The Esquites of Peña de Bernal

It seems that corn is as essential to the people of Mexico as is air and water. Around 10,000 BC, corn was first domesticated in the Sierra Madre Mountains giving birth to the tortillas that fueled the Mayan and Aztec empires.

But tortillas are just one of the many essential Mexican incarnations of the almighty tassel-topped ear: gorditas, huaraches, sopes, garnachas, tlacoyos, tostadas, tamales, champurrado (a hot chocolate beverage thickened with masa), and of course, the street food staples: elote (eaten on the cobb) and esquites seasoned or plain and served in a cup dressed with aged cheese, mayo, lime and hot sauce. (See Esquites recipe here.)

Never before have I seen such a variety of esquites as I did in tiny picturesque town at the foot of Peña de Bernal (The 2nd tallest monolith in the world—thank you, Victor Bibbins, for that random fact!) Earthenware bowls display vibrantly prepared esquites with poblano, guajillo, habenero, epazote, and other seasonings that cling to the plump golden kernels through the miraculous properties of butter. I was offered a taste of each formulation but I could not order a whole cup. Sadly, I was too stuffed from my corn-centric breakfast gorditas—filled with huitlacoche (corn fungus). Rookie corn-bingeing mistake.