Some say this is the most important meal of the day, that is certainly true for most of us Mexicans. An average household would usually have 3 big meals a day, desayuno, comida y cena; breakfast being the heartiest one, takes place first thing in the morning, anytime between 7 -10 am. After that comes lunch, also quite heavy, anywhere from 2 to 5pm and dinner is commonly served around 7pm.
During lunchtime, we tend to indulge in a 4 course meal. We start with a warm soup, followed by the carb choice of rice or pasta, a main dish that could normally be a stew composed of meat and veggies like potatoes, and then followed by a sweet note with a small dessert. This is something you would normally eat at home or you could also find it by the name of comida corrida in small family-owned eateries called fondas.
Dinner, which at times might be called merienda, consists of a small meal or snack to help your body make it through the night. Some people believe that smaller nighttime meals is a healthier way to eat since your body doesn’t need much energy to sleep.
Of course, all the rules change completely over the weekends, as some people tend to wake up later and/or hungover (no judgement here, we’ve all been there) and usually just have one heavy meal for both breakfast and lunch, think of what you know as brunch, it’s just not called that in México, but if you say almuerzo, most people would understand what you’re talking about.
We often 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 warm tortillas and with broth, which you can get in one of my favorite weekend spots El Hidalguense, which you can check out in this post.
If it’s a regular day you would most likely find one of these iconic Mexican breakfasts:
Chilaquiles, one of the most popular Mexican breakfast dishes (and cheaper), 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, a portion of cecina (thinly sliced, salted beef) or even grasshoppers. There’s big debates whether the crunchy chilaquiles are better than the soggy ones, but you’d have to try lots to decide. Also, in Mexico City we put the whole thing inside a bun and we make a torta with it! Talk about jump starting your day.
One of my favorite chilaquiles spot is Lalo! you can read more about the spot here.
Atole and Tamales
This breakfast combo would easily classify as the Mexican version of coffee & 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, then wrapped around a sweet or savory filling, inside either a corn husk or a banana leaf.
The patties are cooked by steaming them and the ingredients 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 and when it’s mixed with chocolate it goes by the name of champurrado.
Mexico City dwellers (chilangos) also put tamaes inside a bolillo to make a carb-on-carb delicacie, easy to eat while on the go, so perfect for a city that never stops.
A warm drink and a pastry
Café de olla, café con leche & pastries, also known as pan dulce, are found on practically every city corner, at every subway entrance, and at every busy intersection and in most traditional households.
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). Café 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 very traditional conchas, a brioche-like bun topped with a sugary crust vanilla or chocolate flavored.
My definitive favourite and one of the easiest Mexican breakfasts to replicate anywhere in the world are molletes.
These are made with a bread roll, usually a kind we call bolillo, cut horizontally, toasted and covered with a smear of refried beans, melted cheese and usually topped with fresh pico de gallo (chopped tomato, onion and serrano chili). Meatier variations may include toppings such as ham, chorizo or even bacon and are always eaten with your hands.
Want to discover more about Mexico City’s food, markets, chilaquiles and more Mexican breakfast foods by the hand of a local in love with food? Join one of our food tours with my new food tour company called: