Mexican street food
Mexican street food, so-called antojitos, is prepared by street vendors and at small traditional markets in Mexico.
What is typical Mexican street food? Street foods in Mexico include tacos, tamales, gorditas, quesadillas, empalmes, tostadas, chalupas, elotes, tlayudas, cemita, pambazos, empanadas, nachos, chilaquiles, fajitas and tortas.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, beverages, and soups are also considered street food.
Most of the street food is based on corn products.
The best street food is often found in and around markets and at public transportation stops. It is also found in street markets called “mercado sobre ruedas” or “tianguis” (In Mexico City and its surroundings).
Street food is available in the morning and evening, as well as in the middle of the day. Mexico has one of the most extensive street food cultures, and Mexico City has been named one of the best cities to eat on the street.
Mexican street food is a vibrant and integral part of Mexican culture. From the bustling and hustling streets of Mexico City to the charming markets of Oaxaca, street food vendors offer delicious traditional Mexican cuisine.
Mexican street food has deep roots that stretch back to pre-Hispanic times.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives prepared and sold food in public places. Ingredients such as corn, beans, and chili prepared by the indigenous people laid the foundation for many iconic Mexican dishes.
Mexican food is an intangible cultural heritage. Street food has had a significant influence on haute cuisine in Mexico. Upscale restaurants serve the same dishes found on the streets, sometimes modified, sometimes not.
Mexican street food is a culinary treasure that reflects the country’s rich history and diverse regional influences. Be sure to embark on a gastronomic journey through its bustling streets, savoring the tasty Mexican street food.
The taco is the best-known and one of the most popular Mexican street food. Tacos are folded tortillas with some kind of filling. Mexican street taco sizes and fillings vary from one region to another.
Most tacos are made with corn tortillas, except in the very north of the country where wheat flour tortillas dominate. The tortillas used in Mexican tacos are soft, although the entire taco can be fried, which is called “dorado” (golden).
The fillings for tacos vary widely and most taco vendors have a specialty, the most known are the pastor and bistek. There are also tacos for more adventurous people that are filled with beef eyes, brains, or tongues.
Taco vendors usually have a large block of wood, on which meat and other fillings are minced with a cleaver. Garnishes vary but usually include chopped onion, cilantro, various salsas, grilled green onions, and lime wedges.
Tacos de canasta (Basket tacos) are the only kind that is not prepared on the spot. They are tortillas with fillings such as potatoes/chorizo sausage, pork rind, beans, and picadillo (spiced ground meat), then steamed and wrapped to keep warm and carried in a basket.
Barbacoa is pit-roasted meat. It is most commonly found in the center of the country, where the preferred meat is mutton. In the north of the country, there is a version made with beef.
Cabeza de res is made from meat and other parts of a steer, most commonly found in Sonora, the Bajío region, and Mexico City. Vendors of these kinds of tacos usually sell out and close by midday.
Other taco varieties include tacos de guisado, or tacos de cazuela, which are filled with meat or vegetables in a sauce. Fritangas are tacos with fried meat such as sausage.
Carnitas is pork cooked in lard flavored with orange rind. It was originally a specialty of Michoacán and Jalisco, but now can be found in most of the center of the country and in other parts of the country as well.
The best-known grilled taco is carne asada (grilled meat) which originated in Sonora. It is beef grilled over charcoal, originally mesquite. These are served with grilled green onions and depending on the region served with flour or corn tortillas.
Fish tacos are a specialty of Baja California and the Pacific Coast.
Codzitos are small tacos popular in the Yucatán Peninsula, which are fastened with toothpicks and then fried. Flautas, also called taquitos or tacos dorados, are similar to tacos in that they are filled, but they are then rolled and fried.
They are served topped with cream, salsa, and vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, and onions.
Some travel guides rank tamales as among the best street food in the world.
Tamales come in sweet and savory versions, some spicy and some bland. Versions with pork or chicken with a salsa or mole sauce are the most popular along with a version called “rajas” which are strips of poblano chili pepper and cheese.
It is one of the safer street foods for novices to try as it is cooked and kept in a steam vat while being sold.
Corundas are a variety of tamales in Michoacán in a triangle shape wrapped in corn stalk leaves. They can be eaten alone, with salsa or as an accompaniment to a meal.
In Chiapas tamale has a distinct flavor, often containing ingredients such as pibil, mole sauce, carrot, corn grains, egg, raisins, almonds, a version with the regional herb chipilín with chicken or queso blanco, and versions wrapped in banana leaves.
They are often sold by vendors on specially made tricycles for street vendors.
Uchepos are tamales made with fresh corn, generally made in Michoacán in July and August.
Camotes is a traditional food present in Central and Southern Mexico.
This Mexican street food is closely related to the holiday Dia de la Muerte, or the Day of the Dead. Because of the close ties to such a central holiday, the Comote is very important to the culture of the Mexican people.
Camotes is a pressure-cooked sweet potato served individually to each customer. Traditionally the Camote is a pressure-cooked sweet potato topped with condensed milk, seasoned with chili peppers, cinnamon, or strawberry jam.
