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What is Mexican Food?

What is Mexican Food?

What’s the first thing you think of when we say ‘traditional Mexican cuisine?’

If you thought of a burrito, chimichanga, hard taco, or even flour tortillas – sorry to burst your bubble, but these are not authentic Mexican foods. In fact, most of these foods are more American than they are Mexican. 

So, what is Mexican food, then? 

When we say ‘authentic Mexican food,’ we’re not talking about the Mexican dishes you find at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. Sure, you’ll find traces of authenticity (and it’ll probably taste good), but there’s much more to traditional Mexican cuisine than that – especially the further South you go. 

If you’re looking for a truly authentic introduction to Mexican cooking, then you’ve come to the right place. Follow along as we take you on a brief tour through the history of Mexican food and how it came to be one of the most popular cuisines in the world. 

Chile, Corn, & Beans: A Journey Through Mexican Food History

The Mexican food we eat today has evolved greatly over the past 9,000 years – dating back to 7000 BCE, when indigenous people relied on hunting and gathering to fill their stomachs. Over time, new foods and cooking techniques were introduced – eventually forming the Mexican cuisine we know and love today. 

There are three primary ingredients that played a role in the evolution of Mexican food: 

Chile pepper. More than 80% of chile peppers are native to Mexico, making it one of the most abundant plants in the country (both then and now). Indigenous people ate them frequently due to their availability. 

Corn. Indigenous people stumbled across corn around 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. It was domesticated by a process known as nixtamalization, which helped soften it for grinding – which they made tortillas out of.

Beans. Hunters and gatherers didn’t have a lot of protein to choose from, especially since meat was scarce thousands of years ago. To ensure they got their protein, they relied on beans. 

Things started changing in the 16th century, when Spanish invaders began their conquest of the Aztec civilization. As part of their colonization, the Spanish introduced the indigenous people to a variety of new foods and dishes. Here are the three primary ways Spanish cuisine influenced Mexican food.

Meat. The Spanish introduced Indigenous people to a wide range of domesticated animals, including pigs, chickens, sheep, cows, goats, and more. This gave them a reliable source of meat and protein.

Dairy. The introduction of cows, sheep, and goats did more than just provide meat – it provided dairy. It wasn’t long before milk and cheese were added to some already-popular Mexican dishes. 

Rice. The Spanish stumbled across rice during their world travels (Asia, to be specific). It eventually made its way to Mexico (along with wheat) as a result of the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500s. 

The Spanish also introduced cooking oils, spices (coriander, cinnamon, etc.), garlic, and other ingredients – as well as techniques, such as frying, the use of sauces, and baking – commonly found in Mexican food today. It took thousands of years of evolution, but that’s what so many people love about Mexican dishes.

Mexican Cuisine Today: Tortillas, Cheese, Salsa, and More

When you look at Mexican food today, you’ll see a lot of the ingredients and techniques that were passed down by indigenous people and Spanish influence. Chile peppers, beans, and corn are three ingredients you’ll find in most Mexican dishes, though they’re often served with some type of meat, rice, and cheese. 

It doesn’t matter what type of Mexican restaurant you walk into, expect to find a lot of 

  • Tortillas. Authentic Mexican tortillas are made of corn, not flour (except in some parts of Northern Mexico). They’re a flatbread often used as a wrap, bringing together a variety of other ingredients.

Tortillas are essential to many Mexican dishes – including tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tostadas, chilaquiles, gorditas, sopes, and huaraches. 

  • Tamales. One of the most popular Mexican foods, tamales feature a mixture of meats, beans, and cheeses wrapped in a masa (con-based dough) and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.

Tamales were a primary source of nutrition for the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, giving hunters and gatherers an easy, portable, on-the-go meal. 

  • Salsa. You can’t talk about Mexican food without talking about salsa. It’s used for almost everything – including as a dip, side, topping, and more. There are dozens of different variations.

Mexico is known for a variety of different salsas – including salsa verde, pico de gallo, salsa taquera, salsa picante, salsa roja, salsa criolla, and more.

Some of the other popular dishes include mole (a sauce), chile relleno (stuffed pepper), chilaquiles (tortilla breakfast dish), pozole (a soup or stew), al pastor (thinly-sliced pork), elote (popular Mexican street food made of corncob), and guacamole (avocado-based dip/spread). If you haven’t tried these, you need to!

Mexican-Inspired Dishes at Il Toro E La Capra

Authentic Mexican restaurants aren’t hard to find in Las Vegas, but they’re all unique in their own way, and they each offer a distinctive experience for you and your family to enjoy. At Il Toro E La Capra, we found a way to infuse authentic Mexican food with authentic Italian food – truly a winning combination. 

Here are some of the most popular Mexican-inspired, traditional dishes at Il Toro: 

  • Carne a La Tampiquena – a 12-oz Prime New York steak covered with sauteed green chili peppers and served with a cheese enchilada.
  • Huevos Con Chorizo – popular breakfast dish that features scrambled eggs, Mexican sausage, and pico de gallo.
  • Chilaquiles – fried corn tortillas covered with green or red sauce, and eggs topped with queso fresco and sour cream. 
  • Tacos Al Pastor – a traditional Mexican dish featuring seasoned pork served with onions, cilantro, grilled pineapple, and avocado salsa.
  • Fajitas de Cochinito – slow-braised, marinated glaze carnitas in a bed of peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro (served with rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream, and fidestrone soup.)

Il Toro is conveniently located near the Las Vegas Strip (south end) – right down the street from Allegiant Stadium and Mandalay Bay. Aside from our Mexican-Italian menu, we offer a classic ‘Old Las Vegas’ look and feel – resembling one of our chef’s (Javier Barajas) favorite movies, Casino by Martin Scorcese.

Our restaurant is located at 6435 S Decatur Blvd. – you can make a reservation by clicking here or contacting us at (702) 331-6090.