GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Acitrón - This is a crystallized fruit made from the biznaga cactus plant. The core of the cactus is boiled in its own sugar, creating thick syrup that, when cool, crystallizes as sugar on the outside of the fruit; the whole fruit is then sliced and eaten. It is a delicious traditional Mexican treat enjoyed since pre-Columbian times and sold as a golosina in Mexico’s ancient markets.
Agave - This plant from which mezcal, tequila and raicilla are made is also known as “maguey”. There are several types of agave plants, and each of the aforementioned traditional Mexican alcoholic drinks is made from a different strain of this plant.
Aguamiel - This thick and sweet juice is extracted from the maguey cactus, and then fermented to become pulque. Maguey plants start producing aguamiel after six years. Since pre-Columbian times, this juice has been used by the native people as honey, to sweeten fruit, corn and a kind of “popcorn ball” candy. Aguamiel is very common in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Michoacán, as well as Mexico City and its environs.
AGUACATE - The word aguacate (avocado) comes from the Nahuatl term “aguacatl”. It’s a fruit native to Central and South America, in the region now occupied by Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Its scientific name is Persea americana mil.
It is a slender tree, measuring up to 10 to 15 meters (30 to 45 ft.), with a woodsy trunk and an aromatic bark. The leaves are also aromatic, alternating from light to dark green. The flowers are greenish yellow and the fruit has an oval shape and measures about 10 centimeters (about 5 inches). Size may vary according to the species. Its pulp is soft and light green. The seed is also rounded in shape.
It is known to have been a very important fruit, and the tree was probably sacred, for the myth existed that its fruit contributed to men’s strength. The Aztecs, as well as other indigenous groups, believed that a fruit, plant or even a mineral’s shape contributed to its properties: the exterior shape determines the inner strengths. In this way, as they saw the shape of a testicle in the avocado, the fruit had to transmit its strength to the diner’s testicles.
However, that wasn’t the only reason for its importance. It is a fruit rich in vitamin C and B. The leaves and bark are recommended by herbalists and traditional medicine men as highly efficient stomach and anti- diarrhea medicine. Parts of the plant are also used to combat intestinal parasites.Apart from these medicinal uses, the most common way it was consumed, and the most well known is in “guacamole”. This word also comes from the Nahuatl term “ahuacamolli”, which combines “ahuacatl” and “molli”, (sauce), thus “avocado sauce”.Today, avocados are very popular and are consumed throughout the world
Aguas Frescas - These non-alcoholic beverages made from the pulp of any fruit combined with sugar and water are enjoyed throughout Mexico and are usually served chilled. Very refreshing and made from different fruits every day, they are an affordable and easy beverage for housewives to serve with meals. In almost every fridge in every household in Mexico, there’s always a big jug of cool, refreshing agua fresca. Aji - What chili peppers are known as in Spain, as well as in some South American countries.
Arrayán - A tree, its scientific name Myrtus communis, that can grow to about 30 feet tall and bears a sweet/sour fruit similar to the guava, its flowers are white, aromatic and have four petals (see “The Arrayán Tree”).
Arroz con Leche - A traditional Mexican dessert made from rice, which is boiled in milk and combined with sugar, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon. Delicious!
Atole - This is an ancient Mexican corn-based, warm non-alcoholic drink enjoyed since pre-Columbian times. It’s prepared in myriad flavors: chocolate, strawberry, tamarind, peanut, cinnamon, guava, pineapple, cinnamon and more.
Axiote or Achiote - Bixa orellana, commonly known as “achiote”, probably had its origins in Acre, a region in southeast Amazonia. It’s believed this plant was first domesticated from Bixa excelsa, a wild tree from the same family (Bixacea) which grows in the tropical forests of South America. Achiote is one of the first plant species domesticated by the indigenous peoples of the region, possibly for ceremonial purposes. In his writings,
Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo describes: “The Indians would roll the seeds into little balls, and they would proceed to paint their faces and mix this with certain resins, or make fine vermillion paint, and paint their bodies and faces, so red that they look like the devil himself. They also do this in the Indies when they want to look good, when they are about to fight, in order to look fierce.” Some of the historian’s testimonies which arrived in Mexico with Hernan Cortés and his armies describe how the Aztecs were lovers of a drink they called cho-colatl, perfumed with the essence of vanilla and colored with achiote. A great amount of information is found in the chronicles about the way they prepared this concoction, for example, Bernabé Cobo (a monk who was traveling with Cortes), writes: “They soak these little grains (seeds) until, when washed, the red substance the seeds had been covered by comes loose and they become white; the water becomes tinted in color, they let it boil on a fire until it reaches its point, and one of the substances rises like foam, which they collect with a spoon; strain and wring in a cloth which retains the thick of the achiote, and then they proceed to knead buns or pieces of bread, which they let dry in the sun; this is the achiote, so highly valued in the New Spain”.Apart from being a coloring agent and a repellent, achiote has many traditional medicine uses: it has been found effective against dysentery, diarrhea, tonsillitis, for chest pains, as a stimulant, diuretic, aphrodisiac and laxative. Nonetheless, its main use these days is to give its very special taste and color to food, mainly fish, meats and poultry.At El Arrayán restaurant we use it everyday in our delicious Mahi-mahi achiote filet as well as in our Yucatán Cochinita Pibil.
