In Mexico, a complete main meal will most often start with an entrada (appetizer). This dish of guacamole is meant to be scooped up with its garnish, crispy chicharrón (fried pork skin).
Mexico's main meal of the day is comida, which is eaten sometime between two and five o'clock in the afternoon. Prime time for comida is three o'clock; in many places all over the República, businesses still respect the old-time rule that closes business doors during mid-afternoon meal time. In fact, unless the business mentions that it observes horario corrido (continuous work day) you can assume that from two until at least four in the afternoon, its doors are closed to business. Its workday is from 10:00AM to 2:00PM and from 4:00PM to 8:00PM.
Crema de cilantro (cream of cilantro soup). The soup course, which can be a caldo (clear broth), a consomé (another kind of clear broth, usually chicken), or a crema (cream soup), comes after the entrada.
In cities and towns all over Mexico, you'll find fondas, comida económica, and comida corrida restaurants. All of these small, usually family-run restaurants specialize in full meals that stoke your furnace for the rest of your workday and beyond. In addition, in many cities there are high-end restaurants that specialize in comidas for professional and business lunches, others that are designed for the ladies-who-lunch trade, and still other, family-style restaurants that invite everyone from the oldest great-grandpa to the newest newborn to enjoy time together.
Mexico's signature mole con pollo (mole with chicken) is popular for the platillo fuerte (main dish) at a comida, whether served at home or in a restaurant. Many regions of the country have special mole recipes; some, like those found in Puebla or Oaxaca, are very well known. Others, especially some from the state of Michoacán, are less well known but equally delicious.
These Jalisco-style albóndigas (meatballs) are traditional and typically served as a platillo fuerte for comida, along with their delicious sauce, a big helping of steamed white rice, a garnish of avocado, and a tall stack of tortillas.
Many soon-to-be-visitors to Mexico write to me saying something like this: "I want to plan for breakfast in the hotel and a meal in such-and-such a restaurant at lunchtime. Then we want to go for dinner at such-and-such restaurant." Unless you are a professional eater--and I know that some of you are!--it's difficult to fit all of that food into one day, given the times of day that meals are usually eaten here. If you're having breakfast at your hotel, many of the available dishes will look like those featured here last week. They're very, very filling. Just a few hours later, it's time for comida, an even more filling meal when eaten in a restaurant.
Carne de cerdo en salsa verde (pork in green sauce) is a typical home-style dish (in this instance, just being put into the Mexico Cooks! oven) often served for comida. Of course it is preceded by an appetizer, a soup, and perhaps a salad; it's accompanied by red or white rice, refried beans, and a stack of tortillas--and followed by dessert!
Lonche de pechuga de pollo (cold chicken breast sandwich, garnished with lettuce, tomato, and pickled chiles jalapeños). This kind of sandwich is neither lunch nor comida. Photo courtesy Big Sky Southern Sky.
"Lunch" as it is eaten in the United States or elsewhere does not exist in Mexico. You might see a restaurant sign reading "LONCHERÍA", but it refers to a kind of cold sandwich known as a 'lonche', not to a place where you can have lunch. A lonche can be eaten at any old time--between meals, instead of meals, before or after a movie, and so on.
This is a boiling pot of Michoacán carnitas--huge chunks of lean pork, boiled in freshly rendered lard until the pork is fork-tender with crisp, chewy outsides. Coarsely chopped and served by the platter, ready to stuff into hot-off-the-fire tortillas and top with minced onions, chopped cilantro, super-spicy salsa, a sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lime, carnitas can be a rustic and delicious comida all on their own.
Next week, we finish our day of Mexico's meals with cena--supper!
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