Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine often get mixed up, but they're actually two very different things. Sure, they might share some ingredients, but the cooking styles and flavors set them apart. Tex-Mex is a mash-up of Mexican and American cultures, born in Texas. Mexican cuisine, on the other hand, is a celebration of flavors with a rich history of indigenous, Spanish, and African influences. Each dish is unique, with different ingredients and cooking techniques inspired by the geography and climate of Mexico.
While Tex-Mex is full of mouth-watering options, Mexican cuisine is a whole other level of delicious. So, to make sure you’re eating real Mexican food in Mexico, here are the true Mexican versions of some of the most well-known Tex-Mex grub:
1. Nachos vs. Chilaquiles
Nachos, we all love them - the crispy tortilla chips smothered in melted cheese and jalapeños, what's not to love? They are a fun and easy snack and are perfect for sharing, but they did not originate in Mexico! Chilaquiles, on the other hand, is a traditional Mexican dish made with fried tortilla chips simmered in a chili sauce and topped with cheese, onions, and other ingredients. They're a more filling meal than nachos and perfect for starting your day with a little kick.
2. Burritos vs. Enchiladas
Next, let's talk about Burritos and Enchiladas. Burritos are a classic Tex-Mex dish - a flour tortilla stuffed with rice, beans, cheese, and meat, all rolled up into one big, delicious package. Enchiladas, are the real Mexican deal though, made with corn tortillas and filled with ingredients like cheese, chicken, or beef, then rolled and smothered in a chili sauce. While these two are quite similar, the big difference between burritos and enchiladas is the type of tortilla used and the sauce on top.
3. Fajitas vs. Tacos
Fajitas and soft shell tacos are another classic showdown. Fajitas are a Tex-Mex favorite - thin strips of marinated beef, chicken, or shrimp, cooked up with peppers and onions and served deconstructed on a hot iron skillet, with a basket of warm flour tortillas. Real Mexican tacos, on the other hand, are made with soft corn tortillas and and come in a variety of styles, including tacos al pastor, tacos de asada, and tacos de guisado. Fajitas also tend to be accompanied by a variety of condiments, such as guacamole and sour cream, while tacos are usually eaten as-is or with a bit of salsa on top.
4. Avocado Dip vs Guacamole
When it comes to dips, guacamole and avocado dip are common comparisons. Guacamole is a classic Mexican dip made with mashed avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and spices. The flavors and textures of the ingredients combine to create a creamy, tangy, and slightly spicy dip. Avocado dip, on the other hand, is a simpler version that's often made with just avocado, mayo or sour cream, and a few spices. Because of the simpler, creamy flavors, it’s not as tangy or spicy as traditional guacamole.
5. Hard-Shell Tacos vs. Tostadas
Hard-shell tacos and tostadas are a comparison of the crunch. Hard-shell tacos are made with a crispy corn tortilla, shaped like a horseshoe that's filled with ingredients like seasoned beef, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. Tostadas, on the other hand, are a traditional Mexican dish made with a flat, crispy corn tortilla that is topped with ingredients like refried beans, cheese, and salsa. While they are very similar, the biggest difference between hard-shell tacos and tostadas is the shape and texture of the tortilla as well as where the ingredients are put.
6. Stuffed Bell Peppers vs Chiles Rellenos
Stuffed bell peppers are a Tex-Mex favorite made with green bell peppers that are stuffed with a mixture of rice, ground beef, and cheese. While not too far off its traditional Mexican cuisine counterpart, stuffed bell peppers lack a lot of the complexity in flavors that chiles rellenos recipes have mastered over the years. Chiles Rellenos are large, mild chili peppers that are stuffed with cheese or meat, then battered and fried for a crispy exterior. The dish is usually served with a tomato or chili sauce on top.
7. Queso vs. Queso Fundido
Queso and queso fundido are two cheese-based dishes that are often mistaken for the same thing. But, they're actually pretty different! Queso is a cheese dip that's commonly served as an appetizer in Tex-Mex restaurants. It's made with melted cheese, chili peppers, and other ingredients that are blended together to make a creamy, gooey dip. Queso fundido, though, is a dish that's typically served as a main course in Mexican cuisine. It's made by baking or grilling cheese until it's melted and bubbly and then serving it with tortillas or other toppings like chorizo, peppers, or onions.
So, while Tex-Mex cuisine has its own unique flavors and dishes, it's important to remember that these dishes are inspired by traditional Mexican cuisine and often only scratch the surface of the rich and diverse flavors of authentic Mexican cooking. If you want to experience the full range of Mexican flavors, steer clear of the touristy restaurants in Mexico and look for the spots where locals are eating. That’s how you know you’re getting the best of the best!