For some, Cinco de Mayo just means five times more margaritas at happy hour than usual (just me?). But for those looking to keep those taste buds intact for the festivities, there can be so much more to celebrate with than tacos, guac, salsa, and oral-inferno quesadillas.
Mexico’s street food scene is exploding right now, and the flavors of its stalls are popping up on menus the world over. Specialized foodie trips like Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventure – Mexico, exposes the secret stash of insane corner stoop and back alley eats that only those in the know have been aware of – until now!
These six dishes are amazingly delicious Mexican staples that are as authentic as the mezcal is strong and as surprising as a Lucha Libre bodyslam:
1. Taco Arabe
The history of Cinco de Mayo goes back to when Mexico defeated France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. So it’s appropriate to celebrate with a street food that you can only find on the streets of Puebla itself, the Arab-style taco.
If a shwarma and a taco had a baby, it would be this. Introduced by Arab immigrants in the 1930s, it’s one of the most popular fast-foods in the city.
Unlike the similar taco al pastor, this taco’s traditional tortilla is replaced with a pita-like flatbread that is topped with sliced, spit-roasted pork and seasoned with salt and lime juice. The ultimate fusion food to fuel your celebrations!
So its fancy sounding name masks the fact that technically these are ant larvae, but don’t swipe away! These little morsels look and taste like tiny white beans.
Also referred to as insect caviar, this delicacy is only available between March and June. The usual preparation has them sauteed with butter and green pepper and served with guacamole, onion, and fresh tortilla.
A secret ingredient of Mexican street stalls is huitlacoche, a black corn fungus also lovingly referred to as “corn smut.” It’s essentially diseased corn that turns the infected kernels into swollen black and blue mushroom-like bites (we’re really selling this, aren’t we?).
What could easily be mistaken as the leper of the maize family develops into a beautifully balanced sweet umami flavor bomb. Rather than being banished to the outskirts of gastro society, huitlacoche can thankfully be found in tacos and quesadillas from Oaxaca to Mexico City.
Some say insects are the protein of the future, but huh? Roasted or fried chapulines, known north of the border as grasshoppers, are the standard bar snack in every mezcaleria around the country.
Always cooked to a crisp, chapulines have the same lightness, crunch and consistency as kale chips. They’re spiced differently depending on the region you find yourself, but often use lime, salt, and chili. Walk any street corner in Mexico and you’ll find locals hocking baskets full of these healthy treats.
5. Sweet Potato Candy
Corn is king in Mexico, but other vegetables have made their way into the mix … in candy form! Mexican candy is unique in that it often blends sweets with salty, sour and spicy flavors to transform whole, real fruits and vegetables into candy.
Also known as fruta cristalizada, candied sweet potatoes are boiled and roasted with sugar, chili, cinnamon and other spices. They can be found whole or sliced and served with other confections such as candied tamarind, with a sugary outer exterior and a soft fruit center.
6. Cheesy Hot Chocolate
Traditional Mexican hot chocolate steps it up with the addition of Oaxacan cheese. Strands or curds of Oaxacan string cheese – a denser, slightly saltier version of mozzarella – are stirred into steaming cups of hot chocolate along with a sprinkling of chili. A little salt, a little sweet and a little heat makes this the perfect taza!