8 Popular Mexican Foods You Actually Won’t Find in Mexico
It’s no secret that, in the United States, many international-inspired cuisines are actually very Americanized. But did you know that even some of your Mexican “favorites” are actually all but nonexistent in Mexico?
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To the surprise of no one, Chipotle and Taco Bell are not accurate representations of the food you’ll actually find in Mexico. But even some of the items they sell, supposed Mexican “staples,” are actually completely American—or at least very Americanized. And this scoop about their food is only one of many secrets Chipotle employees won’t tell you.
Those huge rolled-up hodgepodges of meat, cheese, and veggies are not a Mexican food, for all the Mexican places that have them. Tacos, yes; but burritos are essentially just an embiggened Americanization of them. “Burritos, as we know them here in the United States, can’t be found in Mexico,” explains Gerry Torres, owner of City Tacos in the San Diego area. Torres, who was born in Mexico City, says that you’d find “small tacos on flour tortillas,” not burritos. And he much prefers it that way! “Tacos are the perfect size and have the right protein to tortilla ratio, whereas burritos are often made using giant tortillas and not as much filler,” he told Reader’s Digest.
Hard taco shells
Those Old El Paso crispy taco shells that you’ll find in the grocery store? You won’t find them in Mexico. In fact, Executive Chef Lauro Romero of Portland’s King Tide Fish & Shell, a Hidalgo, Mexico, native, considers them a taco travesty. “Hard shell tortillas are a sin…flautas [taquitos], doraditas, etc. are amazing, but hard shell tortillas à la Taco Bell are a purely American invention,” he says. And, if we’re being honest, they’re way more of a headache to eat anyway; they break so easily and the filling all spills out! And, needless to say, you definitely won’t find nacho cheese–flavored ones. Here are some more “international” foods you may not have known are totally American.
Ground beef tacos
Here’s some more taco-related debunking for you: Ground beef actually isn’t a common taco topping in Mexico. “In the States, ground beef is also a popular taco filling, but in Mexico, you only see steak and pork tacos,” confirms Fernando Lira, a Puebla native who owns a Waterville Valley, New Hampshire Mexican restaurant. It’s likewise pretty unlikely that you’ll find taco salad, especially with ground beef, in Mexico. If you frequent Mexican restaurants (regardless of authenticity), here are some common words it’s helpful to know.
If you visit Mexico, don’t expect everything edible to be loaded with cheese—and certainly not the yellow-orange kind you’re liable to find in U.S. restaurants. “Queso dip, forget it. The beautifully drippy cheesy orange kind would be difficult to come by here,” says Kristine Celorio, a blogger who married a Mexican diplomat and now lives in Mexico City. She blogs about her experiences on her site, “Irish I Were Mexican.” “They do have queso fondido, but it is much different and with a different texture that you slice and put in a tortilla to eat.” She says that the approximate color and texture of the cheese is an instant giveaway as to whether Mexican food is authentic. Likewise, Chef Romero says, “Where I’m from, we didn’t even know about cheddar cheese.” You’ll have to stick to Mexican-American joints for your chips-and-queso fix.
Though there’s no definitive evidence about where, exactly, the chimichanga was invented—a popular but unproven story claims it was Arizona—one thing’s for sure: You won’t find them in Mexico today. As Lira explains, “Chimichangas are Mexican-American and they don’t actually eat them in Mexico.” More specifically, the chimichanga “more accurately falls into the Tex-Mex category,” explains Matthew Britt, a professor at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. Burritos, he says, are already an Americanization; “deep-frying [them]…could only fly in America.” Fair enough. Learn about more surprising birthplaces of your favorite foods.
Bottomless chip baskets
Guacamole? Yes, that is true Mexican fare. But getting heaps and heaps of tortilla chips to dip in it is not an authentic Mexican experience. “You will absolutely not receive a big basket of chips when you sit down at a restaurant,” Celorio confirms. “You might get a few mixed in with a bread basket, but the bottomless chip baskets [are not] standard.” Instead, your guac will probably have a different crispy companion, she says: “It is more likely to be served with chicharrón (fried pig skin) than chips.” She says that if you do get chips, they’ll be sticking out of the top of the guac, and just a few—more of a garnish than anything. If you love indulging in Mexican food on May 5, check out our guide to (respectfully) celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Afraid to say your life is a lie, margarita lovers. Tequila certainly is Mexican, but you’re more likely to see actual Mexico natives drinking small amounts from a shot glass or enjoying a similar, more authentic drink called a Paloma. It’s a tequila-based drink with lime juice and a grapefruit-flavored soda like Fresca. And now that doesn’t mean you can’t order a margarita in Mexico; quite the opposite, actually. “Of course you can find margaritas here, as Mexico often caters to the tastes of tourists,” Celorio explains. “But don’t show up at your in-laws’ house for Sunday comida and ask for a margarita. It ain’t happening!” (Spoken from experience, perhaps?) Comida, by the way, means “food” or “meal” and is one of the simple Spanish phrases everyone should know.
OK, so maybe there are no chips-and-guac extravaganzas, but there have to be nachos, right? The ultimate Mexican appetizer? Well…not really, no. Certainly not the topping-loaded chip piles that you can order in the United States, anyway. Many of these “Mexican” foods connect back to one another; Mexican-American “nachos” contain previous entries on this list, like orange-as-can-be cheese and ground beef. You do the math! In fact, Celorio confirms that she “[has] never seen ‘nachos’ on a menu” while living in Mexico. And you don’t have to go to a Mexican restaurant to experience your favorite south-of-the-border snacks: Check out these easy and delicious Mexican appetizers you can make at home.