How The Concept Of Dinner Differs In Mexico Vs. The US

Dinner as a meal is an ever-changing concept that holds such significance in our lives yet varies so greatly across cultures. And in Mexico, the dinner concept is slightly different than in the United States. Insider shares that the main meal of the day in Mexico is known as comida and is typically served in the early afternoon.

But what about dinner, you ask? In Mexico, dinner is known as cena and is usually enjoyed from 7-9 p.m., though this can vary depending on the region. For some, cena is a simple affair, consisting of a hot drink and some bread (like Mexican hot chocolate and a marranito). For others, it's an opportunity to indulge in a small restaurant meal or grab some delicious tacos from a street vendor. It isn't, however, the biggest meal of the day.

In contrast, you'll find many Americans eating dinner, the largest meal of the day, around 5 or 6 p.m., a custom born after the Industrial Revolution and the conception of the 9-to-5 workday. It's not just about time differences but how each country enjoys its meals. Dinner in Mexico remains a time to savor the flavors of the country and socialize with friends and family, which you'll quickly learn as you discover the distinction between la comida and la cena for yourself.

Understanding Mexican mealtimes

When exploring Mexico's rich and diverse culinary scene, it's essential to understand the unique mealtimes that shape the local dining culture. Plus, it's helpful to know so you can plan your day accordingly.

Begin your day with desayuno, the Spanish term for breakfast, which typically features a warm drink and something light like pan dulce or fruit to kick-start your morning. For those who prefer a mid-morning meal akin to brunch, el almuerzo is the perfect option. You can expect delicious egg dishes like chilaquiles during these early hours.

As the afternoon approaches, it's time for la comida. This is usually the day's largest meal and is served between 2-4 p.m. Most locals dining at restaurants will indulge in a set menu meal that is typically three courses.

When evening falls, la cena (or dinner) is often a lighter affair, and many people opt for lighter foods rather than full meals. You'll find plenty of bustling street food stands serving mouth-watering tacos for eager visitors looking to embrace the rhythm of Mexican mealtimes. You'll also find plenty of restaurants serving meals at all hours, meaning you won't have a problem if you want to stick to your American eating schedule and enjoy a dinnertime feast at 6 p.m.

How to savor the hearty mid-day meal

La comida is the centerpiece of the day, a time to gather with loved ones and indulge in a feast of flavors. This filling mid-day meal is designed to make you slow down, connect with loved ones, and indulge in a culinary masterpiece — even if you opt for the daily set menu at a local restaurant.

To savor the essence of this Mexican mealtime, remember that la comida isn't a quick bite on the go. The main course often includes some sort of meat and rice in dishes like chiles rellenos or enchiladas in a rich mole poblano sauce. These dishes are flavorful and dense enough to keep you full well into the evening.

All in all, the key to enjoying mealtime in Mexico like a local lies in the understanding that la comida is about more than just food; it's a time to appreciate the love that went into preparing the food as you savor each bite and let the beauty of tradition carry you away — something that can be easily forgotten among busy schedules and packed days.