5 Reasons the Food in Mexico City is More Than Just Tacos

September  1, 2015

Lesley Téllez, the author of Eat Mexico, gives us the lowdown on why food in Mexico City is unlike any other place (read: not just tacos).


When I moved to Mexico City in 2009, I was surprised at how enthusiastically people ate. In the mornings, I’d watch office workers drink atole and nibble on pan dulce from little stands set up on the sidewalk. Crowds tucked into thick, corn masa gorditas at 10:30 A.M., in theory not too long after they’d arrived to work. At lunchtime, they strolled to fondas, casual homestyle restaurants, for comida corrida, a three-course meal sold at an economic price.

Shop the Story

The longer I lived there, the more I came to love Mexico City’s food. Here are 5 more things you may not know about the way this city eats. 

Vegetables at Xochimilco market


1. The traditional Central Mexican diet is full of fruits and vegetables. 

Fresh juices are available on the street year-round, and markets carry beautiful guavas, papaya, mamey, pineapple, and melon pretty much all the time. Cactus is used in all sorts of preparations, the most popular being a delicious salad of lightly boiled cactus strips, onion, and herbs.

Quelites and Malva (a type of quelite) 

And the native Mexican greens—quelites, as they’re collectively called, are nutrient-rich and sold by the kilo at markets. They’re most often eaten steamed or in salads. My favorite types of quelites are amaranth greens, called quintoniles, and lambs quarters, called quelite cenizo, which are great sautéed and stuffed in tortillas or with scrambled eggs


Roasted corn


2. Even after thousands of years, corn still rules. 

Flour tortillas are eaten with gusto up north, but in Central Mexico—where corn is thought to have first been domesticated—corn is still the most important item in the Mexican diet, followed by beans and chile.

More: How to use a whole ear of corn.

Corn tortillas can be found on every table at every meal, and corn leaves—both fresh and dried—are used to wrap tamales. And different types of corn are used for different things: Cacahuazintle, a large, chewy hominy, is used for pozole. Maíz rojo, or red corn, is used for making pinole, a mix of ground corn, cinnamon, and sugar sprinkled into water or atole and imbibed. Blue corn is often turned into masa. Mexican corn, as a rule, is starchier and heartier than American corn, and it’s not sweet. 


Mushrooms in Milpa Alta 


3. Mexico City is a mecca for wild and cultivated mushrooms. 

In the summer, cool rains drench the capital and nearby Mexico State, sending bushels of mushrooms into the city’s Mercado San Juan and some local tianguis, or outdoor markets. The pickings include fat morels, and juicy, large yellow mushrooms called yema de huevo (egg yolks) and chanterelles, called trompetas (trumpets). At the market in Milpa Alta, the southernmost borough of Mexico City, the mushrooms are particularly beautiful—many vendors bring them directly from nearby farms.


Blue corn tortillas at Xochimilco market


4. At the markets, many foods are still handmade in small batches. 

Most of the produce from the outdoor tianguis comes from industrialized farms across Mexico. But some stands still have farm fresh goods: homemade cheeses, thick blue corn tortillas, homemade tamales, freshly prepared cactus, and fava bean salads, to name a few. At the market in Xochimilco, southeast of the city center, women sell blue corn tlacoyos and tortillas out of baskets lined with cloth. None of the items are called “local” or “artisan”—they simply are what they are.


Gorditas and sopes at Xochimilco market 


5. Lunch is more popular than dinner.

Fondas, the casual restaurants that serve a daily three-course menu, are open for lunch only, from about 1 to 6 P.M. Cantinas—a hybrid of a fonda, a bar, and a restaurant—tend to be the most boisterous at lunch and just after work, many of them petering out around 8 or 9 P.M. The upper classes eat dinner out (usually starting around 9 P.M.), but you don’t see the same density of restaurants or food stands open in the evenings.

All photos by Lesley Téllez, except author photo by Penny De Los Santos.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • scruz
  • btglenn
  • Cheri Mayell
    Cheri Mayell
  • Pookie13815
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


scruz September 6, 2015
cheri, i spent some time trying to find the restaurant and soup that i had that was so good in san blas, mexico 35 years ago. it is still there (la isla) and i realize the soup is called siete mares (seven seafoods). i looked on you tube for a broth that was similar and found this one:
and read about it. it is evidently tomato based broth but the one i loved was more chicken broth/saffron tinged in color. now that i know what it is called, i am going to be making it and searching out restaurants in my area that serve it. i hope you like it.
btglenn September 6, 2015
I spend 6 months traveling in Mexico, and just marveled at the soups and stews, vegetable and seafood dishes, and learned to cook at home using Diana Kennedy's wonderful cookbooks. In earlier years, the main meal in Mexico was at mid-day followed by the now not so traditional fiesta. Times change, and siesta is no longer observed except in the countryside where farmers siesta during the hot part of the day and then work until dark. The evening meal was always a lighter one.
I have looked for a less sweet corn in Los Angeles, and unless you go to a big Mexican market, all the corn is sweet American style. I find that some brands of frozen corn are less sweet the fresh ears of corn and work fairly well for many recipes --- but not the in the soups where pieces of corn on the cob are used.
Cheri M. September 6, 2015
Love to find a soup recipe for the one you mentioned it sounds tasty & very healthy. Scruz seemed to enjoy it too!
Pookie13815 September 2, 2015
Having Mexcan grandparents, I have been blessed to have learned and still cook traditional recipes that they handed down. Leslies' book has given me a deeper appreciation for the native foods that are eaten my ancestral homeland. Great book!
scruz September 1, 2015
after traveling in mexico, i have always said that mexican cooking is one of the great cuisines of the world. and it is healthy, from the freshest fish and chicken and vegetables to the small snacks one can find. i had a soup in san blas (mariscos) that was a clear broth with seafood and fish and a few chunks of vegetables. you squeezed lime into it and i could have eaten it daily for the rest of my life and still loved it.