City Guide to Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico: Part 3 | Traditional Food
How could you not indulge on traditional Mexican food in Santiago de Queretaro! From home cooked meals to restaurants and street food, there wasn’t much we didn’t absolutely love. We tried nopales, sopes, pozole, menudo, street tacos, gorditas, mole, and more…
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When it comes to Mexican food we might be a bit biased, as we both grew up eating it. Sergio had the luxury of ‘normal’ being home cooked traditional Mexican meals and Shannon grew up with it all around her in southern California. Needless to say, Mexican food is a favorite for both of us!
On most streets, even residential ones, restaurants and street food vendors were scattered about. Plus, the hotels we stayed at (for our 41 Day Hilton Mattress Run!) all served traditional food for breakfast.
Hot Sauce, Salsa, Pico de Gallo, and Chili Powder
There’s no escaping it, Mexican food is spicy and everything seems to include some sort of chili. Whatever type of food you’re trying, if you ask what the traditional way to eat it is, you’re likely going to be told to add chili powder, salsa, or something similar to it.
If you’re not accustom to heat in your food or that little tingle when the spice sits on your tongue and lips, be prepared for a shock the first few times you chow down on local food. Seriously, it’s not uncommon to find that even orange slices, jicama, and watermelon are sprinkled with chili powder!
It’s safe to say that Shannon enjoyed the variety of salsas, but it’s more appropriate to say that Sergio loved all of the salsa options. At one point, when we had 4 or 5 options on the table, he commented that it was his type of meal, having a ‘salsa buffet’!
Also, don't be surprised when you’re purchasing street food and you get a small plastic bag with several spoonfuls of salsa.
Tip: If you’re heat/spice adverse, be cautious with what you eat. Be sure to ask if it’s spicy, but still proceed with caution if you’re told it’s not. What’s not spicy to someone who’s grown up with spicy food is probably high on the scale to someone unaccustomed to heat on their palate.
Want to bring that traditional spicy Mexican taste home and heat up your kitchen? From the basics to the complex, we've got you covered!
Nopal is one of the most common vegetables in Mexico. At first, you might find it strange to walk into a grocery store and find a large section of fresh cactus in the produce area, but it’s incredibly common.
We preferred to purchase cactus at a Tianguis, an open-air market, since it was less than $0.50 USD a pound for cleaned and sliced nopales. To prepare them we steamed them with a small amount of olive oil, onion, and garlic. Sergio couldn’t get enough of this delicious veggie (Sergio here! I must have eaten over 10 pounds of nopales in less than a week!)
If we were to imagine what American Nachos would be in Mexico, they’d be Chilaquiles. They are best made with fresh tortilla chips, a tomatillo based salsa (green salsa) or red salsa, Mexican white cheese, and crema Mexicana (Mexican cream which has a consistency that is thinner and less sour than American sour cream).
They’re often served for breakfast with eggs and beans, and unlike nachos, they’re eaten with a fork.
Menudo is a bit more of a hit or miss food when it comes to the average American palate. It’s a very traditional soup with a red chili pepper base, that’s flavored with lime, onions, and oregano. The kicker is the main ingredient of tripe (beef stomach). Tripe has a gummy texture that leaves most people either loving it or hating it!
Pozole is a hominy based stew that’s traditionally made with pork, chili peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, and limes.
Maize (hominy) was a sacred food to the Aztecs making Pozole a traditional food served on special occasions and celebrations.
Mole is a very traditional, dark and rich sauce. Recipes vary, but usually consist of a variety of chilis, chocolate, tomatillos, sugar, spices, nuts, and vegetables, which are all roasted and ground to a paste. Once the paste is ready, water is added and the mixture is allowed to simmer until it reaches a thickened consistency.
The most popular type of mole is Mole Poblano, which you may have guessed originates from the Mexican State of Puebla. To round out the hearty flavor of the dish, Mole is often served as a savory meal with meat and rice.
A sweet bread that was adapted and popularized by the Spanish. Pan Dulce is mostly served for breakfast, but enjoyed throughout the day as well.
There are several varieties of Pan Dulce, including besos, campechanas, conchas, cuernos, empanadas, cochinitos, molletes, and yoyos, to name only a few. They can be purchased at markets, grocery stores, and at bakeries (panaderias).
