So you’ve just arrived in Mexico City. You’re probably feeling overwhelmed by the size of this huge city and the extensive but complicated public transportation system. So what should you do first? My answer: EAT! I loved Mexico City for it’s fast pace, it’s nightlife, it’s museums, it’s sculptures and statues and it’s unexpected festivals constantly popping up. But more than anything else, I loved it for it’s food.
Elotes, pozole, tacos (of course!), mango cups sprinkled with spicy Tajín, fresh juices and smoothies to die for, chilaquiles and tamales for breakfast, oh my!
I enjoyed nothing more in Mexico City than slowly making my way through the tunnels of red and white striped tents, trying every food in sight.
How to avoid getting sick with Mexico City’s Street Food:
If you’re headed to Mexico, chances are, you’ve heard warnings from people that may never have even been to Mexico about the food and how common it is to get sick there. As a matter of fact, this stereotype is caused by self-infliction! Very interestingly, the vast majority of people that get sick in Mexico do so because they just aren’t washing their hands. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true! Mexico City is larger than any city in the US (yes, even NYC), so naturally, you’re going to get your hands dirty if you are riding the subway, opening doors, sitting on public benches, etc. Most people that get what American tourists often call “Montezuma’s revenge” are sick from eating Mexican street food without washing their hands. And that used to not be totally their fault, because how are you going to wash your hands before eating food from a pop-up tent?
Provided Hand Sanitizer
Nowadays, the amazing taco stands and elote tents are doing something to fight back against sickness by providing hand sanitizer. Most street food vendors now keep a mega-sized bottle of hand sanitizer out for you to use before touching their foods. I used it every single time that I ate street food (at least 3x daily for a month) and never got sick!
So be brave with your street food, just don’t forget the hand sanitizer!
Watch the heat!
As long as you’re using the hand sanitizer, the only other thing to be careful about with the foods in Mexico City is the salsa! Remember that salsa literally just means “sauce” in Spanish, so salsas also include hot sauces, and the heat in Mexico is a whole different level. Think back to that one time that you and your friend decided to try the hottest level of wings at the “atomic” wing place, or you thought it would be fun to try the hottest hot sauce at your exotic grocery store. Expect sauces of that heat level to be just sitting in front of the street food stands with no sign, no warning, just sitting next to all the other salsas. These hidden monsters sit unassumingly, ready to melt your insides. I LOVE spicy foods and put spicy hot sauce and hot spices on just about everything, but there were times in Mexico City where even a few drops of some of their salsas lit my whole body on fire. The green salsas, usually very mild here in the US, are often especially dangerous. These green salsas are made with avocado and often just look like guacamole, but they are much, much more! You’ve been warned!
The Must-Try Foods:
Now that you know how to be smart about eating street food in Mexico City, here are a few street foods you MUST try while in Mexico City:
1. Tacos al pastor– pork and pineapple roasted together on a spit and sliced thin onto homemade corn tortillas, cheese optional. These are probably the most common, and usually the cheapest tacos. Drip a little hot salsa and squeeze some lime on there and you are good to go. There’s often some sort of deal where the more you buy, the cheaper, so don’t skimp! I frequented one taco tent right off of the Revolución subway stop with tacos al pastor for the price of 3 tacos for less than one dollar! Spot the tacos al pastor spit roast in the above photo!
2. Pozole– a bit pricier by a budget traveler’s standpoint, but don’t write it off. Pozole is a delicious hominy soup that often comes with meat and different sauces, spices and limes to juice, plus a side of corn tortillas for dipping. It is excellent!
3. Elotes– some people are really into these, some really hate them. I eat just about anything (unless it has olives) and love these. Elotes are a good street snack when you need something to hold you over until your next taco binge. Corn on the cob is grilled to perfection and then smothered with mayo, cheese, lime juice and hot spices. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
4. Tamales– easy on-the-go breakfast for when you woke up too late and need to sprint to the nearest subway station. Just listen closely beyond all the city’s commotion and undoubtedly you’ll hear, “tamales tamales, ricos tamales!” Cheap and delicious, these savory corn dough pastries are often filled with meat, cheese, salsa or all of the above.
5. Mango cups– first of all, mango(e)s are not the only option, you can get just about any fruit, or a mix of lots of different fruits. That being said, let’s be honest, mangos are the fruit that rules all other fruits. Head to a fruit stand and get yourself a big cup full of freshly cut mangos and ask the vendor to sprinkle lime juice and tajín (spicy and sweet mix of Mexican spices) on top and prepare for bliss.
If you think you’d like to authentically explore Mexico and other amazing countries with a small group of fellow travelers, check out the current No Strings Travel trip offerings here!