8 Traditional Mexican Dishes That Are a Must-Try
You're likely familiar with chilaquiles at this point, but how much do you know about cemita poblanas, enmoladas and posole? If the answer is "nada," you're not alone. Many of these regional dishes aren't standard on Mexican menus across the United States. That said, you'd be wise to bone up on these traditional eats, so the next time you walk into a real-deal establishment, you'll know what to order.
Hailing from Oaxaca, an enmolada is a rolled corn tortilla that's often filled with shredded chicken and cotija cheese, then bathed in black mole and sprinkled with sesame seeds and crumbled cheese. Think of it like the more complex cousin of the enchilada.
② Posole (or Pozole)
The foundation of this hearty soup is hominy (hulled corn kernels, also known as maize), which is simmered with red chiles, aromatic spices, tomatoes and pork shoulder; garnished with shredded cabbage, chopped onions, sliced radishes and lime; and served alongside warm corn tortillas. The Aztecs believed maize was a sacred plant, which explains why posole is traditionally reserved for special occasions.
A torta is a Mexican sandwich that's typically served hot—grilled or pressed—but can be enjoyed cold as well. While the fillings—some combination of meat and veggies—may run the gamut, the roll is pretty specific: most commonly a bolillo or telera (two of Mexico's most iconic breads). Bolillos are tapered on both ends, slightly denser and have a crusty exterior—most comparable to a baguette. Whereas teleras have a more rounded shape and tend to be softer.
④ Chiles en Nogada
While chiles en nogada is traditionally made in September, in celebration of Mexican Independence Day, some U.S. restaurants, like Chiguacle Sabor Ancestral de Mexico in Los Angeles and La Encantada in Chicago, offer it year-round. The dish consists of poblanos that are stuffed with picadillo—a mixture of pork, chopped fruit and spices—smothered in a walnut cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
Salsa is often referred to as the core of Mexican cooking. And chiltomate—a centuries-old Yucatecan staple—certainly fits that description. In fact, it's reported that the Mayans—who lived in what is now referred to as the Yucatán Peninsula—we're the first to prepare this roasted tomato and chile salsa. With its simple ingredients, rustic preparation and sweet-spicy flavor, chiltomate both exemplifies and remains a pillar of modern Mayan cuisine.
⑥ Tacos de Papa
Tacos de papa are mashed cumin-spiced potatoes that are stuffed into a corn tortilla and fried until crispy. Depending on where (in the United States and in Mexico) you order them, you'll see them garnished with a variety of ingredients, including crumbled queso fresco, shredded cabbage, salsa verde, sour cream and pico de gallo.
⑦ Sopa de Lima
Sopa de lima—which hails from the Yucatán—is the regional equivalent of Grandma's chicken soup. It's basically a big bowl of comfort, made with chicken, corn tortillas, avocados, habaneros and lime.
⑧ Cemita Poblana
This regional sandwich from Puebla (southeast of Mexico City) is not your average torta. Even the bread is exceptional—a soft, eggy, sesame-studded roll similar to a brioche bun that's stuffed with meat (beef or breaded and fried pork cutlets), queso blanco, onions, sliced avocado, pápalo (an herbaceous mix of cilantro and arugula), chipotle peppers and salsa roja.
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