Tacos al Pastor and Shawarma


One of the things I like of the post-modern world as I understand it, is the fact that we can move from world to world in a similar way to that of opening windows whilst we surf the net.  Well at least that is how I feel life in London is, one is able to enter and leave worlds and move countries and nationalities in no time.

Not many years ago one was only able to move worlds by moving physically and that meant exile for many… how did people in exile continued with their memories of the lost land and dealt with their present in space and time?   I imagine that this meant moving nearby people that lived in the same conditions and people from the same country.  This seems to be one of the things that have happened in large cities and London is a showcase of many areas where people of so many nations live clustered together sharing spaces, a language, culture and food as well.

The other day I had to go to Divertimenti in Brompton Road and whilst I was cycling there, I was -once more, watching all the different pots that simmer in this incredible city, I went from Turkish Green Lanes in the north of London, through various districts that included gorgeous Bloomsbury where my beloved Birkbeck College is, through the trendy Marylebone area with all its shops and restaurants and I ended up in Lebanese Edgware Road, at this point I was quite hungry so I decided to stop at Maroush.  The Edgware Road I imagine, is like some part of Lebanon, full of spotless restaurants that are full of gorgeous, delicious goodies, amongst them lovely salads and dips, fresh and juicy shawarma straight from the grill, juices, a syrup drenched cakes.  Whilst having my shawarma I was thinking about how it is made and how similar is to Tacos al Pastor or Shepherd Tacos and it is funny the link here, maybe Tacos al Pastor are a Mexican adaptation of a migrant food of middle eastern origin.

As it happens, in Mexico we have the same contraptions where piles of marinated meat are put in front of a grill and turned to cook, whilst very skilled chefs cut bits of it and put them inside a bread and serve with salad, a gherkin, chilli sauce and a yoghurt dressing …yum! These are served rolled on sheets of paper and these are delicious washed down with a fresh juice.  These are called Arab tacos, and they can be eaten at ‘‘Taqueria El Greco’ in colonia Condesa in Mexico City and they are really similar to the shawarma I have had in Lebanese London.  However there is another dish that is similar in the way it is made and that is Tacos al Pastor.

I have no idea if these tacos existed when my parents were young, I doubt it.  What I am sure about is that when I was at university these were the rage and funnily enough the principle to shawarma is very similar… a Doner Kebab contraption, using marinated meat, in this case a mix of guajillo chilli, oranges, oregano and other ingredients, grilled until slightly charred and served skillfuly on a corn tortilla, not fogetting to add a little slice of roasted pineapple that has been flicked from the top of the turning grill.  In true Mexican tradition, these are served with fresh lime juice, a little chopped coriander and onions and salsa borracha, a hot salsa that contains pasilla chilli, vinegar and sugar amongst various ingredients.  I don’t know what it is, but these tacos are fantastic and at 7 pesos each from El Tizoncito in Condesa they certainly made very good fare for empoverished students like I was back in … um… back in the 80′s

What is great is that you can order a taco at a time and everyone else does the same -customers usually gather in front of the grill; there is only one man doing all the job and somehow he is able to track what is needed, who ordered what, who needs an extra taco.  Best of all is that each taco is served on a little piece of paper and at the end of your meal, your meal is sorted by counting the pieces of paper left on your plate.  Don’t try to be too smart though, they DO know how many tacos you have had and cheating with the number of papers is just not on.

I love tacos al pastor and I love shawarma, they are very different from each other maybe they have a common ancestor, maybe they are a refection of migrations, of different ways of experiencing something that could be the same, of the way we live nowadays, whatever it is, when in Mexico City do eat some Tacos al Pastor, they are great.

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