Mexican food is rich and diverse. The earliest agricultural staples of the Aztecs (who dominated northern Mexico) and Mayans (who occupied the southeastern Yucatan peninsula) were beans, squash and chile peppers. Maize or nixtamal (corn), "the Gift of the Gods" is the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine. It appears in almost everything: tortillas, enchiladas, tamales, tacos, even dessert (sopapillas). Early Mexican dishes included atole (hominy porridge, which evolved into Pozole soup), tortillas and tamales, both savory and sweet.
Mexico also yielded avocados, peanuts, and many fruits and chiles. The conquest of Mexico by Spain in 1521 heavily influenced the Mexican cuisine that exists today. The Spaniards introduced new livestock: pigs, cows and sheep had never been seen before in the New World. They also brought herbs and spices, including garlic, sugar cane and coriander. Coriander leaves, known as cilantro, are featured in many a Mexican dish.
Until the conquistadors arrived, there was no wheat in Mexico. Spanish influence is evident in modern Mexican cuisine that includes flour tortillas, quesadillas, and burritos. Burritos are still practically unheard of in southern Mexico, where tortillas are made the traditional way with corn.
Chile, not Chili
There are reportedly more than 60 varieties of chile peppers, from very mild Anaheims to fiery hot habaneros. Jalapeños are the most recognizable, alongside chipotles (jalapeños that have been dried and smoked) which are the primary flavor in adobo sauce. A favorite Mexican main course, chiles rellenos, features large poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or spicy meat (picadillo).
Chili, on the other hand, as in spicy "chili con carne", is an entirely American version unrelated to the Mexican pepper, and not a Mexican dish.