Wherever you live, you probably know where to find your closest Mexican restaurant. You’ve likely tried tacos, burritos, and margaritas, but what about the myriad of other Mexican dishes that exist? When you travel to Mexico, stopping at the nearest taqueria or local restaurant will give you a richer and more authentic view of this country’s exquisite gastronomy. From north to south and coast to coast, the immense array of ingredients in each region make Mexico’s most popular dishes possess many variations on the same recipe.

These dishes share the basic ingredients ever-present in a Mexican diet, such as tortillas, corn, tomatoes, pork, beans, fresh and dried chiles, and cilantro. As you plan your itinerary, make a list of these foods you can’t pass up. Not only would it be a vibrant and flavourful experience, but there’s no better way to get to know Mexico and its people than one bite at a time.

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01Tamales

Dating back to prehispanic times, tamales are a revered food and staple of Mexican dining. Its role as a comfort food and celebratory dish for festivities such as Dia de Muertos makes tamales a very important part of Mexican culture. The tamal is made of corn dough that is filled with meats, salsas, vegetables, or dried fruits, then wrapped and steamed. In Mexico alone, there are hundreds of recipes for tamales, with as many flavor combinations. They can be savory or sweet, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks. Some of the most popular tamales in Mexico are corundas, chipilin, oaxaqueño, and Zacahuil.

Cooking Tamales Steffi Victorioso / Getty Images