I’ll be spending Cinco de Mayo like just all the other days I’ve spent this year — chasing after my two small children and wishing we could safely go more places indoors. We’ll definitely be eating something Mexican, though, because as a Mexican cookbook author and food writer—and someone who lived in Mexico City for four years, where I studied traditional Mexican cooking and launched my own food tour company—I eat something Mexican most days of the week.
When I’m recommending Mexican foods to other people, it matters to me to reach beyond the dominant U.S. narrative. Nachos are delicious. (And if that’s what you want to make in these uncertain times, I support you!) But there are a lot of other things out there.
At the risk of generalizing an entire cuisine, the thing I love about Mexican snack foods is the mix of savory, sweet, and spicy rolled into one. I love tart, vinegary hot sauces on potato chips and popcorn. I love chile powder paired with fruit. I love that some snacks, like pumpkin seeds, are pieces of living history (squash are thought to have been first domesticated in Mexico around 8,000 years ago!). Not everything is full of dyes and additives. Don’t get me wrong, I like a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto, but you don’t necessarily need that to fulfill your Mexican snack quotient.
The list that follows are all Mexican snacks that I eat throughout the year. You could serve all of these at your next cocktail party—some items, like the pumpkin seeds or Oaxaca-style peanuts, go nicely with a straight tequila blanco, while others like corn tortillas and salsa macha -- or the apples with chamoy -- might pair well with a Oaxaca Old Fashioned or a Paloma. Or you can gather up several items for a hodgepodge meal, in what my children like to call “Snacky Dinner.”
Chicharrónes de Harina with Valentina Sauce
These puffy, wheel-shaped snacks are often sold in plastic baggies on the streets of Mexico City, bathed in hot sauce and spritzed with lime. Plenty of other cities in the United States sell them too, and some Mexican grocery stores sell the pasta-looking wheels that you fry at home. (Don’t attempt to eat those raw.)You could really use any hot sauce, but I like Valentina because it actually tastes like chile.
Enjoy them with a tequila-based cocktail of your choice, it has that salty, savory, spicy flavor ideal for snacking while sipping.
Mexican Cookie Box from La Newyorkina
Mexican cookies aren’t as well-known as bakery treats like conchas, but they’re worth learning more about. My favorites are puerquitos—molasses-y, sweet piggie-shaped cookies—and garabatos, sandwich cookies filled with chocolate or jam and laced with chocolate squiggles.
Corn Tortillas and Salsa Macha
There’s nothing like eating a warm corn tortilla directly off the comal or gas stove burner, and slathering it in salsa. (Or spreading on a soft wedge of avocado, sprinkled in salt.) I use the best corn tortillas I can find, usually from a tortillería, and spoon on sedimenty, smoky salsa macha. If you need a cocktail that’ll compliment these flavors, a smoky Oaxaca Old Fashioned is a good place to start.
Apples and Chamoy
One of my favorite winter-and-spring snacks is cold, crisp apple slices drizzled in chamoy, a sweet, sour, spicy, salty sauce that zings up almost any fruit. (Watermelon and mango go really well with chamoy, too.) You can buy this in most Mexican grocery stores or find homemade brands on Etsy.
Serve this snack but take a cue from my favorite local Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood and rim your cocktail glasses in Chamoy. The combination of a tart and bright fruity cocktail with this sour, spicy sauce is delicious.
De La Rosa Mazapán
Is it really marzipan if it doesn’t contain almonds? Some say emphatically no. I don’t care when it tastes this good—these small discs from iconic Mexican candy company De La Rosa are almost like sweetened, compressed blocks of creamy peanut butter, studded with bits of peanut.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
For awhile when I was traveling a lot, I used to bring roasted pumpkin seeds from Mexico City back in my suitcase—they’re oblong and slightly pointy, airy, crunchy, and almost meaty in taste. The smaller, flatter seeds sold in the United States are a fine substitute. They’re perfect by the handful, or added to anything where I want a little extra crunch.
If you’re the type to sip tequila blanco neat, you’ll want to snack on these.
Mango and chile are as perfect together as tortilla chips and melted cheese—the hot, slightly salty chile powder sings with mango’s tropical notes. These big, gummy mango slices are sold everywhere in Mexico City (even at street candy stands) and in Mexican grocers in the U.S. If you’re not in the mood to rim your cocktail glass with Chamoy, you can snack on bites of these with sips of your drink.
Tejano Pecan Pralines
I first saw these when I lived in San Antonio—a basket of these nut-filled goodies would sit next to the cash register at Mexican restaurants. While they’re exceedingly sweet, sometimes I want that after a spicy meal. Their history is worth noting, too—pecan pralines were historically made by Mexican immigrants in Texas.
Chokis Chocolate Chip Cookies
When I first tried Chokis in Mexico City, I assumed they’d taste like Chips Ahoy. How wrong I was. (And I like Chips Ahoy.) Chokis are so much better. I don’t know how they do it, and I have not read the ingredient label (on purpose) but they hit the spot when you’re craving a packaged cookie over something homemade. Store in the fridge for best results.
Chopped Jicama, Lime and Tajín
My mom made this often when I was growing up, except she used Pico de Gallo seasoning—a spicy, brick-red chile powder. I can’t find the former in New York, so Tajín is a good substitute. Sometimes it’s a pain to peel and chop jicama, because the vegetable can be lumpy and oversized and odd-shaped—the result here is worth it. The combination is crispy, refreshing, salty, and spicy all at once, which is exactly what your guests will crave after a drink or two.
Garlicky and salty and studded with fried bits of chile de árbol, Oaxacan peanuts are pretty much the only thing I want when I’m sipping a tequila blanco. They can be hard to find online; if you can’t it’s not too hard to make your own.
Obleas with Cajeta
Cajeta was invented in the Mexican town of Celaya, in Guanajuato state, and it’s a thick, luxurious dulce-de-leche-style spread, usually with a bit of funk from the goat’s milk that it’s made with. It is good on nearly everything. I love the textural contrast of obleas—a crispy, papery wafter encloses the chewy caramel.