When I think about Mexican snacks, or antojitos, such as raspados (snow cones) or tostilocos (fruit with hot sauce), I immediately get transported to a tianguis (farmers market) or a mercado where you hear the shout of “¡Pásele!¡pásele!” You can hear oil sizzling, the chop-chop of the knife cutting fruit or vegetables and visit a series of market stalls with different street snacks. So many options to satisfy your cravings.
In Monterey County, you can find Mexican snacks at the county fair, at farmers markets, or from paleteros pushing their carts through neighborhoods calling out by voice or with a little bell to alert potential customers they can buy paletas, churros or chips. There are also numerous Mexican snack stores that may bear the name of a famous painter or a song, or are simply named after the owner.
Most places sell mangonadas, or fresh fruit popsicles (mango, lime, hibiscus, tamarind) which are served in a plastic container with chamoy and chili powder; churros; chips with lime and chili or with chopped fruit (mango, cucumber and jicama); and Mexican candy and nuts. Other common quick frozen snacks are ice cream, sorbets, snow cones and aguas frescas made with natural ingredients.
While there are common themes, there are also certain specialties. Here is a partial list, from south to north, of popular Mexican snacks you can find in Monterey County.
On the way to the Pinnacles National Park, right on Main Street, is La Futbolera (167 Main St., Soledad). Their star snacks are snow cones made with fruit. My favorite is the Diablito, with tamarind jelly, chamoy, Valentina hot sauce and chili powder. It’s a tad tangy and spicy. The chamoy doesn’t overpower the hot sauce, making it spicy. If you like Valentina and chili beverages, this is a top choice. If you’re not into spicy, choose from their sweet or tangy snow cone flavors such as pineapple, coconut guava or tamarind.
If you are in the wine capital of Monterey County surrounded by vineyards, maybe you’re craving some tangy and refreshing fruit… salad. Check out Paleteria del Valle (851 5th St. Suite O, Gonzales). They have a gaspacho, a tropical fruit salad with mango, pineapple, watermelon, cucumber and jicama, dressed in orange juice and a topping of chamoy and chili. It’s very refreshing, flavorful and a little tangy – perfect for a hot day. I was surprised they add chili, because it’s more traditional to add condensed milk, plus nuts and dried fruits toppings. Other popular items are the mangonadas and a large variety of popsicles.
If you are craving something sweet and icy and crunchy, the churros sundae (make it a large) at Las 2 Fridas (2440 N. Fremont St. #202, Monterey) is the way to go. It has three scoops of ice cream, fresh chopped strawberries, chocolate sauce, crunchy churro bites, caramel sauce, pecans and whipped cream. It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is. If you’re not up to the challenge, you can order a smaller sundae with either caramel, condensed milk or strawberry jelly.
It’s not all about dessert. One traditional morning snack is sweet and savory bionicos. La Yaquesita (1450 Fremont Blvd., Seaside) has a version with chopped apple, melon, papaya, mango and strawberries, covered with a sweet sauce and topped with granola, raisins and shredded coconut. Another popular item is the concha rellena – a sweet bread filled with cream, nutella and strawberries.
Tostilocos is a very popular street snack that can be made vegan or meaty. At Antojitos Jojo’s (342 San Juan Grande Road, Salinas), their version has Tostitos chips, jicama, cucumber, pork skin, nuts, Valentina hot sauce, chamoy, salt and lime. This version has the perfect balance of hot sauce and chamoy: It’s neither too spicy nor too sweet.