It might come as a surprise to many of you that one of our favorite pleasures of living in Mexico is eating off the streets. I can already feel you shaking your head in disbelief and thinking Laura has totally lost it, si? Well, if you trust me and have the “stomach” for it, I will introduce you to the delights of Mexico Street Eats. I promise that you will survive this posting intact and without any adverse side effects including the possibility of “Montezuma’s revenge” (see remarks at end of posting). So if you are hungry or just curious, let’s visit the street food of Mexico.
Street food in Mexico is called antojitos (literally "little cravings") which is prepared by street vendors and at small traditional markets throughout Mexico. They are foods not typically eaten at the formal main meal of the day which is served in the mid-afternoon. Street foods are easiest to find in the mornings, in the early evening, and continuing until late into the night when Mexican night life really starts warming up on the streets.
Morning, noon, or night is always a good time to enjoy a stop at your favorite stand for a taco fix as seen in Puerto Vallarta.
A street taco stand sheltered by an old church in Oaxaca City is certainly a lovely setting to enjoy your morning street eats.
Taco stands have faithful customers who return time and again for the daily specialty and Taqueria "El Moreno" in PV specializes in a variety of meat tacos.
Street eats are typically found at a taco stand which can be either permanently fixed to its site or temporary with it being assembled and removed after each period of operation. In Mexico, taco stands are commonly referred to as taquerías because originally a taquería was typically a street vendor. Taco stands are typically located outdoors although the term is can also be used at times to refer to indoor taco restaurants. These stands typically specialize in tacos (no surprise there!) and other Mexican delights which are not only delicious, but very affordable.
Rosita's food stand was in the municipal mercado of Oaxaca and the choices were overwhelming! I wanted to try everything.
The best of Mexico street eats are often found in and around markets and at public transportation stops, but it can also be found at traditional street markets called tianguis. A tianguis is an open-air market that is traditionally held on certain market days in a town or city neighborhood in Mexico and Central America. This tradition has its roots well into the pre-Hispanic period and continues in many cases essentially unchanged into the present day. The word tianguis comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire. In rural areas, many traditional types of merchandise are also still sold, such as agriculture supplies and products as well as modern, mass-produced goods, in the weekly tianguis.
Mexico has one of the most extensive street food cultures in Latin America with about 58% of the population eating on the street at least once a week. Much of the best of Mexican cuisine is based on street food. Mexican food has been named by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage of mankind” which is quite an impressive honor!
Nothing gets an appetite excited as food being prepared outdoors on a grill as seen in San Miguel de Allende.
I don’t know about you, but I am becoming quite hungry just thinking about the wonderful variety of Mexican street food available. Please join me and let’s go meet the most commonly found and enjoyed street food in Mexico including the vast variety of tacos, tortas, tamales, quesadillas, ceviche, fruit cocktails and fruit drinks.
TACOS: THE KING OF STREET FOOD
My husband would be completely happy if he could get his tacos "on-line."
The modern taco developed in Mexico’s rural areas when wives would bring their husband’s meals to the fields wrapped in tortillas. Tacos arrived to the city when stands began to sell foods known to the many rural people who migrated to the cities in the 20th century. The taco bridges social and economic barriers in that everyone in the country eats them, leading it to be called “the most democratic of Mexican foods. I say bravo!
Some tacos with double wrapped tortillas to keep it all together!
Some words of wisdom from the self-proclaimed Mexican “Taco King” which I find particularly heartfelt: Jesús Catalán, the self-proclaimed "Taco King", and native of Del Valle, the taco epicenter of México City, had the following to say: So, what makes a good taco? Catalán says it’s all about “tortillas, beans, chile, the fresh ingredients of a salsa” and the essential squeeze of lime. Catalán swears that, “God is a taquero (taco vendor), life is a puesto (taco stand), love is the salsa, and you are the taco.”
“Always look for the crowd, which not only indicates deliciousness and hygiene, but also a good price. Ask for tacos "con copia" which means two tortillas instead of just one per taco. Deep-fried tacos and quesadillas are not only tastier, but will fill you up better.”
Foods eaten at taco stands always seem to taste better to me. Why is that?
Last words of wisdom from the "Taco King":
“In such a diverse country as Mexico, food is perhaps the strongest element that ‘glues’ us all. Old and young, rich and poor, religious or not.”
Edited excerpt from the following with thanks: http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Here is a rundown of when and what foods can be found on the streets of Mexico which should satisfy the majority of your daily food needs. Remember, the main Mexican meal of the day is mid-afternoon and is usually eaten at home with family. "Street Eats" at taco stands take care of your hunger any other time of the day. Got it?
BREAKFAST: Depending upon the city or town, these options are available usually from 7 a.m. (or earlier) until noon.
JUICES: On street corners you'll see simple supermarket carts or small stands set up where vendors sell fresh juices, most commonly orange and grapefruit.. Some juice stands even offer carrot juice. For a few extra pesos, you can get a "combinado" of orange with a splash of carrot.
Fresh coconut juice can be found in Old Town of Puerto Vallarta and spiced to order.
