Mexican and Spanish cuisines are two of the most beloved foods around the world. From tacos to paella, both offer amazing flavors, but they each have their own unique qualities. If you’re trying to decide between grabbing Mexican or Spanish for dinner, read on to uncover the key differences between these tasty cuisines.
Ingredients: The Building Blocks of Flavor
When it comes to ingredients, Mexican and Spanish foods use some distinct staples to create their signature flavors.
Mexican Pantry Staples
- Chilies – Dried and fresh hot peppers like jalapeños and poblanos add heat.
- Beans – Black, pinto and refried beans provide protein.
- Corn – In tortillas or tamales, corn is a classic Mexican carb.
- Avocados – These creamy fruits are essential for guacamole.
- Tortillas – Made from corn or flour, they are used for tacos, burritos, etc.
- Cilantro – This fresh herb flavors salsas, tacos, soups and more.
Go-To Spanish Ingredients
- Olive oil – This adds richness and depth of flavor.
- Garlic – Garlic provides aromatics for dishes like paella.
- Seafood – Fish, shellfish and shrimp are often featured.
- Pork – Jamón ibérico (cured ham) is a Spanish delicacy.
- Rice – Paella rice and starchy varieties are widely used.
- Onions/peppers – These provide savory flavor in many dishes.
With chilies versus olive oil as staples, the cuisines differ ingredient-wise.
Cooking Techniques: Simmering vs. Sautéing
Mexican and Spanish cooking relies on some unique techniques to create signature dishes.
Mexican Cooking Methods
- Simmering – Slow braises and stews impart deep flavor.
- Grilling – Meat and veggies get delicious char.
- Sautéing – Onions, peppers, etc. are sautéed as a flavor base.
- Frying – Tacos, churros and more are crisped up by frying.
Spanish Cooking Techniques
- Sautéing – Meat, veggies and rice are sautéed in olive oil.
- Searing – Ingredients like seafood are seared for caramelization.
- Steaming – Mussels, clams and other shellfish are steamed.
- Broiling – Watch seafood, poultry and more get beautifully charred.
The quick, high-heat techniques of Spanish cuisine differ from Mexican simmering.
Flavor Profiles: Spicy vs. Savory
In terms of overall taste, Mexican and Spanish foods each have their own flavor sensibilities.
- Spicy – Chilies, salsa and hot sauce bring the heat.
- Zesty – Lime, lemon and orange add brightness.
- Herbal – Cilantro, oregano and epazote season dishes.
- Savory – Hearty meats, beans and broths create savoriness.
- Savory – Ingredients like cured meats impart deep umami.
- Briny – Anchovies, olives and capers provide saltiness.
- Sweet – Paprika, saffron and tomatoes add subtle sweetness.
- Fresh – Herbs like rosemary, thyme and parsley brighten dishes.
While both cuisines offer complex flavors, Mexican leans spicy while Spanish is more savory.
Signature Dishes: Enchiladas or Paella?
With different ingredients and flavors, Mexican and Spanish dishes themselves vary significantly.
Beloved Mexican Dishes
- Enchiladas – Corn tortillas stuffed with fillings, bathed in sauce.
- Tacos – Double corn or flour tortillas filled with meat, veggies, etc.
- Tamales – Masa dough stuffed with fillings, steamed in corn husks.
- Quesadillas – Grilled tortillas with ooey-gooey melted cheese.
- Mole – Complex sauce with chilies, spices, chocolate, seeds and nuts.
Famous Spanish Dishes
- Paella – Short-grain rice dish loaded with seafood, meat, veggies, saffron.
- Tapas – Small plates like patatas bravas, croquetas, jamón serrano.
- Gazpacho – Chilled vegetable soup made from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers.
- Tortilla Española – A dense Spanish omelet made with eggs and potatoes.
- Churros – Fried dough dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
With enchiladas versus paella, the signature dishes clearly differ.
Your Perfect Meal: Mexican or Spanish Cuisine?
With all these variations between ingredients, techniques, flavors and dishes, which cuisine best satisfies your cravings?
If you want…
- Bursts of
spice– Mexican is likely your match.
- Briny seafood flavors – Go for Spanish.
- Quick weeknight meals – Spanish stir fries and sautés.
- Hearty, cheese-laden comfort – Mexican cuisine for the win.
No matter your taste preferences, both Mexican and Spanish foods offer incredibly diverse and crave-worthy options. Now that you know the differences, you can make the perfect choice when a Mexican or Spanish food urge strikes. Enjoy exploring the fabulous flavors on your culinary adventure!