Richard Lambert, the local chef behind the beloved (and now gone) Santa Barbara Tamales To Go, has turned his culinary talents toward Mexico City’s colorful street food scene with a new book, A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food, that turns the spotlight on the world’s number one travel destination (New York Times).
Lambert lived in Mexico City for much of last year with his daughter Juliet, who owns a restaurant and catering business there, and says he “grabbed the opportunity to eat my way across the city, finding something new on every street. The options are endless when there are an estimated half million street food vendors in the city.”
Cleverly written, with tongue-in-cheek chapter titles like “Tacos are King of the Night” and “The Salsa Tells You Who is Cooking,” Lambert’s 37-page guide provides street food recommendations, descriptive photos, food and health safety tips, and on-the-street videoclips. The ebook also comes with a separate 40-page Spanish-English glossary of food terms, which is particularly useful, as Lambert describes Mexico’s pambazos, tlayudas, arrachera, costras and huitlacoche as “some of the best street foods you’ve probably never heard of, and will have fun discovering.”
For the record, pambazos are a Torta (sandwich) that takes its name from the bread it is traditionally made with, pan basso. Lambert writes, “This peasant roll is chewy-tough and able to hold up well when it is split and fully dipped in guajillo chile sauce and briefly fried. The roll is then filled with potatoes, chorizo, refried beans, lettuce, crema, and garnished with queso fresco. This torta originated in Mexico City.”
He describes tlayudas as “large, thin crusted, fried or toasted tortilla covered with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and salsas. It is often called a Mexican pizza because it looks similar. The tlayuda originated in the state of Oaxaca.”
Arrachera is “thin sliced, grilled hanger steak with spice and cilantro marinade. (A) popular taco filling.” Costras are a “popular late night Mexico City street food item that is like a taco, but the ‘tortilla’ is made of cheese that is melted on a grill and then wrapped around the filling of your choice.”
Huitlacoche, (pronounced “wheet-lah-KOH-cheh”) is “a fungus that invades growing corn kernels and changes them into soft blackish lumps,” writes Lambert. “In the United States, it is called corn smut or devil’s corn, and is treated as a disease. In México, however, it is prized as a culinary delicacy and is even referred to as a Mexican truffle by gourmet chefs. Huitlacoche is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, burritos, soups, as well as other dishes.”
If those descriptions don’t make you hungry, flipping through the ebook’s colorful photos certainly will. A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food is $12.95, and may be ordered online here.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 12, 2017.