Camote vendors are distinctive because of the loud, highly noticeable, whistle created by the cart they cook the potatoes in. One can walk down the streets of Mexico City and know where a camote vendor is located.
Camote is mostly only located in or around Mexico City or other metropolises.
There are other street foods made with tortillas. Tostadas are flat hard tortillas either fried or dried on which are placed a variety of toppings such as shredded chicken, pork, beef, seafood, cheese, and salsa.
Quesadillas are derived from the Spanish word for cheese “queso” and refer to a tortilla folded in half and filled with cheese and possibly other ingredients such as spicy meat, mushrooms, chili pepper strips, and more.
The type of cheese used generally varies by region and in some areas, cheese is not even used unless requested.
Empalmes are three stacked corn tortillas with beans, some kind of meat, or stew which are typical in the state of Nuevo León.
Gringas are two corn tortillas with a meat and cheese filling then toasted on each side until the cheese melts.
Tlayudas are large dried tortillas topped with beans and other ingredients similar to a pizza or large tostada popular in the state of Oaxaca.
There are street foods that use the same corn dough used to make tortillas but in different preparations. Gorditas can be found in almost all parts of the country. They are very thick corn dough patties fried in oil or cooked on a comal (like a flat pan) with oil.
After cooking they are split and filled with a variety of ingredients.
There is a flour dough version of this in Coahuila. Bocoles are small round gorditas popular in Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and San Luis Potosí. After cooking they are split and filled with ingredients such as cheese, picadillo, salsa, beans, or cooked eggs.
Empedradas is a triangular piece of blue corn dough mixed with chickpeas and then cooked on comal popular in Tlaxcala. Garnachas are thick tortillas similar to gorditas split and filled with shredded pork and diced onion.
On top is placed salsa, cheese, vinegar, and chili pepper sauce.
Memelas, also called picadas, are long thick tortillas made of corn dough mixed with fried pork rind and salsa. They are cooked on a comal and then topped with tomato sauce and chopped lettuce or cabbage.
Tlacoyos are the most popular in Mexico City. They are elongated and usually made with blue corn dough which is filled with a paste made of beans before being cooked on a comal.
Chalupas are small tortilla-like cups of fried corn dough filled with cheese, beans, or a variety of stews topped with salsa and chopped lettuce. They are most popular in Puebla.
Similarly, chilapas are tortilla cups fried crispy in the form of a cup and then filled with shredded meat, salsa, cream, avocado, chili peppers, chopped lettuce, and onion. They are a specialty of Chilapa, Guerrero.
Huaraches are similarly large and flat and topped with chopped or shredded meat, and any of the following: beans, cheese, cream, and salsa.
Sopes are also flat and thick but in the disk, form pinched on the edges and then topped with beans, salsa, and more.
Elote refers to fresh corn which is served on the cob or cut kernels. If on the cob is it either grilled or boiled then coated with mayonnaise and dusted with any of the following: chili pepper, salt, cotija cheese, lime juice, and hot sauce?
The cut kernels are usually served in a dish called esquites, where similar seasonings are mixed in and it is eaten with a spoon. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be had as street food. Fruit cups are popular and vary depending on the season.
They usually contain one or more of the following, watermelon, papaya, mango, orange, jicama, and cucumber. These are cut into slender spears or cubes with lime juice, salt, and chili pepper powder added.
Jicama is a root vegetable that is popularly eaten raw. It can be eaten in strips or chunks as part of a salad or fruit cup.
A jicaleta is a large slice of vegetable placed on a stick to look like a large lollipop. It can be eaten plain like this or it can then be covered with a choice of sweet or savory flavored powders, hot sauce, lime juice, and more.
The Spanish and later the French introduced a variety of wheat bread which have been adapted into a variety of street foods. Tortas are rolled and cut to make thick sandwiches with various fillings.
These include refried beans, cheese, various hot meats such as breaded chicken or pork, carnitas, egg, and more or with cold cuts, along with avocado, onions, and pickled jalapeños. Tortas can be found in cold or warm varieties.
The firsts are usually found at public transport stops or in front of schools.
In Puebla, a similar sandwich is called a cemita, named after the style of bread used to make it. Molotes are a type of torta, bread with a filling and salsa which varies by region. In Hidalgo, they are cylindrical and filled with chicken, cheese, or beef.
In Oaxaca, they are filled with chorizo sausage and potatoes, and in Tlaxcala, they are shaped like a pointed oval. Pambazos are small tortas filled with various ingredients, with salsa covering the filling (in Veracruz) or coating the bread (in Mexico City).
In the Yucatán, small tortas are called salbutes which are heated on comals, and filled with tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and meat. Another European-derived dish is the empanada, which is flour or sometimes corn flour turnovers that enclose a filling and are baked.
In Hidalgo, they are called “pastes” after the English word “pasty”.
In addition to the well-known tacos, tamales, and other street food staples, Mexican street vendors also offer a variety of delicious and hearty soups that are perfect for satisfying your taste buds and warming your soul.
