I didn’t need to go to Mexico City to try a tlacoyo. I know that I can find them in NYC from both street vendors and restaurants. But the tlacoyo was the Mexican antojito that I did want to try for the first time while in Mexico, for whatever reason. Instagram and word-of-mouth recommendations would lead me to the Mercado de Medellín in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood. Just outside the market, on the street corner, a mother and daughter supply passersby with the little oval-shaped snack, in addition to quesadillas and gorditas. The hot comal sits between the two of them. The mother does all the work with the raw masa, while the daughter handles the transactions, finishes, plates, and packs up the snacks.
Around the comal are a few overturned buckets. One became my place of lunch, but the others were mostly used for people waiting for their to-go orders. A few teenagers walked away with fat stacks, the “con todos” toppings of cheese, cilantro, and nopales (cactus) seaparately packaged in neat little bags. The choice of salsa is the standard rojo or verde, and you choose based on what flavour profile you prefer. The difference in heat level changes with every maker. It’s a roll of the dice if you’re sensitive.
As I’ve never had a Latin American snack with mashed fava beans, that was the filling I chose for my tlacoyo. The hot oval gets slashed and then stuffed with the toppings. Left alone they would be on the dry side, so the mix of all the toppings against the crisped, warm masa cake is what makes the experience. Inhaling the aroma of the cooked corn, tasting the brightness of the cilantro, chewing the cactus, feeling the slight burn of the salsa. Two minutes of eating I will never forget.
The tlacoyos were smaller than I was expecting, and so I also ordered a simple cheese quesadilla. Whatever the cheese was, it was exactly the kind you want melted. It was near molten when it was first served to me, and then as it cooled it got soft and stringy without being rubbery. I would want it on a pizza. With my appetite now revving, I couldn’t walk away without ordering a gordita con chicharron. Based on my eating experience, I can only say that a gordita is a cousin to the Salvadorean pupusa. It, too, gets split and stuffed with toppings and salsa. It was not the reason I came, but it was definitely my favourite. Because, pork fat.
The 15 minutes I spent on that corner was wholly not extraordinary. It was a quiet Monday at the market. The ladies’ business was steady but slow enough at that moment that I could grab a bucket and only had to wait for my snacks to be cooked. My outsider status brought no extra attention. There was little chit chat as most of the other people eating or waiting were also alone. Street and construction noise was the soundtrack. Although recommended to me and easy to find, this stall would have contemporaries across the city and across the country. All delicious, all worthy of an Instagram. For me, these ladies become special and burned into Internet memory because they cooked me lunch on my 37th birthday. And they did so for only $2. In my mind, it was a gift.