Article by: Antonio, Founder and Guide at Free Walking Tour Mexico
If you are watching your waste line, this article is not for you! But if, on the other hand, you are a food lover, we would recommend you to go get a napkin before you start reading, so that you don’t mess up your keyboard.
Of course not all tacos are from Mexico City, but this being the largest city and the capital of Mexico you can find food from all over the country. This text will not be focused on where to eat, as many restaurants, locals and even street vendors can serve these dishes and each of them with a signature style, but more on the history, origins, traditions, ingredients, preparation, and of course the best way to enjoy every taco.
This dish is originally from Yucatan and from the Mayan language pibil means - made inside a furnace - and usually it meant an underground furnace. This method of cooking has been used by native people for generations but of course the meats cooked were peccaries, deer and fish, and only with the arrival of the Europeans, domesticated pigs were introduced to the menu.
Today Cohinita pibil is mostly prepared in modern ovens spiced with annatto and habanero and raped in a banana leaf for better condensation of the flavours. We recommend you to try this taco with black beans and red onions that are usually marinated overnight in lime habanero sauce and of course with a handmade tortilla.
This dish can be made from every meat you can imagine, from iguana to fish and from pork to beef but the most typical and the original recipe for the Mexican State of Hidalgo is the goat barbacoa and the sheep barbacoa.
The typical way of preparing this is by digging a hole and placing red-hot stones in together with some empty claypots (you will see why later), then the chosen animal is cleaned and wrapped in maguey leafs and placed on top of the stones and then buried to be cooked overnight by the heat of the stones. While the meat is being “baked” the natural juices of the animal's flesh, fat and bones combine with the maguey and are dropped in the pots. This process may take up to 24 hours to be finished (not including the digging of the hole, burry, the undigging and the heating of the stones) but is all worth it. As the food is taken out, the clays containing the “consome” are taken out too and can be used as dressing for the meat. As this is a long and hard process and there is too much food to be eaten this dish is mostly eaten at weddings or other celebrations.
Is a good way to get warm on a cold day and we always recommend trying this dish with the consome, red salsa, white onions and lime.
A dish more identified with Jalisco and Michoacan is often made with mutton or goat and is one of the most complicated tacos to make.
In a metallic pot (aluminium or copper are preferred) the meat is prepared with bay leafs, cummin, black pepper, garlic, ginger, onion and 100 ingredients more. What you end up with is a kind of soup that arrives to you in a bowl together with a flat empty plate for your taco. Making your taco might be as hard as it was for the chef because now you have meat that is soaked in its juices and consomme.
The best way to eat this taco is with some oregano and green salsa, but here is a tip: leave this taco for the professionals or… have a napkin nearby because all the juices are going to fall off your taco and might even rip your tortilla apart and you may have to finish your meat with a fork.
Chorizo is a type of pork sausage. To get the cat out of the bag right away, chorizo is not a Mexican dish but… it is not a Spanish dish either, it was invented by the Romans centuries ago, it was adopted by the Spanish and later by the Mexicans. So what makes the Mexican chorizo different? Well, long story short, the spices that are used to conserve the meat. The way it is cured and seasoned with black pepper, herbs, spices and fats results in the fact that even exposed it takes a long time to spoil.
Chorizo is one of the most common tacos in all of Mexico and even though you can add some cilantro or onion or sauce, it is so tasty and rich that you can also enjoy it without adding any other ingredient.
The translation to English is literally just - Grilled Meat - this dish is more usually related to the northern states of Mexico, particularly Nuevo Leon. Carne Asada as a dish is always made of beef, but of course you as an expert know that there are hundreds of grades and cuts of beef out there, but the most Mexican of them all might be the Arrachera or skirt steak as it is the softest and most delicious part of a cow.
Before anything can be done the meat is left overnight in a marinate of beer, lime, worcestershire sauce, maggi seasoning, salt and pepper. Now is time for firing up the grill. Some small cuts are made on the meat so to distribute the heat correctly and it has to be flipped a few times depending on your taste. Just don't forget to tell the cook how you want your meat, I usually prefer medium rare, but it is up to you.
