Like mole, the subject of tacos is enormous, there are tacos for all occasions, and for all types of people. Small children in Mexico begin their taco-eating journey from an early age, most likely with ‘flautas de pollo’ which translates as chicken flutes the name being related to the similarity of these crispy tacos to a small flute or piccolo. Some kids are brave enough to pour salsa on theirs, but many people, little or large enjoy eating these with guacamole, topped with lettuce a dollop of ‘crema agria’ and some crumbled ‘queso fresco’ and of course the ubiquitous optional salsa. As we continue on our life journey, the palate matures -or in the case of many, it toughens; so more chilli, complex textures and flavours are required and here is where the taco subject extends massively.
To complicate things further, tacos are also associated to different occasions and they can be eaten at christenings, at private parties called ‘taquizas’, for lunch, as a snack just before going out, or as a perfect accompaniment to a long night on the tiles and of course as a good cure for the hangover that develops afterwards.
To attempt to classify tacos according to class, gender, race and festive occasion, would go beyond the scope of my simple blog, so I am not going to do that, not yet. In fact I think that those outside Mexico who are interested in eating tacos, could perhaps start their own taco-journey by going to places like Taqueria -see my entry below, or its equivalent in whatever city you are. If you are either in Mexico or are planning to visit and eat like the real Mc Coy, then you can follow these bits of advise:
1. If you have Mexican friends join them, ask them to take you to their favourite taqueria, do ask what are you going to be eating, we tend to eat everything and although everything is delicious, it might not appeal to all, so ask first. Then copy your friends add salsa, lime, coriander, onion, whatever takes your fancy, but remember that there is a code here and your friends will guide you, for instance a taco al pastor has to be eaten with onion, coriander and ‘salsa borracha’. A taco de bistec should have lots of lime and perhaps a tomatillo or pico de gallo salsa. One taco topped with different salsas is a no, no, and don’t dip your tortilla chips (totopos) on salsa it is not quite the done thing… follow your friends or those sitting next to you.
2. If you are a just a tourist and don’t know of anybody, then this guide might help you.
First of all go to a reputable place, don’t be mislead by the tourist thinking: if I am going to a stall that is full of people, food is being sold quickly so I might not get sick, well this might not be the case, also you might be eating things that are not necessarily of your fancy, so I would recommend going to a proper taco restaurant, or taqueria. I will give some suggestions below.
Your taqueria should be clean, busy and it should have a ‘maestro taquero’, a master of the art of making tacos: this is a man (apologies for stereotyping people), he is usually in his thirties/forties, generally with a rounded belly and the proud owner of a bushy-black moustache. He usually wears a white shirt, a white cap or paper hat and and apron and is extremely skillful in the art of taking orders, preparing meat, slicing, grilling, chopping, serving, making a mental account of how much each person is consuming, and then telling you exactly how much you need to pay. Unlike sushi chefs, a ‘maestro taquero’ does not train for sixteen years before he can make his first taco, this trade is a ‘learn as you go’ job, but an advanced skill it is indeed! So much so that when I see them working so hard, so accurately, and always with a smile, I feel like giving them a round of applause -I won’t do that, I am not that ridiculous!
If you are a novice, go for simple tacos, things like bistec, chuleta, costilla, choriqueso (mexican chorizo and cheese), al pastor (pork in guajillo salsa and grilled pineapple), nopales (cactus), rajas (poblano strips, onion and cream) and alambre (poblano strips, char-grilled onions, bacon and steak). These should come on two tortillas piled with fillings and you need to divide these to make two tacos. Then you add lots of lime and the salsa of your choice. Fold the tortilla in half and in half again… if you want to look like a pro, then follow these simple steps:
- Eat the taco with your hand, placing fingers like this: thumb and fourth fingers underneath the taco, index and middle fingers on top of the taco and little finger sticks out like when you drink a posh cup of tea.
- Body position is very important. Gentlemen, remove your ties! Tacos are better eaten while standing up. To avoid spillages, chest sticks out a little and so does the bottom, this is in order to keep balance! Tilt your head to face the taco and then you are ready to go. Remember, practice makes perfect!
Most important is to enjoy the taco and for that you could go to:
El Califa. Altata 22, corner with Alfonso Reyes in Condesa. Tel. 5271 7666. London prices but the ‘Gaonera’ is delicious, go for the simple ‘taco de bistec’ which is very good, this is a post-modern establishment with videos, music, fancy deco and exhorbitant prices. If you are in the area, go and mix with the in crowd, with luck you might spot Gael Garcia Bernal or Diego Luna
Los Panchos -since 1945. Tolstoi 9, Anzures between Leibinitz and Dante, round the corner from Camino Real Hotel Tel: 5254 2082. This is a traditional place which is always busy and where you can eat standing up, go for the carnitas, which are yum. This is great to watch working Mexicans at lunch.
El Rincon de la Lechuza -since 1971. Located in Miguel Angel de Quevedo almost corner with Insurgentes Avenue, very near Coyoacan district. Tel: 5661 0050. My parents used to bring me here when I was little and yes it is a family place, take mum, dad, cousins, brothers, sisters and granny. Visit on a Sunday for lunch so that you can watch the other families; the grilled meats are very nice and so it was the chicken soup.
El Charco de las Ranas, in Rio Mixcoac 209 Tel 5598 6597. In the middle of nowhere touristy, yet slightly close to Condesa, this place is a must, their pastor tacos are generous and delicious. In fact all their tacos are very generous. This is a sui-generis place with slides for the kids, noisy, full of families and it looks like Mc Donald’s goes to Disneyland, but forget all that and enjoy the food, which is not only delicious but generous with fantastic salsas. Also drink the rice drink (horchata) which is a favourite.
El Tizoncito in Tamaulipas 122, Condesa. Tel. 5286 7321. A beloved place that is full of memories, when I used to visit with my friends, where they used to have an ad hoc ‘park in’: people would park all over the place and someone would come and take the order and serve us in the car. In my university days are full of memories where we used to all eat crammed inside my VW Beetle, and the smell of coriander would linger for days in the car!! Sadly nowadays this place is a chain with franchises, more of a ‘concept’ now and their tacos do taste formulaic, however it might be worth visiting because they are in Condesa, because they are cheap, and because that first bite of a hot taco al pastor with all the trimmings is a fantastic experience.. and also because to watch Mr. Taco Master at work is something worth watching.
*this guide was partly borrowed from Chilango magazine and also from my own experiences and memories… enjoy!