Pico de gallo is a traditional Latin American dish that comes from a rich cultural and culinary history in Mexico. A tomato-based salsa that can be eaten alone or as a topping for any dish, pico de gallo is a staple in Latin restaurants and homes around the world. Whether you’re a fan or you have yet to try it, read on to learn all about this Mexican staple!
Pico: A History
The history of pico de gallo is surprisingly still largely a mystery. The basics are that it is derived from ancient Aztec culture, and widely popularized in Mexican cuisine, especially in regions such as the Yucatan and Sonora. It is no surprise that such a tomato-forward dish would be born there; tomatoes and chilies have been farmed in Latin America for thousands of years.
What’s in a Name?
Pico de gallo, which translates to rooster’s beak, goes by many names throughout Latin America. After pico, it is most commonly referred to as salsa bandera, or flag sauce, because the fresh ingredients are the same colors as the Mexican flag. Other translations are salsa fresca (fresh sauce), salsa cruda (raw sauce), and salsa picada (minced sauce). Whatever you call it, pico de gallo is a deliciously key part of authentic Latin American cuisine!
Pecked By a Rooster
Rooster’s Beak is a quirky name for a salsa, and there are many ideas floating around on the history of the name. A popular explanation is that traditionally, pico was eaten with the thumb and forefinger, which gave the hand and shape that resembled a rooster picking up feed with its beak. Another idea is that the minced texture of the tomatoes reminded people of chicken feed. Potentially the most intriguing interpretation of the name is that the handlers of fighting cocks would place the roosters’ heads in their mouths to calm them down, as darkness will induce their sleep cycle. Before relaxing, the birds would often peck at the handler’s tongue out of panic. It is said that the spices of authentic pico de gallo mimicked the feeling of being pecked on the tongue!
What Makes it Pico?
To be an authentic pico de gallo, the salsa must include diced tomatoes, onion, Mexican green peppers (try serrano or jalapeno), cilantro, and lime juice. Like any traditional dish, there are numerous variations. Some people will add spicy peppers and seasonings, fresh vegetables common to Latin cuisines like radishes or jicama, or even seasonal fruit. There are so many ways to make it your own!
A Heart-Healthy Dish
Made with fresh produce, pico de gallo is one of the healthiest additions to any authentic Latin American cuisine (pico-covered tacos–yum!), but it is also great for adding flavor to other foods. Try using pico and guacamole as a topping for the best chicken you’ll ever eat, or mix it with your eggs for a colorful breakfast. Pico de gallo is full of antioxidants from the tomatoes and can serve as a blood thinner thanks to the onion. If you add garlic or jalapeno, your pico can have anti-inflammatory properties as well, so eat on!
If learning about the wonders of salsa bandera has left you itching to taste some, don’t hesitate to make some yourself! There are great recipes everywhere. If you aren’t sure you can do justice to the authentic Latin American cuisine, visit an authentic Latin restaurant for a great experience!