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A mini guide to some of Mexico City's best street food

A mini guide to some of Mexico City's best street food

by Leyla Kazim Friday, October 30, 2015

Go to any street corner in Mexico's capital and you'll find crowds of hungry people tucking into steamed tamales, fresh tostadas and filling tortas. Leyla Kazim takes a closer look at the tastiest dishes on offer.

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A London-based food and travel photographer and writer, Leyla spent the best part of 2015 eating her way around the world.

The capital of Mexico is the fourth most populous city in the world and about a mile and a half up in the sky. With a population of almost 21 million and an altitude of 2250m above sea level, it certainly takes visitors a good few days to acclimatise to both the thinner air and the endless streams of people. Good, filling dishes are essential in fuelling the extra exertion needed to go about an average day’s activity, which is where the city’s unrivalled street food scene steals the show.

The stalls are some of the best looking I've come across during my eight months of travels. They’re more like extensions of kitchens than kerb-side shacks; some even with table (or more accurately, stool) service. A graze though the offerings in the city's business district and surrounding residential neighbourhoods is a great introduction into one of the world's most vibrant street food scenes.

Here are some of the best things to look out for:

Tamales – stuffed, steamed corn dough

Tamales are made from masa (corn-based dough), then steamed or boiled in a corn husk, banana leaf or avocado leaf - take your pick. It's an ancient food from the days before the Spanish invaded, pre-dating tortillas by about 500 years to 3000 BC, and is often the first meal of the day. Look for a huge metal pot to spot who on the street is selling them. It’s often had with an atole, a masa-based drink made with water and sugar, and sometimes chocolate and cinnamon. Filling, full of flavour and very comforting – Mexico City's favourite breakfast for a good reason.

tlacoyos
Making tlacoyos
tlacoyo
A tlacoyo with all the trimmings

Tlacoyos – fried corn dough cakes

Tlacoyos – oval-shaped masa cakes fried on a griddle – are fatter than tortillas. I had mine stuffed with beans, cactus, cheese, hot salsa and the fungus that grows on the ears of corn from a disease called 'corn smut', also known as the Mexican mushroom delicacy that is huitlacoche. Entirely excellent.

Tacos de canasta – steamed and stuffed tortillas

Tacos de canasta are a special type of steamed taco made in advance (rather than to order) by your street vendor, with the flavours developing over time as they sit stacked in the canasta (basket). This one was filled with cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatan. The meat is marinated in a strongly acidic orange juice, and seasoned with annatto seed, imparting that glorious burnt orange colour.

 
 
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Seafood tostadas
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Nurse shark pescadilla
At street-side tin shacks in the historic centre, you'll find deep-fried fish fillets, shrimp cocktails, tostadas and ceviches.

Seafood tostadas

These are particularly good at El Caguamo, one of the best places in town for seafood – or so I was told by two different locals in the know. At street-side tin shacks in the historic centre, you'll find deep-fried fish fillets, shrimp cocktails, tostadas and ceviches.

Mexican ceviche is different to the more well-known Peruvian variety in that there's no tiger's milk marinade. Instead, it contains lime juice and white herbal vinegar, before being finished with olive oil, avocado, tomato, chilli, onion and coriander. They're fantastic value, often being sold for under £1 each. Drench it in more lime and let your tastebuds have a little boogie.

Pescadilla – fish-stuffed deep-fried tacos

Pescadilla is the name given to a taco stuffed with some sort of fish stew, then deep-fried until crisp. In mine, nurse shark was cooked with onion, garlic, chilli, tomato, olives, cumin, and a salsa picante (hot salsa). The shark has a strong flavour, a bit like sardines. Lovely stuff.

 
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Roast pork leg torta
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A carnitas stall

Torta – the sandwich of Mexico City

 
 
The stall was hemmed in by suits two people deep, all popping out of the office for a quick stand-up kerb-side lunch. How they don't get it on their shirts, I'm not sure.
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Businessmen help themselves to the carnitas fillings on offer

Mexico's version of the sandwich and the quintessential taste of Mexico City, the torta is fast food which blends European and Mexican cultures.

Get it from a stand called Tortas Been and get it with pierna (roast pork leg). Expect a slick of sour cream, jalapeños, chilli seeds, fat wedges of avocado, tomatoes and onions. The sandwich fillings are pushed into the bread, then smashed on the griddle for a few seconds for an immensely satisfying flavour. This place was very busy and came recommended by a local.

Carnitas – mixed cuts of lard-simmered pig

Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pork in lard until tender, much like confit. You can request which part of the pig you want, but if you come at the end of lunch, you're more likely get a mix.

My tortilla was filled with a medley of cheek, leg, nose, other bits, and uterus. Yep, uterus, an offal first for me - I’m not sure I've ever even seen it anywhere else. A strong but good flavour, it works very well with the blander cuts , and there's plenty of heat and citrus to slice through all that iron.

The stall was hemmed in by suits two people deep, all popping out of the office for a quick stand-up kerb-side lunch. How they don't get it on their shirts, I'm not sure.

 

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