Tlacoyos are small, flattened masa pockets that are stuffed with either beans, cheese or fava beans and then grilled on a comal. They're a Mexico City street snack made almost exclusively by women, and usually you can find them near any subway station, market or tianguis. A well-made tlacoyo has a crisp exterior, creamy innards and a tang from a drizzle of salsa and a handful of diced nopales on top. They're also healthy, since most tlacoyeras don't add oil. I have enthused about them before. But I'm not sure if I've ever made it clear that tlacoyos are actually my favorite Mexico City street snack. A freshly made tlacoyo is -- as I have just learned in my slightly vulgar Mexican slang dictionary, purchased in the Centro Histórico -- chingonométrico. Here are some of my favorite tlacoyo photographs that I've taken over the years.
The pambazo never appealed to me until a few days ago, when I was puttering around Mercado San Juan Arcos de Belén, trying to brainstorm some new snack ideas for Eat Mexico. Pambazos aren't exactly snacks. They're plump, bulging sandwiches stuffed with potato and chorizo. The roll -- which according to Wikipedia was originally called "pan basso," or lower-class bread -- is drenched in a guajillo-chile sauce and then fried. I'd always placed the pambazo up there with the torta de tamal. (A fine sandwich, particularly suited to laborers and other people who aren't going to eat for five or six hours.) But how could I call myself a Mexico City food tour operator if I had not tried the pambazo? Plus I'd worked out four times last week. So I got one. The woman grabbed a roll off the stack, fried it briefly, then sliced it and placed it on the grill. Once the bread was dark-golden brown and toasty, she she slathered the chorizo-potato mixture on one side. Then came the crema on top: one spoonful. Two. Three. She pressed the sandwich together, cut it in half, y ya. Done. This was a simple, toasted torta. And it was fantastic, actually: the crema had oozed into the potatoes and chorizo, creating this comforting, warm potato salad. The bread, not greasy at all, crunched with each bite. I'd balked at the amount of crema involved, but the crema brought everything together. You could not have this sandwich without three spoonfuls of crema. Or could you? I briefly wondered whether could make a healthy version at home. (Potatoes and mushrooms, maybe? Yogurt instead of crema?) But that would be blasphemous. The pambazo was perfect just as it was: crema, chorizo and potatoes, and crisp, salsa-dipped bread. Have you tried pambazos? Did you have as rapturous as an experience as I did?
Eat Mexico tours is: “How do you choose where to take us?” Here are the guidelines I use when planning our Eat Mexico tour routes. 1. Pick a street food stand that looks crowded. This means several people standing up and eating in a cluster around the stand. If the stand is empty, and you don't have a personal recommendation from someone else who's eaten there, do not eat there. 2. Glance around and see if the stand looks clean. Are there stains everywhere? Dirty plates and napkins? If so, pass. I also pass on places where the food just sits in one big pile, as opposed to clean clay pots, or tupperware or stainless steel containers. 3. Who takes the money? It’s a good sign if the person preparing the food and the person accepting payment are two different people. Smaller stands can't afford this luxury, so make sure they place a piece of plastic over their hands when receiving cash or change. 4. The food must be freshly prepared. Some stands in Mexico City prepare a lot of food beforehand, and it just sits out. They don't even necessarily warm it for you -- it just goes from the container right into your tortilla. (My one exception here is tacos de canasta, which by definition sit out all day, steaming in a basket. They're still really good.) These stands won't automatically make you sick, but they just don’t taste as good. It's a much tastier experience to watch the taquero make your taco right in front of you, or to watch the older woman pat the masa into a tlacoyo. 5. Feel free to make small talk while you eat, if you speak Spanish. Most stand-owners are nice and they'll answer your questions, especially if you're a foreigner. Ask, “Cuántos años llevan aquí, en este esquina?” which means, “How many years have you been here, at this corner?” Many stands have been on certain corners for decades. If you’ve found the tlacoyo stand with the little old woman with the gray braids who says, “I’ve been here 40 years,” you’ve struck gold. 6. Go during peak hours. This helps you get a better idea of which stands are the most crowded. In Mexico City, peak street food hours are generally 10 or 10:30 a.m., or 2:30 to about 4 p.m. (And then perhaps 8 p.m., when folks are getting off work.) Be aware that if you're searching for street food at 6 or 7 p.m., some stands are closing up for the day, and you're going to get the dregs of their daily product. Do you have any tips you use when eating street food, either here or elsewhere? Feel free to share below.It's a myth that eating any street food in Mexico City will make you sick. But if you're not used to eating on the street here, you shouldn't just pick any stand. One of the most common questions I get through my
