Mexican food is delicious—such a mix of flavors and amazing textures. Still, given the huge variety, it is understandable that not everybody gets it right.
Therefore, I will make an effort to help you identify some of its most iconic dishes. Do you want to know about my credentials? Do you want to know what gives me the right to write about this?
No, I am not a chef. However, I am a Mexican person who lives in a Mexican city and has spend a good deal of her life making — and eating — Mexican food.
So, without further ado, let’s dig in!
Tacos vs. Tacos Dorados
Ah, the classic one! And yet, I fear lots of people are confused about what a taco really is, and I blame Jack in the Box.
I bet you have tried those crunchy tacos! Yes, they can be tasty, but there is one peculiarity. They actually are what we call tacos dorados, meaning fried tacos. That’s why they have that hard shell.
Also, we stuff them before frying them. The concept of first getting a hard shell and then getting all the goodies into it it’s actually quite strange, mainly because this could cause the filling to get too cold.
So, what is a taco?
Basically, it is a warm tortilla (just enough so it will be soft) filled up with your favorite ingredients: meat, chicken, pork, vegetables, or even just a bit of salsa, and then fold it in two. You truly can put anything you want inside that tortilla. In fact, one of my favorite things in the world is to grab a freshly made tortilla de maíz, sprinkle some salt in the middle of it — and nothing else —, then roll it up and then bite into it.
Summarizing: warm tortilla (corn or flour, or even made out of pork rind or almond flour if you are doing keto) plus your favorite filling equals a taco. If, after doing that, you decide to fry the whole thing, keeping the tortilla closed with a toothpick, that’s a taco dorado.
Hope we are clear on that.
An enchilada features a tortilla that is soaked in some sauce (or rubbed on it) and then briefly fried on hot oil. Some people first do the frying and then add the sauce. After that, they shake off the excess and fill it up with chicken, queso fresco, meat…
Then, the tortilla is rolled up, and you repeat the procedure until you have enough enchiladas on your plate. After that, you can cover with some shredded lettuce, queso cotija, onion, and more sauce.
There are some delicious variants, such as covering the whole thing with tons of cheese and baking it until it is lightly golden on the top.
Some people might argue that this sounds like a taco dorado, but there are key differences:
- With an enchilada, you have to lightly fry the tortilla, just enough to warm it up. You do not want it to get crunchy.
- An enchilada first gets fried, then stuffed. As we established above, the opposite happens with a taco dorado.
A flauta is basically a deep-fried taco. However, instead of folding it in two, you have to completely roll it up, using toothpicks if necessary to keep everything together.
You can fill them up with chicken, meat, even a bit of potato. However, keep in mind, flautas must be very thin. Typically, you serve 4 to 6 of them on a plate and cover them with some lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and even queso cotija.
Just like a taco, a burrito requires a tortilla and something delicious to stuff in in it. What’s the difference with a taco?
Well, for starters, a taco can be made with either a corn or flour tortilla. However, you must use a flour one when it comes to a burrito. Additionally, the tortilla will be bigger and rolled up, not just folded in two, tucking in at least one of the ends.
For some people, it is also mandatory to spread some fried beans before adding the filling when it comes to burritos.
Quesadillas and Sincronizadas
These might be the most controversial items on the list. Even in Mexico, there isn’t a full agreement on what makes a quesadilla. Therefore, I will give you my personal definition, well aware of the fact that someone may come and nag me for getting quesadillas wrong.
I will have to risk it.
To make a quesadilla, you need to grab a tortilla (corn or flour) and fill it up with cheese. Some favorites are Monterey Jack, queso asadero, and even Manchego. Then you place the tortilla on a hot comal. Once it has softened and the cheese has melted a bit, you fold it in two until the bottom side has charred a bit. Then, you turn it around until the other side is crispy enough too. To this, you can add other ingredients such as your favorite kind of meat or vegetables, flor de calabaza being a long time favorite (that’s squash blossoms for your, my amigos).
Now, what’s the problem with this definition? Well, for some, cheese is not a requirement to have a quesadilla…That’s right! There are people who believe a quesadilla does not need to include cheese. To me, that’s just plain wrong because isn’t that just a taco?
Now, if you want to up your game, you can make a sincronizada. Basically, you have to follow the same steps as with a quesadilla, but this time you are using two tortillas, one on top of the other.
Just as with a traditional quesadilla, you can add other ingredients besides the cheese.
One of the advantages of a sincronizada, is that you can cut it into triangles and then dip it into your favorite salsa or some guacamole.
There you have it! I don’t think it matters that much if you don’t manage to memorize all of the names in all fairness. However, wouldn’t it be great to show up at a Mexican restaurant and order precisely what you want?
If there’s something on this list you haven’t tried, please, fix that! I’m sure you will love it.