While everyone’s familiar with tacos and enchiladas, there’s really much more to Mexican cuisine than the blazing hot, spicy fast food we see advertised every day. Many traditional Mexican foods, though not familiar fare in the U.S., are flavorful but not heavily laden with hot spices. Quite a few tasty items are in fact, mild and worthy of a try.

Family meals in Mexico are, in large part, based on what grows locally. The more tropical regions in the south use fruit in many vegetable and meat dishes. In other drier areas, the flat paddle-shaped pieces of an edible prickly pear cactus are chopped and cooked. Called nopales, they can be found in everything from scrambled eggs to stews.

Everywhere there are of course, tortillas. While we think of them as something eaten in place of bread at a meal, in Mexico, tortillas are used in a wide variety of delicious ways. You find wheat or corn tortillas as a base for snacks, as part of sweet desserts, and even crumbled as a thickener for soup. Tortillas are often made by hand at home or sold in small local businesses where people walk over to purchase them fresh every day.

Here in the US however, most tortillas are mass produced and distributed far and wide. They may sit on store shelves for weeks. So to protect public health, manufacturers include a preservative such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, or a sulfite compound in the tortillas- all substances that can be rough on sensitive bladders.

One way to circumvent the preservative problem is to find a local Hispanic restaurant or bakery that makes fresh tortillas every day. Most large cities have at least one and if your first phone call is not successful, you can usually get them to refer you to the right source. Another place to look is your local Whole Foods, Sprouts, or other natural foods supermarket, though it will be a bit more expensive there. I love hot, buttered, corn tortillas with soup on rainy evenings!

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