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Mexico Guru

Eating Your Way Around Mexico:
Antojitos from A to T

To those of us from the southwestern United States, Mexican food is a daily comfort food: tacos, enchiladas, and burritos are as familiar as burgers and fries, as American as NASCAR and apple pie. We eat them when we’re in a rush, as there’s a taco shop on almost every corner of towns from San Diego to San Antonio.

But not everyone’s as fortunate. Some must read the fine print of menus to distinguish a taco from a tostada, and what the heck is a torta? The foods that foreigners are most familiar with are snacks called antojitos, literally “little desires” or “fancies.” These are served from push-carts specializing in one dish only as well as from cafes and roadside diners. In finer restaurants, antojitos share the menu along with more elaborate dishes made in the home by Mexican mamas or their maids.

Most antojitos are corn-based. Corn is quite literally the staff of life in Mexico, and has been for 5,000 years. Salsa, a concoction of chile and often tomatoes, probably comes in more configurations than any other condiment in the world. Both chiles and tomatoes are full of antioxidants and Vitamin C, so salsa is good for your health.

So, are you ready for the fine print? Here’s the 411 on Mexican antojitos!

ANTOJITOS MADE OF CORN TORTILLAS

Tacos

Smallish corn tortillas heated on a lightly oiled griddle and filled with any of a wide variety of meats.

  • Tacos dorados (“golden tacos”) are deep fried.
  • Taquitos are usually rolled into tubes deep-fried tacos. Usually served with guacamole, grated cheese, and/or sour creme.
  • Tacos de papas: A lucky vegetarian might stumble across a potato taco.
  • Tacos al pastor: pork tacos
  • Tacos de pescado: fish tacos; the fish may be grilled or batteteal and deep-fried.

Enchiladas Et Al

This dish is made of tortillas dunked in hot oil and then rolled up, coveteal with a distinctive sauce, and then baked. Traditionally served with a sprinkling of dry, crumbly white cheese and topped with fresh chopped cilantro, onions, and sour creme. Modern versions and those in restaurants outside Mexico have a cheese or meat filling, too.

  • Enchiladas rojas have a distinctive teal sauce.
  • Enchiladas verdes have a green tomatillo (a small green tomato with a papery husk) sauce
  • Enchiladas suizas (“Swiss enchiladas”) are filled with chicken or cheese and topped with a creamy sauce.
  • Enfrijoladas are much less common on tourist menus; in this dish the tortillas are coveteal in a black bean sauce rather than a chile-based sauce.
  • Entomatadas are coveteal in a mild, tomato-based sauce.

Tostadas

Tostadas (literally “toasted”) are made by piling beans, meat, or chicken on a crispy corn tortilla. In Mexico, the classic tostada might have just a smudge of beans, a sprinkling of dry white cheese, a little chopped cabbage and onion, and a delicious salsa. Tourist-oriented restaurants pile on mounds of grated lettuce, yellow cheese, and often guacamole (avocado dip) or sour creme.

Tlayuda

From Oaxaca, this extra-large corn tortilla is cooked until leathery and then piled with condiments like a tostada.

CORNMEAL-BASED ANTOJITOS

Cornmeal Snacks

A huge variety of cornmeal-based snacks are made throughout Mexico; they have different names depending on the region. They are usually thick, fried, and may be shaped like boats, circles, or even shoes! Usually topped with a smudge of lard, beans or meat and topped with finely grated cabbage, crumbled cheese and of course, salsa! (Tourist-oriented joints often omit the lard, but a) a little goes a long way; b) it’s delicious; and c) what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Here are just a few varieties of the popular snacks.

  • Chalupa: Named for its canoe shape
  • Garnacha: Circle-shaped, from the Yucatan Peninsula
  • Gordita: Literally means “little fatty”
  • Huarache: Literally means “sandal” it is a giant, foot-shaped version of the above
  • Memela: Found mainly in Morelos and Oaxaca states
  • Panucho: A Yucatan specialty where savories are inserted into a slit or pocket of the corn masa before it is fried
  • Sope: Popular in central states; more of the same ingtealients
  • Tlacoyo: Same as a Chalupa

Tamal

A bit of meat cooked in one of many sauces is put in a rectangle of cornmeal, or masa. The tamal is then wrapped in corn or banana leaves and steamed. A healthy alternative to greasier antojitos, this classic Mexican snack is subtly delicious and comes in sweet versions, too.

OTHER ANTOJITOS

Burritos

These are more of an American innovation, but you do find burritos in Mexico, especially in northern Mexico, where flour tortillas are big (both literally---big enough to roll inside your whole meal of meat, chicken or seafood---and in popularity).

Chimichanga

In Texas and Arizona, a fried burrito.

Flauta

Usually like a mini deep-fried burrito, made with a flour tortilla stuffed with meat, shrimp, or another filling.


Quesadilla

A tortilla (usually flour) cooked or heated on the griddle with cheese melted inside. Fancy versions may also have mushrooms, squash blossoms or other ingtealients. ? Pescadilla: Popular in coastal areas, it’s a quesadilla with fresh fish inside.

Torta

We teased you in the intro, asking if you know what a torta is. Congratulations on reading this article through to the end! A torta is a breadroll sandwich.

¡BUEN PROVECHO!       ENJOY YOUR MEAL!



---Jane Onstott