Montezuma the Aztec Emperor during the early 1500s loved his food; from corn and beans to chocolate dripping with natural vanilla and pure honey, his people ate well. In addition, it is said that after his travels to this area of the world, Columbus did indeed bring some of these foods back to Spain adding this richness to the Spanish food list. How Spanish foods differ from Mexican foods is in the cultures that influenced both; let us consider both of these cuisines.
Spain is found within reach of several rich cuisines, from the south they are looking into the Moroccan cuisines; on the northeast they face the French. Both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans meet there near Spain.
The Moors who ruled over Spain for a long 500 years influenced the Spanish cuisine greatly. They quietly offered the Spaniards fruits, nuts, cinnamon, saffron, and other more mild spices. Rice was one of the foods introduced to Spain that took hold and produced many dishes now famous in the region.
We thank those Moors for this for it has brought the rest of the world the delicious Paella whose main ingredient outside of a hearty broth is the famous rice.
History states that in the mid 1500s the Spanish imports to Mexico included goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, also some spices, and their wonderful olive oil. They brought rice, wheat, and barley along with grains, various nuts and many fruits such as apples and grapes to name a couple. Spaniards brought vegetables such as lettuce and potatoes to Mexico and they introduced that culture to sugarcane.
Let us look at some of the common foods from Mexico and see if we can see any of the Spanish influences that might be present from the influences of the past.
The old emperor Montezuma no doubt ate a corn tortilla with his beans. His servants may have even offered him the beans mashed into a paste and spread upon those corn tortillas, and these would have been delicious. Nevertheless, during the early part of the 1500s they did indeed accept the Spaniards offer of meat, rice, and spices as well as some of the pungent herbs, like cilantro. These then were cooked and brought together for this King/God to spread upon his fresh corn tortilla. Surprise, he had made the first tostado, thank you Montezuma!
The main difference between these two cuisines is heat; hot chili. The heat is very prevalent among Mexican dishes such as Salsas, Chili Sauces, and Chili (Gravies.) For example Enchilada Sauce, Red Chili Relishes, and Sauces, the basis of these is the fiery hot green chili and the dark red dried chili, both are used with gusto in very many Mexican dishes.
In contrast, the Spanish cuisine is milder with spices delicately dispersed to flavor, enhance, and direct the gourmand’s palate toward the seafood/fish, pork, chicken, olives and olive oil, mild cheeses, and varied vegetables used. Not to say the Spaniards do not ever do spicy, they do; however, it is nothing like the hot spices used in making Mexican chili sauces and dishes that can scorch an eager consumer’s mouth.
Common Spanish dishes would be:
Shrimp Paella made with extra large fresh shrimp, white wine, saffron, onion, red bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, artichokes, and parsley. This dish might come served with Roasted Olives and Feta Cheese in which Kalamata olives are combined with olive oil, fennel seeds, and a touch of crushed red pepper flakes and then roasted in the oven for 45 minutes. Then it is sprinkled with the pungent cheese.
Dessert could be a magnificent Orange Flan or “Flan de Narajana.” The custard-based dessert is made using condensed milk, orange zest, lemon juice, orange juice, eggs, orange oil and orange liqueur; sounds good!
A great Mexican meal then will consist of the following:
Tequila Seared Shrimp Tostadas made with avocados, pineapple, beans, scallions, medium sized fresh shrimp, garlic, tequila, chipotle in adobo sauce and corn tortillas. Calabacitas would be served as a vegetable consisting of fresh corn cut off the cob, fresh hot Anaheim chilis, zucchini and cilantro all sauteed together until caramelized and savory.
These dishes could be served alongside a delicious fresh drink called Puente Punch; lime wedges, sugar, orange juice, condensed milk, vanilla and rum; all stirred, not shaken together and served in tall glasses. For dessert, you could expect a nice slice of Chocolate Spiced Cake; made with cocoa, cinnamon, flour, eggs, sugar, vanilla and a bit of amaretto.
The Spanish cuisine is mild tempered, sincere and deeply rooted in the Mediterranean regions of the world. Mexican cuisine is wild and impetuous with fiery heat that sets this cuisine far apart from its associations with Spain.
Choose your cuisine as carefully as you would choose a friend. Do you want a gentle touch with flair and tradition ending with a soft wine or the wild fiery-hot Latino that has to be cooled down with cold, luscious dregs of beer? The choice is yours!