What is a Quesadilla? Understanding Mexico’s Beloved Folded Taco

If you are into food and Mexican culture, you have surely heard about the eternal debate of what is a quesadilla?

Does it always have cheese? How does it differ from the taco and other Mexican tortilla dishes? How to cook quesadillas at home?

This and more will be discussed in this guide to become an expert in Mexican gastronomy and folklore, what are you waiting for to come and try this delicious dish yourself?


What is a quesadilla? Meaning and origin

Are you looking for the quesadilla meaning? We got you! Indeed, we have many articles on our blog section about food. However, I believe the famous, delicious, and popular quesadilla deserves its own post. But first, foodie friend, we must understand the historical context of the main ingredient of the quesadilla: corn.

The sacred Maya book, the Popol Vuh, speaks of man being created through corn, just as in Greek mythology it speaks of the creation of man through clay thanks to Prometheus. Corn is the source of life for the Maya. In pre-Hispanic times, tortillas were hand-shaped, which is why they were irregular, meaning they did not come out perfectly round like today.

In New Spain and during Mexico’s independence,

the tortilla was the main food and basic source of protein for all the guerrilla fighters. But by the time of the Mexican Revolution, the tortilla had already become a Mexican custom and a must in the country’s kitchens, although the upper class did not consume it, so it was for the working class.

Food Tour Mexico (Seeds)
Beans, corn, and nopal are the main Mexican ingredients

Having explained the origin of the tortilla and corn, we can begin to explain what a quesadilla is:

The quesadilla really does not pose an etymological problem, we already know that quesadilla comes from the word ‘queso’ (cheese). Originally it was a tortilla with cheese folded over to be able to hold it better, etc.

What happens is that it becomes a kind of generic term for all cases in which a tortilla is folded, not rolled up. When the tortilla is rolled up it becomes a taco, and then we have all kinds of tacos. But when it’s folded, it’s not a taco, but rather we apply the name quesadilla to any folded tortilla that contains something inside. That’s why we have cheese quesadillas, squash blossom quesadillas, pepper quesadillas, bean quesadillas, and so on.

As for the etymology, I repeat, it is of Spanish origin. We must remember that in America, on the American continent, there was no livestock, no cows, no horses, and therefore no pigs, therefore they could not make cheese. They did not know cheese. Cheese began to be known on the American continent after the first cows were brought by the Spanish conquerors. So there is no possibility that the etymology of the word ‘quesadilla’ is of indigenous origin“. Words of UNAM linguist Luis Fernando Lara.

🧀In fact, this dish goes very well with ‘Oaxaca cheese’ or ‘quesillo‘. Check out our post Food of Oaxaca: 8 Authentic Options

We know that the basis of Mexican cuisine is the tortilla, for example, enchiladas, tacos, chilaquiles, quesadillas, etc. However, the preparation, and the specific ingredients of each dish, are what make them special and unique.

Not all of them contain cream, lettuce, sauce, etc. But the reality is that if something characterizes food and Mexican cuisine, it is the creativity that Mexicans have to make their food something unique, special, and even to some extent, surreal.

There are two types of quesadillas,

those that are fried and those that are prepared on the griddle. Honestly, as a Mexican, I think the fried ones taste much better, but it also depends a lot on how good the stew inside is. Practically, it depends on the ‘personal touch’ of the people who prepare them. Yummy, I’m craving for some!

candlemas day
Lady Cooking Tortillas

Quesadilla with or without cheese?

If you have friends or family living in Mexico, you probably already know about the never-ending debate about who is right, and who is not. On one side we have the whole Mexican Republic (but especially the ‘regios’, that is, the people from Monterrey) against the ‘chilangos’ (the people who live in Mexico City).

We from Mexico City say that quesadillas do not necessarily have cheese in them. As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, the way the tortilla is folded is the main reason why we consider it a quesadilla, not exactly a taco.

On the other hand, throughout Mexico, it is said that they must always have cheese to be considered quesadillas. The truth is that it is an endless controversy since gastronomy has always been sacred to Mexicans. This topic is almost like fighting over religion, soccer, or politics.

Finally, we must clarify that not all tortillas with cheese are quesadillas since there is a great variety of Mexican dishes that have Oaxaca cheese with tortillas and are not called quesadillas. For example volcanoes, gringas, and sincronizadas. So, what is a cheese quesadilla? It’s basically a quesadilla with cheese, but if you are in Mexico City, it is not exactly that… haha one day you will get it!

xochimilco mexican food
Lady Cooking Quesadillas in a Trajinera

Local recommendations

The Vibe Adventures team loves food, most of us are foodies who love to have a good time enjoying delicious food. Whether on the street or in restaurants. That’s why we want to recommend these options to enjoy some delicious quesadillas:

“As locals, we believe that the best quesadillas are not found in big restaurants, but in local stalls, on the street, in the markets, and in Xochimilco. Eating quesadillas in markets and on the street is the most ‘local vibes’ experience you can have!”

Also, the famous, and delicious ‘machetes’ are a spice of mega quesadilla, which to be honest, the best ones are in the neighborhood of La Guerrero.

Our favorite flavors

I will share with you my top flavors for quesadillas, and remember, not all of them have cheese. But, from my point of view, the cheese makes them taste 100% better!

  • Huitlacoche
  • Chicharron with cheese
  • Chicken (tinga de pollo)
  • Meat (tinga de res)
  • Only cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Pumpkin flower

So now you know, whenever someone asks you “What is a quesadilla” you can answer like a total expert in this topic. Want to try them? What are you waiting for to come to Mexico and try the authentic flavors of quesadillas?!

Xochimilco Day Trip
Traditional quesadillas in Xochimilco

Bonus: Make quesadillas at home

Ingredients: cheese (optional), tortillas (can be made of flour or corn). The following is to your taste, but you can add the stew of your choice.

Just put your tortilla on a griddle, wait a few seconds until it is no longer cold, then take it out. Once you take it out, add cheese, and the stew, and fold it well to put it back on the griddle. If you fold it and it is still cold, it may break in two. Turn it over a couple of times until you consider that the cheese is melted or that they are hot enough to eat. Take it out and add sauce to taste and that’s it. Enjoy and buen provecho!

Informative video

What is a quesadilla? Check this out for more information!