02 | Feb | 17

Hugh Thomas

Mexican Wave

Everyone eats tacos in Mexico. Everyone. They can be as simple as beans and salsa, folded into a circle of bread — no bigger than your hand — made from the flour of lime-soaked corn kernels. But tacos are ubiquitous.

We like to say that our street food is ‘for the people’, but in Mexico it’s more democratic than that. Martha Ortiz, whose restaurant in Mexico City consistently tops lists of the world’s greatest eateries – and is about to set up shop on London’s Park Lane – says it’s as democratic as a communion with the sun. Consider the shape of the tortilla, the taco, the lime, and you see what she’s getting at.

‘We also have tamales (mole, pork or chicken steamed in corn husks or banana leaf), and tortas (thick sandwiches) – we even have people making juices out on the street.’

Honestly, that barely covers it – see the rather extensive list of traditional antojitos – or ‘little cravings’ – for yourself. The point we want to make is this – street food in Mexico, much like in other cultures, is a part of their identity. It’s a 30 cent taco on the side of the road in Puebla. It’s an Rs 95 masala dosa from a man behind a cart in New Delhi. In Britain, we haven’t quite got that far. And probably never will.

We are turning out some great quality Mexican street food — all over the UK. There’s the Wahaca truck, Muchacho, Cantina Carnitas, Tamales, El Kantina, Cafe Horchata, La Choza, Little Taquero and The Mighty Mexican spring to mind. And, of course, Luardos (winner of a British Street Food Award back in 2012). We’re sure to see a strong shout from Mexican exponents in the 2017 British Street Food Awards.

But Martha refuses to open her own food truck. ‘Not in Mexico City, I don’t think it’s fair. And I’ll tell you why. Because a lot of poor people make their living off their street food. They’ve had their place for generations. I think you have to respect the way of living for people, through generations. When you have a poor country like mine, being successful means being responsible.’ Street food as a nationally accepted way of life sounds like a nice thing, but for us, it may be some way off…