Mexican. Food. Chances are you’re in love with the colorfully diverse cuisine of Tierra Azteca just like the rest of us. And how could you not be? Along with beautiful music, landscapes, and craftsmanship, wonderful food and drink specimens are some of Mexico’s greatest gifts to the world.
But there’s a skeleton in the sugar skull closet: many foods that are widely seen as Mexican are, in fact, not of Mexican origin at all. Margaritas, hard-shell tacos, fajitas—all were technically born in the U.S. (though they are enjoyed by both people of Mexican descent and non-Mexicans alike). Basically, Taco Tuesday is a lie. A delicious lie. Check out some other Mexican dishes that weren’t derived from Mexico.
1. Tacos al pastor
Photo Credit: William Neuheisel
You can order tacos al pastor in many Mexican restaurants, taquerias, food trucks, and kitchens, both inside or outside of Mexico, but this style of strategically marinated pork is actually said to have been inspired from Arab and Lebanese “shepherds,” which translates to pastor in Spanish, who went to Mexico. Now that you think about it, doesn’t pastor have a bit of resemblance to shawarma or gyro?
Found both in and outside of Mexico, salsa’s roots can be traced through Central and South America. You’ll find salsa roja, salsa verde, and pico de gallo in Mexico, mojo in the Caribbean and Cuba, chimichurri in Argentina, and many more depending on the region.
The colorful sugar skulls are most popular during the celebrations of Dia de los Muertos and All Souls Day. The post-Halloween festival is a Catholic holiday with ancient Celtic roots, dating back to 17th century.
4. Rosca de Reyes
This type of special bread is served on January 6, in celebration of Dia de Reyes (remembering when Three Wise men traveled to bring gifts to the infant Jesus Christ). The holiday is more religiously observed in Spain, though many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans take part in the festivities as well.
Photo Credit: Mehlen Romain
Your friends make them, your favorite Mexican restaurant sells them, and Mexicans sizzle up batches too—but fajitas are completely Tex-Mexican. Dating back to 1930s Texas, fajitas were grilled on campfires by Mexican farmhands using the throwaway beef cuts included in their pay. Not too long after, fajitas could be found in several Mexican restaurants. By the 1980s, fast casual restaurants caught on to the cost-efficient trend and haven’t looked back since.
This one may come as a bit of a shocker since burritos are, for many, a favorite “Mexican” dish. An eatery called El Cholo Spanish Cafe in Los Angeles, however, claims to have served the first burrito. Hopefully, the guac didn’t cost extra.
These delicious cinnamon dough pastries may be a staple for Mexican food carts and trucks, but ancient churros made a journey across the globe, more or less. They originated in China, then traveled to Portugal, Spain, and, finally, Mexico. They can also be found in modern-day South America and fairgrounds near you.