Navigating Mexico: A Journey through the Land of Tacos
By JUAN DE JESÚS BREENE
It seems like every Tuesday I am getting memes in English from someone outside of Mexico referring to “Taco Tuesdays,” along with some clever picture of a satisfied eater. I guess the taco craze is worldwide. Who knows what tacos are like outside of Mexico, but here in Mexico, these are the basics.
Mexico is a country renowned for its vibrant culture, rich history and, of course, its mouth-watering cuisine. Among the many iconic dishes that Mexico has gifted the world, tacos reign supreme. These flavorful handheld delights have become a global sensation, with countless variations adorning menus worldwide.
However, to truly appreciate the versatile nature of tacos, one must delve into the diverse tapestry of flavors and fillings found across the regions of Mexico.
Hailing from Mexico City, tacos al pastor showcase the lasting influence of Middle Eastern immigrants. Thin slices of marinated pork are stacked on a vertical spit, reminiscent of Turkish shawarma. Slowly cooked and served on soft corn tortillas, tacos al pastor are perfectly complemented by the addition of pineapple, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. There is even a full-length Netflix documentary on these tacos.
Also known as “basket tacos,” tacos de canasta are portable delights and a staple of street food culture. Traditionally made by layering steamed tortillas with fillings such as refried beans, chicharrón, which are pork cracklings, potatoes and spicy salsas, they are then stored in a basket to keep warm. Tacos de canasta are wallet-friendly delicacies perfect for breakfast or a quick snack. They are often served at larger gatherings when the tacos cannot be prepared onsite.
Originating in the northern state of Hidalgo, tacos de barbacoa boast a tantalizing combination of tender meat and robust flavors. Typically made with slow-cooked lamb or beef, the meat is infused with an array of spices, garlic and chilies. The result is succulent, melt-in-your-mouth meat, often accompanied by onions, cilantro and a touch of lime. While barbeque is in the name, the taste is somewhat a cross of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine.
Mexico’s extensive coastline blesses the country with an abundance of fresh seafood, inspiring the creation of fish tacos. Found predominantly in coastal regions, these tacos feature crispy and moist fish fillets that are typically marinated in lime juice and spices, then lightly battered and fried. Served on warm tortillas and accompanied by tangy cabbage slaw and cream, these tacos offer a delightful burst of flavor.
Emerging from the seafood paradise of Baja California, tacos del gobernador meld land and sea into a culinary masterpiece. Large flour tortillas envelop a succulent mixture of shrimp, cheese, onions and bell peppers, lightly grilled to golden perfection. The fusion of flavors creates a unique delight with a hint of smokiness, often garnished with salsa and guacamole.
The pride of Michoacán, tacos de carnitas are a true delight for meatlovers. Pork shoulder or other cuts are slow-cooked in lard until tender and crispy, resulting in succulent morsels of meat. Topped with onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime, these tacos burst with rich and savory flavors.
And let us not forget the standard carne asada tacos. These tacos usually feature ribeye beef, grilled to order and served on smaller corn tortillas. Patrons often head over to the extras cart, a tray of about 20 different seasonings and sauces, to personalize their tacos to taste.
These are just a few examples of the cornucopia of flavors found within the vast cornucopia of Mexican tacos. To truly experience the diverse culinary heritage, one must take a gastronomic journey across the country. So next time you find yourself craving a taco, open your palate to the myriad of experiences Mexico has to offer, one bite at a time.