This article is from the July 1996 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Many Meals of the Day in Mexico

Nutritionists tell us that eating several smaller meals throughout the day is healthier than gorging out three times a day as we are accustomed to doing in the States. Actually, norteamericanos are not averse to snacking. It's just that we snack in addition to our three main meals of the day. We really seem to need to live up to the expectation that we are the biggest this and the largest that.

In contrast to the States, why are there so many food carts on the streets of Mexico? The Mexicans have cultivated the art of snacking to its highest form. And they know when to stop. (Just because street tacos.. something to die for when the wolf is at the door.. may be three for a buck does not mean that one actually must have six at a time.)

Desayuno (breakfast) is the first meal of the day, and is generally light. Coffee and a sweet roll are common, as well as fruit. Fruit may be served intact or in liquid form. Fruit that has been liquified in a blender, with a little cream or milk added, is called a licuado, while aguas are drinks made of liquified fruit and water. Sometimes a hearty breakfast is in order, and this may consist of frijoles (beans), eggs, meat, tortillas and cheese enchiladas.

And just around the comer, in the late morning, eleven or so, comes another meal. Almuerzo (which means brunch or maybe even lunch), is a bit heavier, especially when breakfast has been light. It may consist of dishes made with tortillas with meat or beans or perhaps with chiles and tomatoes.

The big meal of the day comes at two or three in the afternoon. No, this is not just siesta time in Mexico, when life as we know it comes to a halt. This is the time for a serious meal, followed by a snooze. By four o'clock things get back to normal. La comida (the mid-afternoon dinner) consists of several courses. First comes the soup and pasta followed by a meat or fish dish with vegetables. Then comes the fruit or salad (yes, as in most of the world, the salad comes afier the main course).

Finally comes the dessert and coffee. This is a time for conviviality and relaxed con-versation (no wonder the Mexicans seem to have more cohesive social bonds than we, the fast-food junkies, seem to have). And what a delight this time of the day is: good food, good talk, the eyelids grow heavy, and there is even time built in for a guiltless power nap. Even in restaurants /U comida is more relaxed than we may be used to. The food is slower in coming out and it is assumed that the client is there to linger over the meal in a relaxed manner. Indeed, diners can usually stay as long as they wish, and the bill is not brought out until it is requested.

An early evening snack (merienda), something like an afternoon tea which occurs at about 6:00 or 7:00, may consist of pastries and coffee, tea or soft drinks. This is a time for pleasant conversation at the end of the day.

But we are still not through. A final meal or supper (cena) can occur quite late by U.S. standards, often at 9:00 in the evening. Leftovers from the afternoon meal may be served, or perhaps tacos, a sandwich, or sweet breads (pan dulce). This is not a time to overeat and then to sleep on a frill stomach. But why would one need to overeat when this is the fifth meal of the day?

By U.S. standards the traditional meals of Mexico are frequent, more socially oriented, and more relaxed. But it is all changing. As Mexico modernizes, as the cities grow larger, as distances between home and work become greater, as modern technology invades the old social structures and ways of interacting, fast food becomes more convenient, more anractive. How long will it be before the post-comida siesta becomes a relic of times past?