A guide to Mexican street food

A piñata of flavours awaits on the streets of Mexico. Take a stroll with us past some of the tastiest offerings of what may well be the world's best street food. And if that's whetted your appetite and wanderlust for all things Central American, we'd recommend making a beeline to our 23-day Ancient Civilisations adventure.

Mexico's fervent streets live in the food that is served there - a spicy, colourful collision of flavours made for clutching as you join the hordes in markets and avenidas, plazas and fiestas. A stroll in, say, Mexico City or Oaxaca isn't complete unless accompanied by some of the street food. Forget cheese-laden tex-mex cooking - Mexico's street food is about fresh ingredients prepared with expertise and carrying a kick. Here's the lowdown on what to try, and where to try it.

Where to eat

A few straightforward tips to help get you to the right places:

Go where's busy: if you see a stall surrounded with happily munching locals, chances are you've hit gold. Busy equals a respected chef at work and a quick turnover of ingredients - fresh produce, well used. The reverse doesn't hold true - quiet stalls can be perfectly fine - but joining the crowds at a busy taquera is a good rule of thumb.

Go where's quiet: busy with human traffic is fine, but it's a good idea to try to avoid places that are busy with traffic of a different kind - stalls that rub shoulders with multi-lane roads can have a slick of exhaust fumes over their limones and salsa. Best to avoid, unless you've got a stomach of iron.

Find a specialist: some taqueras (stalls) and puestos (carts) offer all manner of snacks and dishes. All well and good, but there's a reason why other places offer one thing and one thing only - the owner knows what he or she is doing. Buying a taco from someone who has decades of experience in rustling them up, and only them, makes sense - you're in the hands of an expert.  

Check the produce: perhaps the quickest and easiest way of checking a vendor's quality is a brief perusal of the salsas, limes and salad on offer. If it all looks dog-tired, move on. 

What to eat

Tacos de Canasta

The morning taco of choice, look out for sellers in doorways or shifting piles of these from the basket of their bicycles. A small, soft corn tortilla usually filled with potatoes and chorizo (sometimes beans), it's a heavy, hearty way to start the day and an institution in many parts of Mexico. If you're in the capital, look out for tacos de cabeza as an alternative - taco stands serving this are easy to spot as they have large metal steamers. Inside are steaming meats - unusual, sometimes challenging cuts such as ears and tongue waiting to be rolled into a soft flour tortilla with chopped onion and coriander.

Tamales

Popular throughout Latin America, tamales mexicano are arguably the snack at its finest. Corn dough slowly steamed in a corn husk, with meat sometimes added to the mix, the result is a sweet snack so heavy that it can often suffice as an entire meal.

Chalupas

If you're heading to Puebla or Oaxaca, these are a must. A tostada platter of small, crispy deep-fried corn cups laden with all the good stuff: chicken and pork, salsa and coriander, onion and a squeeze of lime. They might not be the healthiest snacks you'll ever have, but choose the right street stall and they might just be among the tastiest.

Peanuts

Okay, so you'll find peanut-sellers the world over, but somehow they just taste better in Mexico. This might be why: the peanuts are spiced with chilli then given a good squirt of lime. Believe us, it works.

Tacos dorados

Most Mexican tacos are made with soft tortillas, but dorados are different. Fried until crispy, then overfilled with shredded meat, lettuce and all manner of sauces and spices, grasping one (or more) of these on your way home after a long Mexican evening is the perfect end to the night, and will help ensure a good night's sleep until it's time to seek out the tacos de canasta the following morning.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. From the fish tacos of the Pacific Coast to the Yucatan's fresh fruit extravaganza, there's a whole heap of grub to explore among Mexico's streets and markets. 

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