This article continues the series on regions in Mexico that share a border with The Gulf.
The Gulf is probably one of the most unique regions, and as an aside, obviously a huge source of inspiration for ensuring authentic and delicious menu direction. The geography, the culture, the borders, the climate, and the very core of this region’s being destined it to have the influences that it does and what those influences created. Because of the abundance of trading and ports, and the fact it has so much land on the coast, means that plenty of interaction and melding with other regions has occurred.
Going back hundreds of years, the fact that it is right next to the Caribbean has introduced those herbs and recipes, and the fact that the Caribbean has such a long tradition means that it formed the cornerstone of what we now know as Mexican Gulf Cuisine. And it makes sense, being so close means that just to begin with, many of the same fish are going to be available, and the distance from the coast also means that the same vegetation will be possible to be grown.
But unlike Oaxaca, this region had a huge number of pieces of the puzzle added to it by the Spanish. Its proximity to the coast and abundance of ports means this has occurred over a long enough time to be changed by many influences, such as Afro-Cuban and native cuisine, on top of Spanish and Caribbean Creole.
The indigenous peoples, just like many groups in North America, introduced corn, squash, and rice long before other subsequent foreign groups entered the mix. But these indigenous groups are not a monolith, just like any other culture. They used what they could from the land, depending on the region meaning plants like vanilla, citrus fruits like papaya, different cooking herbs that are native (acuyo for example), and whatever fish could be caught, varying from tribe to tribe.
But it is the Afro-Cuban and Caribbean influence that used the citrus fruits and nuts available to add flavors that could be cooked into their dishes. Some of these dishes include chicken in peanut sauce, and anything that is sweet and savory. They use plenty of shrimp, plenty of sweet potatoes, plantains, and sauces with sweet fruits and savory ingredients such as nuts and pepper. What many people think of as traditional “Mexican cuisine” often includes things that the Spanish introduced, with some elements of the native tribes. But all of them make use of the huge variety of fish that can be caught in the Gulf, including snappers, shrimp, oysters, etc.
Tabasco, a state in this region, is actually where the name of the hot sauce came from. The way that these dishes are cooked relies on different sources of flavor, meaning that the grilling is an important part of keeping everything in and letting it all seep together. That variety is increased because of the huge number of fish in that state as well.
If you’re interested in getting a taste of Mexican seafood, visit El Golfo de Mexico, located in San Marcos, TX.