The other day, I was really craving a torta. This doesn't happen to me that often (I'm much more of a tlacoyos girl) but this craving was undeniable: I needed a stack of meat, melted cheese and avocado piled between layers of soft bread. Since I don't eat tortas that often, I don't have a favorite variety. I asked my Facebook friends which type I should choose. The response was swift. "Cancún!" said my friend Hugh. "Anything with quesillo!" said Alejandra. There are about 10 torta stands within walking distance of my house, but I wanted the best. So I went downstairs and asked the portero which one he preferred. He made a vague motion across the street. "Allí," he said. The only thing I'd seen across the street was a fonda, so I thought he meant across the street and down the block. I peered over the parked cars and didn't see anything. And then, walking toward the corner, I saw it: a torta shop tucked next to the fonda, behind a tree, with a cheery sign. The sign looked like someone had taken a bite out of the side. Standing inside the cramped space, I kind of felt like being in a panadería for the first time. There were so many flavors! So many different meat and cheese combinations! I ordered the Cancún -- a mix of chuleta, cheese and pineapple. (Thanks, Hugh.) But the shop had run out of chuleta. So I thought a bit and instead went with the Holandesa, which was the same as the Cancún, except with pierna. Of course it came with all the other torta fixins, too: beans, avocado, tomato, and a shmear of chipotle salsa. I can't tell you how excited I was when I took this thing home and unwrapped it. The greasy paper. The oozing cheese. The smell. I was so excited, in fact, that I managed to take only two pictures before taking a bite. Since then I been thinking about tortas much more often, and I'm thinking this might be regular thing for me. Next time I'm at the tortería, what kind should I get?
One of the most uniquely Mexican things to do in this town is to watch a quesadilla being made on the street and then bite into it while it's still hot. The women -- it's almost always women making quesadillas -- slap a ball of masa into shape, or press it inside a tortilla press. The tortillas cook on the comal until they're golden and crisp. And then, once the tortillas are firm but not overdone, the fillings are spooned (or tossed with one's fingers) inside: anything ranging from squash flowers to huitlacoche to chicken tinga. The first few mouthfuls of a street quesadilla might be tortilla-only, and then the filling comes on like a little gift, warming your tongue. I used to have a quesadilla lady in my old neighborhood whom I liked a lot. But I didn't know what was available in my new 'hood until a few days ago, when Jesica and I were poking around in Condesa for possible tour stops. We asked a newsstand vendor if there was a place to buy quesadillas around here, and she motioned to some blue plastic stools that I could vaguely see in the distance. "Son muy ricos," she added. And man, as we got closer, we could see they definitely were ricos: maybe six or seven people sat on the stools, eating quesadillas. A few more were standing up and eating, and yet a few more folks were placing their orders. This place was slammed. A team of three employees kept things moving. One woman grabbed handfuls of masa and pressed them into shape. Another woman hovered over the buckets and filled the cooked tortillas, somehow without burning her hands. The lone man of the bunch clutched a long spatula and flipped the quesadillas as they cooked, occasionally drizzling them with oil. I think I may have murmured "Órale." (I'm starting to get a lot better at using that word.) We ordered one with half huitlacoche, half rajas with potatoes. We didn't specifically ask for cheese and so because this is Mexico City, the quesadilla arrived without it. After we turned in our plate and paid, we had to ask: How long has this place been here? The answer was more than 40 years. Now that deserves an órale. If you're interested in going to this stand, it's at the corner of Juan de la Barrera and the Viaducto, where it intersects with Avenida Chapultepec. In addition to huitlacoche and rajas with potatoes, they also had chicken tinga, mushrooms and maybe three other options that I can't remember. More photos below. ...
The first time I saw Taquería Jalisco, it was right after we moved to Cuauhtémoc, and Crayton and I were walking down Rio Lerma at night, checking out our new environs. (Or "rumbos," as Mexicans say.) Taquería Jalisco looked charming: it was a tiny fonda-slash-puesto, half indoors, half out, situated next to a parking garage. A few plastic tables and chairs had been set up near the driveway. Four orange stools, accented with chrome, stood in front of a small counter area. A big bunch of greens sprouted from a tin can. Steam wafted about about the taqueros heads as they moved about, chopping and scooping and slicing. I was across the street, but I could almost smell that greasy meat smell. I wanted that greasy meat smell. Taquería Jalisco offers several types of tacos, but my favorite is their suadero, a tender, fatty cut that comes from the area underneath the cow's skin. (The definition from Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Mexican gastronomic dictionary.) When suadero's cooked, it's greasy, crisp, meaty. Topped with a spritz of lime juice and a spoonful of red salsa, it's very hard to eat just two, which is my usual limit with street tacos. Last time I visited Taquería Jalisco, I ate four. Really, it's not just about the taste for me, but the way taco-making works in Mexico. The precision of it, the efficiency. The taquero tosses a handful of meat onto the comal, and watches the fat bubble and sizzle. He palms a few barely silver-dollar-sized corn tortillas, scoops up the meat, and tosses it, meat-side up, onto a plastic plate that's lined with a square of paper. He asks: "Con todo?" and that's a shortened code for "Do you want cilantro and onions?" The whole transaction -- the making of the taco itself, whether you've ordered one or four -- is done in under 30 seconds. It's like this everywhere. My pictorial tribute is below. Oh, and here's the info on the place, should you ever be in the 'hood: Taquería Jalisco On Rio Lerma, between Rio Sena and Rio Tigris Col. Cuauhtémoc They're open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. ...
