Spice Up Your Life: Discover Mexico's 7 Culinary Regions

By Briana Seftel

Do you think Mexican food is only tacos and burritos? Think again! Mexico’s cuisine is incredibly diverse and differs from region to region. In fact, it was declared a UNESCO Patrimony of Humanity in 2010.

Discover the signature dishes of seven regions in Mexico, from birria to mole!

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Yucatan: Cochinita Pibil

The Yucatan peninsula in southeast Mexico has one of the country's richest culinary heritages. Yucatecan cuisine is heavily influenced by Mayan, Spanish, and Lebanese cuisines. The most popular dish in the region is cochinita pibil, slow-roasted pork flavored with citrus and annatto seeds that give its signature burnt orange color.

Other notable dishes: panuchos, sopa de Lima, poc chuc

Oaxaca: Tlayuda

Often hailed the gastronomic center of Mexico, Oaxaca and its cuisine is rich in variety and influenced by its mountainous, rugged terrain. One of the most popular dishes in the region is the tlayuda, a type of Mexican pizza made of a large crispy tortilla and topped with refried black beans, Oaxacan cheese, grilled meat, lettuce, and avocado.

Other notable dishes: seven moles, tamales, chocolate, mezcal

In Oaxaca, a common snack (antojito) is chapulines, which are grasshoppers that are fried and seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime.

Baja California: Taco de Pescado

Extending from Tijuana in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south, the Baja California peninsula has a distinctive cuisine largely influenced by the sea. Tacos de pescado (fish tacos) are extremely popular in Baja California Sur. Coated in a light batter and fried, the fish (usually local snapper or mahi) is served in corn tortillas and topped with crunchy cabbage, pico de gallo, and Mexican crema. In Tijuana, the dish to order is caesar salad, created by Italian chef Livo Santini at the Hotel Caesar.

Other notable dishes: ceviche, taco de camaron, Puerto Nuevo lobster, margaritas

Puebla: Mole Poblano

Several Mexican states claim mole as their own, but the best-known mole - mole poblano - is named after the city of Puebla. Mole poblano contains about 20 ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate, which gives the sauce its dark color. While the origin of this dish is often disputed, today it is considered the national dish of Mexico.

Other notable dishes: chiles en nogada, chalupas, cemitas

Northern Mexico: Burrito

Northern Mexico (El Norte) is a loose geographical region comprised of nine states including Sonora, Chihuahua, and Nuevo León. The cuisine of this region is heavily influenced by the cowboy/vaquero culture and also the coast. Perhaps the most well-known dish of El Norte is the burrito, which means "little donkey" in Spanish. Before it became synonymous with Tex-Mex and Mexi-Cali food, the Mexican burrito consisted of simply meat and refried beans.

Other notable dishes: machaca, arrachera, cabrito

Veracruz: Huachinango a la Veracruzana

Considered the signature dish of the eastern state of Veracruz, huachinango a la Veracruzana (Veracruz-style fish) is whole red snapper covered in a sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes, olives, and herbs. The dish shows the influences from Spain and pre-colonial Mexico, and is one of the few dishes in Mexico made without chili peppers.

Western Mexico: Birria

Birria is a traditional goat or mutton stew that is a staple in the western state of Jalisco. Both a hangover cure and a brunch dish served after a celebration, birria like Mom's chicken noodle soup but with the dial turned way up. The stew, flavored with spicy adobo chili, can also be eaten in a taco.

Other notable dishes: pozole, torta ahogado

Jalisco is also famous for tequila, derived from the blue agave plant. First produced in the 16th-century near the city of Tequila, the liquor is now drunk all over the world with salt and lime.

Bonus: Menudo

Mexico's favorite hangover cure is menudo, a soup made with the discarded cow parts like tripe. In Sonora, the soup has a light broth, but in Chihuahua it is a deep red color from chili. Many regions in Mexico lay claim to menudo, but they can all agree on one fact: after a night of drinking, eat menudo!

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