Among America’s most favored ethnic cuisines is obviously Mexican. Just how far we have come from those hard, crisp tacos and lard-laden refried beans. Going back to the Mayan culture circa 1500 BC, corn and beans have formed the foundation of original Mexican foods and still comprise an important portion of their foods. They were plentiful and easily stored. Gradually, a variety of fresh ingredients have been added over time, along with chicken, beef, pork and seafood, to delight the palates of many everyone, from fast food to Del Taco menu, and everything in between. But the basics which we adore probably the most still top our hit parade. So let’s check out the whole enchilada:

Around 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. the tamale (or “tamal”) is corn masa, individually wrapped in a corn husk and was an ideal portable food. Sort of your early fast convenience food, they were often carried by warriors, hunters and travelers as a sort of meal on the go. Early tamales were often full of turkey,frog, flamingo, axolotl (salamander), gopher or rabbit (would I make that up?). Homemade tamales continue to be a tradition at Christmas in Mexican homes, along with their preparation is labor-intensive and time-consuming, usually steamed inside their husk but a significant part in the holiday meal.

Enchiladas go as far back to Mayan times, perhaps earlier, when the concept of rolling corn tortillas around other foods made for easy meals. In the lake region of the Valley of Mexico, the people traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish. As you may know them now, enchiladas continue to be corn tortillas rolled around a filling, including various meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables or perhaps a combination and covered with a chili pepper sauce, topped with cheese.

In a class by itself, Enchiladas suizas (Swiss-style) are topped with a cream-based white sauce, including béchamel, which was produced from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who produced cream and cheese.

Burritos can also be rolled tortillas but made from wheat, filled with rice, beans and meat, called ‘coçito’ in the Yucatán and ‘taco’ in Mexico City. Burritos could have been created during times of war, easily transported and eaten on the run, primarily through the Mexican/American strife of the early 1900s. Since they are enclosed and easily eaten standing upright, they can make great street food.

Quesadillas are a flat circle of cooked corn tortilla, warmed to soften it enough to get folded in two, then typically full of Oaxaca cheese (queso Oaxaca), a stringy Mexican cheese. They originated in central and southern areas of Mexico and will also contain chicken or shrimp.

Arriving late in the party, chimichangas made their look in 1946 due to Woody Johnson, founding father of Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen, who claims he invented them when he put some burritos into a deep fryer as an experiment at his original Phoenix restaurant Woody’s El Nido. The name means “trinket” loosely translated.

For anyone cooks who want to re-create their favorite dishes at home, you might like to include these basics on your own shopping list:

Rice – brown, spicy or plain, an excellent accompaniment

Beans – both refried pinto beans and black beans

Salsa – lots of combinations, both cooked and fresh

Avocados – either sliced or mashed with tomatoes and spices to get a tantalizing and delicious guacamole

Red or verde (green) sauces to squirt at the top or drown your preferred dish

Corn, white or wheat flour tortillas

Assorted peppers and chiles, both spicy and mild

Cheese (queso) usually crumbled or shredded blends, the most common is cotija and anejo, even (drumroll) Velveeta now offers Mexican and pepper-flavored cheese blends

Tortilla chips for dipping

Although most cities and towns host the favorite fast food and chain restaurants, like Taco Bell, Del Taco near me, Chipotle, El Torito and Acapulco’s, frequently the best Mexican foods may be found in small, family owned shops, or even in emdzgy area often called “Old Town” which may be a wonderful mixture of restaurants and street vendors, all serving up our favorites. Buen apetito.

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