a hint of cinnamon. It is very delicious, and it is said to help settle an upset stomach. Look for it on the menu the next time you go to a Mexican restaurant. Or you may be able to find a mix for it in the Mexican food section of the grocery store. If you look for it there, get the Klass brand. I have tried several different brands, and this one seems to be the best in my opinion. 

                Some of my other favorite Mexican dishes include enchiladas suizas and carnitas. Enchiladas suizas (pronounced soo-EE-sahs) are chicken enchiladas in a creamy green sauce. Carnitas (pronounced cahr-NEE-tahs) are chunks of fried pork meat served in warm flour tortillas with a little salsa verde. Both are very delicious! Look for these dishes on the menu the next time you go out for Mexican food.

                Several of the breakfasts I had in Mexico included burritos with eggs ( or "huevos" - pronounced WAY-bohs) with salsa verde (green salsa). These simply consisted of scrambled eggs wrapped in warm, soft flour tortillas. Then add a little salsa verde inside to taste. I have made these a few times since I've been back from Mexico because I've had a craving for them. But the salsa verde you buy already made here is not the same as it is in Mexico. For one thing, the prepared salsa verde is made with jalapeños, while the homemade salsa verde I had in Mexico was made with serrano (pronounced seh-RRAH-noh) chiles and tastes better. These are small, medium green chiles with a smooth skin, and you can find them in the grocery stores here, as well as the tomates verdes (small green tomatoes - about the size of a head of garlic, or sslightly larger). I got the recipe from the folks I stayed with, and I have included it below. You can also add onion and/or fresh cilantro to the salsa, and it will give it a different flavor. I didn't get the amounts for how much onion or cilantro, but I think this recipe is fine as it is without those extra ingredients.


Recipe for Basic Salsa Verde:

10 to 12 small green tomatoes, husks removed

2 cloves of garlic

2 chiles serranos

salt to taste

Directions: Put the tomatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Put the whole tomatoes in a blender, with a little bit of the water from the pot (not too much, or your salsa will be too thin - no more than 2 inches deep in the blender). Lightly toast the serrano chiles in a pan. Add the serrano chiles and garlic cloves to blender. Blend until pureed. Add salt to taste. Use on tacos, enchiladas suizas, burritos con huevos, carnitas, tortilla chips, or anything else you desire.


Finding Mexican Food Items

                If you are having trouble finding some Mexican food items, try for Mexican foods, cooking utensils, cookbooks, and other items. You can find the Klass brand of horchata that I mentioned here, as well as mole, flan (a caramel custard dessert), Mexican hot chocolate, tamales making kits, and much more! Buen provecho!

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All photos on this site copyright 2008 by Tara Guthrie.