Tacos al pastor, Mexico
Apologies in advance, because after reading this you are going to be very, very hungry. Tacos al pastor is a Mexican staple, and though it's a relatively new one, this is a dish you will find on pretty much every street corner across the country. Al pastor is a pork taco: that pork is marinated in spices and seasonings such as achiote, adobo and guajillo chillies, and sometimes pineapple juice, before being loaded onto a vertical spit, roasted until crisp on the outside, finely carved, and served on a small corn tortilla with onions, coriander and a salsa that also usually contains diced pineapple pieces. It's hot, sour, sweet and insanely tasty.
As with so many of the world's great dishes, Al Pastor tells a story of history and migration. When a wave of Lebanese migrants began arriving in Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they brought with them the practice of roasting meat on a vertical spit, in the way of the Middle Eastern shawarma, the Turkish doner and Greek gyros.
In the city of Puebla in the 1930s, street stalls began peddling "tacos arabes", or Arabian tacos, in which roast lamb was carved from a vertical spit and served in pita bread with various toppings. As the practice spread through Mexico, pork replaced the lamb, traditional spices and chillies began to be used as a marinade, and corn tortillas replaced the pita. The introduction of pineapple, however – a key ingredient and a somewhat bizarre addition – remains a mystery.
It's almost no exaggeration to say there are tacos al pastor being sold on every street corner in Mexico, particularly in the eponymous capital. It's also fair to say there will never be a "best" purveyor. However, if you want to sample a classic, call into El Tizoncito (eltizoncito.com.mx) – it's a chain now, but the original restaurant is still there in the Condesa neighbourhood, and this is the place credited with introducing pineapple to the dish. Though, truthfully, no one really knows.
Really good Mexican food, food that is faithful to the country's true cuisine, is frustratingly hard to find in Australia. In Sydney, chef Rosa Cienfuegos is the doyen of Mexican cuisine, and she does solid tacos al pastor at her Dulwich Hill eatery, Rosa Cienfuegos Tamaleria (mexicanfoodaustralia.com). In Melbourne, head out to La Tortilleria in Kensington (latortilleria.com.au) for seriously good pork tacos.
ONE MORE THING
There's a popular variation of tacos al pastor called "tacos gringas", which is served on large flour tortillas with cheese. Whether the name comes from the whiteness of the tortillas or as a nod to Americans' love of cheese is up for debate.