I miss Mexican street food. All due respect to our hot dog stands, taco carts, and ever-multiplying food trucks, Mexico beats the pants off the United States at offering quick, readily-available, cheap snacks.
One of the big differences between American and Mexican snacks is who’s serving them. Whereas most of our bites come from big companies, franchises, and entrepreneurs who can afford the overhead, Mexican street snacks are pedaled by an army of everyday folks.
Some have mobile carts or stands, but many work with nothing more than a tray or bucket, a loud call out to passersby, and a lot of perseverance. These folks work on foot. Word-of-mouth and hand-to-hand. Their delicacies are their craft.
And the delicacies are diverse. Falafel was a common offering on street corners (done Mexican-style with pickled red onion), sweet fried churros, crepes with Nutella and cream cheese. All magnificent. I’ll never forget the wonderful, old snaggle-tooth lady with cake-like sweet corn tamales or the elderly gentleman, always in a clean-pressed guayabera, who sold his wife’s tamales stuffed with pork or cheese and rajas, strips of onion, and poblano pepper. Where was my camera for all of that? It probably never made it out of the bag. Some moments were just meant to be savored.
Here are a few street snacks I did manage to snap decent shots of:
Oh, Mexican sweets. Coconut candy with lime rind or cinnamon. Marzapan. Peanut pralines. Vanilla meringues. Dulce de leche (kind of like caramel) and cajeta (goat’s milk caramel). Delicioso.
You’ve probably seen Mexican-style elote, fresh corn on the cob with sour cream or mayo, cheese, chile, maybe a squeeze of lime. Well, esquite is all that with the cob cut off and mixed up in a cup. This is my version with potato—you can find the recipe here.
I found this “gazpacho” in Playa del Carmen—big cubes of cucumber, jicama, pineapple, mango, and other fruits and veggies mixed up with tomato juice, hot sauce, lime juice, chile powder, and cheese. Super refreshing on a hot day.
Jicama con Chile
Just one of many goodies cut into long spears, arranged in a cup, and sprinkled with chile and lime, jicama is one of my all-time favorites. Slightly sweet and crisp, it’s hydrating and high in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C.
Fresh lychee is where it’s at. Its subtle, tropically floral flavor is best fresh, when the fruit (which is found inside that spiny looking shell and is something like a big, tender white grape with a pit) is dripping with juice that collects in the shell as you break it away.
So you think Lays makes good potato chips? At the neighborhood papas cart, potatoes are shaved into long, thin curls right in front of your face, cooked ‘til golden brown, and served hot out of the fryer with a sprinkle of salt and maybe some chile. Beats the bag any day.
Perhaps my favorite, platanos fritos, or fried plantains, are like long strips of a big, custardy banana fried until super sweet and caramelized around the edges. There’s something so comforting about them, especially served hot with a cool dollop of crema, or sour cream.