Mexican Food Heading in Many Directions

Mexican Food Heading in Many Directions

Food & Drink

Mexican Food Heading in Many Directions

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By Cari Martens

Few would argue that most of the “Mexican” foods served in the U.S. today—such as nachos, tacos, quesadillas, burritos and fajitas—are, in reality, as American as apple pie. Hardly authentic at all.

In Europe, where Mexican food is now the number one ethnic food sold in every country except the U.K. (where Indian is tops), Mexican food is considered ‘American food.’

Carnitas served at Lindo Michoacán, Las Vegas

But as the Hispanic population continues to grow in the U.S., Mexican food is ‘growing’ too, and evolving into something resembling the cuisine served south of the American border. Especially restaurants in states with large Latino populations such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Colorado.

Chicago-based research firm Mintel predicts that by 2011 Hispanics will grow to 49 million people or nearly 16 percent of the total population. About two-thirds of that number are people of Mexican descent.

Different regions, different foods

Authentic Mexican food varies by region, due to factors including climate, geography and ethnic differences among the indigenous inhabitants. The north of Mexico is known for its beef production and meat dishes. Southeastern Mexico, on the other hand, is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based cuisine. Seafood is commonly prepared along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, more of those authentically-prepared foods dishes finding their way into Mexican restaurants in the U.S. The desire for true regional authenticity is becoming something akin to consumers’ insistence on certification of organic foods.

One good example of an authentic Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacán in Las Vegas, named in honor of the owner’s birthplace in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Sure, the Mexican family pours plenty of margaritas there, but they also offer authentic Carnitas, a dish called Camarones Sarandeados Estilo ‘Tia Esther,’ Shrimp a lo Mostaza, and classic flan for dessert.

Grasshopper snack

At Mini Mercado Oaxaca restaurant in Phoenix, one of the most authentic foods on the menu are the chapulines—crispy fried grasshoppers enjoyed in a corn tortilla with salt, lemon and a little salsa. The chapulines, which are in season in the summer, are a popular choice of the restaurant’s Hispanic customers, especially those from Oaxaca area of southern Mexico, where they are considered a delicacy. In Oaxaca they are often sold in plastic bags in open-air markets or munched on like beer nuts in bars.

Similar to the way Italian restaurants have matured to the point where many now bill themselves as Northern Italian, Tuscan or with other regional modifiers, we expect to see more Mexican restaurants in the U.S. identifying themselves by region or geography.

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