Mexicans adore their fruits and juices and with the vast variety of fruits found in the country who wouldn't! A popular small fruit and juice stand in Puerto Vallarta.
LICUADOS: You'll recognize these stands by the big glass jars on display, filled with all kinds of chopped fruit. Licuados are fruit shakes made with an evaporated milk base; the most common flavors are the banana-chocolate, strawberry, mamey (an orange fruit with a texture similar to avocado) or chocolate. If you want something lighter, ask for an agua fresca which is the same blends of fruit, but made with water and not milk.
FRUITS: Small bicycle carts and stands sell fruit cocktails of papaya, watermelon, and strawberries covered with whipped cream, honey, and granola. If you want a more savory breakfast, they also also sell generous portions of shredded cucumber, jicama, or carrot seasoned with lime, salt, chili, and chamoy, a sour-salty-sweet fruit sauce.
The displays of fruits and vegetables are gorgeous as seen at the weekly market in San Pablo Etla, near Oaxaca City.
A big variety of homemade tamales are offered at the weekly market in San Miguel de Allende.
CHILAQUILES: Chilaquiles are a very traditional type of breakfast: triangular, deep fried tortillas swimming in a red or green spicy sauce and topped with sour cream, cheese, and some fresh onion. The enhanced version of chilaquiles comes with grilled steak, egg, or chicken. Put this combo inside a Mexican bolillo (roll) to make a torta (sandwich) of chilaquiles. Another one of our personal favorites!
Chilaquiles with green tomato sauce and sour cream. Works for me every time!
COFFEE AND PAN DULCES (SWEET BREADS/PASTRIES):
Mexicans simply love their pan dulces (pastries) which can be found everywhere. It is not uncommon to see a vendor riding a bicycle and selling coffee from a jug with a variety of pastries carefully placed on a big round basket.
Just a few of the many, many varieties of pan dulces to satisfy your morning sweet tooth in Mexico.
LUNCH AND SNACKS: Available from about noon until dusk and way into the night ((especially in the case of tacos and tortas).
TACOS: A tortilla (usually corn) forms the base of all tacos, which can be filled with anything: every part of the pig, cow, and chicken, stewed (as in a guisado), barbecued (for barbacoa), roasted on a vertical spit (al pastor), cooked atop a griddle (a la plancha), or campechano (a melange of chopped meats). Tacos de mariscos (seafood) and pescado (fish) can also be found on the streets of Puerto Vallarta. Beans, cheese, rice, nopales (cactus paddles), and grilled spring onions are common additions. Fresh salsas should be available and every stand should have one red and one green salsa. Here are some of the most common tacos:
CARNITAS: If you love pork, this is your taco. Carnitas are made from medium sized portions of lean pork meat, as well as other parts of the pig, including the head, that are slowly cooked in pork fat. There are different types of carnitas and the color of the meat will depend on the ingredients that the taquero adds to season the pork fat. The red raw salsa and the guacamole salsa are best for this one. ONE OF OUR TOP CHOICES!
This pig/cerdo gave up his life to make some tasty pork dishes as seen at the municipal market in Quenca, Ecuador. Gracias, Sr. Pig!
TACOS DE PESCADO (FISH): One of our great pleasures is being able to regularly enjoy a fish taco at our very, very favorite fish taco stand. Marisma is a local institution which we have been enjoying since our arrival in Puerto Vallarta twenty years ago. Everything is made fresh to order including the tortillas and the deep-fried fish and/or shrimp tacos all of which are simply divine (in our humble opinion which includes three generations of family members as seen below). VOTED OUR #1 TACO FAVORITE!
What is Chicharron?
Chicharron is a dish generally consisting of deep fried pork belly or pork rinds. skin with some spices added. There’s very little else involved here. It comes in various forms but the most common comes in small bags found in nearly every store lightly flavored with salt and garlic. Many locals dip the small pieces into a little dish of vinegar and chili. It’s often used as an accompaniment to beer or at fiestas. Mexicans LOVE their chicharron!
DE CABEZA: Yes, it's cow head. This type of taco is very common as a nighttime snack (maybe after a few tequilas!), but they're not hard to find for lunch either. The taquero will carve meat to order from a steamed cow's skull which can be quite dramatic. I admit to not have had a cow head taco yet, but it's on my "must do" list!
If Fred Flintstone says they are good who am I to disagree?
BARBACOA: Probably one of the most iconic foods of the Estado de Mexico, barbacoa is made from sheep, and the long-braising cooking method dates to pre-Colombian times. There are two types of barbacoa taco: soft which is seasoned with a pulpe-based salsa called salsa borracha (drunk) and deep fried which is topped with sour cream and cheese.
Sweet and spicy barbacoa which is shredded meat and delicious. I am so ready for some right NOW!
AL PASTOR: This taco is the quintessential chilango (Mexico City) taco, an object of extraordinary obsession. The cooking method, layers of pork on a vertical spit is very similar to gyros, belying the taco's Arab origins. Every taquero has his own special recipe, and they are very protective of their craft. It's served with onions and cilantro, and often a little bit of pineapple. ANOTHER OF OUR FAVORITES!
