Mexican, or Tex-Mex food, has been so globalized it can be found in most cities in the world.
But nachos do not make a good Mexican restaurant, so here’s a bit of background on favourite food and drinks from Mexico, and where to find it in Dubai!
Mexican food is a mix of Southern American cooking with Spanish influences, using staples such as beans, tomatoes, corn, avocadoes, chillies and rice. Typical meats are similar for the region: beef, pork and chicken with some fish and shrimp in coastal areas. Cheese and sour cream are the typical dairy products, and of course there are specific herbs such as cilantro which are dominant across all dishes. Dubai has its selection of Mexican food joints, but there’s a few that stand out for its more authentic flavours.
And of course everyone knows margaritas, tequila and Corona. So if it’s one of those nights, let us tell you where to go to get your Mexican drinks sorted.
Tortillas, Tacos, Enchiladas, Quesadillas and Burritos
Torta is Spanish for a round cake, and that is where the word tortilla came from. Coming from the Aztecs (like tamales, see below), corn would be ground to flour which would then be made into masa, and water added to make corn dough. It is then flattened to a pancake, and cooked on a griddle.
Tacos are shells made of tortillas, and enchiladas are filled tortillas which are then cooked again. Quesadillas are tortillas which are folded with cheese inside and then fried and tortilla chips are fried tortilla pieces. Burritos are simply filled tortillas.
Traditional fillings would include some mixture of beans, vegetables like bell peppers and strips of beef or ground beef.
In Dubai, Maya at Le Royal Meridien is known for its soft tortillas as well as tacos, which come with different fillings and toppings. We hear the chicken is the one to try! Claw BBQ at Souk al Bahar is famous for its baja fish tacos which make for a much more interesting option than the usual beef tacos. Loca at Marine Resort and Souk al Bahar gets rave reviews for its huge range of tortilla and taco fillings that include chicken, beef and fish with lots of interesting spice combinations. Tortuga at Mina’ a Salam is another favourite for a Mexican style date night with beautiful outdoor seating and tasty salsas to go with your tortillas. Finally, La Taqueria in JLT is winning awards for its spectacular Mexican food, with wonderful tacos on the menu.
The Aztecs developed tamales, and the word in the Aztec language means “wrapped food”. They are a variation on tacos, burritos and fajitas – a wrap with a filling inside. Traditional fillings for tamales are with beef, pork and green corn as well as chicken and pumpkin. Once filled, they are wrapped in corn husks and then steamed.
The dough of tamales is more time consuming to make, and the wraps would have originally been cooked buried under hot coals, but nowadays they are made in underground pits or uncovered pots. Because of the time it takes to make them, they are considered something for a more special occasion rather than an everyday dish, and might be made by the whole family together to reduce the preparation time.
Maria Bonita on Umm-al-Sheiff street in Umm Suqeim gets rave reviews for authentic Mexican cuisine that include very tasty tamales, and delivers too! Loca (above) also does delicious tamales.
Another dish that is quite time consuming, and therefore usually prepared only for special occasions is Mole. It involves mixing together more than 20 different ingredients, and depending on the variety, can include chocolate. Standard ingredients include chilli peppers (usually a combination of different types), cumin, cloves, tomatoes, garlic and dried fruit. Historically everything is mixed, roasted and then ground into a powder or paste, which can easily take up to a day. Water is then added, and maybe meats, and then the mixture simmers until it is of a thick sauce-like consistency.
Cactus Cantina at Wafi Mall does a Mole with chicken, and Maya (above) does a traditional Mole Poblano.
Nachos are not actually Mexican, they are Tex Mex. But we don’t discriminate, they can be found at most Mexican restaurants, and we love them. So we’ll write about them in this article.
The story goes that a group of military wives (their husbands stationed in Eagle Pass, Texas), visited Mexico, and got hungry on their trip. They stopped roadside at a little shop with a served called Nacho and he brought out tortilla chips with jalapenos and melted cheese. The women brought the concept back to Texas and that was the start of the nacho-craze. The cheese was quickly developed to a cheese sauce to keep it soft for longer (real cheese goes hard again after it has been melted), and most nachos are now served with the cheese sauce from a squeeze bottle. We are always on the lookout for places that don’t use cheese sauce but use real cheese. You can’t beat real cheese on nachos.
Nowadays nachos come loaded with different toppings such as guacamole, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and ground beef or chicken. Typical to the American eating culture and portion size, they are usually found as an appetizer on menus in the U.S., whilst in other countries they are considered a snack or a main course.
More recently people have started serving fries and potato wedges in a style similar to nachos – with cheese and herbs, or in a more gourmet fashion – with truffle, parmesan cheese and other culinary toppings.
We all know Hard Rock and Chillis, but Loca (above) does some seriously drool-worthy beef nachos and Brunswick at the Sheraton at MoE gets a few mentions as well for their nachos.
Let’s face it – what’s better than crunching on some nachos (with real cheese!) and sipping a margarita? So we like our Mexican (ok Tex Mex) food with a Mexican drink.
Tequila is made from cacti, blue agave cacti to be specific. The cores of the plant are harvested and then baked in ovens. They are then mashed and shredded from which juice is extracted, and the juice is then fermented and distilled twice to get the clear liquor we call (silver) tequila. The tequila can also be aged in barrels to get a brownish colour.
Tortuga (above) has one of the largest selections of tequila in Dubai, so if you are looking to try some different ones and pretend you’re in the Bloodline cast, you know where to go. Fuego at Souk al Bahar also has a few nice tequilas behind the bar and does a great fresh guacamole as well.
Let’s talk margaritas. If you’ve read a few of our blogs you will have noticed a slight obsession with margaritas.
The national Mexican cocktail is traditionally made with triple sec, tequila (duh), lime juice and salt for the rim of the glass. Nowadays they come in different fruity flavours like strawberry and mango, and they can often be ordered frozen which means ice has been blended through the drink, versus the original on the rocks version.
We hear La Pachanga’s margaritas are delicious (Hilton JBR), and of course Maya (above) has an extensive selection of margaritas to choose from. Claw BBQ (also above) gets rave reviews for its frozen margaritas (they can be ordered super-sized…) and La Tablita at Hyatt Regency has nice and spicy jalapeno margaritas!
Most people don’t know the difference between mezcal and tequila, but with mezcal becoming more popular again, we should be prepared for a gin and tonic type revival in Dubai.
Tequila is a type of mescal, where only blue agave plants can be used to make tequila where mescal can be produced from other types of agave plants. Because mescal never became as popular as tequila outside Mexico, it is still produced largely by hand, which has meant the individual flavours and nuances of the producers have survived. The species of agave and any fruits and herbs added to the process make the range of mezcal types extensive.
It’s hard to find a decent selection of mezcal in Dubai but Tortuga (above) and Meat Co, both have a few to try.
Mexican beers are popular and associated with sun- and fun-filled parties, and everyone has had their share of Coronas and Sols with a slice of lime squeezed in the opening. Both corona and sol have a slightly different flavour than the more mainstream beers such as Heineken, and with the lime or lemon the flavour becomes even more specific, and sunny. Desperados is slightly different as it has tequila added to it (no wonder the hangovers are worse…).
Any self-respecting bar in Dubai should serve Sol or Corona, but your best bet for more options is the Belgian Beer Café at Souk Madinat, Warehouse at the Meridien near the airport, Brunswick (above), the Eloquent Elephant at the Taj and Loca (above).
Don’t miss: Pizza Through Thick and Thin