One thing that is always a topic of conversation for people new to Mexico is meal times. Mexicans also seem to be intrigued about meal times in the US, and portions for said meals. Knowing the terms and times is important because in Mexico City and many other parts of central and southern Mexico people use different terms that foreigners are not used to, and the times are also very different. It is crucial to use the right terms, otherwise you might create some confusion. By the time I was about a month into my Fulbright trip, I was eating on the following schedule, and it seemed natural to me. I will say that I didn’t always eat the same things Mexicans ate, but I did eat around the same time.
- This is usually the first meal of the day, and it is relatively light. People have yogurt, cereal, sandwiches or something of the sort. A lot of street food sold around breakfast time include: tamales, tacos, yogurt with fruit, gelatin, tortas de tamal, tacos, and chilaquiles to name a few.
- The verb you want to use here is desayunar, not comer. Unlike English (in the US) where we don’t say I broke-fast, or I lunched, in Mexican Spanish (espeically in the center) you use verbs for the actual meal you had. Although this might be confusing to you as a foreigner at first, it is great because it actually eliminates confusing what meal you are talking about.
La Comida 2-4PM
- This meal is pretty heavy and it usually starts around 2PM and ends around 4PM. As a person who has lived almost my entire life in the United States, I am used to having lunch around noon. I also grew up calling lunch either lunche or almuerzo in Spanish. Both of those terms do not fly in CDMX and people will be confused and, immediately know you aren’t from those parts. Hitting la comida before 1 will probably lead you to empty/unopened restaurants and possibly unfresh food. Sure eating before 2PM will help you beat the hora de la comida rush, but you will miss out on some good restaurants and meeting new interesting people. Not to mention, potentially risk your belly’s health. Overall, la comida will be the biggest meal of the day.
- The interesting thing here is that like other meal times, la comida has its own verb. For example:¿ya comiste? Would not mean, “Did you eat?” Instead, it would mean, “Did you have lunch?” I hit some confusing moments with this in 2015 with some roomates in CDMX. While cooking dinner I asked them if they had comido, and they would say “si, ya comí como a las cuatro.” Which seemed like a very early dinner for me, which it was, but he or she was expressing that they ate lunch at 5. When I expressed that I felt it was early for dinner, they responded by saying, “bueno, comí a las cuatro pero voy a cenar a las 9 mas o menos.” After a few days of this confusion, I finally caught on and I realized that I was using the wrong verb. I had to ask, ¿ya cenaste? Which leads me to the next category.
- One final clarification. If someone says “voy por comida” they are more than likely referring to food in general. If they say, “voy por la comida” they are talking about lunch, not food in general.
- The cena is usually fairly late, although there is variation. I would say that in my experience most Mexicans that eat at home usually have coffee and a pastry, or a tamale etc. On special occasions, or when you go out with friends this seems to change a bit, but most people typically have smallish portions for this meal. More than likely because people end up eating cena anywhere from 8-11pm.