Snapshots from Mexico: Elote and Esquite

[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

Ah, corn on the cob. Nothing like a buttery ear—so simple, so delicious. While in Veracruz, Mexico, recently*, I passed carts in Coatepec Square hawking cups of kernels and fresh ears covered in not just butter but lime juice, chile powder, cheese, and mayo too. Sound familiar? I'm talking about elote and esquites.


Elote vs. Esquites

Corn in Mexico is commonly found in two forms: elote and esquites.

Elote is straight-up corn on the cob, slathered in assorted accoutrements: the messier, the better.

As I was traveling with people I'd met a mere ten hours earlier, I was glad to find the esquites: small, layered cups of the coated corn kernels that we could share with spoons to preserve dignity.

Picante or suave?

How to Make Elote

Preparing elote is pretty simple. First, the corn gets either grilled or boiled in husks. After peeling the husks back to form insta-handles, the fun begins: toppings time.

Paint the ear with a layer of lime juice-tinged mayonnaise. (For the mayo-squeamish like me: don't fret, it's not mandatory. It's also acceptable to request cream instead.)

Then, sprinkle a healthy dousing of grated cotija cheese and spice to taste. Carts typically have at least two chile powder options, from the spicy picante to the milder suave; some offer more gourmet selections, such as chile de arbol con cacahuate (peanut).


Various chiles ripe for the choosing.

Think of Them Like Leggings...

Eating elote is like wearing gold lamé leggings: you might as well go big. Don't be surprised when someone tells you've got a half-dozen corn kernels on your face! Meanwhile, esquites align more with black leggings: sure, they go with almost everything, but are way more subtle. Either way, it's time to embrace the comfort of this trend.


Finding Elote Stateside

Where have you found good elote? Please post other favorite spots in the comments.

If you're in NYC, try Cafe Habana ($4.25/ear), Pinche Taqueria ($3/ear), and La Superior in Williamsburg (the world capital of gold lamé, if we're still talking leggings). If you're looking for esquites from a truck, head to The Esquites Man ($2/cup) in Sunset Park.

In Boston, it's on the menu as "Maiz Asado" at Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette's Toro Restaurant for $6/plate.

Make It Yourself

TV personality and cookbook author Sara Moulton has a basic recipe with a fancy twist: she slathers homemade jalapeno mayonnaise and guajillo chile powder on top. Elotes Asados con Chile, anyone?

Check out the slideshow for more photos of the cart-to-cup process »

* Special thanks to our friends at Kahlúa who sponsored this trip to Mexico. Stay tuned next week for our bean-to-bottle tour.