Eating Mexican: How to Hold a Taco and Other Things You Didn’t Know

Rule of thumb while eating in Mexico: you’ll have tortillas and salsa and lime with everything (good luck vegans, health nuts, and anyone who is anti-citrus). That said, the cuisine here is so varied and tasty that UNESCO deemed it an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” But according to the locals, there is a right or wrong way to munch on a taco, scoop up ceviche, and even to drink tequila.

We’ve got the rules for some of the most popular dishes in the country. The steps are as easy as uno, dos, tres, but if you don’t follow them, you can easily end up looking like a gringo.


Traditional taco. (Photo: Joshua Bosel)

First thing to know: hard-shell tacos are not Mexican. South of the border, it’s soft shell only. The current trend is bone marrow tacos. Out there: Insect tacos, aka escamoles, ant larvae. (We dare you.) Whatever ingredient you go for, here’s the proper way to eat a taco, according to locals.

1. Open up your tortilla and fill it up.

2. Must use your hands! Take your peace fingers and thumb to hold at the center of the taco.

3. Bite from the side, not the top, not the middle.

Optional: Pinky up. After all, they say it’s an art.



Homemade tamale. Photo: Big Rick/Flickr)

A tamale is typically made of masa (a corn-based dough) and steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. It can be eaten for breakfast or dinner. But it’s hard to know how to devour this simple-yet-complex dish. Here’s the scoop:

1. Peel the tamale with your hands.

2. Place the leaf wrapper on another plate.

3. Use a fork and knife.

Pro tip: Hide the leaf wrappers, so people don’t know how many you ate!

Related: Making Mexican Pizza With the World’s Best Cook



This version has sausage. (Photo: Mark Bellingham/Flickr)

You may see this broken-down nacho lookalike served at weddings. Tostilocos are tostitos loaded with everything, though combinations depend on the region. Origin of word: Tostitos + the works.

1. Take Tostito chips and crush them.

2. Add crushed peanuts.

3. Mix in tamarind, salsa, cheese.



Fresh ceviche. (Photo: Ko Im)

Chef’s rule: Keep the fish fresh and cold. Always add avocado. Use ketchup for red tomato recipes. Wrong way: Don’t eat it hot.

1. Serve with chips.

2. Spoon your ceviche onto a chip or use the chip as a scoop.

3. Bite.

Pro tip: Enjoy beachside if possible.

Related: Cinco de Mayo the Right Way: Tasting Tequila and Mezcal in Mexico



Corn in a cup. (Photo: Garrett Ziegler/Flickr)

This trending dish is as simple as it seems: corn in a cup with toppings. Origin of word: grano (grain) + elote (corn).

1. Slice grilled or boiled corn.

2. Add chili, mayonnaise, melted/shredded cheese, and lemon.

3. Serve in a cup and eat with a spoon.

Interesting fact: A lot of corn is imported into Mexico because of U.S. subsidies.



Salud! (Flickr: Eric Driggers)

1. Order good tequila: 100 percent agave i.e. Olmeca Altos.

2. Smell it like delicate wine, then simply sip to wet your lips.

3. Swoosh the tequila around your tongue, let it warmly coat your throat and top it off with sangria or lemon.

Do: Taste the tequila.

Don’t: Chug it too fast and black out.

And please: no salt on the hand.

Related: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Mexico’s Best Margarita Recipes



A quesadilla. (Photo: Brian/Flickr)

Lastly, there’s a big debate raging on Mexican social media lately: should you prepare your quesadilla with or without cheese? Verdict: Cheese, por favor. And the rule here is that there are no rules. Knife and fork? Hands? Just eat it while it’s hot.

WATCH: How to Be an Annoying American in Mexico — and Beyond

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