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What Is Mexico Known For
Mexico is one of the most popular countries in the world, seeing millions of visitors and tourists each year. Though it’s best known for its party cities like Cabo San Lucas and Cancún, there’s much more to this country than simply a place for college students to visit during Spring Break.
Mexico is known for its ancient sites and delicious food. It is also famous for its telenovelas, chocolate, and beaches. Additionally, Mexican cultural traditions like the Day of the Dead, mariachi music, and lucha libre are popular worldwide.
If you’re itching to learn more about this fascinating country, read on. I’ll explore the topics I’ve mentioned above and include some interesting facts about Mexico that you may never have heard before.
Mexican Cuisine Is Among the Most Popular in the World
You’ve probably already experienced some form of Mexican cuisine – there are nearly 50,000 Mexican restaurants in the country, and Chiptole is an extremely popular chain restaurant selling Mexican food.
However, authentic Mexican food is on another level. Foodies are sure to have the time of their life when they visit the country, and the country is brimming with gastronomical delights.
While most people think of Mexican food as a single cuisine, it’s actually regional, and each Mexican state has its own specialties. Basic elements of most Mexican dishes include corn and chile peppers, and other staples include:
That said, some of the most popular dishes both in the country and globally include:
- Tacos: This is perhaps the most common Mexican dish you’ll find in the country, and each state has its own way of preparing a taco. It’s made of soft tortillas filled with various fillings, ranging from meat and fish to vegetables. The sauces are the most important ingredients, and habanero is a popular option, so make sure you can handle the heat!
- Guacamole: This avocado-based dip can trace its roots to pre-Hispanic Mexico and has remained popular for hundreds of years. It’s made with avocado, lime juice, salt, cilantro, and onion and is usually eaten as an appetizer with crisp tortillas.
- Mole: Mole isn’t just one dish – instead, it’s a range of sauces and marinades used in Mexican foods. Varieties include mole blanco, mole verde, mole poblano (one of the most popular options). Technically, both guacamole and salsa are types of mole.
- Salsa: Again, salsa usually refers to various condiments eaten as dips alongside tortilla chips or used as garnishes and condiments for other dishes like tacos. Pico de gallo, made with tomatoes and chillies, is usually considered the “default” salsa, though salsa verde is another popular variety.
- Enchiladas: This dish is made of a tortilla (either flour or corn) rolled around a filling (usually meat) and served with a savory sauce. The filling can be a variety of ingredients, including potatoes, beans, cheese, meat, and more. The enchilada can trace its roots to when the Aztecs rolled tortillas around other foods before being eaten.
- Chiles en nogada: Originally from Puebla, this dish is made by stuffing poblano chiles with a mixture of various ingredients (usually meat, spices, and fruits). The dish is then covered with pomegranate seeds, a cream sauce made with walnuts, and parsley. Local Puebla history says that the dish was first prepared for Agustín de Iturbide when he visited the city to sign the Treaty of Córdoba.
Aside from the dishes, Mexico is also known for the wide variety of cheeses it produces. Fresh cheeses are the most popular, and northern Mexico is a hotbed of cheese production due to the ranch culture in the area. Mexican cheeses include:
- Queso blanco
- Queso fresco
- Quesillo, also known as Oaxaca cheese
- Queso Chihuahua
- Queso panela
- Queso añejo, also known as Añejo cheese
Mexico Is Known for Its Alcoholic Beverages
Aside from its food, Mexico is also well-known for its beverages – especially alcoholic beverages.
Some of the best-known drinks from the country include:
Tequila is made from the blue agave plant and is named for the city of Tequila in Jalisco, which is the drink’s birthplace. Blue agave is commonly found in and around the city thanks to the red volcanic soils of the region, which are incredibly well-suited for the plant.
Over 300 million blue agave plants are harvested in the region each year to make tequila. The drink is so crucial to the region that Mexican laws only allow the production of tequila in Jalisco, as well as a few other areas in the country.
Additionally, over 35,000 hectares (86,486.88 acres) of agave fields near Tequila were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 due to their cultural importance and were named the Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila.
