We’ve already talked about our love of Mexico – the friendly people, colorful and rich traditions, seductive beaches – but nothing can top our passion for Mexican street food. In fact, without realizing it, over the course of our 88 days in the country, we became addicted to it, and once we crossed over into Belize, we were forced to quit our street food addiction cold turkey.
For two vegetarians on a budget, the street food in Mexico was not only cheap, delicious and vegetarian friendly, but eating it left our food-making decisions to fate, our lunch choice depending on which food stand we happened to pass. From our first day in Mexico City onward, there was not one disappointing occasion on our three-month street food binge.
The main ingredients of nearly all Mexican food involve a flour (or corn) tortilla of varying size and thickness, beans, tomatoes, guacamole, onions (and for meat eaters, a choice of meat). Cheese, when present, is an additional ingredient, rather than the main player as in the version of Mexican food north of the border.
With these basic ingredients, it is possible to create dozens of delectable variations which are all delicious and almost always cost less that $24 Pesos/ US $2.00. In addition to the variety of veggie options and delicious flavors, it is also the communal experience of eating street food that we love. Small plastic stools surround these very basic metal food stands, and people from all walks of life sit together for the few minutes it takes to cram an order of quesadillas or tacos down. We have listed some of our absolute vegetarian Mexican street food favorites below.
Tacos de Canasta: The ingredients of these tacos are simple –potatoes or beans (or for non-vegetarians either chicken or beef), inside of a folded tortilla. ‘Canasta’ means basket in Spanish, and refers to the fact that hundreds of these tacos are piled high on top of each other in a very large basket, where they sit, steaming all day, waiting to be sold. The soft tacos are then covered in a spicy green or red salsa.
Price – avg 4 for MX$20/4 for US$1.80
Flautas: These are actually similar to their U.S. counterparts – a corn tortilla, filled with potato, bean, cheese or meat, rolled up and deep fried for a crunchy, delicious treat.
3 large, filling flautas cost MX$15 /US $1.20
Tlayudas: The pronunciation is as difficult as it looks, but preparing these Mexican street food treats is as simple as pie. A 12-inch long oval-shaped super thin and crunchy blue-corn tortilla is topped with beans, spicy poblano pepper slices (called rajas), loads of cilantro and a mild green salsa on top.
1 for MX $15/US $1.20
Tamales: A quintessential Mexican street food. Cornmeal stuffed with corn or beef wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Unfortunately, they’re often not vegetarian.
2 for MX$8/US $0.65
Quesadillas: Rather than the large flour tortillas filled with cheese and sliced like a pizza, these are more like larger tacos stuffed with veggies and/or meat and only a moderate amount of cheese. Dani discovered Flor de Calabaza quesadillas in Mexico City, which are stuffed with beautiful, edible, yellow squash flowers.
1 for MX$7/US $0.70
Elote: Corn on the cob, cooked on the grill and preferably doused with Mayonnaise, chilli, lime juice and parmesan-like white powder cheese, is another classic Mexican street food staple. The unhealthiest, tastiest corn on the cob on the block costs around MX$12/US$1.
Escuite: This is exactly the same as the Elote described above, but corn kernels are removed and put into a cup and mayo, chili, lime juice etc is added on top.
1 for MX$12/US $1
Chalupas: Nothing like the Taco Bell version, these are tiny little silver dollar pancake sized tortillas, fried in butter/oil with red or green hot sauce and a sprinkle of cheese on top.
5 for MX$15/US $1.20
Tortas: We have saved the best for last. Mexicans have been given many gifts, but one of the most remarkable is the ability to fit so many delicious ingredients onto a roll. Mexican tortas, or sandwich rolls, fit enough to impress even Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Cheese, lettuce, tomato, an entire omelette, as many deli slices of meat as you like, bacon, avocado, mayo, you name it, and you can have it on a torta for MX$24 / US$2.
We have yet to begin seriously sampling Guatemalan street food, but from what we have sampled so far – tostadas, pupusas and fried plaintains stuffed with black beans – we might find a love for the street food here by the end of our time here as well.