I think that Mexican food is the most exciting cuisine on the planet. The diversity of ingredients that are autochthonous to this part of North America is simply staggering. When you add all of the plants and animals that were incorporated by the colonial trade routes and patterns of migration you get one of the greatest examples of biodiversity on the planet.
Mexico knows about all the modern haute cuisine tendencies but preserves the ancestral techniques using stone, fire, and fermentation in a way that elevates the ingredients to incredible heights.
Lastly, the reasons why we eat, and what we eat are driven by people and culture. There is a lot of family history involved in the typical cuisines and those stories make the food taste richer.
I went to school in Santa Cruz, CA and lived right next to the Chadwick Garden. Trying an heirloom tomato for the first time changed my life. When I got to Mexico and tried tortillas made out of heirloom corn I became obsessed with all the ingredients and flavors that were available. You eat something your whole life, like Rosarita Refried beans in a can, and then you try a species of exotic, heirloom beans grown on a small farm in rural Michoacan and you can’t believe they are the same thing. Corn, chiles, fungi, beans, squash, vanilla, chocolate, and so many more ingredients are just waiting to be tasted like it was the very first time.
There is something to be said for a deep toolbox of skills for cooking. Food tastes different when it is cooked on an open fire and ground with a volcanic stone metate. It just does. The process of nixtamalización cooks corn in an alkaline solution of lime (mineral not fruit) or ash to break down the cellular membrane of the grain. The final product tastes amazing and is more nutritious than the raw version. The people living in North America before the Spanish arrived have contributed a plethora of cooking techniques like nixtamalización, fermentation, stone grinding and underground fire pit ovens.
The most forward thinking chefs in the world, guys like Rene Redzepi, are only now starting to experiment with fermentation like Mexicans have been doing for centuries. Mixing ancestral techniques with modern European tendencies has yielded some pretty cool experiences. I think eating at Alcalde or Xokol in Guadalajara are some of my favorite culinary experiences because of that balance of modern and traditional cooking techniques.
More so than most parts of the world, Mexico has done an incredible job incorporating immigrants into society. Waves of Spanish, Lebanese, German, Japanese, Chinese, Venezuelen and United States immigrants have chosen to make Mexico home and contribute to the local culture. It is hard to imagine Mexican food without beef and dairy, beer, tacos de pastor, rice, coconuts or mangoes, but they all arrived because of immigrants.
If economic conditions were always good we might never have learned how tasty worms, crickets and ants could be. The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” has taught people in Mexico how to maximize every ingredient and value the sacrifice of each animal. The hoof, the intestine, the liver are all turned into delicacies that most rich countries turn their nose up at. It is a combination of ingredients, techniques and culture that can perform magic in the kitchen.