Mexican street food, also known as antojitos callejeros or antojitos Mexicanos, refers to a variety of quick, affordable, and flavorful snacks and dishes that are sold by street vendors in Mexico. Street food is an integral part of Mexican food culture and offers a convenient, authentic, and delicious option for both locals and visitors looking for an authentic Mexican culinary experience.
Types of Mexican Street Food
There are many different types of antojitos or street snacks sold by vendors across Mexico. Some of the most popular include:
- Tacos – Small corn or flour tortillas filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and other fillings. Some common taco fillings are al pastor (spit-roasted pork), carne asada (grilled beef), chorizo (Mexican sausage), carnitas (braised pork), barbacoa (pit-cooked lamb), lengua (beef tongue), and a wide variety of vegetarian options.
- Tortas – Mexican sandwiches served on crusty rolls or telera bread and layered with meat, cheese, avocado, beans, vegetables, and sauce.
- Gorditas – Thick corn tortillas stuffed with fillings like chicken, chorizo, cheese, potatoes, or chicharron (fried pork belly) and pan fried until the exterior is slightly crispy.
- Quesadillas – Grilled corn tortillas filled with cheese (usually Oaxaca cheese or queso fresco), meats, beans, huitlacoche (corn fungus), and other ingredients, then folded and cooked on a griddle.
- Sopes and Tostadas – Thick, fried corn dough topped with ingredients like beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, crema, and salsa.
- Pambazos – Soft white bread rolls dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce then stuffed with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, cream, and queso fresco.
- Huaraches – Oblong-shaped fried masa dough topped with meat, beans, lettuce, cheese, salsa, and crema.
- Esquites – Grilled corn kernels served in a cup and topped with mayo, lime, chili powder, cotija cheese, and cilantro.
- Elotes – Grilled corn slathered in mayo, cheese, and chili powder.
- Churros – Fried dough pastry rolled in cinnamon and sugar.
- Fruit cups – Freshly sliced fruits like mango, pineapple, watermelon, jicama, and cucumber served in a cup with lime juice and chili powder.
In addition to these popular antojitos, Mexican street vendors also sell a variety of hot and cold drinks like aguas frescas (fresh fruit waters), licuados (fruit smoothies), atole (warm, thick corn-based drink), and Mexican hot chocolate.
Origins and History
Street food has long been an important part of Mexico’s food culture. Many of today’s popular antojitos originated in the pre-Hispanic era of Mexico’s history. Corn tortillas, tamales, and early versions of sopes and tostadas were sold at Aztec marketplaces. Spanish colonization brought wheat flour tortillas, churros, and new fillings and ingredients like pork, beef, cheese, and spices.
In the 19th and early 20th century, political instability and economic changes drove more homemade food vending into the growing cities and towns of Mexico. This expansion made street food integral to the urban Mexican experience. Women known as “antojitras” began selling their regional specialties from baskets and stands on sidewalks to earn extra income. Street food culture grew again in the 1980s and 1990s as more women entered the workforce and no longer had time for lengthy meal preparation.
Today, antojitos are ubiquitous across Mexico and essential components of the cuisine. They are sold from food carts, street stands, and hole-in-the-wall eateries known as fondas. For many Mexicans, a meal is not complete without some tacos, sopes, or elotes from their favorite local vendor!
Popular Street Food Regions and Specialties
Mexican street food takes on various regional influences and specialties. Here are some of the most popular street foods from different parts of Mexico:
- Tacos al pastor – Spit-roasted marinated pork
- Tacos de canasta – Steamed tacos sold in covered baskets to keep warm
- Tortas – Sandwiches layered with meat, beans, cheese
- Esquites – Corn kernels in a cup with mayo, cheese, lime
- Gorditas and sopes
- Quesadillas with huitlacoche
- Carnitas (braised pork)
- Tortas ahogadas – Sandwiches dipped in spicy salsa
- Birria – Spicy goat or beef stew
- Pozole rojo – Red hominy and pork stew
- Tlayudas – Large toasted tortillas with toppings
- Chapulines – Chili-coated grasshoppers
- Tamales de mole negro
- Quesillo – String cheese wrapped in hoja santa leaves
- Cochinita pibil – Slow roasted pork in banana leaves
- Poc Chuc – Grilled pork with orange
- Salsa de xnipec – Spicy chili and sour orange sauce
- Panuchos and salbutes – Tortillas with chicken, lettuce, and onion
- Fish and shrimp tacos
- Burritos and quesadillas with seafood
As you can see, Mexican street food is incredibly diverse and takes on different regional influences across Mexico. No matter where you travel in Mexico though, you’ll be sure to find delicious, authentic antojitos!
Beyond just being delicious snacks, antojitos hold cultural significance in Mexico:
- They are inexpensive, making them accessible street fare for all income levels.
- Historically, making and selling antojitos provided economic opportunities for women.
- Today, antojitos support micro-entrepreneurship for street vendors.
- Snacking on antojitos is a social experience shared among family and friends.
- They provide a taste of regional ingredients, cooking styles, and local pride.
- Antojitos reflect Mexico’s culinary history from indigenous, Spanish, and modern influences.
- Street food culture facilitates a strong sense of community.