Beans -If there ever was a traditional Mexican ingredient, this is it? Used everyday at EL ARRAY?N in our celebrated Plantain Empanadas, filled with cheese, plantains and black beans.Since pre-Hispanic times corn and beans were - and continue to be - basic food staples. People?s diet included chili peppers, avocado, cocoa, zucchini, flowers, turkey, maguey, cactus paddles and its fruit, the prickly pear, insects, frogs and tadpoles, fresh water shrimp, and in coastal regions; several species of fish, turtles, crabs and oysters. The unassuming bean is one of the basic seeds in Mexican Cuisine, it was one of the first grains to be grown and it was introduced into the Americas by nomadic tribes who crossed the Bering Strait on their way to Alaska. The fact that the Aztecs used beans as a basic food staple in the 10th century is also very relevant.The history of the bean reveals that in the 17th century, on the east coast of the United States, native people taught the Europeans to plant corn and beans together so that the bean vines could grasp and climb the corn stalks and use them for support. The Mexican people?s diet emphasizes bean consumption, prepared in different ways, everything from delicious soups, to being the side dish for an entr?e, or simply eaten with tortillas.The diversity in bean species is as varied as its preparation, and among the most significant are:Small Lima Bean- This small, flat and oval shaped bean is at home in any type of soil. Some people eat it whole in order to enjoy its delicate flavor. Black Eye Bean- This small, cream colored bean with a black eye has a distinct taste. It is used in traditional southern food and is starting to increase in popularity throughout the country.Red Bean- Stands out because of its bright maroon color, good size and firm texture, it can be found in the best salad bars. It makes any salad bright and healthy.Chick Peas- Named by the Spaniards, can be prepared in anything from soup to ?Hummus?. Its golden color gives a special brightness and delicious taste to any mixed bean salad.Large Lima Bean- Native to the altitudes of the South American Andes, it has become a naturalized Californian. This large, flat and creamy bean is best enjoyed alongside pork and spicy condiments. It?s good with a little salt and butter or by itself as well.Long Red Bean- This lighter color version of the darker bean species is the delight of those who enjoy the taste of chili peppers, salads, soups and in Creole rice and seafood recipes.Pink Bean- This bean is one of the purest things to come out of the prairies. It?s perfectly at home in a pot of Texan Chili, and maintains its dry shape in hot pots.Small White Bean- Rooted in the ancient ethnic groups of Boston, this compact bean/pea is famous the world over as the New England Baked Bean. It is also ideal for any recipe calling for Navy beans.Pinto Bean- famous in southern spicy dishes, this popular bean is essential in tacos, burritos, tostadas and Tex Mex style chili.
Birria - A kind of barbeque (very different than the BBQ consumed in the USA) made from goat or mutton, beef or pork and spiced with chili peppers and several spices, it is one of the most representative dishes from Jalisco, the state in which Puerto Vallarta is located. It is mostly consumed on special occasions, such as weddings, baptisms, birthdays and family reunions. Sometimes people eat it as a “soup”, but birria tacos are also very popular and can be found at street stalls.
Biznaga - Two types of wild cacti are recognized as biznagas, their green stems used in the manufacture of acitrón. They belong to the Echinocactus genre and thrive at various altitudes. They are cylindrical and generally topped by a thorn-filled aureole. They have yellow flowers and their fruit is covered by a dense layer of thorny fuzz, its edible “buttons” called “cabuches”. They are found in San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Puebla, Querétaro, Durango, Zacatecas and Sinaloa. Burritos - Usually made with wheat flour tortillas, they can hold an infinite variety of fillings, everything from your basic beans and cheese to smoked marlin and all kinds of meats. They are generally topped with different types of hot salsas and cream.
Café de Olla - It’s almost like regular coffee, but cinnamon and natural sugar are used when brewing it. All the ingredients (coffee, cinnamon and unrefined hard raw sugar [piloncillo] are combined in a clay, or “barro”, pot.) Always popular, there is increased consumption during the winter months.
CAJETA - Delicious “Cajeta” (caramelized goat’s milk) has its origins in the beautiful city of Celaya, in the state of Guanajuato. The saying “De Forti Dulcedo” appears on the city’s coat of arms; it means “sweetness belongs to the strong”. The creation of this sweet treat was brought about by the abundance of goats in the region, for goat’s milk is its main ingredient.The name of this typical candy comes from the wooden “cajete” that has been used since time immemorial to store it and which gives it such special flavor. One peculiarity about these “cajetes” is the fact that they are divided into four sections, to separate the different kinds of cajeta that are manufactured.Today, about forty family-run companies are in charge of the manufacture of this legendary sweet treat, with the knowledge passed down from one generation to another. These companies still make cajeta the old-fashioned way, using great copper pots where the goat’s milk is boiled over a fire. Sugar and bicarbonate are then added to darken and control the milk’s acidity. This mixture is stirred using large wooden spoons until the desired thickness is achieved, then the flavor is added and the cajeta is ready to be stored in the historical wooden “cajetes” or in glass jars.The most renowned flavors include natural, wine, burnt, and vanilla, although it’s also possible to find walnut, pine nut, strawberry and other original flavors. In the more traditional establishments, burnt cajeta is made letting the milk boil for six hours instead of three; and the most widely manufactured flavor, almost twice than the other kind, is wine
Cajete - From the Náhuatl term “cáxtitl”, meaning “box”, it’s a round wooden box with separations to store the different kinds of cajeta, burned and sweetened goat’s milk (see “Traditional Mexican Ingredients”).
Camarón – A shrimp or prawn.
Camote – A yam or sweet potato.
