It would be hard for me to say what my favorite street food in Mexico is. We usually go out to a tianguis or market on the weekends, especially on Sundays when we go to the Sullivan tianguis to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. We always eat at the tianguis those days and even though we have several options, most of the time we end up at a stall where they sell sopes, quesadillas, gorditas and tlacoyos.
What are tlacoyos?
I usually end up ordering a couple of tlacoyos stuffed with either fava beans or requeson (a kind of Mexican ricotta cheese) and topped with nopales, salsa and cheese. But what are they exactly? I’ll let Diana Kennedy answer that:
Tlacoyo is the common name, a variation of the Nahuatl words tlatlaoyo and claclaoyo, given to an antojito typical of central Mexico: corn masa formed into a flattish elongated oval and stuffed often with ricotta, requeson [a fresh cheese similar to ricotta], or a paste of fava beans. They vary enormously in size from very large—about 5 or 6 inches, in Santiago Tianguistenco, Estado de Mexico—to medium—about 4 inches in Xochimilco—to very small—about 3 inches in Sierra Norte de Puebla.
Tlacoyos are very popular in the streets of Mexico City. Women—they’re always women for some reason—set up griddles over portable stoves that use gas or charcoal. They have a bucket full of corn masa. It can be blue, my favorite, white or yellow. The toppings for the tlacoyos varied, but in Mexico City the most common ones are cactus, grated cheese, and, as always, some kind of salsa.
It always amazes me how efficient this women are. They have a system that has worked for them for generations. In a very reduced space they have all the ingredients to make the tlacoyos (plus the quesadillas with all their fillings, sopes, and gorditas). My favorite one is the woman from the photo below. She arranges everything in such a way that she doesn’t even have to stand up. Sitting there on a sidewalk of downtown Mexico City she feeds dozens of hungry costumers a day. She’s so efficient!
On the Eat Mexico tours I often get asked what the difference between quesadillas, gorditas and tlacoyos are. The main difference is the shape. Gorditas are round and stuffed with chicharron prensado (pressed fried pork blocks, more on that in a future post) in Mexico City. Quesadillas are folded tortillas filled with different ingredients that may or may not come with cheese (this is what I call the quesadilla paradox), again, only in Mexico City. And tlacoyos is what Diana Kennedy explained above. Even though they are all made from the same nixtamalized corn masa, the shapes, fillings and toppings change giving them different flavors.
Making Tlacoyos at home
They look delicious right, but can you make this at home? It turns out tlacoyos are very easy to make at home. The most difficult ingredient to get is corn masa, but now in the U.S. and other countries is easy to get dehydrated corn masa flour (I believe maseca is the most popular brand). All you have to do is re-hydrate it following the instructions on the label.
For the filling you can use refried beans . And for the topping this nopales salad recipe works wonderfully. If you can’t get nopales easily, green beans, lettuce or bell peppers work fine as well. I just made tlacoyos for this post yesterday and, even though they weren’t perfectly shaped like the ones the street vendor ladies make, they were decent looking. What do you think?