A few days ago, my friend Jesica told me about a video she'd seen on YouTube. A Mexican guy had filmed a short segment on Tostilocos, a street food in which a bag of nacho-flavored Tostitos are cut open along the vertical and then topped with the following: cucumber, pickled pork skin (known as cueritos), lime juice, Valentina hot sauce, chamoy, tajín chile powder, salt and Japanese peanuts. Japanese peanuts are a popular Mexican bar snack -- they're regular peanuts covered in a brown, crunchy shell. "Es una bomba de sodio!" Jesica exclaimed, a little gleefully. Translation: It's a sodium bomb! We are both advocates of eating healthy. But, you know, this whole idea of taking a bag of chips and topping them with various condiments fascinated me. This dish recalled Frito Pie -- the Texan specialty in which chili and cheese are poured over an open bag of Fritos -- but it was so much crazier, all the salty condiments so insanely Mexican. I wondered if I could recreate this magic dish at home, maybe using bacon instead of cueritos. It's not that I didn't want to use cueritos -- I personally enjoy their rubbery texture -- but I wasn't exactly sure where to find them at my local supermarket. Before I get to the recipe part of this post, you really must watch the Tostilocos video. My favorite part is the end, when the host chews thoughtfully and says, in a manner that recalls an Iron Chef judge, "Wow. This is a completely new taste. The mix is -- just spectacular. You can become addicted to this." [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU4N-METflY&hl=en_US&fs=1&] ...
A few weeks ago, Crayton came home from his Portuguese class with an important announcement: "The pancake guy's there!" I scooped up my keys and ran out the door. The elusive pancake vendor -- I was finally going to meet him! Crayton had told me about the pancake guy about a month ago. Every Wednesday, this vendor set up shop on the corner of Rio Sena and the Reforma service road, selling hot pancakes with various toppings. During the day, that portion of Rio Sena bustles with food vendors. But by 8 p.m. most of them have gone home. And boom, that's when the pancake guy arrives. I had so many questions. Why pancakes at night? Isn't that a breakfast food? So that Wednesday, even though I'd already eaten dinner, Crayton and I walked over to his stand. A gray-haired man of about 55 stood behind a small grill. A large plastic bowl of batter sat on his left side; in front of him, a golden-brown pancake cooked on a griddle. Most enticingly, a stack of hot pancakes lay on the front counter of his stand, beckoning visitors with their doughy goodness. (That's them in the picture above.) Several plastic jars of toppings stood nearby: strawberry, cajeta (goat's milk caramel), honey, pineapple and lechera, a sweetened condensed milk. "What are you going to have?" the vendor asked. He poured a spoonful of batter on the grill. It bubbled. I asked what was the most popular, and he said the cajeta. (Also, he pronounced his wares "hotcakes," pronounced HOTE-cakes. Apparently there is not a Spanish equivalent for this word.) I chose the cajeta. "Do you want lechera on it, too?" he asked me. "Oh no, no," I said. Lechera and cajeta seemed a little too decadent. "Just the cajeta," I told him. He gave me a "it's your loss" kind of look, and flipped the pancake. He grabbed one of the big spoons from the jars, and slathered the caramel sauce over the top. It melted and oozed, until a little lagoon of cajeta had formed in the center. I took a bite. WOW. How did he know, this pancake guy? How did he know that a hot, fluffy pancake smeared with caramel was exactly perfect for this time of evening? "Mmmmmmm," I moaned. Crayton took a bite, too. "It's good," he said. While we ate, I asked the man a few more questions. He said he sold pancakes on Wednesdays only, from 8 to 10 p.m. Other days, he set up shop at various locations around the city. The mix did not come from a box. He made it himself. And he got quite a few customers, despite the late hour -- they were usually people on their way to the metro, returning home from work. I asked if I could take his picture. He said no. So we finished up our pancake and bid him goodbye. I haven't been back since, considering I can no longer fit into my jeans. But as soon as I resume my workout regimen, I am so buying another pancake. This time with lechera.
