Esquite in Mexico

The Food Stall On The Street Corner

Derek Food, Interesting People, Mexico 49 Comments

Esquite in Mexico

At 4:00pm every single day for the past nine years, Francisco has slowly climbed onto a worn out bicycle seat and begun pedaling his food cart across Playa del Carmen. His journey always begins in front of his one-room home on 4th Street and always ends exactly fifty blocks away, on 104th Street, where he sets up his stand on the street corner.

Francisco is 78 years old. He’s about 5 feet tall, has skin that looks like dark leather and always wears a white baseball cap hanging loosely on top of his head. He doesn’t have any visible teeth and is always dressed in the exact same pair of pants and button down shirt, both of which are beyond repair and in need of replacements.

His small rickety food cart has barely enough space for him to serve up the one main item on his menu. It’s called esquite and is a popular Mexican snack made of hot corn kernels mixed with mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese and chili powder. I happen to like esquite very much and Francisco happens to prepare the best I’ve found, not only in Playa del Carmen, but in the entire state of Quintana Roo.

You can’t be in a rush if you want one of Francisco’s esquites, as he’s not exactly the fastest server in the world. Even when there’s a line of three or four people waiting, he moves ever so slowly, which seems to be the maximum speed that his fragile body allows. Often, he’ll just stop midway through the esquite preparation process as if lost in thought and unsure of what the next step should be.

But when he finally piles on the last scoop of chili and hands over the large plastic cup to his customers, he does so with such pride that I often find myself holding onto my esquite as if it were some delicate and treasured piece of art work.

One day I asked Francisco how he ended up as a food vendor. He answered quickly, with a hint of both sadness and humor in his voice:

“After my wife passed away, I realized that I am too old for a girlfriend. So why not sell esquite instead?”

And so every day, he rides across town, plops his plastic stool on a relatively quiet street corner and waits for customers. Occasionally, I’ve noticed him chatting with other locals, but more often than not, whenever I’ve seen him, he’s staring off into the distance or just looking straight down at the ground.

At one point, my friend and I had an idea. We decided to buy Francisco a radio so that he could at least listen to some music instead of just sitting there for so many hours without anything to do. But when we asked him why he doesn’t have a radio, he laughed for a few seconds and then said, “I don’t want one. I don’t like today’s kind of music. It doesn’t make me want to dance.”

A few days ago, when I went for an esquite, Francisco recognized me as soon as I got out of my car. He immediately stood up from his stool, waved to me a couple of times and waited for me to approach.

Normally, this is the warm reception that occurs whenever Francisco recognizes a customer, as his face lights up with a huge smile, he shakes your hand and begins chatting away. Sadly, as I’ve found out on a couple of occasions, if you don’t visit him for a week or more, he most likely won’t remember you the next time you do come around and you’ll have to start the process of becoming friends all over again.

Esquite in Mexico

During that visit a few days back, I noticed that Francisco was eating a bizarre-looking item of food that I had never seen before. When I asked him what the item was called, not only did he tell me, but he then insisted that I take half of his portion to try it myself. After noticing my positive reaction to what I can only describe as a yummy combination of flan and cornbread, he then took a few minutes to give me precise directions to the only place in town that sells it, despite the fact that he had two customers waiting to order an esquite.

Eventually, Francisco wished me a good night, one of those sincere farewells that clearly wasn’t an automatic response to a leaving customer. I shook his hand one more time, walked over to my car and drove back to my apartment.

And then I sat down in a chair and enjoyed every spoonful of that esquite, never forgetting the kind and generous man, whose 78-year old legs pedal 50 blocks across town every single day just so that he can sit on a stool for hours by himself, on a lonely street corner, in case I, or anyone else in the area, happens to have the sudden urge for an esquite.


If you’re ever in Playa del Carmen and want to try out Francisco’s esquite, you can find him every night between 5pm – 10pm on the corner of 30th Avenue and 104th Street, right under the giant billboard.

