The Difference Between Mexican & Cuban Food

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Plate of Mexican hard shelled tacos.
Plate of Mexican hard shelled tacos. (Image: nitrub/iStock/Getty Images)

Mexican and Cuban food have differences that are subtle in description but obvious to the taste buds. Cuba is an island nation with over 2,300 miles of coastline and a tropical climate; while Mexico borders both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, much of its population lives inland in a drier climate. The different climates lead to differences in cooking, with seafood a focus of Cuban cooking and meats like pork the main ingredients of Mexican cooking. Both Mexico and Cuba were populated by Spanish immigrants in the 1500s, so the cuisine of both focuses on Spanish staples, but Mexico has a cuisine tied closely to the ancient traditions of the Aztecs and Mayans, while Cuba's main food influences are limited to Spain, Africa and Asia.

Mexican Food Staples

In Mexico, food staples have been part of the indigenous diet for hundreds of years, whereas Cuba's cuisine has been influenced heavily by the immigrants who settled there. Mexican cuisine is spicy with peppers that grow easily in hot climates. The main staples are corn, beans, cacti, avocado, squash and fruit. Main dishes are more likely to be made with pork, chicken or beef than seafood. Tortillas are served with meals, and salsa is a common accompaniment. Dairy products and cheeses, though not part of the indigenous diet, are used in Mexican cooking today but not common in Cuban cuisine. Examples of Mexican dishes include soft tacos, slow-roasted and seasoned meats, spicy soups, tamales and various fried dumplings that consist of flavorful meat fillings covered in corn masa.

Staples in Cuban Cuisine

Cuban food, while flavorful, is less spicy than Mexican food and is rarely fried. The focus is on seafood, with mahi-mahi ceviche being a common dish. Plantains and tropical fruits are often served with meals. Flour and rice are used more than corn, and sandwiches made out of Cuban bread, a white bread similar to French bread, and various sliced meats are typical. Main dishes include lobster in tomato sauce, mixed salads, garlic shrimp, rice and beans, cooked meats with dried spices, soups and omelets.

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