These soups are often regarded as comfort food and are popular among locals and tourists alike.
Pozole: This iconic Mexican soup is a must-try when exploring street food stalls.
Pozole features hominy (dried maize kernels that have been treated with an alkali) and is cooked with meat, typically pork or chicken, along with a flavorful broth made from dried chilies and spices.
It is often garnished with shredded lettuce, radishes, onions, and lime.
The rich and spicy flavors of pozole make it a beloved street food choice.
Caldo de Res: Caldo de Res, or beef soup, is another beloved Mexican street food. It’s a hearty and comforting soup made with beef bones, a variety of vegetables like corn, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, as well as aromatic herbs and spices.
The broth is simmered for hours, resulting in a rich and flavorful soup. It’s often served with rice, lime, and tortillas on the side.
Menudo: Menudo is a traditional Mexican soup that’s popular as a hangover cure, particularly on weekends.
This soup features tripe (beef stomach) simmered in a spicy broth made from dried chilies. It’s often garnished with onions, cilantro, lime, and crushed red pepper flakes. Menudo is known for its bold and spicy flavor.
Tortilla Soup (Sopa de Tortilla): It is a comforting and hearty soup made from a tomato-based broth infused with spices and tortilla strips. It often contains chicken and is garnished with avocado, cheese, and sour cream, providing a delightful balance of flavors and textures.
Birria de Res: It is a type of stew or consommé made from marinated and slow-cooked beef, often served with corn tortillas. While it’s more commonly associated with tacos, you can find vendors selling birria consommé, which is the flavorful broth from the stew.
It’s savory and rich, perfect for dipping tacos or sipping on its own.
Atole: While not a traditional soup, Atole is a warm and comforting beverage that’s sometimes offered by street food vendors. It’s a thick, hot drink made from masa (corn dough) and flavored with cinnamon, chocolate, or vanilla.
Atole is often served with tamales, making it a popular pairing for a satisfying street food meal.
When exploring Mexican street food, don’t forget to try these delicious and comforting soups.
Mexican street food provides a different dimension to the diverse world of Mexican street cuisine, offering unique flavors and a taste of authentic Mexican culture that’s sure to leave you craving more.
Street drinks are equally integral to the culinary culture of Mexico.
Aguas Frescas: A Refreshing Tradition
Aguas Frescas, which translates to “fresh waters,” is an iconic and beloved category of Mexican street drinks.
These delightful beverages are the perfect antidote to Mexico’s warm climate. They are typically crafted from a harmonious blend of fruits and other natural ingredients, resulting in a refreshing and thirst-quenching experience.
Fruitful Varieties: Aguas frescas come in a kaleidoscope of fruity flavors. You can savor the sweet essence of watermelon, the tropical delight of mango, the zesty kick of orange, or the tangy zest of lime.
These fruits are expertly combined with water and just the right amount of sugar to create a harmonious and satisfying drink.
Beyond Fruits: While fruit-based aguas frescas are incredibly popular, there’s a world beyond the orchard. For instance, the creamy and slightly nutty flavor of the rice is transformed into the delectable “horchata”.
Coconut lovers can indulge in the tropical goodness of coconut-based aguas frescas, and those seeking a unique taste experience can explore the tamarind-infused variety. Hibiscus flower tea is known as “agua de Jamaica”.
Regional Delights: Tejuino and Pozol
Mexico’s diverse geography and culture have given rise to regional street drinks that reflect local tastes and traditions.
Tejuino: In the southern parts of the country, especially in states like Jalisco and Colima, you’ll find tejuino.
This fermented corn drink is a favorite among locals. It offers a range of varieties, some sweeter and others more sour, allowing you to explore the spectrum of flavors that this drink has to offer.
Pozol: In the states of Tabasco, Chiapas, and parts of the Yucatán Peninsula, you’ll encounter a unique treat called pozol.
This is a beverage with deep indigenous roots, traditionally made from ground maize and water. It can be enjoyed in various forms, with some versions flavored with chocolate and served cold.
Pozol is both a nourishing and satisfying street drink.
Juice Bars: Where Tradition Meets Modern Convenience
While street vendors have long been the purveyors of these delightful drinks, you can also find them in dedicated juice bars. These establishments offer an extensive menu of aguas frescas, providing a convenient and modern twist to this beloved tradition.
It’s the perfect place to explore a wide range of flavors and combinations.
A common concern for travelers is whether it’s safe to indulge in Mexican street food. While it’s true that food safety standards can vary from one vendor to another, many street food stalls take hygiene seriously.
Here are some tips for enjoying street food safely:
Choose vendors that are popular with locals, as this often indicates a level of trustworthiness. Check the vendor’s hygiene practices. Are they using gloves, tongs, or other utensils to handle food? Is their workspace clean?
Opt for stalls that prepare food on the spot, ensuring that the ingredients are fresh and cooked thoroughly.
Go for dishes that are served hot, as heat can kill harmful bacteria.
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