The Queer Anti-Guide to Snacking in Mexico City
In D.F., street food (much like queerness) is a mix of new and old. Foreigners are told not to eat it, but who cares? Come and eat as much as you can.
Mexico City is a place of intersections and tensions. In el DF, glittery millionaires’ neighborhoods like Santa Fe rub up against the slums that their existence continuously reproduces. Discourses also move to, from, and through Mexico City, as concepts migrate from south to north and viceversa, always changing as they move. It was in this place of friction, both material and theoretical, that we found each other this summer, eating a lot of street food, and thinking about the complexity of translating concepts of the “queer” into a context where the term doesn’t carry the same historical baggage as in the US.
There are many points where queerness and snacks intersect (interact, fuck…). Queer culture and snack culture are both on the fringes of what’s considered normal, legal, and healthy; they stand as invitations to hedonism and the celebration of all bodies. We decided to write this guide in order to take you on a tour through the foods and the practices that escape the fancy restaurants and academia – through the cheap, the delicious, the informal and the unregulated; through the culinary and the queer street life of this humongous city.
Street food is widely available throughout el DF, yet its distribution and the forms it takes give us a lot of information about the structures of power that condition where it can be found. Police harassment against informal vendors in el metro has increased in the past couple of years, while food truck culture has suddenly become a trend in higher income neighborhoods. Street food here – much like queerness – is therefore a mix of new and old, always mutating, always sneaking around formal commercial networks, playful in its ingenuity, and at the same time often looked down upon. Foreigners are told not to eat it, but who cares? Let’s talk about the cheap food that (allegedly) will make you sick, and the practices that the people who eat these foods enjoy. Come and eat as much as you can; this guide is for you.
Before we get started, you should note that 1 USD equals about 17 Mexican pesos right now. This means you can get almost any food on this list for a dollar or less. But don’t be fooled, that doesn’t mean we chilangos buy everything we run into because it’s all oh-so-cheap. The minimum wage here is around $4.30 per day and the average Mexican has at least one dependent. You can do the depressing math yourself, or read this article if you know Spanish and want to dig more into the issue.
Elote (corn on the cob): Imported from the US – just like the term “queer” – and also like the term “reappropriated.” Here in el DF it’s best to eat it with delicious mayonnaise and cheese and of course our very own chili pepper. Call yourself queer here if you want to appear hip and well-traveled, or gather some courage and use the terms “puto,” “marica,” “lencha,” or even “transmarilencha,” which are reclaimed common slurs used against gay, lesbian, and trans people. If you really want to go with “queer,” at least try an alternative spelling, like “cuir” or “kuir” or even “kuyr”, which people are using to differentiate street culture from academia.
Churros Rellenos: Very phallic, like many other Mexican snacks. Enjoy the full experience by getting it stuffed with condensed milk, which will drip all over your hands for you to lick up. Sort of a “premium” snack food given the price-nutrition value ratio (meaning it’s just carbs). This is why their main location is Coyoacán or “Coyo” as chilangos who buy overpriced stuff like to call it. What can give you a more Mexican experience than walking around the streets Frida Kahlo had a horrible accident in, while munching on fried dough covered in refined sugar? If you’re a dude who holds onto your heterosexuality like it’s going out of style, churros rellenos just might change your mind (see the “Carta abierta a aquel sin dudar dice: soy heterosexual” or “An open letter to those who don’t hesitate to say: I’m heterosexual” in Foucault Para Encaphuchadxs).
Tortas: Take a telera (sandwich roll, but watch out, this is also a slang term for butt) or a bollo (different type of bread and, in Spain, also a slang term for lesbian), cut it in half, and stuff it with anything from cheese to breaded beef. Now use your machista creativity to name it something like Gloria Trevi if it has a lot of pierna (pork leg, we just call it “leg”) and there you have it: much more than a sandwich, much less than health on a stick but has that ever stopped you?
Hamburguesas y Hot Dogs: After a long night of dancing in Mexico City’s pink capitalism district par excellence, there’s nothing better than a hot dog wrapped in bacon, covered in mustard, ketchup, tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, mayonnaise, and relish, and accompanied by a Coca-Cola. Zona Rosa is the place to go for normative, de-politicized, overpriced gay shopping, partying, and flirting. This is why is also known as an important epicenter of Disgayland, which MARICARMEN so accurately depicts in this image:
Quesadillas: So you thought that quesadillas always have cheese in them, but that’s not how it is in Mexico City. Here, you can get a quesadilla de huitlacoche, for example, and it will just be a thick tortilla with delicious corn smut inside. Quesadillas have been around for a long time, just like homophobia, supremachismo (like, supremacy+machismo, get it?) and gay cis-men complaining about how vaginas are disgusting. The great thing about quesadillas is that you get to choose from a variety of options to combine and put inside them. For that reason, quesadillas remind us of what some queer performance artists in el DF have critiqued as the “neoliberal supermarket of identity,” where you can collect as many labels as you want without thinking critically about the fact that identities are not fixed, essential categories that always function the same way. Of course different bodies are differently subjected by power and some quesadilla ingredients are more available than others, but few people here request a long list of ingredients on their quesadilla, and few think that listing all of their intersecting identities is always a must.
