When it comes to cooking, Mexico is a huge country. There are many regional variations from one part of Mexico to another, which makes for a vast and diverse cuisine. There are however, several items which tie the whole of Mexican cooking together.
The cooking of ingredients on a comal (a flat cast iron pan) is uniquely Mexican. Many Mexican cooks put foods on these comales and roast them until the exterior is often slightly burned. This burnt garlic, onion or chile skin is then removed…but what is left behind is a subtle and smoky flavor that is found throughout Mexican cuisine.
The use of corn masa is another uniquely Mexican culinary trait. This paste, made from dried field corn, significantly affects nearly every dish served in Mexico. Where you see a bread basket on every European and most American tables, you will see a basket of freshly made corn tortillas in Mexico. There are also tamales, enchiladas, and an entire category of dishes called antojitos (small plates) that are traditionally made from this corn masa.
Fusion cuisine was all the rage in the mid 1990′s. Chefs were fusing cuisines from all over the world on the same plate, and some of the combinations were very forced and strange. Mexican cuisine is a natural fusion cuisine because it slowly fused Spanish continental cuisine with Mexican Native cuisine. A robust and vibrant cuisine existed in Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores nearly 500 years ago. The Spanish brought spices, pork, rice and European cooking techniques to supplement the cuisine that already existed in Mexico. These two cuisines naturally fused over the centuries, but in Mexico the cuisine of the gulf coast actually exhibits more Spanish influence than in areas which remained more true to native cooking such as Oaxaca and the Yucatan Peninsula. It is the natural blending of cuisines that makes Mexican cooking so ingenious and adaptable.