Capirotada - This very popular dessert is made from fried slices of bread that are then soaked in raw sugar syrup (“piloncillo”), and milk, and garnished with several types of dried fruits, such as almonds or raisins. It is consumed throughout México, but mostly in the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, San Luis Potosí, Michoacán and Nayarit, its preparation varying according to locality.
Capulín - This sweet fruit’s scientific name is Prunus serotina. It is a small reddish-black rounded berry, similar to a cherry, approximately 1.5 centimeters in diameter, with one seed. The capulín season runs from May to August. Native to Mexico’s temperate climates, the tree can measure between 30 and 45 feet, its white flowers grouped in hanging bunches. It was domesticated by Mesoamerican cultures. It may be eaten by itself or in a kind of syrupy confection after being boiled in sugar or piloncillo. In some places it is dried, like raisins. Capulín liqueur is also quite popular in parts of the country.
Cat - This is a type of cucumber grown in southeastern México and used mostly in the cuisine of the state of Yucatán.
Cenadurías - These family-run establishments, open only in the evenings, are very affordable and offer a wide variety of simple and traditional Mexican dishes.
Ceviche - This very popular fresh dish is consumed throughout Mexico. Made using raw fish “cooked” in lime juice and small pieces of onion (red onion, preferably), tomato, cucumber, cilantro and chili peppers, it is usually eaten on crackers or tostadas and accompanied by a very cold beer. Avocado is sometimes spread onto the tostada or cracker before adding the ceviche. It can also be made from shrimp, crab, octopus, scallops or conch. Bottled salsa is also often added to the diner’s cracker, and some people like to put a little ketchup on it.
Cilantro - Coriandrum sativum is its scientific name; known in the USA as coriander. It is a very aromatic herb with bright green leaves shaped almost triangularly. It was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards, and since then has been widely used in traditional Mexican cuisine, the leaves and stems both used in an infinite variety of salsas, as garnish for sopes, chilaquiles and ceviches, and in the preparation of many other dishes.
Cocada - This variety of candy is made from the pulp of shredded or ground coconut boiled in sugar or piloncillo. Depending on the region, it may contain more ingredients. And the texture can also vary; sometimes it can be soft and smooth, but it may also be hard and crunchy. This sweet treat is very popular and is enjoyed throughout the country, even in regions that don’t produce coconuts.
Comal - A usually rounded cooking surface that goes directly over the open fire and can be manufactured from clay or metal, the comal is used mainly to cook corn tortillas and to roast different seeds and chili peppers. Because of its diverse uses, all of them equally important, this is an indispensable utensil in every Mexican kitchen. The word comes from the Náhuatl “comalli”, as it was known in the pre-Columbian era, for this is an implement that has been used since ancient times.
Corn - At EL ARRAY?N we use only fresh milled, locally produced corn everyday in a wide variety of dishes, from our tastySopitos Villa Alvarez, to the wonderful Quesadillas and Garnachitas.According to an ancient legend, Quetzalcoatl; after having made the first man from flour ground with precious stones then kneaded with blood donated by all the gods, transformed himself into a tiny ant to be able to discover corn, which was hidden deep inside a cave. After finding the corn he gave it to all the gods and men. Quetzalc?atl (The Feathered Serpent) taught the Toltecs and other groups, including the Aztecs, techniques to improve their crops.. After the Spaniards took this grain back to Europe other European countries also started growing it.Corn, known by the nahuas as centli, in all of its varieties, can be prepared in endless ways; from cut up tortillas added to tomato or bean sauces, tortillas in a delicious soup, or tostadas as the base for many salads and assorted meats. Cold tortillas that go into a chili sauce, then slightly fried and stacked upon each other until a sort of ?cake? is formed is called a Pastel Azteca. The ?atole? (a hot and highly nourishing beverage made from the whole grain, that is boiled and peeled) and ?tejuino? (a refreshing corn based drink found all over Puerto Vallarta), are just a sample of the infinite varieties in which Mexicans consume corn.Archeological excavations in the Tehuac?n Valley in the state of Puebla revealed evidence of tortilla consumption dating back more than 7,000 years. The ancient Mexicans named it teocinte, a Nahuatl term which means ?Food of the Gods?. To make tortillas the traditional Mexican way, the corn is soaked in water with a little bit of lime powder and is then kneaded on the ?metate? (a flat volcanic stone surface). Afterwards, round pieces are formed and flattened and cooked by the heat of the ?comal? (a metallic cooking surface which goes directly over the open fire). This is the most common way in which this seed is consumed.Among some of the various uses for corn are ?totopos?, tortillas cut up in triangles and deep fried, that can be dipped in a wide array of sauces, beans, etc. Or ?enchiladas?, tortillas filled with chicken, folded over and covered in green or red sauce and garnished with cheese and cream. ?Tostadas?, crunchy tortillas topped with an assortment of traditional Mexican ingredients and ?chilaquiles?, day old tortillas cut up into small pieces and cooked in a red or green tomato salsa and garnished with cream and cheese like the ?enchiladas?. The use of corn and tortillas in every day cooking has no limits other than the cook?s imagination and creativity.
Corico - A type of cookie, native to the state of Chihuahua, made from corn and wheat flours, lard, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and sugar, they are generally shaped like horseshoes, though they may also be cut in squares, rectangles and circles. Coricos are generally enjoyed during the Holy Week and Easter season. They are very popular in the state of Jalisco, and the state of Sinaloa has a similar version of this cookie, known as “tacuarín”.
Chacales - In the states of Colima and Oaxaca this is the name given to a variety of freshwater shrimp and prawns found under rocks and prepared in a spicy sauce or in a soup or broth.