For these reasons, antojitos are deeply valued in Mexico as more than just quick street fare.
Health and Safety Considerations
When eating street food in Mexico, there are some health and safety factors to consider:
- Choose stalls that have high turnover to ensure freshness.
- Opt for cooked foods over raw.
- Look for vendors practicing food safety like handwashing, cleaning surfaces, and refrigeration.
- Avoid stalls with flies or debris present.
- Drink sealed bottled water and beverages.
- Go for fruit that you peel yourself.
- Eat spicy salsas and sauces to avoid unclean water in their preparation.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk products.
- Steer clear if a vendor seems unwell.
Following basic street smarts when choosing food can allow you to safely enjoy all the delicious flavors of Mexican street cuisine.
Famous Markets and Streets to Try Street Food
Some of the best places in Mexico to sample authentic, mouthwatering antojitos include:
La Merced Market, Mexico City
One of the largest traditional public markets in Mexico City with rows of vendors serving up classics like huaraches, tortas, sopes, and more.
Mercado San Juan, Mexico City
A gourmand’s paradise, this market features high-end ingredients as well as taco stalls and fondas churning out regional Mexican street fare.
Tianguis Cultural del Chopo, Mexico City
Only open on Saturdays, this vibrant street market near a punk plaza features antojitos from all over Mexico.
Mercado Hidalgo, Guadalajara
Guadalajara’s central market is well-known for its tortas ahogadas – great for trying the Jalisco version of Mexican street food.
20 Noviembre Market, Oaxaca
Sample Oaxacan specialties throughout this extensive market, like tlayudas, chapulines, and local moles.
Parque de las Palapas, Cancun
A lively evening food market where you can try antojitos with a Yucatecan twist in a festive, beach town setting.
Wherever you travel in Mexico, keep an eye out for street food carts, markets, and fondas serving up delicious regional antojitos!
Essential Street Food Etiquette
To properly enjoy street food in Mexico, keep these etiquette tips in mind:
- Greet the vendor and order in Spanish if you can.
- Have cash on hand – most vendors don’t accept cards.
- Know what ingredients you want or ask what options are available.
- Let the vendor assemble your order – don’t reach over.
- Try adventurous fillings and flavors – street food is very regional.
- Don’t eat on the go – step to the side to enjoy your antojitos.
- Eat tacos and sopes carefully over the plate provided.
- Throw away trash in bins and leave the area tidy.
- If you’re still hungry, order more – it’s very affordable!
Observing basic etiquette shows respect for the vendors and creates an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Popular Mexican Street Food Ingredients
From rich moles to zesty salsas, Mexican street food showcases the unique flavors of Mexican cuisine. Here are some key ingredients commonly used:
Mexico uses many varieties like ancho, chipotle, guajillo, habanero, and more to add mild heat or blistering spice. Chiles are used dried, fresh, roasted, and smoked in salsas, moles, marinades, and antojito fillings.
The base of tortillas, tamales, sopes, and corn antojitos comes from dried or fresh steamed corn kernels ground into masa. Corn imparts a distinct sweet, grainy flavor.
Varieties like pinto, black, and fava beans are simmered and mashed into frijoles refritos, an essential protein filling for antojitos.
Spicy Mexican pork sausage infused with chipotle, garlic, vinegar, and spices provides big flavor to tacos, tortas, sopes, and more.
Fresh limes bring brightness through acidic juice and zest. They’re squeezed over tacos, paired with micheladas, and used in citrusy salsas.
The pungent, grassy flavor of fresh cilantro adds vibrancy as a topping or in salsas verdes, guacamole, pico de gallo, and ceviches.
Tangy Mexican sour cream drizzled over antojitos adds a rich, cooling contrast to spicy fillings.
With authentic ingredients sourced from local markets, Mexican street food is fresh, flavorful, and delicious.
Most Authentic Types of Antojitos
For the most authentic Mexican street food experience, be sure to try these classics:
- Tacos al pastor – The quintessential Mexican taco with spit-roasted marinated pork and pineapple.
- Huaraches – Oblong masa dough boats loaded with meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, and salsa.
- Esquites – Grilled corn with a tangy, creamy sauce and sprinkling of cotija cheese.
- Gorditas – Thick, fried masa cakes split open and stuffed with hearty fillings.
- Tortas ahogadas – Crusty sandwiches dipped in spicy salsa.
- Tamales – Steamed masa with savory or sweet fillings wrapped in corn husks or banana leaf.
- Elote/esquites – Grilled corn slathered in spicy mayo, cheese, and chili powder.
- Churros – Light, crispy fried dough sticks rolled in cinnamon and sugar.
- Aguas frescas – Fresh, fruity drinks like horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica.
Seeking out these beloved antojitos at street stalls and markets will give you a true taste of Mexico’s incredible street food.
Mexican street food encompasses a mouthwatering range of regional antojitos overflowing with authentic flavors. From tacos drizzled with salsa to piping hot gorditas stuffed with chorizo, the street fare in Mexico is varied, craveable, and an essential part of the culture. Sampling tasty antojitos from street vendors offers insight into true Mexican cuisine and provides an affordable, social culinary experience. With its deep roots, regional diversity, and skillful preparation, Mexican street food fully deserves its reputation as some of the best street fare in the world.