The first time I heard about Dorilocos, my friend described it to me as “like nachos, but with gummy bears.” But it wasn’t until my third visit to Mexico City that I stumbled upon what is certainly Mexico’s craziest contribution to street food culture. On a busy sidewalk outside of a park, I spied a 9-year-old kid digging into a small Nacho Cheese Doritos bag filled with a fire-engine-red mess. He plucked out irregularly shaped chips, round and oblong bits while licking his fingertips after each bite. He was completely immersed. I couldn't look away.
It's hard to describe Dorilocos using words. The recipe starts with Nacho Cheese Doritos, which are then topped with a variety of ingredients: cueritos (pickled pork rinds), small batons of jicama, cubed cucumber, grated carrots, peanuts (most often described by the vendors as japonés, the ones with the crunchy, soy sauce-flavored shell), gummy bears, lime juice, chili powder, salsa Valentina or another hot sauce, and chamoy, an addictive sweet-salty-sour sauce made from pickled fruit. It's outrageous.
"I really think it's mostly for kids after school," says Javier Cabral, a food writer based in LA who writes extensively about Mexican food. "I don't want to call it a PB & J, but it's a post-school snack like that, not meant to be a meal in itself."
Cabral thinks Dorilocos became a popular street food because, "it combines the textures and flavors that people love. If you think of Indian street food, it's like a papri chaat: crispy, fried, nutty, doused in sauce, sour, spicy, and just fun to eat. It keeps you entertained."
But plenty of non-kids eat Dorilocos, too. Parents will eat it with their young children, sharing a bag as an afternoon treat. Young professionals wait in line for it too, to relive the nostalgia of their teenage years, grinning while a pushcart vendor hands them a bag of this wild, wonderful snack. It's tempting to categorize Dorilocos as drunk junk food (and it's great for that, don't get me wrong) but it's also something adults eat in broad daylight, sober as heck, not the slightest bit fazed by the sour, spicy, saucy, sweet, slippery, crunchy, salty mess.
Dorilocos have been around for at least 15 years. They're related to another, older bagged chip snack called Tostilocos, a similar concoction made with Tostitos, as the name implies. One theory has it that Tostilocos were invented by Frito-Lay as part of a targeted marketing act to get Mexicans to eat more of the chips. Orange County–based Mexican food historian Gustavo Arellano posited an opposite theory in the New York Times in 2012: Tostilocos, Dorilocos, and other saucy, chip-based street snacks developed organically, as a way for Mexicans to reclaim a product that American companies were portraying as authentically Mexican. In the Times, Arellano says, "That's what people in Mexico do with anything that comes down from somewhere else. We change it, we add more ingredients, more toppings." Tostitos then saw a marketing opportunity in the homegrown snack and ran with it, going so far as to create branded signage for shops and stalls, and posting recipes for the snack online.
Go north from Mexico City, and the attitude about this novelty snack changes from grudging acknowledgment to actual pride. "Every tijuanense will argue to the death: Tijuana is the birthplace of Tostilocos," says Jason Thomas Fritz, a journalist based in Mexico City. He, like Arellano, believes it's unlikely that Tostitos had anything to do with the dish's creation. In Tijuana, people eat Tostilocos and Dorilocos in the same way they eat tacos and tortas: whenever hunger strikes.
Beyond Dorilocos and Tostilocos, there are dozens of variations: Tosti Elotes (with kernels of corn), pepihuates (a sort of Clamato-based cold snack soup filled with those peanuts japonés), Los Crazy Chips<(barbecue potato chips drenched in salsa and Clamato), papilocos (potato chip–based), and more. Taken together, they comprise their own class of Mexican novelty food. Street stands might specialize in one type or another, and corner stores throughout Mexico City can become famous for their own unique renditions. There’s nothing else like it, anywhere.
Fritz is obsessed with the snack. “Dorilocos are my everything,” he admits, “I was even contemplating smuggling Tapatío-flavored Doritos into Mexico — because they don’t have them — so I could ask my local Doriloquero to do a riff on the classic.”
"You look like such a rebel," my friend said, laughing as she watched me poke a fork into my first-ever bag of Dorilocos, procured from a stall in front of the Museo Nacional de Antropología on a warm, sunny winter day. Was there a devilish gleam in my eye? What I thought I was feeling, before I took my first bite, was fear.
You might think you're going to taste the Doritos first, but that Nacho Cheese flavoring gets drowned out by the salsa. Within the first few bites the chips are still crunchy, but they do get soggy the longer it takes for you to eat the whole bag. The texture of cueritos, rubbery but firm like cartilage, is unexpected in this context. But the interplay of crunchy peanut, chewy gummy bear, and salty chip is just great. Like a really good casserole, it's the sauce and the texture that keep Dorilocos from being an overhyped one-hit wonder.
As a novelty food, a bag of Dorilocos is far more than the sum of its parts. It's red, a hyperpigmentation the result of food science and chili powder and salsas that glow neon-bright in the soft glare of the sun. It's maximalist, a soup of flavors that arrests the senses, with tastes that are both nuanced and in-your-face obvious, funky but sweet and so, so salty. The aftertaste to each bite is a cross between the tongue-tingling effect of MSG and the Band-Aid flavor of cheap gummy bears. Most memorable to the eating experience isn't the heat, the mess, or the wild cacophony of flavors — it's the ache of your salivary glands, working to achieve stasis amid an onslaught of too much sodium.
Dorilocos are a fundamentally rebellious food. They're unglamorous, the opposite of farm-to-table or artisanal or sustainable. They're not healthy. They're not traditional. (At least not yet.) But when I took that first bite, I realized something: They taste spectacular. And thanks to an endless supply of inspiration and potential ingredients, the –locos possibilities are limitless. "Who knows what kind of innovative calorie bomb concoctions will hit DF or the side streets of Tijuana in the next decade?" Fritz muses on the future. "It's an exciting time to be alive."
Credit: Video shot by Ruben Musca, edited by Eater Video