Chac op - Red corn flour “tostadas”, their origin is Mayan and they’re very popular in the state of Yucatán. Usually they are served alongside traditional dishes like “chocolomo”. Their name comes from the Mayan “chak”, which means “to boil in water”, and “op”, meaning toasted tortilla.
Chalupas - This thick corn tortilla snack is native to the state of Puebla, its shape usually oval, a kind of boat shape from whence it gets its name. It is fried in a small amount of pork lard, topped with shredded pork and bathed in either red or green tomato sauce. They should be eaten as soon as they’re served. Delicious! Chanfaina - It is believed that the Spaniards brought this dish to the New World, although it is not certain. Made from various fresh pork or beef organs cooked in a thick chili and spice sauce, recipes may vary from one region to the next.
Chaya - This plant’s scientific name is Cnidoscolus acontifolius. Domesticated and used by the ancient Mayans, its dark green leaves are widely used in the cuisines of the states of Yucatan and Tabasco, as well as in parts of Chiapas. It can be used in everything from soup to fish or fowl dishes to chaya and fresh lime water. Two species exist. The leaves measure from 10 to 20 centimeters and each leaf has from 3 to 7 lobes. It is quite common in family farms in southeastern Mexico, where people have great respect for this plant. That is why, before cutting some of its leaves, people ask the plant’s permission by saying, “Good Morning, Comadrita, I’ve come to take a few of your children.” or “Good morning, Lady, could I have a few leaves please?” It is said that if you don’t follow this ritual, the plant will release some of its sharp thorns and cause a rash.
Chilangos – This somewhat derogative term is used by people from all other Mexican states when referring to people from the country’s capital, Mexico City, who have a reputation for feeling that the rest of the country belongs to them.
Chilaquiles - This delicious traditional Mexican dish consists of day-old corn tortillas that have been deep fried until crunchy, mixed with finely shredded chicken breast and bathed in either green or red tomato salsa, melted cheese and cream. They’re usually served at breakfast (or brunch), late at night at weddings (5:00 AM, in case the wedding is still going on), or as a remedy to alleviate a hangover.
Chilayo - This is a traditional Mexican food made from pork in a smooth guajillo, ancho or red chili sauce with garlic, tomato, cumin and rice (for consistency). It is traditional in the states of Colima and Jalisco.
CHILI PEPPER - In Pre-Hispanic times it was called chilli or tzilli in Nahuatl. The Mayans named a cosmic deity which alluded to chili, Zak-Tzys, from Ak, meaning herb, and Tzyr, spicy; thus “spicy herb”. Upon the Spaniard’s arrival in the new world, they named it Aji or axi. Pre-Hispanic peoples believed that Chili peppers had medicinal and nutritional properties, and today, nutritional specialists confirm this.A hot and spicy fruit from the Solanaceas family; it finds its origins in Mexico, Central and South America. Hundreds of varieties exist and it is an essential ingredient in traditional Mexican cuisine.The hot flavor is determined by the kind of climate, by the amount of rain and sunlight it receives during its growth period: small chilies are generally spicier than large ones.
Chili is a symbol of National identity, a phallic symbol in which virility and Mexican mischief reside. The most common varieties are: Habanero Chili Considered the spiciest of them all; it is the chili most used in cuisine of the Yucatan. Most people prefer to use it when it’s green or yellow in color. It is not used dry, it’s consumed fresh, raw, roasted or boiled. Jalapeño Chili This is a fresh chili, medium to dark green in color, long and conical in shape. It measures approximately 6 centimeters (3 inches) long and about 2.5 centimeters wide. It gets its name from the area where it was originally grown, Jalapa in the state of Veracruz. It was then commercialized in other regions. Although no longer cultivated there, it’s a very famous chili, used in cuisine from the state of Veracruz and throughout the country. In Mexico City it is also known as Chile Cuaresmeño because in the old days it was only found during the Lent period (Cuaresma= Lent). Once it reaches its mature stage it takes on an intense red color and is used just like the green one. Commonly, this chili pepper is eaten pickled along with other vegetables like onion, garlic and carrot and used to spice up anything from a sandwich to a quesadilla. In its dry version, it is of great importance because then it becomes a Chipotle chili.Poblano Chili Not considered really spicy, it has a well defined taste, sometimes it can be very spicy; although there’s no way one can tell just by looking at it. It measures in average about 12 cm (about 4 inches), 6 cm (2 inches) in its widest part. It’s the most used chili in the whole country, more acres of this variety are grown more than any other. Very popular in central Mexico’s cuisine; used whole it is usually stuffed, the famous “Chile Relleno” (stuffed chili) and “Chiles en Nogada” (stuffed chili in a walnut based sauce) are made with this variety. Chipotle Chili This is one of the spiciest of the dried chili varieties, measuring about 6 cm (3 inches) long and about an inch wide. Before it’s dried, it is a jalapeño pepper. Its name comes from the Nahuatl term Chilli, chili, and Poctl, smoke, thus “smoked chili”. This is one of the most popular varieties in all of Mexico.
Chiltomate - This is a red tomato salsa widely consumed throughout the Yucatan peninsula. The name comes from the Náhuatl terms “chili” and “tomátl”, or tomato. Its preparation varies, but it usually consists of broiled tomatoes, habanero chili peppers, onion, salt and sometimes cilantro. Old recipes call for all the ingredients to be mixed in a mortar-type receptacle called a “cocoic” in Mayan.
