Spicy Mexican Food History

It could be said that chili is the monarch of Mexican food. When Columbus arrived in America, he realized that the new continent was not as vast in spices but in vanilla and chilies. At first, Columbus was also looking for pepper, but when he saw that most of the food was chilies, he named one of them ‘pimiento.’ In these lands (later known as America), the chili became indispensable for food, especially in Mexico.

Almost all Mexicans eat chili, whether it is hot or not.

Still, seeing a Mexican eat without salsa (sauce) or biting into a whole chili is practically impossible. Spicy food in Mexico is a way of understanding Mexican cuisine. While not all food is spicy, it is one of the most important bases to have the Mexican touch in the depths of your palate. To the point that in Mexico, chili and the spicy ‘touch’ are also added to beer or drinks. For example:

  • Micheladas
  • Chilate (cocoa with chili)
  • Toro (tequila or hot water with orange juice, onion and pickled chilies)
  • Senditha (corn drink, with pulque and black chili)
  • Sendi (dried black corn, piloncillo, and chilies)
micheladas (spicy food mexico)
Learn with us how to prepare four different kinds of michelada

A vast variety of chilies in Mexico deserves its own post. It is a millennia-old tradition, with evidence of its use by pre-Hispanic peoples dating back 7,000 to 9,000 years in central-eastern Mexico. Unique regional varieties such as the piquín from Sonora, the Japanese chili, the Tabasco chili, and many other types of chilies (pasilla, manzano, tree, serrano, jalapeño, morita, poblano, etc.) are part of Mexico’s culinary heritage.

That said, we can understand that spicy food in Mexico is a way of life, a tradition, and part of Mexican culture. That sensation of mixing the spicy with the sweet in mole or chiles en nogada, is something that every foodie should experience at least once in a lifetime.

Puebla tour
Traditional “Mole Poblano” and Rice

Best spicy dishes in Mexico

As corn is an important ingredient in Mexican cuisine, so are chilies; you can taste it in guacamole, mole, etc. Here are my top 5 spicy Mexican dishes (some of them depend on where you try them since the chili they use and the sauce will not always be as spicy, or you can make it or powder it to your liking). If you manage to eat all of them, you will have unlocked your Mexican foodie-expert level. Enjoy them and buen provecho!

Aguachile 🌶️

Have you ever heard of habanero peppers? Well, this seafood-based dish is a litmus test for spicy lovers…literally. This is a typical dish from the west coast of Mexico, mainly consumed in the northwest, in an area that includes the states of Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Sonora, and Baja California.

The main ingredients are shrimp, fresh or dried chilies, lime, onion strips, and cucumber strips. The habanero (very spicy chili) is a must in this dish for the sauce. Mexicans love its spicy habanero flavor when they eat it with a tasty cold beer. Picture this: spending a wonderful afternoon watching the sunset and eating a delightful aguachile. It sounds like a perfect relaxing time to me!

spicy food mexico
Traditional aguachile

Chilaquiles 🌶️

This dish (tortilla with cream, any type of sauce, and protein like egg, chicken, and meat) is very popular in the mornings after a tremendous night of partying and is a favorite for spicy food lovers in Mexico. The sauce’s preparation greatly affects the dish’s spicy flavor; some people (myself included) don’t like to eat spicy food because of stomach problems.

This is why chilaquiles are not so spicy in some places. However, wherever you go in Mexico and they sell them, there will always be options, both a basic spicy level and the hellish, almost apocalyptic level. I am not exaggerating; the truth is that in Mexico, the spicier the chili…, the tastier the sensation on the palate.

traditional food of mexico
Chilaquiles

Camarones a la Diabla (Devil’s shrimps) 🌶️

These shrimp will also vary in their level of spiciness. However, most of these and any restaurant you go to will serve them spicy as hell, which is why they got their name. An extremely potent recipe is to add chipotle, guajillo, and tree chilies to the sauce of this dish. After I tried this sauce, I think I started to moderate my chili levels in food.

spicy mexican food
Camarones a la Diabla with rice and beans as a side dish

Tortas ahogadas 🌶️

This dish is very famous in the state of Guadalajara and is a favorite of many for its spicy flavors. It is a simple but highly delicious dish! The ‘birote is the traditional bread used to prepare this tasty dish. A similar typical dish, which can be even spicier, is the ‘guacamaya’. This is sold a lot in Guanajuato, and believe me, it is also an experience in which you will have to survive its spiciness. Check out our post about Jalisco food!