Papitas, Chetos, y Chicharrones in Chapultepec: Looking for the best spot to make out with your polyamorous lover? Look no further than the park and forest at Chapultepec. If you need a referent to understand what Chapultepec is, think Central Park (fun fact: Central Park was inspired by the Alameda Central, a big park in El Centro where you can also find lots of street food) but with way more snacks. Like, infinite snacks. While you’re there, pick up a bag of chips, or green cheetos, or flour “chicharrones” (or all three) for only five pesos each. Don’t forget to drizzle them with hot sauce and lime juice and just a pinch of salt. If you feel the need to reaffirm your masculinity, follow the example of middle school Mexican boys everywhere by drinking the salsa out of the bottom of the bag once you’re done with your snacks.
Tlayudas: Huge fried tortillas covered in cactus leave, cheese, and salsa, they are crunchy and here in el DF they are vegetarian (they are originally from Oaxaca, where they do put meat on them). We usually hear meat-eaters talk about how it’s impossible to be a vegetarian in Mexico. Well, that’s far from true. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the diet in this region involved lots of ingredients like quelites, corn, cacao, purslane, mushrooms, amaranth and other plants, flowers, and legumes. The conquest introduced pork meat and European dairy into the diet and thus the new “mestizo” food was born. Check out this zine for a great example of some Latin American queer critiques of systems of oppression that include speciesism.
Tamales: Try the healthy variation, Fried Tamales.
Tacos in Mexico are probably a bit different from what you’re used to in the US. Usually made from two small, soft corn tortillas, you can get approximately one million different kinds of tacos pretty much anywhere you go here. The sheer variety of tacos requires that we give them their own little section, so in order to help you out, we’ve narrowed it down to focus on three of the queerest of them all. Conveniently, tortillera is both the name for a woman that makes tortillas and a slang term for lesbian. Wanna know why? Check out this cool video by Andrea Barragán, who showed it recently at La Muestra Marrana, an independent post-porn film festival focused on “showing audiovisual productions related to marginal and/or subversive sexualities.”
Tacos de Canasta: They are warm, they are sweaty (in fact they are also known as “tacos sudados” or “sweaty tacos”, so your mind should be in the gutter at this point), they are delicious and they wait for you inside a basket, on top of a bike. Unfortunately, you can normally only get them in the morning, so try not to be too hungover every day of your stay here. Alternatively, you can be hungover all the time and get them at El Zocalo after a protest, when they are also at their cheapest – 7 tacos for 10 pesos. To get the latest, most feminist updates on upcoming marches, follow el Bloque Rosa.
Tacos de Guisado: Four pesos for a taco de guisado (or stew) in El Centro will restore your faith in humanity. Double tortilla, free salsa and napkins, and they even have vegetarian options like huevo a la mexicana and chile relleno. There will be plenty of times you will need one of these to cheer you up. For example when you read about how when abortion was decriminalized in Mexico City, it started being more strictly prosecuted in the rest of the country and resulted in more women than ever being thrown in jail, even for having miscarriages. Or when you hear about the recent wave of harassment that feminist bloggers like La Menstruadora have been subject to. When you need a break from patriarchy and heterosexism, you can’t go wrong with tacos de guisado!
Tacos de Cabeza: Even if you only have an elementary school level of Spanish, you can probably tell that tacos de cabeza are, literally, “head tacos.” Made from the roasted head of beef cows, these might seem a little bit intimidating to the unaccustomed foreigner. But, if we’re talking queer praxis, we all know the most intimidating, least traversed activities often turn out to be the most fun. This brings us (appropriately, at the end of our digestive travels) to the asshole. A focal point of theory for its de-gendered, formerly abjected, now reappropriated and pleasureful functions, the asshole gets a lot of attention in Spanish speaking queer circles. For more on this, pick up a book like Por El Culo: Politicas Anales, which “traces the genealogy of one of the spaces least explored by theory, but most traversed in practice: anal space,” in order to look at the politics and practices of the asshole throughout history.
If you’re left feeling more confused about snacks and queerness in Mexico City than when we started, congratulations! You’ve made it through the anti-guide, and you’re part of the important tradition of recognizing that there is no singular understanding of queerness or culture. There will always be room for renegotiations of ideas and reinterpretations of old foods. So get out there, eat some snacks (among other things), and enjoy.