Chilorio - This is a spicy pork dish from the state of Sinaloa. The meat is cooked in a red chili, tomato, garlic, oregano, cumin, pepper and vinegar mixture and is shredded when soft. It is usually used accompanied by flour tortillas, in quesadillas or in scrambled eggs.
Chinchillas – This is the name given to a smaller, better-tasting type of pumpkin seed in the state of Yucatan used in traditional and ancient Mayan dishes.
Chivichangas - Also called “chimichangas”, these delights are a traditional Mexican dish from the state of Sonora. They are wheat flour tortillas filled with meat and/or beans and cheese and then fried in oil. It is, in a sense, a fried burrito. Sometimes they are garnished with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and hot salsa. In the state of Sinaloa, they are very popular and are also served with either chilorio or machaca.
Chocolate - Chocolate's (Xocolatl or Cacao) true discovery is said to have taken place in 1519 with Hernan Cortes arrival in M?xico. The Spaniards named it Amigdala pecuniaria or Money Almond, for it was, indeed, the monetary unit used by the local people.More than 2000 years ago, the Mayans started growing the cocoa tree, giving great value to the seeds, because they used it as currency and for its nutritional qualities, which placed it among one of the most valuable food items of the time.The Aztecs continued this tradition, for them, this was a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the God of Culture and Gardner of Paradise; and thus it was considered food of the gods. Mythology makes reference to Quetzalcoatl as an exile; banished from paradise but vowed to his people that he would return. This is why upon Cortes? arrival, they believed him to be the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl, and so Moctezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, offered him a glass made of gold and filled with the food of the Gods, which was reserved only for those people in the highest levels of society. Cortes saw for himself the energizing value of this beverage, which allowed soldiers to march all day, and he propagated the growth of cocoa.It?s said that chocolate?s introduction to Spain took place thanks to a few monks who were traveling with Cortes. In M?xico, chocolate found incredible popularity thanks to the church?s acceptance, considering it as a beverage that didn?t break their fast during Lent and was thus adopted as the official beverage of the Spanish Royal Court. Almost at the end of the 18th century, chocolate started being prepared using milk and sugar instead of water, and French ladies popularize bon bons; pieces of chocolate to be enjoyed at any time, but it wasn?t until the beginning of the 19th century that chocolate started being manufactured the way it is today, in the shape of tablets.Mexican people no longer reserve chocolate for special occasions, it has become a daily companion, whether it be next to typical dishes such as Rosca de Reyes, tamales, in some recipes like Mole Poblano, a dish which combines the flavors of more than 50 ingredients, from several kinds of dried chili peppers, to spices and nuts and of course, chocolate, or as an unassuming candy bar or in fancy gourmet desserts.The consumption of this product has expanded so widely that it?s not just defined by its use, but can also be found in popular Mexican sayings. A clear example of this is ?You?re like water for chocolate?, making reference to such anger or sadness which is expected to have a quick reaction.To this day, chocolate is a characteristic of Mexican culture and its unlimited use continues expanding and diversifying flavors. At EL ARRAY?N Puerto Vallarta, we use this very traditional Mexican ingredient in the confection of our world famous Mole Poblano Beef Filet as well as in our wonderful Chocolate Flan
Chocolomo - This stew made from beef, kidneys, livers, brains, hearts and tongues is cooked in a cauldron and spiced with garlic, tomato, pepper, oregano, onions, cumin, coriander, spearmint and salt. Once cooked, slices of lemon are added. Depending on family custom, it may be accompanied by a variety of salsas. Everybody has a different way of eating this dish, the name of which comes from the Mayan “chokó”, meaning hot; its Mayan name is “che’ chak”, che meaning “raw” and chak meaning “to boil water”. It is used as a tonic for those who have overindulged in the consumption of alcohol, for it is said to settle the stomach.
Damiana - Its scientific name Turnera diffusa, it is a plant with leaves measuring from one to two centimeters long, very fragrant and with a pleasant taste. It contains a volatile oil that smells similar to camphor and has healing properties. A liqueur, as well as infusions are made from it. The plant is native to the Americas; chronicles from the 16th century written by missionaries report that since ancient times the leaves have been used by the native people from the north of Mexico, who used to macerate it in water and drink it as an infusion. It was said to be beneficial for muscular or nervous weakness and to recover energy. These days many people drink damiana tea (available in stores and pharmacies throughout Mexico) to obtain or increase sexual potency. In the states of Baja California Sur and Sinaloa, damiana liqueur is a popular drink, light green in color, very sweet and to which aphrodisiac qualities are attributed; it can be found in most restaurants served as an after-dinner drink and is found in most liquor stores throughout Mexico.
Dulce de Calabaza - Candied pumpkins, which have been boiled in piloncillo syrup with cinnamon and clove, this is possibly THE most important sweet treat during the Day of the Dead festivities. It is prepared differently in each of Mexico’s regions: the pumpkins may be whole or cut in large chunks and may or may not include the pumpkin’s seeds; sometimes it is served with lots of syrup, sometimes dry, depending on the region and customs of the cook. In Mexico City and the central states it is known as “Calabaza en Tacha”. Sometimes fruits such as sugar cane and guava are added. In the state of Colima it is commonly served as a breakfast food.
Enchiladas - This most traditional Mexican food is very similar to “chilaquiles”, except that the tortillas are slightly fried in hot oil before being filled with shredded chicken breast, folded over and bathed in red or green tomato sauce, which may or may not be spicy, covered in cheese and sprinkled with cream and then put in the oven to melt the cheese. Yumm! They may be eaten for breakfast, as a side or main dish at lunch, or for dinner.
