Mexican food conjures up images of burritos and tacos and quesadillas, guacamole and salsa, and if you’re into Tex-Mex, queso. But as it turns out, almost everything we thought we knew about Mexican food is wrong. We’re currently spending a month backpacking in Mexico and while we’re busy stuffing our face with mole and tacos al pastor and learning how to eat like a Mexican, we’ve got an awesome Guest Post to share with you! Our guest writer Lauren is a native Brit who lives in Mexico City, and she’s the brilliant (and beautiful) brains behind the Northern Lauren blog. We were fortunate enough to meet up with Lauren while visiting Mexico City, and she treated us to a mini street food tour, so we can personally vouch for her discerning palate and ability to hunt down the best tamales, escalote, and ponche. While irl Lauren’s interests range anywhere from Netflix to overthinking (girl, same), her blog Northern Lauren mainly focuses on practical travel tips for the Mexican capital and beyond, with a penchant for great food, cultural musings and a sprinkling of feminism thrown in for good measure. Today she’s gonna school us on 10 authentic Mexican foods we’ve never heard of before: the good, the bad, and the ant larvae. Take it away, Lauren!
Table of Contents
Eating Mexican Food aka “Research”
Living in Mexico has done very little for my waistline, given how cheap and available the street food is and how infrequently I can muster up the energy to go the supermarket and cook myself something for dinner. Even so, it’s hard to complain about the food in Mexico, given how freaking delicious practically every corn, cheese and carne combination is. Tacos, tamales and tortas rule the international perception of Mexican cuisine, alongside the ever-faithful quesadilla. That is, unless you’re living under the misguided impression that cheddar-covered burritos and god damn chimichangas are authentically Mexican.
Even so, there are still plenty of weird, wonderful and, most importantly, authentic Mexican foods that most people haven’t heard of, from poisoned tacos to sweetcorn cake and the gloopy hot mess that is the pre-Hispanic drink pulque. OK, that last one is a drink and so not technically a Mexican food, but it’s so strange I couldn’t not include it. With no further ado, here’s your complete guide to 10 authentic & obscure Mexican foods you’ve probably never heard of.
Contentious menudo is made from cow’s stomach and is definitely an acquired taste. “Menudo!” (CC BY 2.0) by rpavich
Menudo is first on the list because it’s the least obscure Mexican food on this list, not because it’s the most tasty. Menudo is a traditional Mexican soup made from red chile and cow stomach. If you’re a sadist who likes tripe, then maybe menudo will appeal, given that it’s just a hot bowl of tripe-y soup. If you’re a normal human who prefers not to eat cow’s stomachs though, then menudo will not be the one for you. I’ve never tried it, mainly because I have some self-respect, but I have heard many reputable sources claiming that it is the hands-down best Mexican hangover cure money can buy. I’d rather have a torta ahogada though (baguette-style sandwiches filled with fried pork and fresh onion, before being doused in spicy tomato sauce).
- Author’s Note: Jeremy, who is Mexican, swears by Menudo and craves it every time he’s hungover. Lia, who is not Mexican, thinks it’s disgusting. We’re pretty sure it’s a taste you have to either be born with or acquire at a very young age.
2. Tacos Envenenados
Tacos are nothing revolutionary and everyone knows that the Mexican fondness for this soft tortilla, meat and sauce concoction knows no bounds (I can’t stress enough how much hard taco shells are not Mexican). However, if there’s anything you can say about Mexico, it’s that nothing is basic when it comes to Mexican food and there are a wealth of specialty, region-specific tacos that you can find in different parts of the country. One of my favourite examples of this taco pride are the tacos envenenados from Zacatecas, which literally translates to poisoned tacos. Don’t freak out though, the only poisoning you’ll be at risk at after eating tacos envenenados is a cholesterol overdose because my god are they greasy. They’re named that to protect the secrecy of the ingredients. Ooh, mysterious.
Barbecued goat: it sounds gross, but it’s actually delicious. Photo Credit: “Cabrito asturiano” (CC BY 2.0) by alanyehaii
I’m ashamed to admit that, with all the trips I make to the spiritual home of cabrito, Monterrey, I still haven’t tried this. Cabrito is barbecued goat and a popular dish in all the northern states, but can principally be found in Nuevo León. It looks wildly unappealing when you see it hung up before serving, but I’ve heard that it’s delicious. Why have I not tried it then, you ask. Well, it’s kind of pricey and I’m kind of stingy. But it’s firmly on my Mexico bucket list!
