7 Surprising Mexican Food Questions, Answered

Author: Chef Toby

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Americans love the cuisine coming from our neighbors to the south; it is the second most popular ethnic food, second to Chinese.  In the U.S. there are over 59,000 Mexican restaurants around the country. 

1. What are some popular Mexican dishes? 

At Mexican restaurants in the States, common dishes include burritos, tacos, and enchiladas (Although burritos are actually not very common in Mexico and typically only eaten in specific areas in northern Mexico). There are countless other traditional Mexican dishes that are popular as well, like mole, sopes, carnitas, and tostadas. 

Green Avocado Salsa with tomatillos and cilantro
Green Avocado Salsa
how to make chicken taquitos
Chicken Taquitos
Authentic Mexican Carnitas
Authentic Mexican Carnitas

2. Is Mexican food unhealthy?

People often think that Mexican food is unhealthy…but most authentic Mexican food is actually healthy. Authentic Mexican food is cooked with a wide variety of spices and fresh ingredients such as chiles, tomatoes, onions, cinnamon, cumin, and more. Mexican food revolves around whole foods and meats. Beans, rice, and salsas made with tomatoes and chiles are a central part of Mexican cuisine. Unhealthy Mexican food is often found at restaurants in the US that have “Americanized” the food and added unhealthy ingredients.

3. What are some popular Mexican ingredients?

Many of the ingredients that are popular in Mexican cooking are ingredients that are native to the region.

assorted beans lined together
Lemons - Kids Are Great Cooks
Variety of tomatoes
whole and halved avocados on a dark colored table
Leafy cilantro piled together
Tomatillos - Kids Are Great Cooks
different kinds of rice side by side
Learn About Tortillas - Kids Are Great Cooks
Learn About Cotija Cheese

There are many other popular Mexican ingredients, like a variety of chiles, jicama and radishes, and other foods.

4. Is all Mexican food spicy?

A common misconception about Mexican food is that it is for the most part – very spicy… but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While Mexican food uses a variety of fresh and dried chiles in many salsas, sauces, and meat braises, more often than not, they provide complex flavor rather than spice or “heat”. 

The spice level in Mexican food is often just based on personal preference and many in Mexico do enjoy spice. When cooking Mexican food that contains chile, feel free to remove the pith and seeds of the chile, which is where most of the heat comes from. You can also leave out the chile entirely to keep your food mild. 

The spiciest chiles in Mexican cooking are habaneros, serrano chiles, and chile de arbol, so if spicy food isn’t for you, keep these out. Fresh chiles like jalapenos and poblanos, and dried chiles like pasilla, ancho, and guajillo are mild and we suggest giving them a try when used in a Mexican recipe!

5. What types of cheeses are used in traditional Mexican food?

While you may be familiar with crunchy hard shell tacos filled with yellow cheese – this type of cheese is not traditional in Mexican cooking – however, the cuisine does have its share of yummy cheeses.

Cotija cheese is a very common cheese used in Mexico – it is sharp, nutty, and has a similar flavor to parmesan cheese, but it isn’t as dry. Queso fresco is also a common cheese that is crumbly, creamy, and salty.

Other popular cheeses used in Mexico are Oaxaca and Panela cheeses – which can be found in the dairy aisle of most large grocery stores or at Mexican supermarkets. If you have trouble finding either one, try substituting with mozzarella or Monterey jack cheese.

6. What salsa is spicier – red or green?

Because spice level is really up to personal preference, salsas can range in spice depending on the ingredients used to make them. If you come across a salsa recipe with habaneros, serrano chiles, and chile de arbol – it will be hot! 

roasted tomatillo salsa image
Fresh Green Tomatillo Salsa
red roasted salsa image
Roasted Red Salsa

7. What is the difference between Mexican sour cream and crema?

In Mexican food, sour cream is a common topping on a variety of foods like enchiladas and tostadas, and seafood tacos. In Americanized Mexican food, it is used even more so on tacos and burritos, but the Mexican cream used in traditional Mexican food is different than American sour cream.

What is Mexican Cream
What is Mexican Cream
what is sour cream kids are great cooks
Sour Cream

Mexican cream is traditionally less tangy and thinner in consistency, making it easy to pour directly from the container. Traditional American-style sour cream is much thicker and has a more sour flavor.

Do you have questions about Mexican food? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments!

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