Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Glossary of Foods and Food Terms in Mexico


Almuerzo: name given to an early (11:00 a.m.) light lunch, often a dish based on Tortillas.

Annatto: the seeds of a tropical tree, delicate in flavor but colors foods a bold orange-red. Called achiote in Mexico.

Arroz: rice.

Bolillas: crusty, torpedo-shaped rolls of white bread (wheat flour) popular at all meals, especially breakfast, and particularly in Mexico City.

Bunuelos: simple deep-fried fritter served with cinnamon sugar and often a syrup or molasses sauce. A specialty of the fiestas, especially the posadas of Christmas.

Burritos: Tortillas that are made of wheat flour, larger than the Masa Harina Tortillas, often served filled with Frijoles, spicy meat sauce, lettuce and cheese and rolled up like an envelope.

Cafe: coffee.

Cafe con Leche: a blend of coffee and hot milk specially favored for breakfast.

Cafe Negra: black coffee.

Carne: meat, usually referring to beef.

Cena: the late evening meal, usually light. One course perhaps followed by fruit and a beverage.

Ceviche: strips of raw fish marinated in lime juice and lemon juice with chilies, onions, and garlic. The flesh of the fish loses its translucency and turns white as if cooked. Delicious as an appetizer. Of ancient Peruvian origin.

Chipotle: a red hot pepper, smoked, available pickled or fresh, and brick red in color. Like a brick, it delivers a potent punch!

Chorizo: popular fresh sausage made of fresh pork, pork fat, and seasonings.

Comida: literally, “a meal”. The term is usually used to designate the leisurely heavy meal served from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Desayuno: breakfast, usually early and light.

Empanadas: crescent-shaped pastries with sweet or savory fillings. Of Spanish origin.

Enchiladas: Tortillas that have been rolled over a filling, ends open, covered lightly with a sauce, and baked in the oven or served without being baked.

Ensalada: salad.

Epazote: herb indigenous to Mexico (also called pazote, peqweed, or goosefoot). Dried and crumbled, it is used in bean and tortilla dishes, adding a strong distinctive flavor.

Flan: the most popular Mexican dessert, a slow-baked custard of eggs, condensed milk with a caramel or coconut glaze.

Frijoles: beans, the dried type. Any one of many cooked varieties.

Frijoles Refritos: beans that have been cooked then reheated by mashing in lard till a smooth thick paste is formed. Eaten as a staple side dish, usually with mild grated cheese on top.

Guacamole: a smooth but piquant paste made by mashing ripe avocados with lime juice, onion, seasonings. Used as an appetizer, more frequently as a garnish to other foods.

Horchata: a cooling drink prepared from ground melon seeds with added water, sugar and grated lemon rind.

Huevos: eggs.

Huevos Rancheros: a popular egg dish suited for almuerzo or a North American brunch. Eggs are cooked in spicy tomato sauce seasoned with onions, peppers and served traditionally with Tortillas and Frijoles Refritos.

Jicama: looks like a large turnip, and served sliced in thin flat rounds. Tastes crisp and very juicy, somewhat like an apple. Mexicans buy it from street vendors and douse it with peppery hot sauce.

Leche: milk.

Masa Harina: a special corn flour made by soaking the corn in lime water and grinding it very finely. It is used for the making of Tortillas and often to thicken stews and sauces.

Merienda: late afternoon snack of coffee or chocolate and sweet rolls or pastries.

Mole: the name given to many different sauces, each similar only in that the combination of seasonings, tomatoes (red or green), nuts, etc., are first ground to a paste then cooked in hot lard before the other parts of the dish are added. The most famous mole, Mole Poblano, is made the same way but with the addition of bitter chocolate (poblano means in the style of Puebla).

Ollas: earthenware jugs, often attractively glazed and decorated, used to store liquids.

Salsa: sauce.

Sopa: soup.

Sopa Seca: literally, “dry soup”. Refers to a rice or pasta-type dish similar to Italian pasta casseroles, baked with sauce.

Taco: a fried crisp Tortilla, either rolled or folded with a filling.

Tamales: when prepared as a simple bread dough from Masa Harina and steamed in corn husks, Tamales are eaten like bread. When the dough part is filled with spicy mixtures of meats, Tamales become a complete meal.

Tinga: a stew of meat and vegetables with seasonings prepared by sautéing onions, garlic, then tomatoes and seasonings and finally adding meat and then the vegetables. With Mexican ingredients and European method, these dishes are a blend of old and new world cuisine.

Tortilla: a flat, pancake-like bread made from specially ground corn flour called Masa Harina. It can be used as a bread, spread or layered with filling, rolled, baked, fried, shredded into soups, or shredded and fried and enjoyed as snacks. The uses are almost endless. The tortilla even serves as an edible plate and a utensil for eating other foods.

Tostada: when Tortillas are crisp-fired, still flat, and stacked with a filling – cooked ground meats, Frijoles, shredded lettuce or cheese for example – they are called Tostadas.

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