The Beauty of Mexican Breakfast
A quick lesson in Mexican breakfast done right! Come for the huevos rancheros; stay for the tres leches French toast, enchiladas smothered in mole sauce, and squash blossom omelets.
Photograph by Lola Wiarco Dweck
Many of us grew up with the understanding that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. This rings especially true in Mexico, where Mexican breakfast rarely, if ever, consists of a bowl of cold cereal or smoothie. While what is considered a “typical” desayuno, or breakfast, in Mexico varies from region to region, some of my absolute favorites include a multi-course spread.
Growing up and visiting my grandmother in Guanajuato each summer, I learned early on that it was important to fuel up during breakfast, because almuerzo, which is the heaviest meal of the day, wasn’t served until about three o’clock in the afternoon. Then, merienda, which consisted of a light snack, was consumed just as we were winding down after a busy day, usually around eight o’clock. One commonality among the meals is that they’re typically enjoyed at home, with family, although with busy work schedules and long commutes, this has changed over the years.
Jump ahead to:
A basic understanding of Mexican breakfast
Read on to learn what a traditional Mexican breakfast entails, and how this meal differs from Mexico’s other main meals of the day.
Desayuno, Almuerzo, Comida, Cena, and Merienda: What do the different mealtimes in Mexico mean?
Before I get started on all of the wonderful breakfast options available in Mexico, it’s important to understand the difference in mealtimes along with their names and loose English equivalents. You’ll notice that brunch is not listed below, and that’s because American-style brunch hasn’t really caught on in Mexico.
Desayuno, or breakfast, is served first thing in the morning, typically between 7 and 10 a.m., and is a warm, hearty meal.
Almuerzo, also known as la hora de comida, is similar to lunchtime, but unlike its American counterpart, this is the main meal of the day and can be served anytime from 2 to 5 p.m. In many places, it includes a soup or pasta dish to start; plato fuerte, or main entree; and postre, or light dessert.
Cena or merienda is the lightest of the three meals and usually consists of a light snack such as pan dulce and tea or café con leche, enjoyed later in the evening, after 7 or 8 p.m.
Desayuno Mexicano: What makes a proper Mexican breakfast?
A full Mexican breakfast is a multi-course affair:
It starts with a hot drink such as hot chocolate, tea, or coffee, served alongside a spread of pan dulce. If you’re lucky, you might get to sip on champurrado or atole!
Next comes a spread of beautifully cut seasonal fresh fruit, sometimes served with yogurt, honey, and granola. My favorite fruits include a mix of watermelon, mango, banana, papaya, and pineapple — all tropical frutas that definitely get your digestive system moving first thing in the morning.
Then comes the plato fuerte, or main entree, which is usually hot, always delicious, and sometimes consists of an egg- or corn-based dish, although soups such as pozole or menudo, can also be enjoyed for breakfast. No proper Mexican breakfast would be complete without a little bit of spice, usually from a homemade salsa. And you can expect to wash down your desayuno with freshly squeezed orange juice or a homemade agua fresca. Yum!
Now that you have hopefully learned a thing or two about breakfast a la Mexicana, I’d like to share a delicious desayuno roundup with you to inspire your next Mexican brunch or breakfast. From savory breakfast tacos to a sweet breakfast casserole made with conchas (a Mexican sweet bread), these recipes are full of flavor and celebrate the beauty of Mexican breakfast — as enjoyed in Mexico.
Mexican breakfast dishes with eggs: Spicy scrambled, fried, and more
Given the culinary versatility of eggs, they always seem to find a way into breakfast dishes across the world. And when it comes to Mexican breakfast favorites, olvídalo, they steal the show.
A true classic and probably one of the easiest Mexican breakfast dishes to make, chorizo con huevo can be eaten alone, wrapped into a corn or flour tortilla, or used as a topping for molletes.
Huevos rancheros are another classic Mexican breakfast dish, featuring corn tortillas topped with fried eggs and warm salsita.
This is another classic that gets its names from the ingredients representative of the colors of Mexico’s flag: tomato (red), onion (white), and jalapeño or serrano chile (green).
One of my absolute favorite breakfasts in Oaxaca is a squash blossom omelet served with salsa verde from La Casa de Mis Recuerdos bed and breakfast. The first time I laid eyes on this dish, it reminded me of one of my grandma Lola’s favorite sayings, "el hambre entra por los ojos." [Hunger enters through the eyes.] It was beautiful and delicious.
Corn tortilla-based Mexican breakfast dishes: Tacos, tostadas, and more
Corn tortillas are a staple ingredient in many Mexican meals, and while tacos, tostadas, and enchiladas can be enjoyed any time of day, they’re particularly delicious in the morning, served alongside freshly squeezed orange juice or agua fresca.
Chilaquiles are an iconic dish made with tortilla chips and a flavorful salsa. They can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They’re delicious topped with crumbled queso and crema, or dressed up with an egg or shredded chicken.
Equally delicious, red chilaquiles made with a smoky and slightly spicy guajillo sauce are sure to steal the show when served for breakfast. Read more about this Yummly original recipe here.
Enmoladas are one of the most interesting fusion recipes to hit the Mexican culinary scene. Through the combination of two traditional dishes — enchiladas and mole — a new one emerges that is as vibrant and flavorful as the country from which it originates.
Enfrijoladas are an excellent vegetarian breakfast choice, made with a silky smooth flavorful black bean sauce.
The key ingredient in entomatadas is homemade tomato salsa. They can be filled with cheese or chicken, or a mix of both!
My great grandma Angie handed down her recipe for papas con carne, which is timeless and can be served morning, noon, or night.
These tostadas are perfect topped with scrambled, over-easy, or sunny-side-up eggs. I love my egg fried, with a perfectly runny yolk.
Yes, you heard correctly — taquitos are perfectly acceptable to enjoy for breakfast and should be topped with finely sliced lettuce, Mexican cream, and guacamole or green salsa.
It is believed that enchiladas Suizas, or Swiss enchiladas, were first served at the famous Sanborns de los Azulejos in Mexico City in 1950, where they are still a popular menu item. This cheesy dish gets its name from the dairy, mostly cream and cheese, added to the recipe.
Bread-based Mexican breakfast dishes: Molletes and more
Molletes are essentially open-faced bean and cheese sandwiches made with white bread rolls from Mexico known as bolillos. They’re simple and satiating, and while they’re popular throughout Mexico, they’re not as well known in the U.S.
What is a mollete? Molletes are typically served for breakfast and in their most basic form, they are made with Mexican bread, refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo. With a few simple ingredients, bolillos are transformed into a gourmet breakfast that is filling and delightful.
For these molletes, I put my own spin on the classic recipe and added another breakfast favorite to the mix: papas con chorizo. The result is as gratifying as it is tasty.
Although Mexican breakfast dishes are typically savory, I couldn’t end this roundup without including something sweet. “This totally indulgent French Toast Casserole is made with conchas, the traditional Mexican sweet bread and soaked in a classic tres leches mixture of sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and heavy cream. If that wasn’t enough it then gets topped with chocolate chips, orange-scented strawberries, and whipped cream. Assemble the night before for an outrageously good breakfast the next morning!”
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