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3 Cultures That Influenced Modern Mexican Cuisine

Restaurants serving Mexican cuisine can be found throughout the world. In fact, Mexican food is so prevalent that UNESCO designated it as an intangible cultural heritage. While many Americans enjoy eating traditional tamales or tacos, few take the time to learn about the evolution of Mexican food.

Here are three unique cultures that influenced Mexican cuisine, allowing it to take on the flavors and forms you are familiar with today.

1. The Mayan Civilization

Centered in the Yucatan peninsula, the Mayan civilization played a contributing role in modern Mexican cuisine. If you evaluate the menu at any Mexican restaurant, you will likely find many dishes that incorporate corn tortillas.

Corn was thought to be the material used by the Gods to create man among the Mayans, and they revered corn as a sacred substance. Unless Mayans had incorporated corn into their meal, they hadn't truly eaten. This mindset is made evident by the similarities between the Mayan word for tortilla (qua) and the Mayan word for eat (quac). Corn tortillas still play a prominent role in many traditional Mexican dishes found at restaurants throughout the United States.

2. The Aztec Civilization

The slight sweetness that characterizes many Mexican dishes can be contributed to the Aztec peoples. The Aztec civilization domesticated bees for honey, and they relied heavily on the cocoa bean when preparing their meals. The Aztecs believed that the god Quetzalcoatl had brought the cocoa bean from the tree of life and given it to man, making it revered among the ancient population.

If you look closely at the ingredients in many of the dishes you see on the menus of Mexican restaurants today, you will see that the cocoa bean is paired with chiles and other spices to create the famous sweet and spice combination Mexican dishes are known for.

3. The Spanish Conquistadors

Anyone who has enjoyed a meal at a Mexican restaurant knows that cheese is a central ingredient in most dishes. The introduction of cheese into the Mexican diet can be attributed to the Spanish conquistadors.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the regional diet of Mexico consisted primarily of fruits, vegetables, fish, and turkey. The Spanish brought dairy-producing animals (like the cow and goat) along with them, and introduced the native population to the various methods used to produce cheese. Mexican cuisine is still known today for its use of many different types of cheeses.

Understanding the cultural influences that helped shape modern Mexican cuisine will allow you to more fully appreciate the diversity of your next meal at a Mexican restaurant like El Dorado Mexican Restaurant.