In Mexican culture people usually have 3 big meals a day:
- Desayuno (breakfast) is the most important one. It takes place first thing in the morning, anytime between 7am -10 am. A normal weekday breakfast is easy to find on the street or cooked regularly in traditional households
- After that comes a hearty comida (lunch), which takes place anywhere from 2pm to 5pm with dinner starting around 7pm. Since lunchtime is right in the middle of the day, coming back to work is really difficult for people such as office workers. This is because Mexicans tend to indulge in 4 course meal at lunch, starting with soup, followed by rice or pasta, a main dish, and dessert. So they’ll have to resist that ever-satisfying post-feast nap.
- Cena (dinner), which is also sometimes called merienda, is a small meal or snack to help the body get through the night. Many believe that smaller nighttime meals are a healthier way to eat since your body doesn’t need much energy to sleep.
All the rules change on the weekends as people tend to wake up later and usually just have one heavy meal for both breakfast and lunch (what could be considered brunch). Often Mexicans eat stews and heavy broths like those served with birria — beef stew with tomato, chilies and spices originally from Jalisco — and barbacoa — lamb meat wrapped in agave leaves and cooked in an underground pit oven, served in tacos with broth.
Here are some of the most iconic Mexican breakfast foods:
Chilaquiles, one of the most popular Mexican breakfast dishes, are deep-fried tortillas soaked in either a red tomato-based sauce or a green sauce made with tomatillos, topped with a dollop of cream, grated cheese, and onion slices. They’re often served with avocado and cilantro, a fried egg on top, shredded chicken, scrambled eggs, and even a portion of cecina (thinly sliced, salted beef). You can also try our delicious, hearty, vegan Chilaquiles recipe for an alternative.
2. Atole and Tamales
This breakfast combo would easily classify as the Mexican version of coffee and doughnuts. Tamales are found on practically every corner throughout central and southern Mexico. A tamal is basically a pattie made from masa (corn dough) and lard, wrapped around a sweet or savory filling, inside either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Tamales are cooked by steaming them, but that methods may vary depending on the region. One type from the southern state of Chiapas is cooked with both sweet and savory ingredients — prunes, raisins, nuts, tomatoes, chilies, pork meat and herbs.
The warm, thick and hearty drink that usually accompanies tamales is called atole, which is traditionally made with corn dough, water, sugar and cinnamon.
3. A Warm Drink and a Pastry
Café de Olla or Cafe con leche, and a pastry – also known as pan dulce – are common Mexican breakfast foods. It is found on practically every city corner, subway entrance, and busy intersection. Coffee from the pot or café de olla is a warm and delicious brew made with coffee beans, cinnamon and piloncillo (a type of raw sugar very similar to molasses). Cafe con leche is warm milk and a spoonful of instant coffee. They’re both the best accompaniment for a delicious Mexican pastry, such as the traditional conchas: a brioche-like bun topped with a sugary crust vanilla or chocolate flavored.
One of the easiest Mexican breakfasts to replicate anywhere in the world is molletes. They are made with a bread roll, (we usually use a particular kind called: bolillo) which is cut horizontally, toasted, and covered with a smear of refried beans, melted cheese, and topped with fresh pico de gallo (chopped tomato, onion and serrano chili). Meatier variations may include toppings such as ham, chorizo or even bacon.
Want to enjoy traditional Mexican foods on a vegan diet? Check out this list of vegan swaps.