Over the last several years, the number of Mexican “cantinas” has increased greatly. While this brings much joy to those who love authentic Mexican food, tradition, and culture, it also has caused some to wonder what exactly a cantina is. This article will help you understand the cantina is, and where it originated.
What Is A Cantina?
Many people, especially from the northeastern United States, have not even heard of a cantina before. By definition, a cantina is simply a bar. The word actually does not come from Spain or Latin America, but surprisingly, from Italy. Cantina was adopted by the French and changed to “canteen” which has the same meaning. Of course, a canteen is a container which holds water and is especially useful to the Army or those venturing into rough landscapes. Today, a cantina is somewhere you go when you are thirsty. However, you will normally pass on the water and get a margarita!
Where Did the Cantina First Begin?
Cantinas have been popular in Italy, Spain, and Mexico for centuries. However, each country has their own variation. Italian cantinas predominantly serve traditional Italian foods with wines. Spanish cantinas traditionally have been located in train stations or situated close to a workplace and serve as a place to relax after work. In Mexico, cantinas have been traditionally seen as a place for men where they can drink, eat botanas (appetizers), and play board and card games. Currently, cantinas in Mexico welcome women, but it is still typically seen as a man’s domain. When cantinas started to crop up in the United States in the 1890s, they were usually simple bars.
Are Cantinas Today Different?
Today, cantinas are often contained inside regular restaurants which serve families and larger parties. The cantina portion consists of the bar situated inside the establishment. In the United States, Mexican style cantinas are the most popular. They consist of authentic Mexican food and drinks, such as tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas, and margaritas—(or anything with a little tequila). They use beautiful and traditional Mexican décor, including geometric shapes, vibrant colors, and anything made of wood and clay. You will likely see Sombreros, cactuses, and anything southwestern.
What Makes A Good Cantina?
So with all of these cantinas popping up, it’s important to find the good ones. How can you tell that the one you are going to is any good? As soon as you walk into the cantina, the atmosphere should feel like a genuine Mexican location. The décor (as mentioned above) should look authentic, not cheesy. However, you will find plenty of cheese in the food! Having a staff that can help clarify exactly what you are ordering is a good sign. Fresh ingredients in every dish are a necessity. Finally, a fully stocked bar with professional, friendly bartenders will bring a great cantina full circle. A cantina’s signature drink? The margarita, of course!
Ixtapa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina includes all of these traditional fixtures, authentic food, and endearing qualities at their family restaurant and cantina, especially the tequila! We invite you to come visit one of our locations in Groton, Lextington, Lunenburg, and Woburn, Massachusetts.