Exploring Corn in Mexico City
Corn has been a staple in the Mexican diet since long before Europeans ever got their hands on American gold, and it should come as no surprise that this delicious grain remains prominent in modern Mexican cuisine.
Mexico City, the second largest city in the world, is brimming with street vendors offering up corn in mysterious and delicious forms, from familiar cobs to fermented drinks. If you are headed to Mexico City, prepare yourself for corn like you’ve never seen it before.
Flatbreads made from unleavened corn flour, tortillas are the essential foundation of a Mexican meal: They are the spoon, the plate, and the napkin.
There is nothing in the world as good as a fresh tortilla from an authentic Mexican tortilleria, and there is no better way to taste one than flying to Mexico City via Flights.com. Most tortillerias offer almost identical products, but some tortillas are denser, grittier, cakier, or thicker than others.
To accompany chips or meats — or even just to eat on its own — corn salsa is a delicious and refreshing snack. Though recipes will vary by vender, this mixture usually includes sweet corn, black beans, tomatoes, and spicy peppers. “Salsa” literally means “sauce” in Spanish, so it makes sense that there are so many different varieties of salsa to sample on Mexico City’s streets.
Modern-day Mexicans prefer tamales as an easy breakfast snack, but ancient Mayan and Aztec warriors preferred them for their portability on the battlefield. Tamales can be sweet or savory depending on their filling; meats, cheeses, sauces, and more can be tucked inside. Tamales always consist of masa, which is a type of corn dough, to be wrapped in a corn husk and steamed to perfection.
Sopes are like thick, inflexible tortillas that are fried instead of baked. Instead of folding them up around various ingredients, chefs construct a delicious Mexican food tower with a sope as a base. Sopes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, which is largely due to the fact that masa is their main ingredient. Almost anything can go on top of a sope, but vendors usually include some kind of salsa and pork combination for maximum satisfaction.
While its Spanish name makes the dish sound exotic, Americans will probably recognize this treat as corn on the cob. However, in addition to butter, Mexicans prefer to top their elotes with a variety of seasonings, including lime juice, salt, chili powder, cheese, and sour cream.
Street vendors grill the corn on a stick to ease distribution and dining, but for an additional fee, they will cut the corn off the cob and serve it ready to eat in a bowl.
Ricky Martin’s old Latin boy band was certainly corny, but this menudo is a filling soup that takes hours to prepare just right. The main ingredients of menudo are hominy (large, soft kernels of corn) and tripe (cow’s stomach). There are hundreds of variations of menudo — red, white, yellow, patas, and pancitas — and most are represented on Mexico City streets.
Sweet, warm, and comforting, atole is a non-alcoholic beverage made from hot corn and masa and flavored with sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Some vendors will also add chocolate or fruits to make the drink more unique. Atole is common as a holiday drink for the Day of the Dead and Christmas, but many Mexicans indulge in a steaming cup of atole during rainy days when comfort foods are a must.
Pozol is a drink with a porridge-like consistency that is made from mixing fermented corn dough with water. It doesn’t sound refreshing, but on a hot, Mexico City afternoon with no clean water in sight, pozol is one of the city’s best thirst-quenchers. In fact, people have been relying on pozol for millennia; some of Latin America’s first settlers carried the drink around in gourds.
The popcorn plant we harvest today is barely different from that found in archaeological sites around Mexico City — but the seasonings street vendors use on their snacks are likely much more advanced than those of our ancestors. Modern Mexican popcorn features chili powder, lime juice, cumin, salt, and other toothsome flavors.
10. Corn Nuts
Corn Nuts are a divisive snack — most people either love them or hate them. It seems that most Mexicans fall into the former category, based on the number of Mexican City food vendors who hawk roasted, seasoned corn kernels in various shapes and sizes. Salty and savory, these snacks are perfect in between meals; just remember: The smaller the kernel, the bigger the crunch.
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