15 Staples of Mexican Street Food
To understand Mexican food culture, you need to know about Mexican street food. In this article, we’ll dive into some of the most delicious sweet and savory staples of Mexican street food.
First, we’ll take a look at some of the savory staples of Mexican street food that pair beautifully with traditional drinks such as tepache and horchata.
Tamales are one of the most popular street foods in Mexico and some parts of the US. These delicious snacks are cooked, wrapped, and served in corn husks or banana leaves, but those are removed before eating. Inside the husk is a corn-based dough that’s mixed with different meats, beans, and cheese. It’s thought that tamales were first made in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 BC and were a sacred food of the gods for the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and Toltec civilizations.
Elote is the spicer, more flavorful equivalent of traditional American corn-on-the-cob. In order to make elote, ears of corn are grilled or boiled and then covered in butter, mayo, cotija cheese, lime juice, and various spices. These spices include tajin and jalapeño, which give this delicious street food a kick! Oftentimes, you can only find the stands that sell elote out at night.
Esquite is the easier-to-eat cousin of elote. Also made with a corn base, esquite is made by removing the kernels from the cob and cooking them with chicken broth and Mexican spices such as epazote. Esquite is served in a cup with similar toppings to elote and has a similar texture to the soup.
Gorditas and Sopes
Gorditas and sopes are two variations of roughly the same delicious, doughy snack. Gorditas are made from corn dough which is fried and then stuffed with ingredients such as beans, cheese, and meat. Other toppings for gorditas include salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. Without a doubt, the most popular type of gordita is gordita de chicharrón, or a pork gordita. The only thing that differentiates sopes from gorditas is where the toppings go. While the toppings are stuffed into a gordita, they are placed on top of a sope, which means they tend to be slightly smaller.
If you’re a fan of subs, then chances are you’d love a torta. Tortas are essentially oversized sandwiches and are made with a wide variety of meats, cheeses, sauces, and vegetables.
One of the more popular types of tortas is known as torta ahogadas, a specialty from Jalisco. This sandwich is filled with potato and chorizo and then doused in a spicy tomato sauce. Topped with shredded cabbage, sour cream, and cheese, this torta is never one to disappoint.
For colder winter days, there is the traditional Mexican stew known as pozole. This simple, delicious soup is made from hominy, pork, and dried chiles. Hominy is an ingredient made from corn kernels that have been processed to make the grain easier to use for cooking.
It’s common for pozole to be served with warm corn tortillas and topped with cilantro, scallion, radishes, and cabbage. Given that maize was sacred for the Aztecs, pozole was first made for religious rituals. Nowadays, it’s so beloved that it can be bought from street vendors.
Chalupas are similar to tacos but are served in open-faced, fried tortillas. The tortillas are thin, crunchy, and curved slightly to hold all of the ingredients, which include various meat, cheese, vegetables, and red or green chili sauce. The first written record of chalupas comes from 1895, but it’s thought that they might date as far back as pre-Columbian times.
Although they look very similar, you can spot the difference between a chalupa and a tostada based on the shape of the tortilla. Both are made with thin, fried tortillas, but chalupas have a distinct boat shape, whereas tostadas are completely flat.
Other than that, these two tasty tortilla snacks are incredibly similar. Much like chalupas, tostadas are topped with meat such as ground beef, shredded chicken or pork, and beans along with cheese, sour cream, and other delicious toppings.
Sometimes referred to as Mexican pizzas, tlayudas are a classic street food from Oaxaca. Although the recipe varies slightly, there are four main ingredients used when making tlayudas: a corn tortilla, refried black beans, queso, and meat. The large tortilla is served slightly crispy with the other ingredients on top, which gives it the open-faced appearance of pizza. The meats commonly used to make tlayudas are beef, pork, pork rib, chorizo, and chicken.
That being said, if you want the true Oaxacan experience, you can top your tlayuda with grasshoppers. For the most part, tlayudas are a snack served at night by street vendors, restaurants, and local eateries.
One of the healthier street snacks available is chayote. This is an odd-looking vegetable that has the appearance of a pear but the taste and texture of a potato. For the most part, you can buy chayote from the same vendors who sell elotes and esquites. It’s common to top chayote with cream, mayo, and lime juice, ensuring that this tasty treat will be both delightful and filling.
Of course, a list of Mexican street food would not be complete without arguably the most famous street food of all: tacos. Tacos are traditionally made from corn tortillas and are filled with every type of meat imaginable, from barbacoa (barbequed) meat to seafood. There are often also beans, cheese, rice, nopales (cactus), and grilled or fermented veggies in tacos as well. You’ll know you’re at a high-quality taco stand if they offer avocado-based salsa, onions, peppers, and limes alongside the traditional red salsa made from chilies.
Now that we’ve covered some of the savory staples of Mexican street food, let’s take a look at the sweet treats you can pick up on the street to satisfy all your sugary cravings.
Much like tacos, churros are one of the most popular sweet street foods both inside and outside of Mexico. Churros are made from pastry dough that is fried in hot oil and then coated in cinnamon and sugar. Often served alongside chocolate, churros are the perfect late-night snack. Some specialty churros stand also offer churros filled with caramel, vanilla, and strawberry sauce.
Somewhat similar to an acai bowl, bionico is a fruit salad bowl covered with crema, granola, coconut, raisins, and honey. Although there’s no specific fruit that has to be used, the most common fruits found in these bowls are papaya, melon, strawberries, apple, and banana. Bionico is a staple in Guadalajara and is eaten as a breakfast food and a dessert.
Chochas are the most popular type of Mexican sweet bread (also known as Pan Dulce) available. This delicious treat is like a soft, sweet roll with a surface texture that somewhat resembles a seashell (in Spanish, concha means shell). Conchas are most often white but can also be pink, yellow, or brown, depending on the flavor.
One sweet staple of Mexico City is camotes, sweet potatoes served with strawberry jam and condensed milk. This delicious treat is sold from street vendors, and sometimes you can hear a camote vendor before you can see them as steam escapes the pot in which the tender potatoes are cooking.
There are a wide variety of savory and sweet foods that make Mexican street cuisine so distinctive and delicious. From the classic taco to the traditional pozole, there’s something for everyone to be found in the streets of Mexico.