Mexican regional cuisine drives booming food scene

WEB_PHOTO_FOOD_170817

Pack enough food

Pack enough food

WEB_PHOTO_FOOD_170817

Pack enough food

Pack enough food

MEXICO CITY - Sure, every foodie loves tacos and enchiladas.

But what about lesser-known Mexican classics like cochinita pibil, the impossibly flavorful, slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan peninsula? Or escamoles, the ant larvae from central Mexico known as "insect caviar"? Or empanadas de mole, pastries filled with the savory chocolate sauce of the Oaxaca region?

Mexico has always been a major player on the world food scene. But increasingly, top chefs are embracing and promoting the country&39;s richly varied regional cuisine, driving the Mexican gastronomic experience to a whole new level.

One of the poster boys for the trend is Alejandro Ruiz, whose Mexico City restaurant Guzina Oaxaca drew a rave review in The New York Times with its "chic interpretations of traditional classics."

Ruiz comes from the village of La Raya in the southern state of Oaxaca, where he grew up grinding corn and cooking for his family to help his mother, who worked full-time washing clothes.

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His restaurant, which opened in 2014, is a celebration of his home state, a mountainous region known for its huge diversity of ingredients and deep culinary traditions.

"Where I come from, the kitchen is the most important part of the home," Ruiz told AFP.

"What I do [in the kitchen] is who I am, it&39;s where I was born, it&39;s my mother&39;s milk. It&39;s in my DNA. What&39;s my identity? Oaxaca."

&39;Whole other level of flavor&39;

Oaxaca isn&39;t the only region whose traditional cuisine has been elevated to new levels of chic.

Mexico stretches from the deserts of the northern border to the tropical forests of the south, with long Caribbean and Pacific coastlines in between, giving it immense biodiversity and a sprawling palette of ingredients.

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Its flavors are also shaped by its complex history, blending influences from its many indigenous groups, the Spanish conquistadors, European elites, slaves from Africa, immigrants from all over and the ever-present United States.

Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of the food blog Eat Your World, loses count listing her culinary adventures in Mexico&39;s myriad regions and sub-regions.

Dining in Mexico, she says, one minute you can be eating sinfully delicious tacos. Then, a few hours by bus - or a few Mexico City blocks or market stands away - "suddenly you&39;re eating turkey and hardboiled eggs and these really rich pastes, &39;recados,&39; from the Yucatan peninsula, which is just a whole other level of flavor that only exists there."

Mexican food&39;s strength is its "regionality," she says -- something that is only just starting to be exported abroad.

"The more people are learning about the regionality of the cuisine and how distinct and complex it is, the more they&39;re blown away, like &39;Wow, this is real Mexican food,&39;" she says.