Chilaquiles are the shining star of brunch in Mexico. Though it really just amounts to breakfast nachos, when done right this dish will blow your mind and leave you with a hankering every day around 11am. Chilaquiles are fried tortilla chips (the good places fry their own) smothered in red or green salsa (watch out, it’s hot!), a slightly thinner sour cream simply called crema, crumbled fresh cheese and raw onions. You can order it with a fried egg on top, shredded chicken, thin braised beef or just eat the vegetarian version – no matter what, you’ll find yourself happy at the end of it.
Never underestimate the power of the simple act of freshly squeezing your own juice. Lots of Latinos won’t even drink it if it comes out of a bottle or container! The ample availability of freshly squeezed OJ in Mexico (and mandarin or grapefruit juice mixed depending on the season) is one of the great culinary blessings of the country. Stands pop up on every corner during the weekend and weekdays, and you can get delicious juice for most of the morning and afternoon.
Once again, the magic is in doing this dish right. Conchas are a Mexican sweet bread, with a crumbly sugar topping which forms a solid crust on the top of the bread. The nata is Mexico’s version of clotted cream. Both of these items have to be made fresh for maximum enjoyment. Conchas tend to be a little dry in the mouth, so the clotted cream helps to balance out that sensation. A fresh concha with fresh nata is the height of luxury for Mexican brunch.
Usually an early morning weekday breakfast food, lots of restaurants serve special tamales for late-morning brunchers over the weekend. The variety of tamales that you can find across Mexico boggles the mind – with meat or without, sweet or savory, wrapped in a banana leaf or wrapped in a corn husk, tiny or massive, made with corn dough or rice meal, fresh and fluffy or deep-fried. It will take you months to try them all, so why not start this weekend?
Molletes are a favorite brunch food across the continent, and mostly likely came with the Spaniards with they colonized the Americas. In Mexico, molletes are a sliced and toasted bollilo (a type of Mexico sandwich roll) with a layer of refried beans, topped with cheese and served with a fresh chopped pico de gallo salsa with tomato, onion, cilantro and hot chile. The heat level of the pico de gallo is always up for grabs, so go easy at first!
Slow-roasted barbacoa is a weekend tradition in many parts of Mexico. The lamb or goat meat is usually cooked underground for 24 hours, slowly simmering away and coming out at the end soft as butter and with a distinctly gamey hint of flavor. Barbacoa is traditionally served with chipotle salsa and a bowl of consomme or broth made from the dripping of the meat and with a few garbanzos (chickpeas) or grains of rice thrown in.
The infamous enchilada is a breakfast food in Mexico (unlike the US where you will mostly find it as a daytime dish). Enchiladas are tortillas either dipped in salsa or smothered in it, filled with either meat – chicken or beef mostly – or just simply cheese. There are as many versions as their are residents in the country. You can get them with mole, green sauce, red sauce, bean sauce (need we go on?) and they are usually topped with crema and fresh cheese to balance out the heat.
Cheap spots on the street will serve you instant Nescafé, but get yourself into a fancy restaurant or a specialty coffee shop and you will find that Mexico is rediscovering its incredible coffee industry and finally keeping some of the good stuff for itself. Coffee from Veracruz is usually a little bit smoother with less acidity and Oaxacan and Chiapas beans a little bolder, but you really have to taste the brew to know for sure, so go ahead, order yourself a cup!