We all know Cinco de Mayo is all about the food. I don’t feel bad saying so – the holiday commemorates the Mexican Army’s unexpected victory over France in the battle of Puebla (but, er, they surrendered a year later). It’s a holiday with little significance in Mexico outside of the state of Puebla, but in the U.S., we use it as an excuse to gorge on guacamole and margaritas. Because now seems as good a time as any to celebrate the amazing contributions of Mexican food culture, let’s use this holiday to focus on the best (and most party-friendly) food in Mexico: the foods prepared and sold by its numerous street vendors.
Mexico’s street food is referred to as “antiojitos,” meaning “little cravings.” It packs a flavorful punch; it can be salty, spicy, sweet, sour – sometimes all of those at once. Above all, it’s meant to be eaten standing up, with or without a plate, juices dripping down your chin. And although in Mexico, street food is often treated as a snack between meals, combining a few of these offerings makes for the perfect meal in itself.
Here’s what we’d serve for the ultimate Mexican Street Food Cinco de Mayo Fiesta:
1. Replace tired crudités with spicy vegetable spears.
Vendors all over Mexico City sell plastic cups filled with sliced jicama, carrot, cucumber, and even mango, sprinkled with Tajín – a seasoning consisting of chile, lime, and salt. If you can’t find it, sub lime juice, powdered cayenne, and salt. We’d serve the spears upright in glass jars for a fancy take on the street version, or you can toss it all together, as with this dish. Get our Spicy Jicama, Grapefruit, and Mango Salad recipe.
2. Corn on the cob – or in a cup.
Corn is one of Mexico’s most consumed vegetables, whether it’s ground into masa for tortillas, grilled and served on the cob, slathered in mayo and lime, or cut off the cob, boiled and served with a creamy, cheesy sauce. If it’s tough to find corn on the cob this time of year, go for frozen organic kernels mixed with sauce, served in individual cups for each guest. Get our Grilled Corn with Cayenne, Lime, and Cotija recipe and our Elote en Vaso (Corn in a Cup) recipe.
3. It’s all about tacos!
Mexican street food is all about the tacos, and while we don’t suggest making them to order as your favorite vendor might, it’s easy enough to set up a fill-it-yourself taco bar. Don’t forget lime wedges, chopped cilantro, diced white onion, and maybe some pickled jalapeños if you’re feeling fancy. Spring for fresh tortillas made from nixtamal (the traditional way that doesn’t rely on preservatives – Hot Bread Kitchen makes good ones). Depending on how many prep hours you’re willing to devote, consider slow-cooking pork for Carnitas or marinating and grilling it with pineapple for Tacos al Pastor. Get our Tacos al Pastor recipe.
4. Popsicles for dessert.
All over Mexico, people beat the heat with paletas, ice pops sold from pushcarts, with bases of fruit or milk/cream. Play around with funky flavor combinations, or go with a classic like these spicy treats. Get our Mango and Cayenne Paletas recipe.
5. Aguas frescas make refreshing cocktails.
Plenty of street carts are dedicated to the sale of fresh juices and/or aguas frescas (fruit blended with sugar and water). Sub the water for booze (or add it to the mix) for a twisted take on a refreshing beverage. Tequila, mezcal, rum, or vodka could all work nicely in these conquerors of hot weather. Get our Spiked Pineapple Agua Fresca recipe and our Almond and Rice-Based Horchata recipe.
Check out all of the recipes for Cinco de Mayo to make your celebration special.
— Head Image: Chowhound.