What are Antojitos?

Cassie L. Damewood

Antojitos are Mexican appetizers or snacks. They are most often sold in Mexico in open-air marketplaces or on the streets by vendors. The vendors traditionally make them fresh. Most antojitos are made from corn tortillas or have cornmeal as a major ingredient.

Antojitos are often topped with cilantro.
Antojitos are often topped with cilantro.

The noun antojitos comes from the verb antojar. The definition of the word antojar ranges from the somewhat mundane “I feel like” to the more passionate “I desire,” “I crave,” or “I yearn for.” Besides the standard definition of Mexican street snacks, antojitos is often translated into phrases like “little whims,” “sudden craving,” or “hankerings.” These colorful expressions are nearly always used in reference to small Mexican appetizers that can be eaten with the hands while walking. Antojitos may also refer to more elaborate appetizers found on the menus of upscale Mexican restaurants.

Antojitos may be served with guacamole.
Antojitos may be served with guacamole.

Many Mexican street vendors who sell antojitos have only the most basic cooking tools at hand. The entire street cooking set up often includes only a gas ring or charcoal brazier and a bucket of water. These items are often placed on top of a wobbly table or pushcart along with condiments and napkins.

With these basic tools, the vendors commonly prepare one or two specialties for their customers. Tourists are frequently seen watching the vendors as they top tortillas with fresh and appetizing bundles of fresh vegetables, meats and herbs. The speed with which the vendors make and serve their antojitos is generally considered very fast — they can normally serve ten to 20 people in a matter of minutes.

Often considered the most basic and most popular snack in the category, totopos are tortilla chips, normally freshly made in the morning of the day on which they are sold. They are served warm or cold, with one or more toppings or dips. The most common condiment served with totopos is a simple fresh chili, cilantro and tomato salsa. Other traditional accompaniments include guacamole or other avocado-based relishes.

Other popular antojitos include tacos, enchiladas, burritos and tostadas. Tacos are small corn tortillas lightly fried and traditionally filled with meat and topped with lettuce and cheese. Enchiladas are normally softened corn tortillas dipped in sauce, filled with meat, cheese or a combination thereof and then baked. Burritos are commonly made with flour tortillas and are filled with meat, beans and cheese and then rolled into a cylinder. Tostadas are simply large, fried corn tortillas topped with layered refried beans, cabbage or lettuce, chopped onion and salsa.

Robust salsa is a traditional condiment served with antojitos.
Robust salsa is a traditional condiment served with antojitos.

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