Esquites, the most popular corn craving in Mexico

Esquites or Ezquites comes from the Nahuatl word Ízquitl, from Icehqui meaning 'toast' (in Spanish, tostar). Esquites are a very popular Mexican dish.

Esquites, the most popular corn craving in Mexico
Esquite, boiled corn with chili, lemon and spices at a street stand, Mexico City. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Esquites or Ezquites comes from the Nahuatl word Ízquitl, from Icehqui meaning 'toast' (in Spanish, tostar). Esquites are a very popular Mexican dish throughout the country, but especially in the central zone, made from the grain of the elote (tender corn).

This food, which is eaten as an appetizer, snack, or sweet, is prepared in different ways according to the region, and although the custom of roasting or toasting the corn grains persists (hence the etymology of esquites), it could be said that at present the most common thing is the corn grain boiled in water with salt, epazote, and other herbs, and sometimes chicken feet.

In the state of Hidalgo and central Mexico, esquites are also prepared with corn grains that are sautéed in vegetable oil or butter along with chopped garlic, onion, and green chile or chile de árbol and branches or leaves of epazote, seasoned with salt, which is eaten hot as a simple stew.

Both dishes are served in a glass, taken hot and with a spoon, and normally lemon juice, chili, and salt are added. In some places, you can add mayonnaise or cream and grated cheese. In Monterrey, it is only the boiled corn grain with cream or mayonnaise, white cheese, and melted yellow cheese.

The stores and stalls that sell corn usually also sell esquites especially at night in street stalls and at popular festivals, public squares, and fairs, which are an indispensable part of the Mexican landscape. Puebla and some other states of central-eastern Mexico also sell chileatole in the same post.

Depending on the region, they can be called by different names, for example, in the north and northeast they are known as Trolelote; in Aguascalientes, as Chasca; in Monterrey, as Grano de elote en vaso and in Michoacán as Vasolote.

In the period of Maximilian and Charlotte of Habsburg, they made the "Panqué Imperio" using cornflour, but the French recipe for wheat flour; or they made very Mexican dishes that they simply changed the name to sound French. There was for example the corn cut into grains, like esquites, a dish they called "Dientes de Odalisca".

The old legends transmitted orally for generations, tell that the esquites - of the Nahuatl 'toasted corn' - were created by Tlazocihuapilli, the only woman who ruled the Xochimilcas and who gave life to such dishes as the Necuatolli, Atole with honey, or the Tlapiques, tamale leaf wrappers.

However, the esquites that are known today are mestizo preparations. "They could be pre-Hispanic because of the corn, epazote, and chile, but without a fundamental ingredient that is the lemon, which arrived with the Spaniards, and much less with the modern inventions of cheese and mayonnaise. "The mayonnaise, that is added in the esquites throughout the Republic, is not more than a French influence of century XIX".

Source: Agency of Services to the Commercialization and Development of Agricultural Markets