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Comments 49

  1. Jen

    My friend showed your website to me today, after finding it through stumbleupon. I am so happy she did, this is now one of my favorite blogs/sites! I plan to read every post there is. You should know that you’re completely living our dream and we couldn’t be more envious. I really respect you for going against the ordinary life that too many of us lead, and for taking risks to do what you love to do. Keep up the amazing posts! 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Jen – That’s so nice to hear and I welcome you to the site! I’m doing my best to achieve my goals in life and I always hope that my site helps others gain the motivation they need to do the same.

      I certainly look forward to interacting with you some more and I appreciate all of the kind words 🙂

  2. Julia

    I really like how you ended this post with “And then I sat down in a chair and enjoyed every spoonful of that esquite, never forgetting the kind and generous man, whose 78-year old legs pedal 50 blocks across town every single day just so that he can sit on a stool for hours by himself, on a lonely street corner, in case I, or anyone else in the area, happens to have the sudden urge for an esquite.” It really made me see the reality of his life and how there is such diversity in this world. There are some people who strive their whole lives to ‘make it to the top’ and others who are simply happy to serve something they are proud of to people in the streets.

  3. kandyce

    just found this on your 7 links post. love it. what a sweet old guy! reminds me of an older, wheelchair-bound man i met on the streets of chennai. i make a point of hunting him out every time i return. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Kandyce – Those kind of memories are always some of my favorites. After all, it is usually interactions with random people we meet that leave the biggest impressions!

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  5. Azizeh

    Wow, Earl, a really touching post! It brought 2 things to mind for me:

    1) Here in Shiraz, Iran where I live they have a popular snack called ‘zorrat mexique’ (‘Mexican corn’ in Persian), which, you guessed it, has exactly the same ingredients as the esquite you described above, and I am also addicted to it! I just assumed they called it ‘mexique’ here because of its spiciness…I never realised that it was an actual snack that originates in Mexico, since I’d never seen this snack before! Amazing to find out that the Iranians have borrowed something from the Mexicans, despite the distances/differences in geography and culture between the 2 countries.

    2) When I was living in Belgrade, nearly every day I would pass a Serbian lady called Ljubica in her 60s who operated a small ice-cream stand by herself. She worked long hours in the hot Belgrade summer sun, with only one day off per week. Anyway, she was the kindest lady around, always waving me over and very eager to practise her English with me that she had learned when she was young. And every time I saw her, she would wholeheartedly exclaim “Svaka cast!” to me when I tried my halting Serbian with her, which means “What an honour!” in Serbian. This was so humbling to me, that here I was *initially* just saying something VERY basic in Serbian such as “Good day, how are you? I would like this ice-cream, please ma’am”, but she was genuinely overjoyed that I was bothering to learn her language. It was very sad for me when the winter came, and I no longer saw Ljubica on that street corner anymore.

    So thanks for bringing my memories flooding back of my similar experience in that regard, Earl…it touched my heart to read your thoughtfully-observed story of Francisco.

    1. Earl

      Hey Azizeh – That’s incredible that esquite exists in Iran! Although it’s not incredible that you’re addicted as that usually happens to anyone who gives it a taste 🙂

      And it’s always so nice to hear stories of people observing and appreciating the smaller aspects of travel, such as an ice cream vendor on a summer day in Belgrade, that often get overlooked. I’d much prefer such an interaction as the one you describe or the one I wrote about in this post instead of just spending my time hopping around between major tourist attractions!

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  7. tom@warhol posters

    Hi

    This is such a great read. I feel like jumping on a plane (once ive checked which country your in at the time) and going to enjoy the food and to meet this man.

    I dont normally comment on blogs just because of great writing but this story really drew me in to the flavour of the place and his life. Sad but with moments of smiles and recognistion.

    regards

    Tom

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  11. Monica

    This is one of the best travel posts I’ve read in a long time. I love stories that make me feel and this story definitely made me feel. I’ll be sure to pay him a visit when I’m in Playa del Carmen.

    1. Earl

      Hey Monica – Thanks for the kind comment and I’m happy to hear you connected with this post. Are you coming to Playa del Carmen any time soon?

    1. Earl

      Hey Todd – I love cheese as well and often ask for double the amount on my esquite. Sounds like you’d do the same, which is a great idea as it helps mask the mayonnaise taste which takes a little getting used to when mixed with corn.

