Mexican Food Vocabulary

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Mexican cuisine is as rich in flavors as in history and traditions. For language learners exploring this vibrant culinary world, it's essential to understand some key terms. In this article, you will find an extensive list of Mexican dishes, along with their English meanings, that can enrich your vocabulary and tantalize your taste buds.

Unlocking the Flavors of Mexico: A Guide to Mexican Food Vocabulary

Main Courses

If you're embarking on a culinary journey through Mexican cuisine, main courses are a must-explore. From tacos to tamales, these dishes showcase a rich blend of flavors and ingredients. Here's a list to acquaint you with the names and meanings of popular Mexican food examples.

  • Tortilla: a thin round type of bread.
  • Taco: a traditional Mexican dish; consists of a folded or rolled tortilla filled with various ingredients such as meat, beans, cheese, and lettuce.
  • Enchilada: a corn tortilla rolled around a filling and covered with chili pepper sauce; often filled with meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables.
  • Tamale: a traditional Mesoamerican dish; made of dough that is steamed in a corn husk and filled with meats, cheeses, or fruits.
  • Chile Relleno: a dish made with a stuffed, roasted chili pepper; filling includes cheese, meat or a combination of both.
  • Alambre: a dish consisting of grilled beef; mixed with bacon, bell peppers, onions, cheese, and sometimes other ingredients.
  • Barbacoa: slow-cooked meats; typically beef, goat, or lamb, often served in tacos or burritos.
  • Carnitas: a dish of braised or roasted pork; served shredded in a variety of dishes.
  • Molcajete: a traditional Mexican dish; served in a volcanic rock mortar, usually containing meat, cheese, and sauce.
  • Pozole: a traditional soup or stew; made with hominy, meat, and seasoned with herbs and spices.
  • Chimichanga: a deep-fried burrito; typically filled with meat, cheese, beans, and rice, then folded into a rectangular package.
  • Menudo: a traditional Mexican soup; made with cow's stomach, hominy, and a red chili pepper base.
  • Huarache: a popular Mexican dish; consists of masa dough and topped with various ingredients like meat, potatoes, beans, salsa, and cactus.

Now that you've explored the variety of Mexican food examples, you may recognize some favorites or discover new ones to try. Understanding these terms will help you navigate Mexican menus with confidence. Continue to enrich your language and culinary experience with these delicious dishes.

Appetizers and Sides

Mexican appetizers and sides are often as vibrant and flavorful as the main courses. These dishes provide a perfect start to a meal or complement the main entrées. Explore these Mexican food words and their meanings to learn about the range of delicious starters and accompaniments.

  • Guacamole: a dip made from mashed avocados; mixed with tomatoes, onions, and spices.
  • Quesadilla: a tortilla filled with cheese and sometimes meat or vegetables; cooked until the cheese is melted.
  • Sope: a traditional Mexican dish; a thick tortilla with pinched sides, topped with meat, beans, lettuce, and salsa.
  • Nacho: a popular appetizer; tortilla chips covered with cheese or cheese-based sauce, often served with jalapenos.
  • Ceviche: a seafood dish; made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices and spiced with chili peppers.
  • Elote: grilled corn on the cob; typically smeared with mayonnaise and sprinkled with chili powder and cheese.
  • Chiles en Nogada: a dish consisting of poblano chilis filled with picadillo; topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
  • Tostada: a flat or bowl-shaped tortilla that is fried or toasted; often served with beans, meat, and other toppings.
  • Jicama: a crunchy, sweet vegetable; often sliced and sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice.
  • Chalupa: a fried tortilla; often shaped like a small boat and topped with ingredients like beans, cheese, lettuce, and meat.
  • Empanada: a pastry turnover; filled with meat, cheese, or other fillings, then baked or fried.
  • Frijoles Refritos: also known as refried beans; beans cooked and mashed, then fried with lard or oil.

You've now delved into the delightful world of Mexican food definitions for appetizers and sides. These terms provide insights into the tastes and textures that make these dishes unique. Whether dining out or cooking at home, you can use this vocabulary to enhance your appreciation of Mexican culinary traditions.

Beverages and Desserts

Beverages and desserts play an essential role in completing the Mexican dining experience. Here are some Mexican food terms to help you explore and appreciate these satisfying sips and sweets.

  • Horchata: a refreshing beverage; made from rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.
  • Churro: a fried-dough pastry; coated in sugar and often served with chocolate sauce.
  • Flan: a sweet custard dessert; often flavored with vanilla and caramel.
  • Tequila: a famous Mexican alcoholic drink; made from the blue agave plant.
  • Tres Leches Cake: a sponge cake; soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.
  • Mezcal: another type of Mexican alcoholic drink; similar to tequila but made from various types of agave.
  • Margarita: a cocktail made with tequila; combined with lime juice and other sweeteners.
  • Atole: a traditional warm drink; made with masa, cinnamon, vanilla, and optional chocolate or fruit flavorings.
  • Arroz con Leche: a Mexican rice pudding; cooked with milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.
  • Coyotas: a type of pastry; usually filled with brown sugar and sometimes other sweet fillings.
  • Pulque: a traditional Mexican alcoholic beverage; made from the fermented sap of the agave plant.
  • Sopapilla: a type of fried pastry; served as a dessert and often topped with honey, syrup, or sugar.
  • Café de Olla: a traditional Mexican coffee; brewed with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).

You've taken a flavorful journey through Mexican beverages and desserts, discovering drinks and treats that satisfy both thirst and sweet cravings. As you continue to learn and explore, these terms will guide you in enjoying a full and authentic Mexican culinary experience. 


Salsas and Sauces

Salsas and sauces are the heart of many Mexican dishes, adding complexity and depth to flavors. From mild to spicy, these accompaniments can transform even simple dishes into gourmet experiences. Let's explore these key terms and meanings to understand the role of sauces and salsas in Mexican cuisine.

  • Salsa Verde: a type of green sauce; made with tomatoes and green chili peppers.
  • Mole: a rich, dark sauce; often contains chocolate, chili peppers, and various spices.
  • Pico de Gallo: a fresh, uncooked salad; made from chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.
  • Salsa Roja: a red sauce made with tomatoes and chili peppers; used in various Mexican dishes.
  • Guajillo Chili Sauce: a sauce made from guajillo chilies; often used as a base for other sauces or as a marinade.
  • Salsa Taquera: a type of salsa; used specifically for tacos, usually spicy.
  • Chipotle Sauce: a smoky, spicy sauce; made from chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
  • Salsa Ranchera: a cooked sauce; typically made from tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, and various spices.
  • Salsa Cruda: a raw sauce; usually made from a mixture of fresh tomatoes, chilies, onions, cilantro, and lime juice.
  • Salsa Borracha: a "drunken" sauce; made with pulque or beer, chili peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Salsa de Cacahuate: a peanut sauce; typically consists of ground peanuts, chili peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Adobo Sauce: a marinade; made with ground chilies, herbs, vinegar, and other spices, commonly used to flavor meats and other foods.

With this exploration of salsas and sauces, you've unveiled the essence of Mexican cooking. From salsa verde to adobo sauce, these terms open doors to a world of flavors and culinary creativity. Keep practicing these words and tastes as you immerse yourself further in Mexican cuisine and language learning.


Understanding Mexican food vocabulary not only enriches your linguistic skills but also enhances your appreciation for this diverse and flavorful cuisine. Whether you are visiting a Mexican restaurant or cooking at home, you can now navigate the menu or recipe with confidence.

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