Growing up in Hermosillo, in northern Mexico, in the 1980s, my school lunchbox was filled with healthy and delicious snacks of juicy orange wedges, crunchy cucumber spears, jicama slices drizzled with lime juice and sprinkled with salt and chile powder, and a cold can of Jumex brand mango nectar. I was one happy kid and well-fed kid.
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But on the rare occasion I released the pocket money out of my sweaty little hand, I traded it for a delicious bag of duritos, or Fritos for a real splurge, and a large pour of Salsa Yaqui, the locally made hot sauce of choice. Crunchy, airy flour chicharrones, crackling under the moisture of an acidic and spicy downpour from a big round, glass bottle. A lot of kids would drench their crunchy snack to the point of making it a soggy red and spicy mess before sucking it out of the bag.
As I am very much my mother's child, I preferred to eat them daintily, while still crunchy.
Unfortunately, Salsa Yaqui is extremely hard to come by around here, with trips to the big Mexican grocery stores and several mom-and-pop shops coming up empty-handed. Nevertheless, let's take a trip to the hot sauce aisle and get the scoop on some favorite Mexican hot sauces, and how to use them.
Mexican tables may be dominated by a variety of flavourful fresh spicy sauces, but street snacks are ruled by the bottle, with the state of Jalisco churning out more heat than a bag of duritos can handle; not to say the rest of the country is out of the hot sauce race. The reigning queen of Mexican-made hot sauces may be Cholula; with its perfect balance of acid and spice, it's hard to find someone who isn't addicted to this crimson liquid. I remember snagging a bottle from a particularly crappy Mexican restaurant in Detroit's northern suburbs 12 or 13 years ago to make up for the poor quality of the food. There is nothing I love more than lime juice and Cholula on popcorn.
Even with this hot appropriation, and having traveled internationally with it, Cholula is not my favorite of Mexican hot sauces: Give me my little known Salsa Huichol instead. This is perhaps the best 99 cents you will ever spend on food. Made with cascabel chiles since 1949 in the state of Nayarit, just north of Jalisco, this is the only hot sauce I enjoy putting on actual food, not just chips or popcorn. Ceviche tostadas are just not the same without it, and this is overall a great hot sauce for seafood and Bloody Mary's. Don't let that low price turn you off, even chef Silvana Salcido Esparza approved Tapatío, a domestic Jalisco-style sauce, is only 79 cents.
Today's two lessons: First, tapatío or tapatía is the designation for a person born in Jalisco's capital city, Guadalajara; second, a hot sauce doesn't have to be expensive to wake up your taste buds.
Getting back to those school-purchased duritos:
Not having my childhood choice for them, the very popular Valentina is an excellent substitution, with enough tang to make up for the lack of fresh limes on your neighborhood bicycle-powered Mexican snack cart. Tasty as it is, this sauce and Tamazula, produced by the same company, have very little that is remarkable about them, falling into the salsa corriente, or common category, meaning a mainly guajillo-based sauce, a mildly spicy and fairly cheap chile. Other similar sauces Búfalo Salsa Classica, founded in 1933 and now owned by Mexican food giant Herdez, and La Guacamaya, out of Sinaloa. Tasty, cheap, and, honestly, not worth it.
For something far more interesting, pick up El Yucateco's Salsa Kutbil-ik, and since that's a bit of a mouthful, let's just call it the green habanero sauce. This Yucatecan Mayan-recipe chunky green salsa hits with heat as soon as it touches your tongue and keeps hitting, long after being consumed. This is the sauce that will clang around my purse next time I hit the town in search of pizza.
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Also worth buying is Chiliteca's Chiltepin Sauce. Made in Sonora and full of the tiny and hollow chiltepin, a chile with a spicy enough fragrance to keep those mistaking their bright red bubbly shape for candy. With a texture and taste similar to Sriracha, this potent sauce made me wish for my mom's chicken and rice soup to use it as the chile itself is used, sprinkled into the steaming bowl.
As proprietor of Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food, Minerva Orduno Rincon makes everything from mole poblano to goat milk caramel to spiced (not spicy) cocoa. Find her at a farmers market near you.
This post has been edited from its original version.