Epazote - Widely used in many traditional Mexican foods, this is a strong-flavored herb known in English as wormseed. Esquites - Boiled corn kernels served hot in a cup and eaten with a spoon, usually with added lime juice, salt and semi-spicy to spicy chili powder, mayonnaise or cream optional, they are usually sold in the evenings, along with boiled or grilled corn on the cob ears on a stick, and are a very popular and nutritious street food. In Puerto Vallarta you can find them at the Los Arcos Amphitheater across the street from the Main Plaza, and you can often see the corn vendors on their bicycles riding around every town’s neighborhoods.
Flan - This most traditional Mexican dessert is similar to custard or “crème de caramel”. Caramel is the most popular flavor, but it can also be found in chocolate or cajeta flavors. It is cooked by combining milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and egg yolks, either in a pressure cooker or water bath. (Baine Marie). Some people put orange or lime peel in it to give it a special aroma and taste. Everyone’s grandmother makes the best flan EVER (or so everyone thinks).
Fonda - These modest eateries are very popular throughout Mexico. They are usually small family businesses where the menu is fixed, varying every day of the week. Generally open for lunch, some of them are also open for breakfast or brunch. For a very affordable price (generally no more than $4 USD), one gets soup, a main dish, salad, as much fresh fruit water as you can drink and all the tortillas you can eat, as well as dessert.
Frijol con Puerco - This is a very popular traditional Mexican food that is said to have originated in the Yucatan peninsula and southeastern Mexico. It consists of pieces of pork boiled in black beans. The beans are boiled first, and when they acquire a soft consistency, the meat is added along with aromatic herbs. Served as a main dish, eaten in a bowl, combined with white rice, fried plantains and a combination of cilantro, radishes, salt and lime juice, this preparation is commonly called “salpicón”. In the old days, this wonderful and hearty dish was served on Mondays — it was a way to insure there’d be beans in the house for the whole week. Usually, one bowl is plenty, and it is said that you can never fix your second bowl as nicely as the first one.
Frijoles Puercos - These are refried pinto beans (pork lard used to refry them). A little bacon and chorizo are also added. It is a very popular recipe in Sinaloa, and in some homes they are served daily as a side dish to practically every main dish or meat. It is also very common to have them served alongside a basket of totopos at cantinas and restaurants while having a beer or waiting for one’s meal.
Garnachas - Small thick corn tortillas are cooked over the comal, split in half like a pocket, and filled with, for example, shredded pork and minced onion. They are then fried and topped with cabbage, vinegar, fresh cheese and spicy tomato salsa. They are consumed throughout Mexico, although they vary from state to state. Usually eaten at breakfast or dinner, most of the time they are sold at street stalls. Garnachas probably originated in the state of Veracruz.
Golosina - Any and all sweet treats, modern or traditional candy — chocolate, chewing gum, cotton candy, lollypops, ice cream, etc.
Guacamole - Famous all over the world, this nutritious salsa is made from mashed ripe avocados mixed with green chili peppers, tomatoes, chopped onions and cilantro, salt and a few drops of lime juice (the secret to your guacamole not going black, since lime juice prevents the avocados from oxidizing; the avocado stone is also said to stop this oxidizing process, which is very fast in avocados). The name guacamole comes from the Náhuatl “ahuacamulli”, “ahuacatl” meaning avocado, and “mulli” meaning chili pepper sauce. It may be eaten by itself spread on a tortilla or scooped by a totopo, or in tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, etc.
Gorditas - Several snacks share this name, each state having notable variants. The only thing they have in common is that they are made from thick corn dough. In some states, they are filled with beans or meat, fried in pork lard or oil, and served with red or green tomato salsa. In the northern states, they are cooked over the comal, opened as if they were small “pockets”, and filled with a variety of ingredients like beans and cheese, cactus paddles, meat, poblano chili pepper strips, and many more. They are very easy to find outside bus stations and other public places. They are a popular breakfast for construction workers, farmers, factory workers, etc. There are also sweet gorditas, prepared with piloncillo and cinnamon.
Guanábana - This delicious tropical fruit is native to Mexico and tropical America. Its scientific name is Annona muricata. It is a luscious green fruit measuring approximately 20 to 25 centimeters and has an exquisite aroma. Its pulp is white and fleshy, fibrous, juicy and has a wonderful sweet/sour taste with lots of lustrous black seeds. It should always be consumed ripe. It is a fragile fruit; care must be taken when transporting it. Guanábanas are abundant from October to December, although they’re easy to find in markets throughout Mexico year round. These days, it is grown in the southeastern region of Mexico, as well as in the state of Jalisco. As with many tropical fruits, its pulp is made into fresh fruit water, sherbets, jams, marmalades and even gelatin. It is truly one of the most delicious fruits available, so don’t hesitate to try it! H
Habanero - This most spicy of all chili peppers’ scientific name is Capsicum Chinese. Light green/yellow when immature, as it ripens it acquires an orange tone. Its texture is soft, its shape reminiscent of a little Chinese lantern. Measuring about 4 centimeters long and 3 centimeters thick, it is the classic chili pepper used in the state of Yucatan’s cuisine. Most people prefer it when its color is yellow or green, and it is not used dry. It may be eaten raw, roasted or boiled. It’s native to the Caribbean zone, the coastal regions of South America and the Yucatan peninsula. It is not known why it was given this name, for it seems it is not native to Cuba. It is easily found all over Mexico.
Holcatzín - This is a liqueur made from macerated capulín fruit and sugarcane “firewater”. Also called “Capulín Liqueur”, it is a popular drink in the states of Campeche and Yucatán, where it’s also known as “holgatzín”.
