History of Spanish Rice (Mexican Rice)

Learn more about this popular Mexican side dish

Detail of green bean and Spanish rice
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Spanish Rice, also known as Mexican Rice, is a common side dish in Northern Mexico, and is also popular outside of Mexico, especially in the Southwestern United States. The names Spanish Rice and Mexican Rice imply the same dish, although this recipe is not part of Spain's cuisine.

Why Is It Called Spanish Rice?

While there is not a clear story as to why some people refer to it as Spanish rice (even though this exact dish is not prepared in Spain) there are some very good indications how it came to be known as such. Rice is not native to Mexico and was brought over in the 1500s when Spain started their invasion and take over. The Spaniards began to import cattle, pigs, goats, and chickens. As the Spaniards continued their travels around the world, they also went to Asia, and from there they brought back to Mexico things like wheat and rice. So, since the Spanish people originally introduced rice to Mexico, it makes sense that a traditional rice dish would be called "Spanish Rice." Another theory is that because the Mexican people that make this rice dish speak the Spanish language, it was easily incorporated into the name of the dish.

Why Is It Called Mexican Rice?

In Mexico, different regions serve rice in different ways. If you order rice in northern Mexico, you most likely will get rice cooked with chicken broth and tomato flavors—traditional Spanish rice. However, in southern Mexico, ​plain white rice is more common. But since adding the broth, tomato, onion, and garlic is the Mexican way to add flavor to rice, calling the dish "Mexican Rice" indicates rice that is made in the Mexican style. However, in Mexico, it isn't referred to as Spanish or Mexican rice at all but simply "arroz" (rice) or " arroz rojo" (red rice).

How Is Spanish Rice Made?

Spanish or Mexican rice is made by browning white rice in fat, such as lard or cooking oil. Onions and garlic are added for flavor while the rice is browning. After the rice begins to turn opaque and golden brown, it is brought to a simmer in a combination of chicken broth and tomato flavoring, which can be tomato sauce, paste, or bullion. Parsley can be added for a little color but does not change the taste very much. Sometimes vegetables are added such as chiles, corn, peas, or carrots.

It is very easy to make your own Spanish or Mexican rice, from a Spanish rice with ground beef to a quick and easy Mexican rice