Mexican food is a diverse category including everything from tacos to soups and sandwiches to insects. Some people might picture tacos, nachos, or burritos when they hear the phrase 'Mexican food'. These crowd pleasers are a staple and can often be found on menus in just about every country. While nachos and burritos are popular dishes, they fail to represent the extensive flavors and ingredients found in this latin cuisine.
The flavors and dishes that are native to the massive country are influenced by several factors such as location, climate, history, and culture. The country of Mexico can be broken down into seven culinary regions, each known for unique local dishes and delicacies. The Baja peninsula produces foods influenced by the sea and is known for fresh seafood and fish tacos. The Yucatan peninsula is heavily influenced by Mayan, Spanish, and Lebanese cuisines providing distinct Yucatecan flavors and recipes. Diverse climates and a rich history allow Mexico to cook up an expansive menu of foods
Some Mexican ingredients are universally loved, such as avocados, pumpkins, and chocolate. Others are a bit more bizarre, like crispy grasshoppers, ant larvae, stink bugs, and worm salt. Would you eat a tortilla filled with crispy bugs? How about creamy fungus that grows on ears of corn? Take a look at this list of weird foods from Mexico and see how many you would try!
20 Want To Try: Menudo
Menudo is a flavorful Mexican soup that is traditionally prepared by an entire family and served during special occasions. An extensive cooking process requires roughly seven hours of preparation, boiling, and ingredient mixing. The majority of this cook time is spent boiling the main ingredient, tripe.
The smell of the tripe, or beef stomach, is so potent that it must be boiled with onions for at least three hours to reduce the odor. After the beef stomach is boiled and diced, it is mixed with oregano, chili paste, hominy, and other spices.
While menudo always includes beef stomach, it can sometimes include honeycomb beef that comes from the feet and tendons. These versions require an even more extensive cooking process. The growing popularity of menudo means that it is no longer reserved for wedding ceremonies or holiday celebrations, it is a mainstay on restaurant menus around the world.
19 Want To Try: Caldo de Piedra (Stone Soup)
Stone soup has an interesting history and flavor. Traditionally, men from the Sierra Madre mountain range in the Oaxaca region of Mexico would travel by canoe to the main market. During the several-day journey they would camp on the shores and make simple soups. They began excavating large boulders to use as cooking pots. Large holes were carved in the stones to hold broth, shrimp, and fish. The process remains a sacred tradition and has only varied slightly over the years. The seafood soup can be prepared three different ways. The most traditional process involves cooking the soup directly on the surface of the boulders. The soup can also be made in leaf-lined holes dug in the sand. In more modern roadside restaurants it is served in bowls and cooked at the table. In all three variations, hot stones are placed in the broth to slowly cook the soup. The gentle cooking from the natural stone is said to impart a light and unique flavor to the dish.
18 Want To Try: Pambazo
This dish shares its name with a type of Mexican white bread. While a pambazo is very similar to a torta, or Mexican sandwich, there are a few very distinct differences between the two. The bread used to make a pambazo is very dry and tough, allowing it to retain its shape during the bizarre cooking process. Both pieces of bread are soaked in a red chili sauce until completely wet. Then, the top and bottom of the sandwich are fried until crispy. The more traditional filling consists of a mixture of potatoes and chorizo sausage. The whole thing is topped with lettuce, sour cream, and cheese.
17 Want To Try: Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil is the most famous dish to originate in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It combines Mayan traditions with European influences. The dish begins with a large cut of pork that is marinated in achiote paste, which is a spice found in Central America. Orange juice and other spices are added to the mixture and left to marinate for at least eight hours. The pork is then wrapped in large banana leaves and slowly roasted in an underground oven. A hole is dug in the ground and lined with hot stones that were heated over firewood. The banana leaves filled with pork are placed on top of the stones and then the entire area is covered to allow for undisturbed cooking.
16 Want To Try: Nopales (Cactus)
Nopal is a common Mexican cactus with over 100 known species. The prickly pads of the cactus are harvested, cleaned of their spines, and cooked. They are available in a wide range of dishes and are prepared in several different ways. They can be bottled, canned, pickled, or diced up and cooked on their own. They are most commonly added to scrambled egg dishes and salsas or used as a vegetarian filling for tacos.
When it comes to taste and texture, nopales offer a slightly tart flavor and are crisp with a mucilaginous liquid.
In most recipes, the gooey liquid is included in the cooking process.
15 Want To Try: Pay De Elota (Sweet Corn Pie)
Corn is a staple ingredient in Mexican cuisines, so it’s no surprise that corn is often the main ingredient in drinks and desserts, too. Pay de elote is a sweet and creamy pie made with corn custard and baked in the oven.