  12. Jennifer Barry

    Hi Earl, I totally love these kind of slice-of-life stories! I feel like I already know Francisco. I was all excited to try to find some esquite here in Dallas, but I’m sad to hear it’s so spicy. 🙁 I’m much better than I was as a child raised on Irish and German food, but I still can’t handle too much spice.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jennifer – You can always ask for esquite without the chili powder, which they always put on top at the end. If you find some in Dallas, that would be impressive as I’ve yet to see esquite anywhere outside of Mexico so far!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nancie – Thank you for the comment! I’m a huge fan of food stands as well, probably because, like you said, you’re bound to find some interesting food vendors no matter what country you may be traveling in.

  13. Dina

    Lovely article, Earl. Lovely to read a story behind a face, one of many faces that we encounter randomly, maybe not more than 5 minutes each time (well, or maybe more if there are 4 people in the line up). If I’m there right now, I will go to his esquite stall right now. Wondering about the man, and I happen to love corn kernels drenched in creamy stuff like that.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..World’s Biggest Carrot and Gumboot are in New Zealand =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – You summed it up perfectly. There are millions of faces we see for just a few seconds or minutes without ever even realizing that there is a human story behind each one. It’s good to stop every now and then, ask a few questions and learn about the people we encounter throughout the day.

      And be careful what you wish for! You may love corn in creamy stuff, but esquite is definitely an acquired taste! Too bad there’s not much Mexican food in Australia…

    1. Earl

      Hey Jade – So you’re headed to Playa? Be sure to let me know when you all arrive! And if you really want to try the esquite, try and spend some time over the next few weeks building up your tolerance for the spiciest chili powder on the planet, something I forgot to mention in the post!

  14. Randall

    Love the story! I love the writing style. That is great storytelling. I call it Passion Streaming, just sitting down at the keyboard and getting in the flow. I think they are the best posts. I can tell you really know how to appreciate the small things in life and it makes you a good writer because of it!

    Thanks for the story! I enjoyed it.. Randall

    1. Earl

      Thanks Randall. You’re absolutely right, I was definitely in a groove with this post as I really enjoy writing these kind of stories. I’m just trying to notice and remember the smaller aspects of life, especially those that we tend to overlook or fail to notice at all during the course of our days.

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much Julie! I honestly appreciate the comments. I’m a firm believer that we should always try to consider the human aspect, as there is always somebody’s story behind everything we do.

      Hopefully you had some food nearby when you finished reading the post!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – For some reason your comments ended up in the spam folder this time! But I dug them out, so now you have two!! 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much Erica. Every now and then I try to write a post about someone or something that few people would really ever notice…I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – It’s definitely a lot easier to notice and respect the human aspect of the business when we’re standing in front of a street cart in Mexico or Pakistan than standing in line at McDonalds. There’s none of that automation, standardization or squeaky clean appearance that helps us forget there are actual human beings involved in the process. A food stall involves one human being, a few tools at hand and the freedom to offer his/her own unique creation, and as a result, it’s easy to forget that it’s a business!

      Thanks for the comment Moon!

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – You mean you didn’t go to Cancun for Spring Break? You’re the first person I’ve known who went to Playa instead!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jackie – His work ethic is unbelievable. In the 7 months I’ve been in this town, I think there’s been one or two times when I went to his street corner and he wasn’t there. That’s impressive for any age, never mind a 78-year old! And I’m willing to guess that you didn’t serve esquite at your food stall…what type of stall did you run?

  15. Mark

    Great piece Earl! I always enjoy knowing more about locals and their daily lives. It’s amazing what Francisco goes through every single day, given his age! Quite a gentleman!! Thanks for sharing his story with us!

    1. Earl

      Thanks for the comment Mark and I’m glad you enjoyed this glimpse into ordinary life. I like to write these kind of posts as there’s always more going on behind the scenes, even when it comes to a food stall operation, and yet we seldom take the time to think about it.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jess & Dani – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, as long as you don’t mind corn, mayonnaise, sour cream, chili and cheese mixed together. It’s not exactly everyone’s favorite evening snack but Francisco’s is more than edible!

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