The Best of La Paz Street Food: Part 2 of 2
Updated: May 10
Hello, hungry travellers! Welcome to Part 2 of our mini-series on the absolute best street foods here in La Paz.
I trust in the last week you’ve had time to head over to the downtown Aramburo supermarket to pick up some steamy tamales from the vendor out front, and also gotten up early enough one morning to savour the flavour bombs that are tacos de carnitas. If you are reading this but missed last week’s Part 1, covering these essential yummies as well as the indigenous Baja fish taco, head over there now and catch up!
Today, I’m going to tell you about the last three of the five best street foods in La Paz, along with the location of my favourite vendors and how to ask for what you want once you get there.
3. Elotes and Esquites
These snacks are probably the most popular use of whole-kernel corn in Mexico today!
More than a staple food in Mexico, corn is alive with history. Harvested for more than 10,000 years and in more sizes and colours than you can imagine, to the Mexican people corn represents a gift from the gods.
Both elotes (ay-lo-tays) and esquites (es-ki-tes) come from cobs of corn that have been boiled or roasted, and then traditionally served to the customer with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, a sprinkle of smokey chili powder, and some salt. The only difference between elotes and esquites is that elotes are served on the cob and esquites have the corn kernels
shaved off the cob for you and served in a cup with a spoon.
Today, most La Paz vendors also offer a
mayonnaise-based cream sauce and cotija cheese, similar to a mild feta, on top of the traditional lime juice and spices (these ingredients aren’t considered “traditional” because dairy wasn’t part of the diet in Mexico until after the Spaniards introduced domesticated cows and goats). Some vendors go one giant leap further into the loving arms of the new generation, and mix the whole thing up in a bag of Tostitoes chips with a nice squirt of chamoy sauce over everything!
I find that the best way to baby-step this street food for first-timers is to ask for, “solo un poco de mayonesa, por favor”, or even, “sin chamoy”, for those of us who don’t have the pallet for the spicy-sweet candy flavours that are so popular in Mexico but are definitely not something we’re used to a little further north. If you wanna just jump in with both feet, ask for, “con todo, por favor”!
Protip: If you’re originally from countries such as Canada or the United States, then you have likely been raised with sweet yellow corn. The elote corn kernel is white and more starchy than what you’re used to, so know that most of the incredible flavour here comes from the combinations of the toppings, with the shy but revered white corn acting as the solid foundation from which this truly Mexican street food shines.
Author’s favourite spot: Elotes Don Pablo (calle 16 de Septiembre right across from where calle Mutualismo dead-ends). Definitely don’t miss grabbing one of the fresh and refreshing “waters” that are on sale here as well, such as agua de jamaica (cold, sweetened hibiscus flower tea) or agua de naranja (lightly sweetened orange juice with water)!
The next street food is a mostly-healthy sweet treat that may just roll right into your life when you need it most. But, do keep your ears tuned because camote street vendors will often be heard before they are seen or smelled (more on this soon!)
A camote is a sweet potato or plantain that’s been roasted on a bed of charcoal and then topped with strawberry jam or sweetened condensed milk (This street food snack has been generalized to be known as “camotes”, but technically “camote” is the roasted sweet potato so if you want the plantain version you have to ask for “platano macho”). Camotes don’t stay in one place for long, as the vendors continuously wind up and down neighbourhood streets, generally in the late afternoons.
If you’ve got the craving or want to try one for the first time, the secret is in recognizing the long, slow, medium-to-high-pitched whistle that summons young and old to come running with their pesos in hand. The famous whistle isn’t a gimmick, but is actually the steam repeatedly escaping the oven through a one-way valve in the cart’s chimney; to serve them hot and fresh, the cooking happens right there within the vendor's cart!
Author’s favourite spot: Whichever one is closest. Since this street food snack is actually fairly simple in its elements and the vendors always move about, I just follow the first whistle I hear!
I’m going to finish this Best of La Paz Street Food list with a quintessentially paceño creation. Here, in the city of peace, a hot dog is not simply a hot dog. Not even close to what you find grilling on street corners around New York City or Toronto.
The La Paz hate or jate (ha-tay), dating back to the 1970s, is a hot dog wrapped in bacon, grilled on a flattop then tucked into a warmed bun, and necessarily topped with a mayonnaise-cream sauce, diced white onions, and diced tomatoes, as well as perhaps a few dollops of spicy salsa.
It took this Toronto writer a bite or two to adapt, but now I’m not sure I could ever go back to the simple ketchup, mustard and relish days of my youth. What the hot dogs themselves might lack in size (they’re not Italian sausages or ballpark franks, but simple hot dogs) they make up for in toppings and character!
Author’s favourite spot: Hates El Curra, on the corner of the Art Museum of Baja California Sur, near the downtown Cathedral (calle Belsario Dominguez and calle Independencia). Centrally located on a well-lit street corner, perfect for that late-night snack.
By: Terri Lynn Manna