Due to a slightly longer fermentation, it is crunchier on the outer layer and slightly sour in the interior. This allows it to be dipped in different sauces without losing its consistency. Inside the birote, you can add carnitas in slices, cubes, or chunks and dip them in ‘chile de arbol (tree chili),’ which has a unique flavor, aroma, and spiciness. If you have read this article a lot, the word ‘chile de árbol’ is because once you don’t cry from the spiciness of this chili, you will be able to sit next to the chili gods.

things to do in guadalajara
Torta Ahogada

Chicharron en salsa verde (pork rind with green sauce) 🌶️

There is an excellent variety of dishes similar to this one, like steak in pasilla, chicken tortitas in green sauce, and steak with potatoes and nopales, among others. You can find chicharron en salsa verde, and those other dishes in ‘fondas’, markets or local ‘tacos de guisado’ (stew tacos) stands.

Chicharron en salsa verde was one of the first I ate as a child, and it made me fall in love with spicy food in Mexico. The green sauce, which will always vary depending on the recipe, makes this dish unique. It is a classic in traditional Mexican home cooking. There isn’t a Mexican grandmother or mother who doesn’t know how to make this delicacy. It is commonly accompanied with beans to accompany the sauce and not make it feel so spicy.

spicy mexican food
Traditional chicharron with green sauce (left plate)

Where to try spicy Mexican food?

If you are in Mexico City, you have arrived in one of the best states in the Mexican Republic to try spicy food. Next, I will show you 4 key places to get you into the world of spicy Mexican food. Prepare your glass of water, and don’t let heartburn accompany you!

Ahogadas MX

A perfect place to eat tortas ahogadas, and other typical dishes from Guadalajara, Jalisco. There are birria, tortas, tacos, and more spicy specialties. If you are not used to spicy food, this is a good option to learn more about spicy Mexican food.

Chilakiller’s Loungeria

It is a classic in Mexico City, not to be missed. There is an excellent variety of chilaquiles, from very spicy sauces to chilaquiles with beans or mole, something a little sweeter or less spicy. If you want to level up in Mexican spicy food, this is the perfect place to learn more.

Testal

This restaurant preserves the tradition of popular Mexican food. Its homemade touch makes it a perfect spot to eat delicious Mexican food, both spicy and non-spicy. They have a very extensive menu, and here, you can try chilaquiles, tacos, eggs, delicious meats, and more, accompanied by gourmet sauces and a touch of spices that will make your culinary experience unforgettable.

Mi Compa Chava

If you are looking for a cool place to try spicy seafood without bursting your mouth into flames, this place is ideal. Their menu is very large, and their food is delicious. There is aguachile, camarones a la diabla, and other spicy specialties that will make you have a good time. In addition, more dishes won’t make you cry because of their spiciness, but you will cry because of how delicious they are.

Conclusion

What is sure is that from an early age and for cultural reasons, in Mexico, children are taught to eat spicy food to get used to it. In fact, Tostilocos and Doriesquites, cueritos with chicharron, fruit with chamoy, and chamoyadas, among others, are food essential for every Mexican kid.

For a Mexican person, not having chili peppers at the meal is like the meal is not complete. Chili peppers are the king that gives a unique flavor to Mexican food. They represent Mexico’s nation, are nutritious, are an ingredient, and can even be used as a weapon.

Some qualities of chili peppers, like their heat, fieriness, and taste, are seen as essential for a Latin American man. In some places, a man who wanted to get married had to eat an incredibly spicy salsa and not cry to show he was strong during marriage negotiations. Chilies are more than just food – they are a very important part of Mexican culture and who we are.

As you can see, spicy Mexican food is more than a food; it is a lifestyle and part of the life of most Mexicans. Salsa is the blood that runs through the veins of the inhabitants of Mexico. If you want to eat like a local in this country, don’t hesitate to try spicy food. Remember that the spicier the food, the braver and more powerful you can become—just like an Aztec warrior!

Informative video

Spicy food in Mexico is a must when traveling to the coast!