Sopes are often compared to tostadas. They’re similarly made with a base of corn which is fried and then topped with salsa, beans, cheese, and a variety of other toppings. However, a sope varies from a tostada in that it isn’t as thin and it isn’t fried until completely crispy. Instead, a sope is thicker (about a quarter of an inch), has an outer raised edger, and is fried just slightly, leaving it with a more pliable base to fill with toppings.
Gordita means chubby in Spanish, so it makes sense that it’s the name for a thick corn tortilla stuffed with traditional Mexican ingredients (beans, meat, cheese, etc). There’s both a fried and a baked version and it’s a very common street food.
Think of a Gordita as being similar to a sope in that it’s made with corn maize and is about the same thickness. But unlike a sope, the yummy ingredients go on the inside instead of on top!
Corn tortillas are like a Westerner’s bread. They’re served with every meal, they’re never eaten sparingly, and can be bought inexpensively and fresh in most grocery stores. And like bread, tortillas can be made from a variety of ingredients, including white corn, yellow corn, black corn, and ground nopales to name a few!
Seriously, warm freshly handmade tortillas are like Pringles, 'once you pop you can’t stop'! We bet you’ll eat more than one!
Once you've tasted fresh handmade tortillas you might have trouble going back to the prepackaged ones. So, make your own at home and take your tacos and burritos to the next level!
In and of itself tacos are pretty darn good, but there’s something absolutely delicious about enjoying the simplicity of a street taco among cobble stone streets in Mexico.
From a street vendor, in a small corn tortilla you get your choice of meat filling plus a few simple toppings, made fresh right in front of you. Their delicious!
Not all tacos are created equally. Let these recipes inspire you and open your tummy to the delights of everything taco!
Chicharrones (Pork Rinds)
Chicharrones are a common snack that can be found at supermarkets, street vendors, or street markets (tianguis). This salty snack is made of pig skin and fat which is fried up to a crunchy puff.
The pre-packaged pork rinds found in the US are no comparison to the freshly made chicharrones you can find in Mexico!
Common Foods and Ingredients
Among the dishes listed above, there are many other common foods you’ll find when eating out in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico. They may be familiar to you, but are likely nowhere near as common or inexpensive in Mexico as they are at home.
Refried (refritos) and whole (enteros) beans are, like tortillas, part of almost every meal. Black beans, pinto beans, and white beans are most common.
A common snack that helps fight the heat in Santiago de Queretaro is ice-cold fresh fruit. It can be purchased pre-cut and in cups at local markets and food stands, or prepared at home and enjoyed as part of breakfast or after dinner.
Depending on the time of year during your visit, the type of fruit will vary. On our visit we enjoyed cups of jicama, guanabana, and mamey, which are all fruits that are less common and much more expensive in the United States. We also indulged on more common fruits like papaya, guavas, and mango, all served with chili powder of course!
Tip: Your best option to not get sick is to stick with fruits that have been peeled.
To our delight, avocado is a common ingredient and garnish to many Mexican dishes. Enjoy the creamy texture and healthy fats while adding some color to your plate.
Bring all of these ingredients together and delight your senses with home cooked traditional Mexican meals!
Cleaning and Preparing Produce
Most people have heard that drinking the water in Mexico is a no-no. To add to this, please remember that you want to make sure any uncooked food you eat has been cleaned well (we used Microdyn which is available at most grocery stores).
Avoid tap water and only drink bottled water, it’s inexpensive and readily available in grocery stores.
Also, consider declining ice in your drinks. We were often assured that water was filtered, but we didn’t want to risk getting sick because of an outdated filter.
Tips for Finding Great Traditional Mexican Food in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico
- When eating out, the closer you are to the center of the city, the higher the likelihood you’re going to be paying tourist prices. Venture out of city center and stop at a local restaurant, food stand, or market to get the best prices. We saw a 50-300% price increase in tourist areas.
- If you’re looking for authentic, traditional, and delicious Mexican food, look for places where the locals eat. If you end up in a place with more tourists than locals, it might be a good idea to keep looking.
- Ask a local for recommendations on where to eat. We didn’t always get the best results, but we always had an authentic meal experience.
- Many places are still cash based, so make sure you have plenty with you before you start your meal! We recommend asking ahead of time if they accept credit card (‘tarjeta de credito’) or only cash (‘effectivo’).
We think it might be clear from the article, but in case it needs to be reiterated, we love traditional Mexican food! We’ve listed only a few of our favorites from our time in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico but there are so many options of traditional food depending on the region of Mexico you’re visiting. It’s hard to only choose one dish, so maybe try them all?!