CANASTA: If you spot a bicycle carrying a small basket with a plastic bag inside, you've found tacos de canasta (basket tacos). Tortillas are filled with potato, beans, or chicharron, the tacos are carefully arranged in the basket until it is full. Then the taquero pours hot seasoned oil over the tacos, covers them with the plastic bag, and lets them sit until the tacos are meltingly soft. They don't have a long shelf life so they are best enjoyed as soon as they are available.
Local ladies with their baskets of homemade tacos and tamales for sale at the entrance to one of the Oaxaca City municipal mercados.
A torta (sandwich) or taco a la plancha "stand on wheels" as seen near a gasoline pit stop somewhere in Mexico.
Ah, the smell of meat on the grill being prepared for a la plancha tacos or tortas. It can't get much better than this.
TORTAS: As well as with the taco, the variety of the tortas is endless. Cut a roll/bun in half (either a bolillo or telera) and add whatever you want inside and you have a torta (a Mexican version of a sand which). A torta is my husband’s favorite lunch time meal although he would probably eat them for every meal if permitted!
This is a torta prepared on a bolillo roll and fit for a king! Just ask my husband.
This is a torta prepared in a talera roll (flatter and rounder than a bolillo roll) and stuffed with everything including the much loved salchichas (hot dogs) of Mexico.
QUESADILLAS: For a foreigner quesadillas can be confusing, since they share the same principle as a taco: a tortilla folded in half and filled with whatever you want and despite the name, it's not always cheese. The usual fillings for quesadillas are cooked mushrooms, chicken, or beef with red sauce, and potato with chorizo. And sometimes, but not always, cheese.
TOSTADOS: The base of this dish is a crisp, thin, round corn tortilla. A tostada can be topped with anything: beans and meat with shredded lettuce and salsa, fresh marinated seafood, or just sour cream with a little cheese. Birria which is similar to barbacoa, but made with goat instead of lamb, is a meaty, spicy stew. At every birria stand you can choose to order tacos filled with just the meat, with the broth on the side, or order the broth and the meat all together at once in a bowl.
LATE NIGHT EATS:
ELOTES AND ESQUITES: These stands are out only at night (with a few exceptions), and sell Mexico's famous elotes: ears of corn skewered on a stick, then covered with mayonnaise, cheese, and chili. For esquites, the vendors remove the kernels from the cob and cook them with chicken broth and epazote (a Mexican herb that smells a little like a weird perfume or gasoline). The corn is served in a cup, topped with the same thing that goes on the elotes: mayo, cheese, and chili powder.
Elotes and esquites are available in the evenings on the beachfront malecon walkway in Puerto Vallarta. A perfect street food to eat while strolling. I also see they offer carved mango on a stick! And maybe even grilled shrimp on a stick!
CHURROS: Churros (the Mexican version of a sugar coated glazed donut) and chocolate are a classic late-night snack. For the street version of the churro, keep an eye out for carts that have a special system to fill the churro with different sauces: dulce de leche (caramel), chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry.
AND THE GRAND FINALE: HELADOS/ICE CREAMS
Mexico loves ice cream in all of its forms and all of its many flavors. The variety of flavors is simply astounding and includes some of the most unusual and exotic ingredients we have experienced anywhere.
My goal is to try a different flavor each and every time we have an ice cream craving.
Christmas day at the Jardin (plaza) of San Miguel de Allende and everyone was lined up for their Christmas ice cream from this cart.
In closing I feel I would feel remiss if I didn’t include the following for your consideration:
An artistic rendering of Montezuma in all of his glory.
Many foreign tourists in Mexico shy away from street food because of concerns about getting traveler’s diarrhea (TD), aka “Montezuma’s Revenge.”
Maybe we have been protected by the Aztec “gods” since we have never been victims of Montezuma’s revenge during the seventeen-plus years we have lived in Mexico. Having said that, I strongly recommend using your own best common-sense precautions and keep the following in mind:
***** One way to distinguish a good street food vendor is if the stall or stand is crowded. Locals tend to know what is good and busy indicates that the food is safe and has not been sitting around. It is also better if the cook is not handling the money which can be possibly contaminated. And always drink bottled water or soft drinks to be on the safe side (beer is also acceptable!).
"Montezuma's Revenge" (a little history lesson):
The name refers to Moctezuma II (1466–1520), the Tlatoani (ruler) of the Aztec civilization, who was overthrown by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in the early 16th century thereby bringing large portions of what is now Mexico and Central America under the rule of the Spanish crown.
I cannot fault Montezuma for taking a little "revenge" after what the Spanish conquistadors did to his empire! Can you?
And there you have it! I hope you have had your fill and are feeling full, happy, and satisfied. I have enjoyed your company in one of my favorite activities: eating off the streets of Mexico.
The following link takes you to my photograph album:
MEXICO AND BEYOND: STREET EATS
Links for my previous postings on the subject of the foods and markets of Mexico:
MEXICO: TRADITIONAL INDIGENOUS MARKETS