Yes, saying you should eat fast food in Mexico is a bold claim, I know, but it really should be absolutely the first thing you eat in Mexico. I mean, what’s better than a reliable McDonald’s McMuffin, amirite?! Except no, of course I’m not right, and if you thought I was being serious, then you are an idiot.
Many, many things are better than a floppy McMuffin, especially in Mexico, where street food is literally on every corner and, might I add, fucking delicious. (The exception to this is possibly when I have a mild hangover, in which case I will happily stroll right past my friendly neighbourhood tacos de canasta vendor in favour of a stodgy, satisfying sausage and egg McMuffin. Judge away, I don’t care.)
However, I’m not here to sell you the wonders of Mexican street food – in fact, I’ll be talking about popular Mexican food in an upcoming post – but I am here to introduce you to the world of Mexican fast food. And if you think I’ve just switched from talking about McDonalds to talking about Taco Bell, then please leave this blog and never come back. (I’m kidding, recommend me to your friends!) No, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about comida corrida, a.k.a. Mexican fast food, and I’m actually writing this fresh from the fonda, so prepare for rampant enthusiasm throughout as I delve into this underrated Mexican culinary scene.
WHY EATING FAST FOOD IN MEXICO IS A MUST
I stand firm that comida corrida is an underrated and valuable aspect of Mexico’s much hyped food scene that is horrendously overlooked by the casual visitor to the country, who instead spends time filling up on streetside tacos and wondering why they ever thought a US hard shelled version was ever an acceptable a snack. Alternatively, they dive headfirst into Roma and Condesa’s (largely) inauthentic dining scene and write an earnest thinkpiece on why Mexican food is so much more than just tacos, guys. I kid, I kid (mainly) and I have definitely written that thinkpiece. But, in all seriousness, there are very much two types of foodie traveller in Mexico and those are both of them. The third kind is the one who wanders the streets in a state of baffled confusion wondering where the chimichangas at, and, quite frankly, I don’t wish to count them among people who claim to know real Mexican food. PSA: Tex Mex is a very different thing, people.
Anyway, let’s reel this tangential rant back towards the topic at hand, shall we. So, fast food. As I mentioned above, I’m talking about comida corrida, the staple of any good Mexican lunch time. While it literally translates to fast food, I should probably make it clear that I know comida corrida isn’t actually fast food a la McDonald’s, before anyone in the comments shouts at me for a gross lack of understanding. However, it is food and it is fast.
WHAT IS COMIDA CORRIDA?
Comida corrida refers specifically to a (usually) three course meal, made up of a soup or salad starter (but more commonly soup) followed by a main course accompanied by rice or spaghetti (Mexicans seem to accompany everything with spaghetti, even their Christmas dinner), and topped off with a dessert (this is usually the weakest of the comida corridas three courses, to be fair). This all comes with juice, typically agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus flower juice) and accompanied by either the ubiquitous tortilla or a bread roll. Here’s a typical example of a comida corrida menu, in my experience.
Entrada: Consomé de pollo o sopa de pasta
Starter: Chicken consomé or soup with pasta shapes.
Arroz o espaguetti
Rice or spaghetti
Plato Fuerte: Enchiladas de pollo, carne asada con nopales, chile relleno de queso y frijoles.
Main Course: Chicken enchiladas, beef with cactus, a chile stuffed with cheese and beans.
Postre: Pay de limón o pan de elote
Dessert: Lemon pie or ‘sweetcorn bread’ (far nicer than the translation makes out)
I feel obliged to mention the fact that the dessert is often the weakest part of the otherwise excellent comida corrida experience – sometimes you’ll get something delicious like a lemon pie or strawberries and cream (never cream, always strawberry flavoured liquid yoghurt). Other times you’ll get a handful of chewy sweets with the bill that taste like medicine. You win some, you lose some.
WHY SHOULD I EAT COMIDA CORRIDA?
But why exactly should I eat this fast food, I hear you crying from behind your screen, wondering why I haven’t got the climax of my argument yet. Well, there is a simple, threefold answer to that – it’s cheap, it’s delicious and it’s speedy. It’s essentially everything that fast food a la McDonald’s isn’t (hungover McMuffin’s aside).
Firstly, a three-course selection of the options mentioned above can be had for the low, low price of just $80. For the mathematically challenged, that’s less than a Starbucks in the airport and equates to around £3.50 or US$4.50. So, really fucking cheap, basically. Of course, there are plenty of comida corridas that will charge up to and over $100 for a meal, but they’re few and far between.
Secondly, you get the benefit of having an actual table to sit down at, rather than a dangerously flimsy plastic stool that are sometimes provided at the periphery of street taco stands. This is essential for people as lazy as I am. Plus, there’s usually a suitably boxy TV playing a dubbed 90s film or some exquisitely campy telenovela in the corner. Eating at a fonda, or as I like to (wrongly) call them, a comida corrida, is quite the cultural experience.
Comida corrida is also genuinely delicious and amongst some of the most authentic, homecooked and best Mexican food you can find. In fact, I’ve never had a comida corrida I didn’t like. Except maybe the ones served up in the canteen where I work, but they cost $35 and, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. As a ballpark, don’t go for a comida corrida that costs less than $50.
Finally, you really do get in and out quickly. If you’re busy say, following my overambitious literary tour of the historic centre, and want to grab something to eat quickly, there’s no better place than a traditional Mexican fonda, a.k.a. the name for the place where they serve comida corrida.
WHERE CAN I FIND A GREAT FONDA?
Ahh, this is where I come dangerously unstuck. I can’t give you any specific recommendations in your hunt for the best Mexican fast food, like I could if I were rich and writing a post about the best Mexican restaurants, for example. Long story short, fondas are literally everywhere and you pretty much have to just stumble across them. (That, or you just go to the one closest to your house like me, because it’s easier.) Either way, they’re a total word of mouth phenomenon.
However, I can give you some useful pointers to find a decent one:
- Look for the fonda with the highest concentration of Mexicans eating there. If it’s empty at 2pm, there’s a reason.
- If it’s got kitschy décor or a boxy, retro TV playing a telenovela, it’s a safe bet. Picture what the house of a Mexican grandma probably looks like, and if the fonda you’ve found looks something like that, you’re good to go.
- Don’t pay less than $50, because…well, there might be a reason it’s so cheap. I mean, you can if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Find one that offers a decent selection of options for the main course. If they’re only letting you choose between two dishes, trouble’s afoot.
So, there you go, a not-at-all-ranty, totally articulate explanation of exactly why you need to eat fast food in Mexico. Basically, as long as you eat at a fonda once during your visit, I won’t judge you for sneak-buying that McDonalds McMuffin when you’re hungover. You’re welcome.
If you genuinely have some great fonda recommendations though, leave them in the comments below and pin, pin, pin!