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What Is an Esquites?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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Esquites is a dish that takes its name from a native Mexican Indian language called Nahuatl; the dish consists of toasted corn that fashions a handy snack for many of those on the go in Mexico and surrounding areas. The Nahuatl word izquitl was translated into the Spanish Esquites.

In many presentations of this dish, cooks first boil corn, then sauté it in butter to provide the toasted yet edible consistency for this food. In some cases, cooks may also serve this in the form of whole corn ears similarly garnished with the same elements that the toasted corn recipes include. With the toasted corn snack, Esquites is often served in small cups, in what some cooks referred to as a “buttery broth.”

In some traditional areas where Esquites originated, this food is sold out of carts or small kiosks along the street. As part of popular street food, Esquites represents many of the aspects of other street foods; the butter element makes this dish rather high in fat, and quite tasty. In other presentations, this dish may be served indoors, for example, as part of a formal food event or celebration of Mexican food or street food traditions.

In addition to butter, cooks often add a number of other ingredients to Esquites for additional flavoring. Some of these include different varieties of hot peppers, such as chipotles, jalepenos, and peppers native to the areas of origin, as well as lime juice. Aside from these, the herb cilantro is often used for its distinctly fresh flavor, but another Mexican traditional herb is even more frequently included in the toasted corn dish. This is called epazote, and experts describe as having a pungent aroma and flavor that distinguishes the taste of the corn mix.

Those looking for authentic versions of this dish can get it in Tijuana and parts of Baja California, although some food experts claim that many of today’s food vendors are changing recipes from the traditional ones in order to cut costs. Travelers can often find this food item in the form of whole ears, where a grilled version may sell under the name of elotes asados, and a boiled whole ear form as elotes cocidos. The single kernel corn will often be sold as elotes desgranado and in the cup as elote de vaso. These versions may or may not contain some of the traditional herbs, but they do give buyers insight into how recipes for the dish have changed in Mexican street food culture.

Another of the most famous places to get this dish is in New York City, where specific food vendors offer this dish to tourists and locals alike. In these versions of the dish, cayenne pepper appears prominently. Certain cheeses are also usually added.

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