Mexican food has become world-famous especially with the globalization of goods and mass migrations of Mexicans around the world. Mexican people are incredibly proud of their culture and their food and strive to uphold cultural practices of traditional cooking and amazingly complex recipes passed down from the motherland. In so doing, they have conquered the hearts and stomachs of the different countries they live in; millions of people flock to Mexican restaurants, taco stands, and Mexican bakeries that continue to pop up and increase in popularity each year. Mexican food has the perfect balance of spiciness, creaminess, and tang to excite taste buds accustomed to a less seasoned diet. While most Mexican food restaurants are owned and run by Mexicans, to really experience the true, authentic, and most delicious Mexican food on earth, there is no better place than Mexico City.
While every state in Mexico has a specialty dish, Mexico City being the largest and most culturally diverse city in Mexico offers an authentic sample of dishes from all over the republic. The best way to eat in Mexico City is on the streets; on almost every corner you will find a food stand, every neighborhood has at least one large open food market, and you will be constantly bombarded with bells and horns from pushcarts and pedicabs offering every type of delicacy imaginable. My favorite neighborhood in which to eat on the streets is by far Coyoacan, but anywhere you go in this amazing city has delicious street food within walking distance so as you meander through the streets and see a packed food stand, get in line, it is guaranteed to be delicious.
While we often think of booking a reservation for a nice lunch or dinner, enjoying a hearty, delicious and cheap meal on the go is part of the Mexican experience. And there are so many options! The most popular and pervasive street food is the taco. Tacos, like most traditional Mexican dishes, have a corn base that is topped with meat and later garnished with any number of cooked vegetables, chopped herbs and onions, and of course a choice of sauce or salsa. The salsa is what makes Mexican food unique so never opt out of salsa. There are generally two main salsa categories: green or red. Green salsa is generally made with tomatillos or green tomatoes and red salsa has a red tomato base, but the variations of these salsas are endless so try all that you can. Mexico is a very meat-heavy country; however, there are plenty of vegetarian and even vegan options for non-meat and dairy eaters.
Other popular dishes include tortas which are giant sandwiches that generally are stuffed with red meat or pork, quesadillas which are corn tortillas with melted white cheese and either meat or vegetables (although you can order without cheese).
There are three specialty dishes that are must-eats for visitors and locals alike: gorditas, tlacoyos, and tlayudas. Eating one or all three of these exquisite and perfect specimens of Mexican cuisine is truly a religious experience. Gorditas which literally translates into ¨little fatties¨ are thick corn cakes stuffed with meat and cheese then garnished with cilantro, chopped onions, and salsa. Tlacoyos are corn cake ¨boats¨ stuffed with either goat cheese, pinto bean or fava bean paste and are topped with nopal (local stir-fried cactus), an extra vegetable of your choice, cilantro, onions, cotija cheese, and salsa. Tlayudas are very thin crunchy toasted corn crackers topped with a thin layer of refried beans, shredded pork, chicken or steak, lettuce, onions, cilantro, cream, and cotija cheese. The beauty of these dishes in Mexico City is that they are made with both white and blue corn dough which are the species that are native to central Mexico and are thus the freshest and most flavorful in all of Mexico. Always opt for the blue corn as it is the tastiest and is also very hard to come by in many other regions of Mexico.
If you would rather have a leisurely meal at a restaurant, the streets of Mexico City have plenty of snacks to hold you over. The most traditional snack is street corn known as elote or esquite; elote is corn on the cob and esquite is kernelled corn served in a cup with its broth, and both forms are garnished with chili powder, lime juice, mayonnaise, and crumbled cheese. In Mexico City there is the option for boiled or grilled corn, and I would recommend the grilled corn for better flavor and texture. Another unique Mexico City snack is tacos de canasta which are small fried tortillas stuffed with either beans, potatoes or a mixture of potato and chorizo that are sold out of wicker baskets on the streets and outside of metro stations hence the name (tacos de canasta means tacos from a basket).
If you would like a sweet snack, there are men and women riding around town on bicycles totting large baskets or boxes of an assortment of sweetbreads that are generally sold with a hot, sweet rice and milk-based drink called atole. The most famous sweet snack in Mexico is by far churros con chocolate. Churros are long serrated hollow doughnuts coated in sugar and cinnamon and served with a mug of thick creamy hot chocolate…need I say more?
Bar snacks in Mexico are the best I have ever tasted and include a wide variety of crunchy, salty, savory and spicy delicacies that include chicharrones (fried wheat flour crackers that are generally orange or white in color and come in every shape imaginable) fried plantain chips, chile covered fried fava beans, and Japanese peanuts which are peanuts covered in a sweet, salty, and perfectly crunchy batter.
The best nighttime snacks are tamales which can be thought of as Mexican dumplings. There is generally an older man or woman sitting outside convenient stores with a large steaming pot of these delicious corn dumplings steamed inside of corn husks or banana leaves and stuffed with either meat, vegetables, beans or yellow sweet corn dumplings that sometimes have nuts, raisins, and pineapple.
Lastly, while you are in Mexico City, don’t miss out on the local drinks. This is a tropical country with the best fruit waters and fresh juices I have had. There are ice cream, fruit water, and popsicle shops on every corner as well as push carts with shaved ice drinks called raspados. Popular shaved ice flavors in Mexico are mango and tamarind that are generally served with a sugar chili paste called chamoy, which is basically the best, most refreshing combination of flavors imaginable.
There is a local drink called pulque made from maguey, a native cactus. It is fermented and viscous so it is definitely an acquired taste, but the drink is known to get you drunk without any negative after-effects. Pulque is served either plain or cured with different fruits which makes it a little sweeter. There are designated pulque bars called Pulquerias all around Mexico City. They are hole in the wall joints with a lot of personality and are worth wondering into even if you don’t feel adventurous enough to try pulque.
This article is an ode to Mexican street food, the real authentic Mexican food that cannot be recreated anywhere else. To explore Mexico City is to wander around its diverse neighborhoods following the scent of fresh corn tortillas, sizzling grills, and hot chocolate. They say that the fastest way to a person´s heart is through their stomach; this saying must have been made after eating Mexican food.
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