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Popusas, bành me or tongue tacos … they sound like dishes from a new David Chang menu or even from a Mexican like Edgar Nuñez, right?

Sidewalk food or street food as foodies know it all over the world, has turned into an undeniable source of inspiration for hard working restaurants made by highly respected chefs; and there is nothing more authentic than food coming from the hustle and bustle of traditional neighborhoods from any city in the world, that we’ve all enjoyed on countless occasions and that, historically, have generated a sense of community.

Chilango pride with gourmet quality

And if you’re wondering why we consider ourselves experts on this subject, the answer is simple: Mexico City, through its thousands of sidewalks, houses gastronomic secret indulgences such as the machete cut brains of Amparito in the Colonia Guerrero or exotic tacos de obispo and pork cheese at Tacos Toluca, hidden in the city’s historical center – if you dare to try them, I assure you will fall and love to such a degree you’ll put its peculiar preparations behind you. 

It is no coincidence that Forbes, in the “The World’s Top 10 Cities for Street Food”, points to Mexico City as a must to immerse yourself in hundreds of sidewalk food options that delight the most demanding connoisseurs and that over time have helped the gastronomic tourism expand its horizons beyond the typical trending restaurants. 

Let’s forget tacos al pastor exist for a moment and the giant tortas that invade the whole city; we would still have such a wide menu, it would be impossible to cover in one single day. It would go something like this: to start the day how would you feel about a beans tlacoyo, fresh cheese and pickled nopalitos.

At noon, when the belly starts craving something sweet, a couple of taquitos of adobo pig beans and potatoes coming fresh out of one of those warm baskets being carried around the city. For lunch, something a little more complete, to end up fully satisfied, the Mexican way; maybe a chicken broth with a lot of tortillas, green chile and some stuffed huazontles with cheese and tomato sauce, sounds good? 

And to finish praising the sidewalk, an appetizer to match perfectly with the night, an order of esquites with bone marrow. 

Tell me if not the most renowned chefs in the city have taken inspiration in these dishes to make their own menus?

At the end of the first season of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil” show, its friendly presenter, Phil Rosenthal, chose Mexico City as the perfect place to show precisely that intrinsic relationship between what happens on the streets and its impact on chef driven restaurants and could not have described it in the best way:

“This city was not at all what I expected, of course, the classic flavours were definitely there and exceeded my expectations, but the most incredible thing was to discover that they are bubbling new flavours full of innovation and soul that come directly from the streets and their roots. “

Photo from Iván Moreno

The indulgence of a plan B

The loved Anthony Bourdain, regularly said that “the most memorable meals on a vacation, many times end up happening when Plan A fails and you end up going out to the street looking for options”.

This vision allowed him to show us, in his various TV shows, a universe of delicious possibilities and many times as sophisticated as a Michelin-quality dish; and in July 2016, this point of view gained international relevance, when the guide included Chan Hon Meng, in the Chinatown Complex market in Singapore as the first street food restaurant with a star thanks to its hero dish “Chicken in soy sauce” that costs only 2 USD.

With more and more strength, sidewalks around the world are being much more visible thanks to global media, through shows such as Ugly Delicious or Street Food by Netflix and also by digital channels such as Eater and Vice; which have gained interest in foodies around the world – according to the Global Gastronomic Tourism Report, prepared by The World Tourism Organization in 2018, cities off the foodie map such as Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan, are now being considered a must to discover their streets and hidden delights in 2019.

Plans B’s have a particular magnetism because around them there is always a charming bustle, a whole community that constantly invites you to try their iconic dishes, because as a consumer you are not only enjoying something delicious, but also living part of the culture that everyday gives an identity to the city.

Photo from Iván Moreno

For example, in the dizzying Osaka there is nothing more interesting than walking through one of its pedestrian markets and try a glazed octopus brochette, stuffed with a quail egg, called Tako Tamago; or what I’ve been told about traveling through Lima in search of the perfect anticucho, a delicious brochette of different types of meat that hugs you every time you taste it; and for the ones with the biggest appetite, discovering the south of the US by tasting delicious “Fried Chicken” sandwiches with pickled gherkins and a variety of sauces that without a doubt invite you to suck your fingers.

So, how are sidewalks as attractive as gourmet places?

Sidewalk food takes us to the moments in which we began our gastronomic adventures: when our parents or family took us to the corner for a treat, when among friends we began to discover the city and we dared each other to try those “garnachas”- that will always remain in our memory even as a symbol of rebellion, we were brave enough to eat in that forbidden place that we ended up loving. 

It is no coincidence that we’re seeing more and more of this type of food in award-winning restaurants; because just like us ordinary foodies, the most recognized chefs also lived these kind of stories and today they have the opportunity to praise them and keep them alive with much more refined techniques. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing more inclusive than eating on the sidewalk and there is nothing better than sharing it with everyone. Bon appétit.