MEALS AND CUSTOMS
Desayuno is breakfast in Mexico and as in many other places, it is eaten early and is usually a light meal. For the countryside farmer or the worker in Mexico City, the first meal may be tortillas with frijoles refritos sprinkled with mild grated cheese and washed down with hot chocolate or cafe con leche (coffee with milk). For the city person, the tortillas may be replaced with fresh bolillas or other breads, the hot drink will be the same, but the morning paper may be the accompaniment. Where time and money are no problem, a more leisurely desayuno may include fresh fruits, eggs (huevos rancheros), tortillas, and frijoles refritos garnished with grated cheese and a few wedges of fresh avocado, together with cafe con leche or hot chocolate.
The main meal of the day is usually the comida lasting a leisurely two or three hours (which may include a rest time), from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Most people try to take this meal at home with their family.
Mexicans also have a name for a special lunch at about 11:00 a.m. which they call almuerzo. This meal usually consists of one filling dish such as sopa seca or something based on tortillas such as tacos or enchiladas. But if almuerzo is taken, then the comida would be correspondingly a lighter meal.
And if either the almuerzo or the comida left some hunger pangs, there is a type of “sweet break” in the late afternoon that usually consists of sweet rolls or small pastries with coffee or chocolate and this is called merienda.
In spite of the many “official” meals, snacking is a national pastime and many vendors on city streets and along the highways make their living by carefully preparing fresh sliced fruits, fruit drinks like horchata (prepared from melon seeds, sugar, and lime), candied fruits and vegetables, salted and spiced nuts and seeds.
On special occasions, many villages have their own local sweet bakeries and small confections that are prepared in the homes then offered for sale to passers-by. Some of the oldest traditional sweets and baked goods were prepared by nuns in the convents for special holidays. Within minutes a small stand can be set up to make fresh tortillas, and varieties of fillings and bottles of hot spicy sauces to be used to taste. Other stands are specially constructed to bake bananas where they are served hot with a sprinkle of sugar and a dribble of canned milk. Chicarrones (pork cracklings), fried taco chips and crispy-fried cookies all beckon the appetite of anyone walking by.
The evening meal is called the cena. In the rural areas this would, like the other meals, be based on the staples of tortillas and frijoles and may include a cazuela of vegetables, seasoned with a mole of garlic, onions, tomatoes, and chilies. This evening meal is taken very late in the city eight to ten o’clock being a usual time. But this meal would not be a heavy one unless the family is dining out or there is a special occasion. Much entertaining is done out of the home, especially in the city. Home parties are likely to be buffet style.