Horchata - This refreshing non-alcoholic traditional Mexican beverage is made by soaking rice grains in water, which are then milled and soaked again, sweetened with sugar and spiced with cinnamon. Very common in Mexican homes, taco stands, restaurants and fondas, it is an ancient drink prepared in several places throughout the Mediterranean region. It was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and first popularized in the Yucatan peninsula. It is also be prepared from the seeds of cantaloupe melon or coconut in some regions.
Jaltomate - This is a small wild tomato, not to be confused with the cherry tomato. It measures about one centimeter in diameter; only the largest ones reach two centimeters. This type of tomato is very juicy, has lots of seeds and a thick skin, peculiarities which the people who consume it enjoy. Found across Mexico, it’s mostly used in the cuisines from the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Jalisco. Mainly used in salsas, one obviously needs quite a number of these small tomatoes to make even a couple of cups of salsa. It is rarely found in markets, and when it is, it’s usually in small quantities. Their name comes from the Náhuatl terms “xalli” meaning sand and “tomatl” meaning tomato; therefore, it means “sand tomato”. It is also known as “tinguaraque”, “cachimbo” or “mountain tomato”
Jamaica – This is the tart, five-petal red flower of the mallow bush Hibiscus sabdariffa, which originated in Mexico, where it’s mostly used in the preparation of fresh water and sherbet or Popsicles. This is done by boiling the flowers to obtain a concentrate and then adding sugar and water to taste. It has diuretic properties and is now grown in the Caribbean and India, where it is used as a flavoring, as a vegetable and as the basis of sauces.
Jericalla - This dessert traditional to the state of Jalisco is very similar to flan. Prepared with eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla, the ingredients are mixed, put in a baking pan and baked in a water bath. The dessert’s surface is usually golden brown. Some say the name comes from the Spanish city of Jerica, where it is said to have originated in the 18th century. It is very common to see women selling this homemade dessert outside churches after mass, at fairgrounds and on holy days. It is also a common dessert treat in the states of Nayarit and Puebla. L Licuados – This is the name given to any drink made with fruit, milk and sugar. Licuados are very popular in the morning as a fast and affordable way to start the day with some vitamins and minerals.
Machaca - This dish, typical in the northern states and pronounced “mashaca”, consists of salted, sun-dried and shredded beef. Its texture may be very fine or a little coarse. Quality machaca should be made exclusively from beef loin and there should never be any gristle or nerves. According to some authors, machaca has been prepared in Mexico’s northern regions since the 18th century, when it was a way of conserving the meat for everyday consumption during extended periods of time. The name comes from the verb “machacar”, meaning to pound or crush, the method that was used to shred the meat, either with a rock or a stick. This is done after the meat has been salted and dried. It is then put over a fire and re-hydrated by soaking it in water to tenderize it and remove excess salt. It is then pounded into a finely shredded meat, the excess water removed. The meat can then be fried to make a variety of traditional Mexican dishes. One of the most common ways this delicacy is enjoyed is mixed with scrambled eggs, usually on wheat flour tortillas, at breakfast or dinner, or else in quesadillas or chivichangas. It is also prepared with onion, garlic, chili peppers and tomato; some people even add pieces of potatoes. This traditional Mexican food is consumed throughout the country, but more so in the northern states of Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Sinaloa, Coahuila, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. It’s also quite common in the Baja California peninsula.
Maguey - Agave is the scientific name given to several plant species used in the manufacture of traditional Mexican spirits, such as aguamiel, pulque, mezca,l tequila and raicilla. All varieties are generally long leaved, with thick, fleshy, serrated edges that end in a thorn and have several sharp hook-shaped thorns along the sides. Plants from this genus are characterized by flowering just once, then dying after bearing fruit. Mexico is the birthplace of numerous maguey species, but the word we use to designate them comes from the Caribbean. The Náhuatl term used to describe them is “metl”. Among the varieties known to the Mexica (mei-shi-ca) people, one was called “teometl”, meaning Maguey from God or Divine Maguey, “teotl” meaning God. This wasn’t a coincidence, for during all its cultivation stages and processing, ceremonies, sacrifices and spells were offered, especially to the Goddess Mayahuel, deity of maguey and pulque. The species A. atrovirens Karw, A. salmiana Otto, A.mapisaga Trel and A. americana L. are used in the production of aguamiel and pulque. Tequila is made from A. tequilana Weber; A. angustifolia Haw is used to produce mezcal. Raicilla, typical to the state of Jalisco, is made from the A. inaequidens variety of maguey.
Mancha Manteles - This is a thick, sweet mole made from pork prepared with a combination of ingredients: chile ancho, pepper, cinnamon, onion, almonds, thyme, oregano and garlic (all these ingredients are ground). This traditional Mexican dish’s peculiarity is that the sauce includes pieces of tropical fruit, such as plantains and pineapple. It has always been considered typical of the states of Puebla and Oaxaca, where the recipes are supposed to have their origins and where it is widely consumed. In old Mexico City, it was a very popular dish for families to enjoy on Corpus Christi Day.
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Mole Poblano - pronounced "mou-leh", this ingredient is used every day in millions of Mexican homes as well as at EL ARRAY?N, where we use it in our Mole Beef Filet. One of the most traditional Mexican cuisine dishes is without a doubt Mole Poblano. It was created for a celebration in the city of Puebla by Mother Andrea de la Asunci?n, a nun in the Santa Rosa Nunnery. Today, mole is the typical celebratory dish in country weddings, birthdays, baptisms and other important occasions. It?s always better to prepare this dish on the eve of the celebration, and to add the chicken or turkey later; for it?s said that mole always tastes better after reheating it. The preparation of this dish is long and laborious, and the taste improves after the aromas from all the ingredients (over 50 of them) have had enough time to combine properly. The preparation of the mole paste requires a ?metate?, a rectangular and flat volcanic stone present in any Mexican kitchen; the paste?s texture should be thick, velvety and even. There?s a small town south of Mexico City named San Pedro Atocpan, where the "National Mole Fair" takes place every year, and over 50 contestants compete to prepare and win the award for ?The best mole in the world.? The Fair takes place yearly from October 4th through the 19th. Among the many ingredients used in the preparation of mole are several kinds of chili peppers, such as ancho, mulato, pasilla and chipotle, tomatoes, tortillas which have been fried in pork fat, onions, sesame seeds, garlic, almonds, peanuts, clove, black pepper, raisins, cinnamon, anisette seeds, chocolate, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil.The origins of mole are lost in legend or found in the grand kitchens of the colonial convents of the state of Puebla. Within these convents, Mexican culinary art was strengthened and perfected, for they often held feasts to honor important political and religious personalities of the day. Many of the dishes which gave fame to Mexican Cuisine were indeed first conceived, prepared and enjoyed within the confines of these convents.Each region has imprinted its own seal on mole paste. This helped create black mole from Oaxaca, yellow mole from the southeast, red mole from the Valley of Mexico, ranchero mole from the highlands and many other varieties which surprise us because of their complexity or their simplicity. Nopal or Cactus Paddle - The word "Nopal" comes from the Nahuatl term nopalli. It is an ancient sacred plant which appears in the legend of how the great Tenochtitlan came to be; when the Aztecs saw an eagle resting on one of these plants. This was the sign from the Gods they were looking for when they founded their great city; and it now appears on the national emblem. It belongs to the cacti family and its scientific name is Opuntia. Although several nopal species exist, most are very similar. It?s a bush about 5 meters tall, with a green ramified stalk, its trunk formed by flat paddles 8 to 10 centimeters wide and about 15 centimeters long. The flowers vary in color from yellow to red, and its fruit, called ?tuna? or ?pitaya?, is known in English as the prickly pear and can be green, red or purple, depending on the variety. It?s a sweet and juicy fruit. The nopal is a very common traditional Mexican ingredient; it is believed to be one of the first sources of food for man in America. It is used peeled, boiled and in several recipes, cut up in small pieces and served with tomato, onion, parsley and lime on ?totopos?, in soup, tacos and other preparations. Today, the nopal is one of the most popular traditional home remedies against diabetes and is also believed to aid in weight loss. The paddles go in the blender with water or orange juice and ingested, or eaten raw or in salads. It is believed that this plant is also beneficial in the treatment of gastritis and intestinal cramps. We use nopales in our very fresh and nutritious Ensalada de Nopales Tiernos as well as in our Ceviche Colima and our pozoles at EL ARRAY?N Mexican Restaurant.
Vanilla - The Mexica (pronounced ?Meshica?) people called vanilla ?Tlilxochitl?- (tliltic, black, and xochitl, flower); making reference to the fruit?s color. The current name also refers to the fruit, an aromatic husk about 20 centimeters long. Vanilla is a creeper plant from the orchid family (Vainilla planifolia), with large flowers and black pods which exude an exquisite fragrance. It is used in liqueurs, candy, chocolate, tobacco and many other products. The pod is grown to its ideal length of 15-20 centimeters, once it?s matured, it is then cut, goes through boiling water, dried and wrapped so the essence does not escape.This wonderful contribution from the pre-Hispanic world was discovered by the Totonac culture, which blossomed in the Totonacapan region, now part of the states of Veracruz and Puebla, on the western part of the country, near the Gulf of Mexico. The Totonacs referred to it as Xanath.For these peoples, vanilla was one of the most important plants. This is evident in the many religious traditions surrounding Xanath, in which the whole community participated. In fact, to them Xanath was a symbol; it represented the center of their cultural identity. Something similar occurs in other cultures; the Mayan, Teotihuacan and Toltec people made corn one of the most important symbols of their civilizations.The conditions that had to be developed in order for the Totonacs to grow this plant are amazing. In order to successfully grow vanilla very special geographic and weather conditions are necessary. The altitude has to be at least 500 meters above sea level, and the climate has to be warm and humid. The Totonacapan region filled all these requirements; but vanilla needs human intervention in order to grow, for this is a plant that can not self pollinate for reasons still unexplained; so human hands combine the male and female parts of the flower.This was a ritualistic activity; it was a woman?s job, performed preferably by young, chaste women, who dedicated their time to this task during the blossoming period. In fact, until quite recently in the Papantla region of the state of Veracruz, one could observe hundreds of young women dressed in white, wearing the traditional cueitl and quexquenitl, (blouse and skirt) working the vanilla fields.When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, they were fascinated by this plant?s aroma, which the natives mixed with cocoa to make a chocolate drink, and immediately sent some back to Spain. Vanilla then quickly became known throughout all of Europe. The French and Belgians tried to grow this exquisite plant in their colonies in Asia, where it acclimated quite well, but after flowering, the fruit never appeared. It was only until the secret of human pollinating was discovered that they were able to successfully grow it. Today, vanilla is used mostly in the confection of deserts, and the Coca Cola Company buys large quantities of it to make their famous soft drink.