From Lake to Plate: How Charales Became Mexico's Favorite Snack Food

Discover the unique and delicious charales, a type of small fish found in the lake areas of Mexico. Find out how to enjoy them as a snack or as an ingredient in various dishes, and explore their close relative, the ajolote.

From Lake to Plate: How Charales Became Mexico's Favorite Snack Food
Small but mighty: Charales are a popular snack food in the lake areas of Mexico, often enjoyed fried and whole. Credit: Conapesca

Charales, also known as charare in the Purépecha language, are several species of small fish that can be found in the lake areas of Mexico, particularly in Michoacán, Jalisco, and the State of Mexico. These tiny fish are no more than ten centimeters long and some are almost transparent. In this article, we will delve into the unique features and culinary uses of charales.

Appearance and Habitat

Charales are small freshwater fish that belong to the order Characiformes. They are characterized by their elongated body, small scales, and lack of adipose fin. They have a wide distribution across North and Central America and can be found in a variety of habitats, including rivers, lakes, and ponds.

Culinary Uses

In Mexico, charales are a popular snack food that is enjoyed fried and whole. The small size of the fish makes it difficult to remove the entrails or bones, so they are typically consumed whole. To enhance their flavor, charales are often served with rattlesnake chili sauce and lime, which gives them a tangy and spicy taste.

In addition to being served as a snack, charales are also used in various dishes, including tamales and roasted in corncob leaves. Nowadays, they are mostly consumed in a dehydrated form, but when fresh, they are roasted and served with different types of sauces and guacamole. In the State of Mexico, charales are often made in mextlapique, a kind of tamale without dough.

Ajolote: A Close Relative

Another fish that is widely consumed in the State of Mexico is the ajolote. Although it is said to originate from Lake Patzcuaro, in Michoacan, it is raised in large quantities in the dams and lagoons of the State of Mexico. The ajolote is a close relative of the charales and is also a popular food item in the region. The fish itself may not be aesthetically pleasing, but its meat is considered to be very tasty and its flavor can be compared to that of a frog.


Charales are a unique and delicious food item that can be found in the lake areas of Mexico. While they may be small in size, their flavor and texture make them popular snacks and ingredients in various dishes. If you ever find yourself in the lake areas of Mexico, be sure to try these tiny fish and experience their exquisite taste for yourself.

In-Text Citation: Rosita Sánchez, Rosita and Estado de México. Conversación En La Cocina, Gastronomía Mexiquense. 1st ed., Mexico, Estado de México, 2006.