Starting at 3, Mexican children during pre-Hispanic times ate half a tortilla a day. Between 4 and 5, they ate a whole tortilla. From 6 to 12, they enjoyed a tortilla and a half, and from the age of 13 on, they could eat two tortillas, said the Codex Mendoza, a document from the 1540s.
That might still be true for some Mexicans, but many believe two tortillas are not enough. Corn is the quintessential Mexican product, and Mexicans enjoy it in many presentations. Snacks — called in Spanish “antojitos,” meaning little cravings — are among the most popular ways to have it.
“If it were not for corn dough, Mexican gastronomy wouldn’t exist,” said Susana Cruz Montalvo, owner of the Doña Susy family restaurant in Boca del Río, Veracruz, Mexico.
Mexican cuisine is so flexible there is a different antojito for any occasion or time of the day.
In Mexico City, where people travel long distances to work, they can grab an antojito in any of the dozens of stalls located outside the subway stations. Vendors usually offer quesadillas, tacos, tamales, huaraches or gorditas, among an endless variety of snacks.
But antojitos are not sold only in large cities. Any Mexican town has a favorite antojito stall, sometimes located in the corner of well-established restaurants.
Most antojitos have a corn base and include a type of salsa or another spicy condiment.
“Antojitos are what we sell the most at night. Many people buy them because they have cream, cheese and salsa,” said Cruz Montalvo. “The combination is yummy. What people buy the most are panuchos, empanadas or tostadas.”
Another plus: Antojitos are affordable. They can range from 8 to 12 pesos [$0.40 to $0.60], depending on their ingredients.
Many Mexicans choose to have antojitos at lunch because they are quick to prepare. The Mexican alternative to American fast food, they are convenient for workers who have little time to eat.
However, not all antojitos are available for lunch.
“I buy antojitos at night because my family likes empanadas, panuchos and garnachas very much,” said Mauricio Espinosa Vázquez, a father and worker in a construction company in the city of Veracruz. “I spend about 100 pesos [5 dollars] buying antojitos for [me], my wife and child. And I can still buy a soft drink to accompany our dinner,” said Espinosa Vázquez.
Try to make a traditional gordita from Veracruz.
1 1/2 cup of corn masa
1/2 cup of ground beans
1 tablespoon of lard or vegetable oil
3/4 cup of hot water
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Combine the flour with the salt and add the hot water little by little until you get a soft dough. Add the ground beans and let the mix sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of lard or vegetable oil.
Make balls of the desired size with the dough, smash them to give them the gordita shape. Fry them for about two minutes on each side. They should turn golden but not burn.
Serve with cheese, salsa or add whatever filling the diners want.
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel)