As with most of Mexico, corn is a staple in Chiapas and the grain is used in many of the state’s traditional and popular street foods, while each region adds its own particular ingredients to the gastronomic mix: San Cristóbal is particularly proud of its ham; you’ll find white sausages in Comitán; Ocosingo makes a variation of a Dutch cheese; Tuxtla Chico makes special bean tamales and pucsaxe (a Zoque Indian drink); and Chiapa de Corzo invented a dish called pepita con tasajo, a mix of a jerky-like beef steak and pumpkin seeds.
The number one thing you shouldn’t miss in regards to street food (which you can find at various stands and restaurants) is Chiapas’s wide range of tamales. Along the state’s Pacific coast, you will find tamales that have been stuffed with fish and seafood or blended with flowers, cheese, vegetables and herbs. A classic recipe uses the longnose gar, a ray-finned fish.
In the state’s highlands, tamales are generally a little drier (they don’t include animal fat) and are made with beans, hot peppers and scented herbs. On special occasions, they may include meat. There are also sweet tamales made with tender corn and ball-shaped tamales near the Guatemalan border made with corn, hot peppers and meat. Tamales juacanes are filled with a mixture of black beans, dried shrimp and pumpkin seeds and wrapped in an herb called hoja santa. These can be found throughout the country, but particularly in the center of the state—San Cristóbal and Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
In the eastern mountains you can find patz tamales, which are made with tender corn grains, chuti con momo tamales (snails cooked with a Mexican pepper leaf) and petul or pitaúl tamales, made with corn and beans. In the northern mountains, tamales can be made with chicken, beef and pork, corn, beans and hoja santa. Cheese and a delicious rich mole sauce are sometimes used, too. The cuisine of the Gulf Plains is closely linked with nearby Tabasco and you’ll find tamales made with fish, jellyfish and reptiles, along with poultry, grains, mushrooms and local plants. Don’t miss out on the iguana tamales on the Catazajá beaches and the chipilín (an edible leaf) tamales of Palenque.
Tacos are, of course, always standard fare for street food. In Chiapas, along with all the classic taco options, be sure to try the ones made with cochito (marinated pork or tongue tacos made with a saffron sauce), gar (the fish mentioned earlier) or al pastor (pork marinated in a mix of sweet and spicy ingredients). If you happen to see a stand selling fresh grilled cheese wrapped in banana leaves, stop to try it. The garnaches—fried corn tortillas topped with shredded beef, beans and cheese—and chicken empanadas are also not to be missed.
Chiapas is also famed for its sweets, so don’t pass up anyone selling the state’s traditional crystalized fruits, sweet potato and quince paste sweets or the suspiros (literally meaning “sighs”) that are made with wild yams in Chiapa de Corzo. In Tuxtla, try the pucxinu made with corn and honey. Definitely drop in on some vendors selling the traditional pozol or tascalate, both ancient, corn-based drinks.
If you can’t decide between all those goodies, just look for the stand that seems most popular with locals and you’re bound to find something that you’ll love.