Lesley's husband Crayton is guest-posting while she makes her way back from a trip to India. So, after all those nice comments I got yesterday, I had to come back for an encore! Just kidding. Lesley's had some snags in her travel plans and is getting back to Mexico a little later than planned, so you're stuck with me again today. But she's doing just fine! Don't worry. This does give me the opportunity to tell you about my favorite Mexico City food: carnitas. At the place where I work, eating these chopped pork tacos is a ritual so important that it has a name: Carnitas Wednesday, or Miércoles de Carnitas. Yesterday, just like every week, one of my co-workers took orders from the rest of the office and ambled out to the street to our favorite puesto. (Lesley has discussed the place before here (in her section on carnitas, where she notes it's next to the pirated DVD stand on Rio Sena, just off Reforma in the Colonia Cuauhtémoc).) We pay 10 pesos ($0.78) per taco, which includes the tip for the three people who work at the stand: the guy who chops up the meat with an enormous hatchet of a knife on a giant cutting board that looks like a slice of tree trunk; the lady who sits by his side, wraps up the to-go orders in foil and plastic baggies and handles the money; and the utility guy, whose main responsibility, I think, is to make sure the condiments (green and red salsas, limes, cilantro and onion) are all readily available. They run a pretty efficient operation. My friend Carlos gave me lessons long ago on how to order carnitas: "de maciza, bien blanquita." That means you want your meat really white and lean, without fatty chunks. A lot of Mexicans I know love the fatty chunks, but many Americans I know, including myself. find them icky. The risk you run with carnitas de maciza is that the pork is too dry, but our puesto does a pretty good job of keeping the meat moist. We've often found we get better meat if we show up before 2 p.m., when things get really busy. The portions are generous, with tacos roughly the width of a can of cola on its side. Most of the time I can only eat two, though there are three-carnita days on occasion. Our puesto just uses store-bought tortillas. If we feel like going all out, we buy some fresh-made tortillas and just order a bunch of meat from the carnitas stand. Our puesto's green salsa is fantastic, with an almost creamy consistency, not drippy. The mix of the spicy peppers with the sweet warmth of the meat... Wow. It's gotten to the point where I wake up on Wednesday mornings already excited about lunch.
It took me awhile to warm up to tacos de canasta. They're the soft, steamed tacos sold on the street, and they're usually stacked in cloth-covered basket. Unlike at the regular street taco stands, where the vendors are furiously chopping meat or dunking flautas in a fryer, nothing really happens at a tacos de canasta stand. A man, or woman, stands under an umbrella next to a basket. The end. I didn't try them for months, because the idea of eating food that's been sitting in a basket all day sounded kinda gross. But then one day Alice mentioned that they were her favorite. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she described this specific tacos de canasta stand near the Chapultepec Metro. ("Oh my god, they are so good.") I tried them for the first time shortly afterward, at a stand in Tlalpan. I'd chosen an potato and rajas taco, and the vendor lifted up a section of the cloth and handed me an oily taco that looked nearly translucent in the middle. I was momentarily disappointed (is this going to taste like a mouthful of grease?) but then I bit into it. The potatoes and rajas had been stewed into this soft mixture that you barely had to chew. It was the taco equivalent of baby food. I loved it, because it was comforting and simple, and sometimes you need a break from all that chopped meat on the street. I've eaten tacos de canasta a few more times since then. Last week, I finally visited La Abuela, a crowded tacos de canasta stand in my neighborhood. The vendor is an old man who wears a newsboy cap, and he stands underneath a red umbrella. He has this weathered, kind face, like the stereotypical grandfather character in the movies. Every time I walk by, I steal a glance at him and think: he's so cute. He's not smiling here, but I promise, when he does, it's kind of adorable. La Abuela has a pretty extensive variety for a street stand. Crayton and I chose the frijol, papa, tinga, chicken with mole, and cochinita pibil. All of them had been cooked in the way that I remembered: oily tortilla, stuffed with a soft, stewed filling. The cochinita and the potato were the best -- the former with just a slight whisper of spices, and the potatoes, mashed to smithereens so that they slid down your throat with this kind of slick earthiness. They reminded me of the potatoes my great-grandmother used to make. She would slice them and fry them in lard, and then let them drain on paper towels for hours and hours, until they were so soft you could practically mash them with a fork. I would highly recommend La Abuela if you're in the neighborhood. The stand is located at the corner of Rio Rhin and Rio Lerma in Col. Cuauhtémoc, and it's open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. La Abuela also has other branches around the city, and they offer home delivery, if you're having a party. If you're interested in making your own tacos de canasta, this site has pretty extensive instructions, including recipes for various fillings and how to properly line your basket to keep the warmth in.