Tequila has been recognized as a product of Mexican origin in several countries and is protected by law, including:
- NAFTA in Canada and the United States.
- Bilateral agreements with Israel and Japan.
- It has been labeled a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product in the European Union.
The drink can be had neat (without any mixers) or in a variety of cocktails. Perhaps the most popular is the margarita. Though there are various stories about the creation of the drink, most agree that it was first made in Mexico.
The drink is made with a combination of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. The International Bartenders Association (IBA) has the recipe as:
- 50 ml (1.69 fl oz) tequila (100% agave)
- 20 ml (0.67 fl oz) triple sec
- 15 ml (0.50 fl oz) lime juice (freshly squeezed)
Though any type of maguey plant can be used to make the drink, it’s most commonly made from the heart of the agave plant. Technically, tequila is a type of mezcal, though it’s usually regarded as a separate substance altogether.
While mezcal is available globally, it’s most commonly exported to the United States and Japan.
Some bottles of mezcal may contain a “worm” (which is actually a moth larva). The explanation for why the worm is added varies. Possible reasons include a marketing ploy, a way to prove that the mezcal is drinkable, and that the “worm” is an ingredient that helps add flavor to the drink.
This is a popular Mexican cocktail made with beer, sauces (usually chile-based ones), lime juice, spices, chile peppers, and tomato juice. Depending on the area and the bartender, other ingredients that may be added include:
- Worcestershire sauce
- Soy sauce
- Maggi sauce
- Serrano peppers
The World Got Chocolate From Mexico
Aside from foods, one of the most important culinary contributions of Mexico to the world is chocolate. The first cacao plants were found in Mesoamerica – present-day Mexico – and the Olmec were among the first people to turn the plant into chocolate.
The Mayans revered chocolate as the drink of the gods and used the cacao plant to create a drink made of cacao seeds, chilies, cornmeal, and water. Unlike the chocolate drinks we know today, this drink was bitter, so much so that it was known as “bitter water” or “xocolatl.”
The Aztecs associated the plant with the god Quetzalcoatl. They drank a cold chocolate drink, made using a variety of additions to cocoa beans, including:
- Chile peppers
- Flowers – specifically, the petals from the Cymbopetalum penduliflorum tree
The Aztecs called the drink chocolātl, and it’s from this word, we get the modern word “chocolate.”
Legend holds that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés brought cocoa beans and the tradition of chocolate to Spain with him following his conquest of the Aztecs in the 1500s. While this claim doesn’t have conclusive support, Spain was the first European country to adopt the drink.
In Spain, the drink was served sweet, with honey and sugar acting as sweetening agents. The drink quickly became extremely popular, especially among the rich. In the 1600s and 1700s, the craze for chocolate spread across Europe, and nations started to set up cacao plantations to feed the growing demand for chocolate.
The drink remained expensive until the Industrial Revolution, where new technology resulted in the development of the chocolate bar. Chocolate would no longer have to be extracted from cacao beans by hand, allowing it to become popular among the working classes as well.
Today, chocolate remains an important ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Hot chocolate is one of the quintessential breakfast foods in the country, and chocolate-based drinks like champurrado are still popular. In Oaxaca especially, chocolate drinks form an essential part of the cuisine.
Mexico Is a Hotbed of Ancient Temples and Ruins
Mexico boasts a rich history, dating back thousands of years. The first complex civilization in the area, the Olmecs, can be traced back to 1500 BC – over 3000 years ago. The country features tons of historical sites that allow visitors to gain a peek into this history.
Other notable civilizations that have shaped the country include:
- Maya civilization
- Zapotec civilization
- The Aztec peoples
There are thousands of historical sites from these civilizations you can visit. While they’re located across Latin America, most of them are in Mexico.
Some of the best-known sites include:
Chichen Itza is among the most popular sites in the country. When people think of this site, they think of Mayan pyramids. However, Chichen Itza isn’t simply a pyramid – it’s a full-fledged city built by the Maya.
The Mayan pyramid that people think of at this site is the Temple of Kukulcán, better known as El Castillo, which dominates the area. It was a temple to Kukulcán, a serpent deity similar to the god Quetzalcoatl.