The taco de pescado or the Baja taco as its name suggests is made of fish and it comes from the Baja Peninsula. This might be one of the newest members in the history of tacos. Despite the fact that fish tacos have been eaten in Mexico for literally thousands of years it is thought that the baja taco style was invented in the 50s by Japanese immigrants that fled from the crisis of WWII.
This is also one of the most different recipes of tacos, besides the shape almost everything in this taco is different, the tortilla should be made out of wheat not corn and it is often dressed with mayo and purple cabbage. It can be made out of a big variety of fish, there are no limitations.
Is better to enjoy this dish on a hot day with some cilantro, tomato, guacamole and even shrimps. And on top a blonde cold beer right next to your dish.
Even though dried meat can be found all over Mexico and the world, the typical taco de cecina is more associated by Mexicans to the states of Oaxaca and Michoacan. The native Mexicans would dry their meat (deer in particular) to keep it from spoiling for a long time, now the traditional cecina is made with beef and is salted and a bit smoked cuts.
Specially in Oaxacan restaurants in Mexico is the most fun you can have with these tacos as all the meat you (and your companions) order is brought to your table and you share the food that came in a big bowl by picking it and cutting it with your fingers.
As this is dry meat, the best way to enjoy it is dressed with cream and Oaxacan cheese, some habanero sauce. And if you are into it and want to be even more authentic you can add some chapulines (grasshoppers).
There is no record or true legend of how this taco was born but it is thought that originally this was the taco that the poorest people of Mexico City used to eat as it consist of what is considered the “unwanted parts of the cow” like the meet under the skin of the stomach or the brisket and the lard. Also, the tortilla is fried in occasions meaning that the first taco was probably made with an old tortilla. Even now, it is one of the cheapest tacos you can find but that does not make it bad at all. To be fair it is not one of the most healthy alternatives but it is for sure one of the most delicious.
This taco is the number one option for a 5am afterparty dinner/breakfast and the makers of these tacos know it, that is why it is very easy to find them in their little stands outside the nightclubs.
Enjoy it with any kind of sauce you want and probably a soda. It might help with the hangover when you wake up.
A taco that is directly linked with the conquest of Mexico.
Right after the arrival of the Spaniards in our country the need for new dishes was born, the new inhabitants of Mexico missed the Spanish bread but bakeries wouldn’t be built for another few years and of course because there was no wheat cultivated in the area at the time. The locals offered the Spaniards tortillas and they mixed them with the new meat they brought (pork) and that is how the taco de carnitas was born.
Today, you can find it in every corner of Mexico City, the meat is prepared in a big metallic pot with other parts of the animal (bones and lard) to keep the flavour and only after the meat is ready it can be butchered.
I recommend this taco with white onion, lime and green pepper sauce.
From far away, if you see a taco al pastor stand you might confuse it with a kebab stand but, even though they have a few similarities, they are actually very different.
Nothing has a more Mexico City vibe or could be more representative of the gastronomy of Mexico City than a taco al pastor.
It is thought that after seeing Lebanese, Syrian and/or Turkish immigrants in Mexico prepare their food the locals decide to imitate their style with a 180 degrees turn. They changed the pita for a tortilla, the lamb for pork and the marinate for hot pieces and even the broiler was modified.
Today this dish is the most common street food and when served the classical style, it is in a miniature tortilla, the lime and the many different sauces are put either on the center of your table or right next to the bar depending if you are in a restaurant or standing up in the sidewalk next to a moving stand.
To enjoy it better, it is always recommended to add white onion, cilantro, pineapple and the sauce of your preference. This is the evening taco, the friends and family taco, the sweet and sour taco, the Mexico City taco.
As you probably learned by now there are many many different types of tacos, with inspiration from all over the world, this text only aims to give you a brief history and a slight idea of how to enjoy some of the gastronomy in our city.
But in the end, it is all up to you how you want to enjoy your food, there is no one correct way to eat and of course there is also no wrong way to eat. The only correct way to eat is they way you want, the way that makes you happy and the way you wish to remember your trip. Every other rule you can just ignore.
I hope this article was of some help, come soon to visit us at Free Walking Tour Mexico, we will be happy to see you and to teach you more!
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