Mexico is becoming an international contender when it comes to Mexican Cuisine. It is one of the most diverse and accessible types of cuisine in the world- yet the flavors can be so complex.
It is also listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO, along with Mariachi music. Few other countries have its cuisine listed as an intangible heritage; the only other food related items listed are Viennese Coffee and the Mediterranean Diet. The fact that Mexican cuisine is so diverse and varied, and that it prevails from a mixture from Spanish and indigenous traditions, makes it incredibly unique.
For decades in America the most popular ethnic food had been Italian, but it has now been quickly overtaken by Mexican food. In 2012, sales at Mexican-style restaurants in the United States increased by 9.3 percent, compared to an average 5.8 increase among other limited–service restaurants. Interestingly enough, in 2012 salsa was America’s most purchased condiment, overtaking ketchup sales; tortillas were sold more than both burger and hotdog buns, tortilla chips were more popular that potato chips. In recent years, Taco Bell has been more successful than Pizza Hut and KFC. While most wouldn’t consider Taco Bell an authentic take on Mexican food, the fact that the U.S.’s preferences are changing will likely impact the food industry and food marketing in the years to come.
Another fascinating aspect of Mexican Cuisine is how diverse it is from state to state, and region to region. Much has been heard about the Baja-Med cuisine that can be found here in Tijuana, but even non-plated food is becoming an international sensation. Tostilocos, a popular snack, usually prepared by street vendors and other informal stands, was originally created here in Tijuana and has spread North to southern states in the US. With the ability to share and find recipes on the internet, and the increased ability to find the right ingredients, recipes are able to cross borders and become international trends faster than ever.
Mexico boasts a good number of culinary schools, and many Mexican chefs study abroad and come back to add foreign elements to Mexican food, creating interesting combinations. The fact that a country’s cuisine is not only something that delights locals, but that also attracts tourism is of great importance. Tijuana has seen an influx of tourism in recent years, largely due to its efforts to highlight its gastronomic districts, and by promoting local gastronomy events such as the Cesar Salad Fair, the Baja Med Fair, and the almost weekly craft beer or wine festivals. The fact that the city is less than two hours away from a premier wine region makes it internationally competitive with other regions in the world, giving us the ability to pair good food with good wine. The craft beer scene in Tijuana and San Diego has also flourished over the past few years.
Apart from the UNESCO’s designation, there are also nationally recognized and protected food and beverage items, which have a special “designation of origin” protection. This means that if it is produced anywhere outside of the designated region, it cannot be called by the same name. Like Champagne is sparkling wine if it is produced in any region other than Champagne, France.
Bocanora (a traditional beverage in Sonora made from a prickly pear cactus or tuna); Tequila from the Jalisco region and other nearby states Nayarit, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas;
Mezcal an alcoholic beverage made from agave in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Durango, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas; Veracruz and Chiapas coffee which are unique because of the high humidity level; Papantla Vainilla from Veracruz and Puebla; Habanero Chile from the Yucatan peninsula; and Mango from Chiapas are all boast designated origin protection. This also provides important protection for Mexican producers in the international realm as most international treaties adhere to these protections.
Certain Mexican niche foods like insects (ants, grasshoppers and grubs, mostly) have been celebrated food trends in recent years. Once considered crude and archaic; a vestige of rural pre-Hispanic traditions, they are now considered something of a delicacy. This rise in popularity is not only being seen in the US, Mexican regional chefs are once again beginning to embrace traditional flavors, and adding a new spin to old recipes.