The city was one of the major Mayan cities and among the largest cities the Mayans ever built. It’s located close to Cancun, which also helps boost its popularity as a tourist destination.
Teotihuacan is another city complex. It’s the site of numerous Mesoamerican pyramids and was once one of the most powerful and influential cities in the world. At its peak, the city was home to an estimated 125,000 people, which also made it the 6th largest city in the world at the time.
There are numerous questions that still remain over who built the complex, though there’s historical evidence that it was an extremely influential city. The complex is best known for its two most prominent pyramids – the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.
The site was given the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Uxmal is a Mayan city that is considered one of the most important extant Mayan archaeological sites. The buildings at this site are characterized by their ornate friezes and low walls, as well as their columns and symbols of entwined snakes.
Two noteworthy buildings are the Governor’s Palace, which boasts the longest facades dating back to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and the Adivino (also known as the Pyramid of the Magician). The Adivino is a stepped pyramid that is one of the few Mayan pyramids with layer outlines that are elliptical rather than rectilinear in shape.
Today, the site is popular among tourists. Aside from a sound and light show, it also features the unique Choco-Story, a museum dedicated to the history of chocolate.
Mexico Boasts a Rich Cultural Heritage
Aside from its long history, Mexico also boasts a rich cultural heritage. Today, the country has deep ties to Roman Catholicism and Christianity – over 95% of the population self-identified as Christian in 2010.
Aside from religion, the country also boasts varied cultural practices that have become popular and well known globally. Mexico’s geographical closeness to the United States has helped make elements of Mexican culture identifiable across the world.
Some well-known elements of Mexican culture include:
Mariachi is a regional Mexican music genre recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2011.
The style can trace its roots to the 18th century. It rose in popularity following its introduction to the radio in the 1920s and its use in Mexican presidential inaugurations during the same period of time.
Telenovelas are a type of soap opera that are produced specifically in Latin America. While they’re popular across the region, Mexican ones are specifically popular and led to several telenovela actors gaining international prominence.
They’re usually faster-paced and have shorter runs than Western soap operas (usually a year) but still retain the melodrama that makes soaps popular.
The Day of the Dead
Known as Día de Los Muertos in Spanish, the Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in Mexico on the first two days of November. Though an observance about paying respects to departed friends and family members, it’s marked by joyful celebration and gift exchanges rather than mourning. UNESCO added it to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2008.
Literally meaning “freestyle wrestling,” lucha libre is a type of professional wrestling common in Mexico. It’s a unique form of the professional wrestling genre and is characterized by aerial maneuvers, colorful and often iconic masks, and rapid sequences of holds and maneuvers.
Mexico Is Home to Stunning Beaches
Aside from being full of things to do, Mexico is also great for beach lovers who just want to sit back and relax. It’s full of stunning beaches, and visiting the top names can be a holiday in itself.
Some of the best-known beaches in the country include:
- Playa del Amor: Also known as the Hidden Beach, Playa del Amor is located on the Marieta Islands. It’s a stunning beach that can only be visited via a boat ride from Puerto Vallarta. However, only a limited number of visitors are allowed daily, so there’s often a waiting list.
- Playa del Carmen: This beach is best known for its nightlife. However, it’s also a gorgeous spot to rent a sun lounger and enjoy the crystal-clear waters while you enjoy the music played in the nearby restaurants.
- Playa Norte: Located on Isla Mujeres, Playa Norte is a beautiful setting full of cabanas and sun loungers. Additionally, it’s a great place to spot whale sharks in the wild, and fans of water sports can enjoy snorkeling in the gorgeous waters.
- Medano Beach: If you like being around people, Medano Beach on Cabo San Lucas is the place to be. It’s a popular spot that offers tons of water sports and activities, including parasailing, volleyball, swimming, jet-skiing, snorkeling, and more. You can also sit back in one of the many cafés and restaurants and enjoy the views.
Boasting a history that stretches back thousands of years, some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world, and stunning beaches, Mexico really does have it all. More than that, it’s a food lover’s dream – and if you’ve ever wondered who to thank for your favorite bar of chocolate, this is the country you should turn to!
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