It is similar in consistency to cheesecake but the flavor sits somewhere between corn bread and custard.
Several cups of corn kernels are pureed with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and cinnamon and then poured into a cookie crust. Once baked, the pie is refrigerated and served cold. It can be topped with a hefty scoop of whipped cream and more fresh cinnamon.
14 Want To Try: Fruit With Dried Chili
Mexican fruit salad with dried chili powder is a staple in many countries (Latin America), especially Mexico. Street carts and vendors sell cups or bags filled with fruit slices that have been topped with a dried chili powder and a fresh squeeze of lime. The blend of dried chilis adds smokiness, spice, and a bright citrus flavor to the sweet fruit. The lime juice helps the powder stick to the fruit while also balancing the sweet and spicy ingredients. Generally, you’ll see this fruit salad made of watermelon, jicama, and mango. This healthy snack fuses a unique blend of spices and flavors.
13 Want To Try: Burnt Milk And Cactus Flower Ice Cream
This dish combines two unique ice cream flavors to create one very distinct dessert. First, the burnt milk ice cream is made from a delicate cooking process that slowly heats milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. The warm milk mixture is stirred into hot caramel and thoroughly combined. This mixture is folded into eggs that have been whipped until thick and foamy. This is frozen and eventually scooped into the bottom of an ice-cream dish. Then comes the cactus flower ice cream.
People in Mexico call this tuna ice cream, but the name does not properly reflect the taste. The cactus flower tastes similar to a cucumber,
which makes it a unique accompaniment to the burnt milk ice cream.
12 Want To Try: Mole
Mole is less of an actual dish and more of a sauce. The term mole has become a broad identifier for a wide range of sauces originating in Mexico, some of which are extremely different from the rest. While some are green, some black, some red, and some brown, they all begin the same way. Traditionally these sauces start with a combination of chili peppers that form a base to add more interesting ingredients. Some popular mole sauces include fruits, nuts, tomatillos, herbs and more. Perhaps the most interesting of ingredients is chocolate, which is commonly used in these recipes. Most mole sauces use over 30 different ingredients and require a days-long cooking process.
11 Want To Try: Cabrito (Kid Goat)
Cabrito is a popular dish in cuisines across Latin America, including Mexico. The name itself is both Spanish and Portuguese and refers to the type of meat that is being prepared, young goat. The goats are usually milk-fed and range from one to three months old. In the most traditional and common cooking method, the goats are split, laid flat, and placed on a spit that sits next to a bed of fiery hot embers. The meat is then slow-roasted in the open air for several hours with no seasonings. The flavor comes from what it absorbs of the slow-burning charcoal.
10 Not-So-Much: Criadillas De Toro (Bull... Ummm... Privates)
When it comes to cooking in Mexico, there is a common effort to avoid food waste. Every part of a plant that can be used, will be. Similarly, every part of an animal that can be eaten, should be. This practice helps feed more people and uses less resources. It also means that more obscure cuts of meat are making their way to menus and tables around the world. Bull testicles may have their roots in several countries, but they are a common delicacy in Mexico. Boiled, fried, chopped, or diced, these meaty treats are prepared in a plethora of ways. Often, you will find them tossed with vegetables and stuffed in a corn tortilla.
9 Not-So-Much: Tacos de Sesos (Beef Brain Tacos)
In an effort to eliminate food waste, many weird or bizarre foods involve less common cuts of meat. Brain tacos are the perfect example of this. They are exactly what they sound like, cow or goat brains that are cooked and stuffed into tacos.
Brains are said to have the appearance of cauliflower but a smooth and creamy texture.
The process of extracting the brain meat isn’t for the faint of heart or those with a weak stomach. These tacos might not be on everyone’s list of favorite foods, but those that enjoy them often describe the meat as being incredibly tender and flavorful.
8 Not-So-Much: Huitlacoche (Corn Fungus)
This is a delicacy with many aliases. Corn smut, corn fungus, truffle (from Mexico), and huitlacoche (pronounced whee-tla-KOH-cheh) are just a few of the names that belong to this bizarre delicacy. Corn fungus is a soft, easily spreadable substance that grows directly on ears of corn. It is gray and puffy and resembles dark storm clouds. So, what causes this diverse ingredient to bloom on one of Mexico’s most prominent crops? A disease within the corn itself. Generally harvested after the wet season, corn fungus should be soft and spongy. Since it is technically a vegetable you can eat it raw, but many recipes call for some form of cooking. The fungus turns black once it comes in contact with heat. It can be paired with meats, added to sauces, and even used in household products such as soap.
