Mexican food has been a part of the cookery of the American Southwest since all of that area, including California, was settled by Spanish-Mexicans long before the Anglos arrived. Restaurant chains featuring Mexican food with its comparatively low prices and zesty flavor have accelerated its popularity. If the trend continues, the taco and burrito could become as well-known as the hamburger, French fries and milkshakes. Connoisseurs of food are aware that Mexico’s food offers a wide range of items, based on rice, beans, corn, chilies and lard, with which meat is used sparingly.
When the conquistador Cortez marched into Mexico he found the native Indians living around a corn, bean, and cocoa food economy. Chocolate, peanuts, and vanilla were new to Spaniards. A protein-poor cuisine, it was supplemented occasionally by eating dogs and one’s enemies.
Today’s gastronomical map of Mexico shows a widely varied and elaborate cookery incorporating fish, seafood, pork, chicken, cheese, goat, and beef. Just about every Mexican dish begins with a tortilla, originally made from cornmeal pounded out on a metate (flat stone) and shaped by hand. Today’s tortilla is factory made, whether from flour or cornmeal. Eaten like bread, it is also used like a pancake or crepe as a base for a variety of items.
Deep-fried and U-shaped it becomes a taco, filled with combinations of hamburger, rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, or cheese. A smaller taco is a taquito.
Deep-fried flat and piled high with such items as beans, cheese, meat, mounds of shredded lettuce, diced tomato, avocado slices, and olives, it becomes a tostada.
Enchiladas are tortillas filled with meat or cheese, rolled up and deep-fried.