If there’s one thing I love about Mexico, it’s the food. It’s everywhere, and it’s amazing. Walk down any street, and you’ll see snack stands overflowing with treats to salivate over. Indeed, Mexico takes food more seriously than any other country I’ve ever visited. Everything is bold, with generous portions and sometimes over the top ingredients. At first, it was a little overwhelming, but now that I’ve been here for six months, the dust has cleared and I’m ready to present my list of the most worthwhile snacks, meals and beverages to nosh in Mexico.
Tacos (Yeah, Obviously!!!!)
Forget what you think you know, Mexican tacos aren’t the same as their better known Tex-Mex cousins. Authentic Mexican tacos are simply some kind of tortilla with a filling. That might sound like a vague description, but tacos really are a diverse breed. They can be as large as a small burrito, and as small as a large tortellini. They can be filled with pretty much anything, ranging from beef to prawns, grasshoppers to mashed potato. A modern, popular variation is the taco Arabe (Arabian taco), which is shawarma meat on a tortilla.
Being vegetarian in Mexico can suck. Almost all of the country’s best foods are piled with meat, and street food often looks like a farmyard massacre thrown on a hotplate. Not so for the humble gordita, a tortilla stuffed with refried beans. This tasty treat is then normally topped with salsa, cheese and onion. Occasionally, chicken or beef is also added, though it’s generally optional.
Lovers of Tex-Mex will immediately appreciate jarochas. These small, palm sized tortillas are wrapped around a filling and deep fried until golden. The result is a snack that’s crunchy on the outside, with a fresh, flavoursome filling inside. The mashed potato filling is highly recommended.
Mexican Hot Dogs
This might come as a surprise, but Mexicans love their hot dogs. So much so, that they’ve taken them to the next level. Forget the bread, Mexicans put the hot dog on a stick, batter and deep fry the shit out of it, then wrap it in bacon. Then, it’s deep fried one more time for good measure, before being topped with fries and drowned in sauce. It’s a heart attack on a stick, and well worth trying just for the novelty.
Aaaah mole, the national dish of Mexico. It’s not easy to summarise mole in a sentence. Put simply, mole is a world of it’s own. The term is little more than a generic name for hundreds of different sauces, all with very little in common. Chilli tends to be a common ingredient, but beyond that the sky is the limit. Some moles are almost like gravy, while others wouldn’t be out of place in an Indian curry restaurant. Although mole can be found across Mexico, the most highly regarded varieties are found in the states of Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Puebla. In the world of mole, the king is mole Poblano, a particularly heavy sauce unique to the city of Puebla. Mole Poblano is made from a whopping 20 ingredients, including chocolate and mulato peppers. It’s a hell of an experience.
Along with mole Poblano, the city of Puebla is known for some of Mexico’s other fine culinary creations – but the cemita isn’t one of them. Wildly popular in Puebla, to say the cemita is a mouthful is an understatement. Someone must have left a sandwich behind during the nuclear test that created Godzilla – because that’s the only explanation for the existence of cemitas. These massive burgers are normally packed with meats and chilli, and are a cheap way to fill up on the go. They might not be dignified, but damn they taste good!
Forget the greasy, deep fried empanadas of South America, Mexicans goes to town on this typical Latino snack like no one else can. Mexican empanadas are puffy, light pastries stuffed with sweet ingredients such as fruit. They’re the perfect companion to a nice strong coffee.
Pozole is one of Mexico’s most popular soups. The main ingredient is hominy, a kind of dried corn that’s been specially prepared. Usually, pozole also includes shredded and boiled pork or chicken. Extra ingredients like raw radish, lettuce and onion are normally served on the side, to be tossed into the broth at the last moment. Yum!
Not to be confused with pozole, pozol is an ancient Mayan drink unique to Chiapas and Tabasco. It’s made by mixing water with a dry dough made from cornmeal and cacao. The dough itself is pretty hardy stuff, and takes a long time to go rancid – even in hot weather. Because of this, pozol often featured prominently among the rations of Mayan travellers during long, arduous treks through the Lacadon jungle. Served ice cold, it’s indeed the perfect refresher while exploring the steamy, humid jungles of Mexico’s extreme south.
