The foods eaten in what is now the north of Mexico have differed from those in the south since the pre-Hispanic era. Here, the indigenous people were hunter-gatherers with limited agriculture and settlements because of the arid land.
When the Europeans arrived, they found much of the land in this area suitable for raising cattle, goats and sheep. This led to the dominance of meat, especially beef, in the region, and some of the most popular dishes include machaca, arrachera and cabrito. The region's distinctive cooking technique is grilling, as ranch culture has promoted outdoor cooking done by men.
The ranch culture has also prompted cheese production and the north produces the widest varieties of cheese in Mexico. These include queso fresco (fresh farmer's cheese), ranchero (similar to Monterey Jack), cuajada (a mildly sweet, creamy curd of fresh milk), requesón (similar to cottage cheese or ricotta), Chihuahua's creamy semi-soft queso menonita, and fifty-six varieties of asadero (smoked cheese).
Another important aspect of northern cuisine is the presence of wheat, especially in the use of flour tortillas. The area has at least forty different types of flour tortillas. The main reason for this is that much of the land supports wheat production, introduced by the Spanish. These large tortillas allowed for the creation of burritos, usually filled with machaca in Sonora, which eventually gained popularity in the Southwest United States.
The variety of foodstuffs in the north is not as varied as in the south of Mexico, because of the mostly desert climate. Much of the cuisine of this area is dependent on food preservation techniques, namely dehydration and canning. Dried foods include meat, chiles, squash, peas, corn, lentils, beans and dried fruit. A number of these are also canned. Preservation techniques change the flavor of foods; for example, many chiles are less hot after drying.
In Northeastern Mexico, during the Spanish colonial period, Nuevo León was founded and settled by Spanish families of Jewish origin (Crypto-Jews). They contributed to the regional cuisine with dishes, such as Pan de Semita or "Semitic Bread" (a type of bread made without leavening), and cabrito or "baby goat", which is the typical food of Monterrey and the state of Nuevo León, as well as some regions of Coahuila.
The north has seen waves of immigration by the Chinese, Mormons, and Mennonites, who have influenced the cuisines in areas, such as Chihuahua and Baja California. Most recently, Baja Med cuisine has emerged in Ensenada and elsewhere in Baja California, combining Mexican and Mediterranean flavors.