The Three Main Signs That You’ve Never Had Real Mexican Food

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There are many key signs you have never had real Mexican food — and for God’s sake, you should keep those signs in mind if you ever want to experience authentic Mexican cuisine. For one thing, real Mexican food probably isn’t going to be served at a chain restaurant. For another, you probably haven’t had authentic Mexican food just by the merit that, unfortunately, most Mexican restaurants in the United States don’t serve real Mexican food. It’s sad but true. Mexican food has been co-opted by corporate America, cooked and served by people who have never and likely will never be to Mexico. While many Mexican restaurants hide this fact by hiring Mexican employees, those employees often have very little say in what is served and in fact probably eat very different food at home. Now, this isn’t to say that the food being served at faux Mexican restaurants is bad — it’s just not real Mexican food. The easiest way of knowing what to look for in the best Mexican food is knowing what not to eat. Below, we’ll get into signs you have never had real Mexican food. Hopefully, this will help you spot fake Mexican food in the future, and for that matter have a better eating experience in the long term.

1. The Tacos Are Hard Shelled

One of the major signs you have never had real Mexican food is if the restaurants you’ve been to have served hard-shelled tacos as if they are authentic. In fact, hard tacos are extremely rare in Mexico. Most of the time, soft tacos are the norm. With one out every 10 restaurants in America selling “Mexican” food, it is the most popular type of international cuisine in the country. This means that many restaurants are trying to stay competitive by buying cheaper, easier to prepare ingredients. Hard tacos are often cheaper, and certainly they are easier to slap together than soft tacos. Not only do most tacos in Mexico end up being soft — they’re also rarely served in the flour tortillas you often see in Mexican restaurants in America. For the most part, Mexican tortillas are always corn. Corn tortillas better contrast to the flavors used in Mexican dishes, and for that matter they are heavily based on the fact that early Mexicans cultivated corn as a major crop. Mexican food is, after all based off of the cuisine cultivated by the Mayans 2000 years ago.

2. They Serve Tex-Mex

Another one of the big signs you have never had real Mexican food is if the restaurants you frequent serve Tex-Mex. While the flavors of Tex-Mex can be delicious, they are not authentic, and few real Mexican restaurants would ever serve Tex-Mex cuisine. But wait — what if you don’t even know that what you’ve been eating is actually Tex-Mex? Tex-Mex restaurants don’t always advertise themselves as such, and indeed many who think that they’re eating Mexican food are actually eating Tex-Mex. Originally beginning in the 1940s, Tex-Mex is probably the best example of Mexican fusion food. As Texas is on the border of Mexico, it was much easier for the two culinary cultures to begin influencing and infusing each other. Again, this can be very good food — but it isn’t authentic Mexican food, and should not be advertised as such. If you wan it, go to a Tex-Mex restaurant. But if you want authentic Mexican food, look elsewhere.

3. They Only Have Two Salsas

If a restaurant only serves two types of salsa — usually one green and one red — it’s not an authentic Mexican restaurant, plain and simple. Salsa has become a major condiment not only in Mexico but in the States as well, surpassing ketchup and mayo as the number one condiment. For that matter, tortillas have been outselling hot dog buns since 2010. Salsa can also come in the form of a mole, of which there are many different types.

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Francis Pitt

Francis Pitt

Francis Pitt has made a name for himself in farm-to-table organics, working at restaurants in Portland, Seattle and Burlington, Vermont. While he has a taste for the extreme, most of his restaurant’s top sellers are much more down-to-earth, regularly featuring mushrooms gathered from the slopes of the Cascades, and fresh wild-caught seafood from the Oregon coast. Inspired by trends in Portland, his latest restaurant offers the ultimate chef’s table: dinner begins in the morning at his island collective farm, and 4 lucky guests every week get to follow the food, literally, from the field to the plate! Francis is a firm believer that you are what you eat — do you really want to be a chemistry set?