Who doesn’t like nachos? Well, chilaquiles are the original version of their more well known Tex-Mex cousins, only they’re eaten for breakfast. The story is that back in the old days, chilaquiles were originally little more than leftovers of a family’s meal from the day before. Old, stale tortillas were fried, before being topped with sauce from last night’s dinner, and whatever else was lying around the house. Today, chilaquiles are an institution unto themselves. They can be piled with meat, vegetables and of course, plenty of spicy salsa.
The southern state of Oaxaca is known for three things: beaches, folk festivals and tlayudas. The latter is a crunchy tortilla topped with beans, salsa, shredded meat cheese and avocado. Usually they’re folded over on themselves, but sometimes they’re served open, letting you get a good look at all the ingredients before you stuff your face.
After all this food, you’re probably getting thirsty. Luckily, in Mexico there’s always a michelada close at hand. What’s a michelada, you ask? It’s basically Mexico in a cup: it’s spicy, refreshing and intoxicating with a hint of WTF is going on??! It’s pretty much a beer cocktail with lime juice, chilli and an assortment of sauces such as Worcestershire and soy. Sometimes, clamato juice is also thrown into the mix. Then the rim of the class is encrusted in salt and chilli.
If your arteries haven’t hardened yet, then you obviously have space for a few chalupas. These small, bite sized tortillas are soaked in oil and chilli sauce, before being fried and covered in shredded meat and cheese. They’re simple, spicy, and about as unhealthy as they are addictive.
Chiles en Nogada
Eating a chile en nogada is an experience like no other. As yet another classic meal from Puebla, the chile en nogada is something of an edible symbol of Mexican patriotism. The dish gained national fame in 1821, when it was served to independence leader Agustin de Iturbide. The story goes that Iturbide was travelling back to Mexico City after signing the treaty that granted Mexico independence from Spain, when he decided to stop by the food Mecca of Puebla. Apparently he liked the meal, and it’s easy to see why. Like mole, the chile en nogada is a bit difficult to sum up. To start with, it’s a chile Poblano stuffed with shredded meat, fruits and aromatics. The whole thing is smothered in walnut sauce, before being topped with pomegranate seeds. The colours of the dish were intended to mirror those of the Mexican flag (which was designed by Iturbide himself). The end result is a meal that’s extremely heavy, with a complicated taste that’s difficult to dissect. To be honest, I found it a bit hard to get my head around what was going on in my mouth, but enjoyed it nonetheless. The spice of the chilli juxtaposed strangely with the smooth sauce, while the fruits were an odd companion for the savoury meat. I guess it tastes a little like fruit cake wrapped in chilli. It’s good, but weird as hell.
Taking things down a notch, grilled corn on the cob (elotes) are another Latino favourite perfected in Mexico. Grilled corn is just grilled corn the world over, but it’s Mexico’s love of condiments that really makes the elote a treat. Salt, lime juice, chilli, cheese and mayonnaise can all be added to this simple snack.
At first glance, the huarache looks like an oversized, long taco. Indeed, it kinda is, but there’s a few differences. This tasty snack from Mexico City is normally topped with fresh ingredients like onion and cilantro, plus salsa (obviously). In my experience, huaraches tend to come with more fresh toppings than your average taco, which makes them a nice change of pace of you’re sick of salsa and meat. Nonetheless, ground cow tongue is sometimes added for a bit of extra protein. They’re a bit of a mouthful, but taste great!
I’d like to finish on a personal favourite of mine, chapulines. These small grasshoppers are absolutely delicious, and slightly addictive. Generally, they’re toasted with lime and worm salt, and sold by the bag on street corners. Sometimes they’re even encrusted in chilli. No matter how they’re prepared, these crunchy little guys pack some serious flavour. Mexicans typically eat chapulines either as a snack, or as an ingredient in other meals (such taco filling). Myself, I like to sit back at the end of the day and munch them by the handful between slamming back shots of tequila. Now that I think about it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do once I finish writing this article!