4. Carne en su Jugo
If you speak Spanish, and can understand exactly what carne en su jugo means, there’s a chance this doesn’t sound all that appealing. I mean, ‘meat in its juice’, who wants that? DON’T BE DECEIVED, SHEEPLE, because carne en su jugo is, honestly, so, so delicious. It’s like a watery meat stew and I know I’m not selling it with that description but you’ll just have to go with me. Usually you throw in a ton of fresh diced onion, cilantro and spicy sauce before slurping it down and the best carne en su jugo in all of Mexico – yes, prepare yourself because this is a bold claim – is to be found at Guadalajara’s Karne Garibaldi in Santa Tere.
Corn smut. I’m not being rude, that’s what huitlacoche translates to. That’s honestly all I have to say about this greyish ‘specialty’ that tastes, to me at least, like dirt. I sampled some of my friend’s dodgy huitlacoche once and I’ve never wanted to give this corn disease (that’s what it is. It’s a corn disease) another go. But like…feel free to try it if you’re the type who enjoys foods that have the word ‘smut’ in their name.
6. Tacos de Canasta
Another taco entry, that’s one of the more popular variations found in Mexico but perhaps not as well known outside the country – tacos de canasta, a.k.a. basket tacos. They’re named as such because they’re literally served out of a basket. To be honest, it’s for that reason I shied away from trying them for aaages, even though they’re super common in Mexico City, because everyone knows you shouldn’t eat lukewarm meat products. In the end, I actually ended up eating them outside a bar one night while mildly tipsy (FYI, this is the way all tacos should be eaten). I recommend you order the potato ones.
I’m sure you’ve heard about chapulines, a.k.a. grasshoppers, but many people fail to realise that they’re not the only creepy crawlies that Mexican’s love to eat. Everything from ant larvae – that’s what escamoles are – to flying ants (chinicuiles) are pre-Hispanic delicacies on the streets of cities like Oaxaca and the upscale menus of trendy Mexico City restaurants. I’ve had friends from the north tell me they used to eat live scorpions as children, and spiders are also available in a few choice spots. Also, that worm at the bottom of your probably not-that-great-quality mezcal? That’s called gusano de maguey, and Mexican’s eat those as well. I guess anything tastes better after it’s been soaked in alcohol for a while.
Only really available in chilangolandia (Mexico City), pambazos are essentially tortas – soft, overstuffed sandwiches – whose bread has been soaked in guajillo sauce prior to preparing and serving. For that reason, they have a distinctly red colour and are typically filled with potato and chorizo. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried this dish yet because I know nothing can live up to Guadalajara lonches, crispy bread sandwiches served cold and stuffed with salad, meat and cheese – my favourite is ham and panela. Basically, my Mexican culinary heart lies in Guadalajara, no matter how long I spend in Mexico City.
9. Pay de Elote
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to like pay de elote with its intriguingly cool and creamy texture and just plain strange aftertaste of sweetcorn. Literally just a sweetcorn cheesecake-esque dish, pay de elote is one thing that I can’t get my taste buds around. Perhaps it’s the fact that I wasn’t brought up with corn being such a radically staple part of my diet, or maybe it’s just because I always associate eating corn on the cob with butter rather than a biscuit crust. Either way, I know it’s nice, but I just can’t seem to enjoy it. If you’re totally sold on buying into the literal meaning of sweetcorn though, other unusual Mexican corn-based dishes to sample include sweetcorn ice cream and sweetcorn bread.
I mentioned this briefly in the introduction and am choosing to include it as my last entry because 1) I kept you hanging on in there for the big reveal and 2) it’s kind of, not really, definitely not even an obscure Mexican food, but rather an obscure Mexican alcoholic beverage. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, which makes it sound like it would be sweet, but it kind of tastes sour and yeasty instead. Given that it’s unstable consistency, production and storage methods make it practically impossible to export further than the central regions of Mexico where it’s produced, this gloopy, vaguely snot-like in consistency drink is little known and lives in the shadow of big brothers Tequila and Mezcal. Drinking it certainly makes for an interesting experience, but one that you can’t leave Mexico without having. Fun fact about Pul: it’s insanely healthy and is filled with all sorts of minerals and vitamins. Try it in the curado form, where it comes with an added flavour like mango or tamarind!
Thank you, Lauren! For more of Lauren’s sassy, insider travel advice about Mexico and beyond, visit her blog Northern Lauren. These are my absolute favorite posts of hers:
- 35 Things No One Tells You About Living in Mexico
- How Not to Piss People Off on the Mexico City Metro
- 10+ Books You Must Read About Mexican Culture
What’s your favorite – or least favorite – obscure Mexican food? Leave us a comment below!
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