7 Not-So-Much: Sal de Gusano (Worm Salt)
Worm salt is a traditional and common condiment in Mexico. You can find it rimming a glass of mezcal, garnishing a cocktail, mixed into a salsa, or sprinkled on chips or main dishes. The flavor is warm, smoky, and savory. Just as the name states, it is made from a blend of salt and worms. Chilis are often added to the mix to provide a subtle heat and more complex flavors.
The gusano, the worm itself, is actually moth larva that is chosen for its abundance and high levels of protein.
Some worm salts combine spicier chilis or hand harvested salt for a more artisanal flavor. Other recipes use rare and hard to find species of worms that provide a unique flavor profile.
6 Not-So-Much: Chapulines (Grasshoppers)
Insects are a substantial part of Mexico’s culinary history. Aztec warriors survived on worms, bugs, larvae, and other insects that offered high protein and very little fat.
Mexico holds the title for having the most edible insects in the world, with over 550 different species. Grasshpopers (or chapulines) are one of the most popular, especially in the Oaxaca region. These insects are seen as one of the cleaner bugs since they rarely touch the ground and generally hop from leaf to leaf.
Most commonly, crispy grasshoppers are fried and covered in a chili powder and topped with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. They are a popular snack food and often find themselves on bar-tops right next to the peanuts. They are sold in heaping piles at markets, they’re stuffed into tacos, and they are sprinkled over guacamole and sauces.
5 Not-So-Much: Salsa de Jumiles (Stink Bug Salsa)
This edible insect is a bit different from the rest that are found in Mexico, as stink bugs are commonly served alive. Stink bugs are plucked from the earth and then, like most other proteins, stuffed into a corn tortilla and doused with fresh lime juice. They crawl and scamper as you eat them releasing the potent odor that gives them their name. Some say the legs can tickle your mouth while others claim the bugs give off a natural pain reliever. The flavor is said to be a mix of mint and cinnamon while being both sweet and bitter. If you're looking for a less aggressive way to eat stink bugs, you can often find them ground into a salsa.
4 Not-So-Much: Salsa de Chicatanas (Flying Ant Salsa)
These giant winged ants are a cultural experience, as well as a culinary treat. The ants have a coin-sized wingspan that they use to spin out of their flooded nests and into the air during the first rain in the Oaxaca region. Since chicatanas leave their nest during the first rain, they only come out one night each year. In a celebratory fashion, families and locals gather in large groups to grab as many chicatanas as they can while trying not to get bit. They are then pan-roasted which breaks down the heads and the wings. Since the bugs are so large, they can be awkward to eat. Typically, they are ground into a paste with chili, salt, and garlic, and eaten as a salsa.
3 Not-So-Much: Escamoles (Ant Larvae)
While this may seem like a weird dish, eggs are a common culinary treat in several cultures. Caviar for example, is a sought-after and often expensive delicacy. Escamoles, or ant larvae, have gained somewhat of a cult following in Mexico causing excitement during the two to three months they are in season.
The ant eggs are said to have a buttery and nutty flavor that compliments the garlic, onions, and butter they are often cooked with. The eggs explode in your mouth giving off bursts of flavor.
They look similar to a risotto and have a cottage-cheese consistency.
2 Not-So-Much: Gusanos de Maguey (Maguey Worms)
Maguey worms are known as the gateway bug in Mexico. They live on the maguey plant, which is the plant that mezcal is made from. Some mezcal will have a maguey worm at the bottom of the bottle, a treat for whoever takes the last drink. It may be easier to stomach your first bug after a few rounds of the potent alcohol. If you don’t want to drink your bugs, you can snack on them. These worms are often fried and tossed in salt causing them to mimic the taste of french fries. They are incredibly high in protein and are said to have aphrodisiac properties.
1 Not-So-Much: Pejelagarto (Alligator Gar)
The large freshwater gar is a common fish found in the Mexican Southeast, mainly in the state of Tabasco. Gar are known for their prehistoric appearance. The snout of the fish is long and pronounced resembling that of an alligator. The long, sharp teeth are another primitive characteristic giving this fish its unique looks. Gar isn’t widely eaten, but it is a traditional dish in Tabasco. The fish is typically sold at markets with a large stick running though the body to help flip it over on the grill. The fish is then seasoned with lime, chili, and salt. Traditionally, the pejelagarto is served with the head still intact.
How many of these weird Mexican foods would you try?