There's nothing quite like discovering a new culture or a new place. And there's isn't anything that can teach you more about a new culture than its food. So while down in Mexico recently, instead of only eating at tourist traps or expensive restaurants on the main hotel strips my sister and I went out of my way to find where the locals ate. In Tulum, that meant a lot of street food! Here are 3 tips for finding authentic street food in Mexico that I learned while eating my fill of tacos.
My sister and I recently spent a week in the Mayan Riviera, four days of which were in Tulum. By the time I got there, my sister had already found a favorite taco cart and local restaurant, which is where we started our love affair with authentic street food in Mexico, deciding that we would find street food for dinner every night. I'm so glad that we made that choice early on, to seek out authentic food in new places. It added a sense of adventure each night when we set out to get dinner.
From tacos to tortas, burritos and sweet buns, our goal was to find authentic street food and boy did we succeed. Here are 3 tips for finding it yourself.
1. Keep Your Eyes Peeled
If you're visiting a city, it can be easy to stay in the main tourist areas, to not stray at all. But street food can be hiding in plain sight. From men pushing carts filled with pastries along the side of the road to a small cart lit up at night surrounded by people a block off of a busy intersection. If you keep your eyes peeled you will see opportunities to find authentic street food.
One night, we had planned on eating at a specific cart, but when we went to get dinner it wasn't open. Instead of getting disheartened and going to an expensive over-rated tourist trap, we remembered that when out and about earlier in the day that there was a lot of empty carts on a different street we'd walked down. We walked over to that area, whose carts had been closed earlier and that is where we found an open cart to try. Make sure you're paying attention to your surroundings, so you know where a good place to check out at a later time would be.
2. Know When to Look
As we found out when we tried to find dinner at a location we'd already tried, discovering it was closed, carts do not always open at the same time, nor are they open every night. There are a lot of authentic Mexican street food options open for specific times, just evenings or mornings for example. I don't know if any of them are open all day, at least none that we saw were.
It seems that authentic carts, tents, and restaurants are only open for a specific meal, whether that is breakfast, lunch or dinner just depends on the eatery. A place that is open for breakfast is not going to be open for dinner. And you're going to have a much harder time finding an authentic spot at an irregular time, think 11 am or 3 pm than you would at a meal time.
It was when we tried getting dinner early one night, that we realized we were eating outside of the regular meal times. Especially for dinner, Mexicans tend to eat later. Which left us a bit lost until we tried the next tip.
When our go-to spot was closed, we thought about where we'd seen other carts, but since it was an odd time of day, just after 5 pm none of those carts were open either. That's when we could've given up and gotten Subway at the gas station, but instead forged ahead, which if you've ever been a tired hungry tourist you understand may have been closer to happening than I care to admit. We began to wander up and down side streets and keeping our eyes peeled for a cart that had people. You see, the carts stay put at night, and it's not like they have hours posted on them. So when you're far away, a cart might look open, but it's not.
Eventually, after wandering for about 15 minutes, we found a cart that was just opening up early selling what I think was the best torta of the trip. Don't be scared about getting lost in a city you don't know, because I think getting lost is one of the best ways to learn a place, but also don't be ridiculous wandering into places or areas that don't feel right. Keep in mind that you want to keep those eyes peeled while wandering, for good food and for safety.
All in all, my favorite meals in Mexico were found along the side of a road. Whether a canopied storefront with plastic chairs or a line of stools cozied up to a cart, choosing to search and find authentic street food in Mexico is absolutely worth it. And in case it doesn't go without saying, remember to pay in Mexican pesos! Because while authentic Mexican street food may be easier to find than you think, they don't take credit.
Like what you read? Check out the itinerary for the vacation my sister and I took in Tulum and Cozumel!