When I first moved to Mexico it was to Merida, the capital and the largest city of the state Yucatan. This is also where I had my first encounter with Tacos al Pastor, shepherd’s style tacos. I was initially attracted to it because the big slab of meat on a vertical rotisserie reminded me of Shoarma, something I use to love to eat in Amsterdam as an after-drinking-before-going-home-to-sleep snack. But that’s another story.
Tacos al Pastor is a version of Shoarma however, and was introduced to Mexico by Libanese immigrants in Puebla in the 1930’s. Shoarma is made with lamb but here Mexico pork is used and instead of marinating the meat in herbs it is of course marinated in … chiles, mainly guajillo.
The meat for the tacos al pastor is cooked on a vertical rotisserie in front of a flame. The rotisserie is called a Trompo, sometimes the tacos are called tacos al trompo, and there is a piece of pineapple on the top of the spit. Much to my surprise the piece of pineapple is not just there for decoration or taste but it’s there because the juice of the pineapple contains an enzyme (bromelain) that helps make the meat very tender, thank you Wikipedia.
When the meat is ready it is thinly shaved off the spit with a large knife and put on small corn tacos. A “real” taquero (the guy that makes the tacos) will then cut a piece of pineapple on the top and will send it flying to catch it on the plate with a flourish. Next the tacos are sprinkled with onion and coriander and served. Then it’s your turn. I suggest you put some freshly squeezed lime juice on top of and a hot salsa of your choice. Mmm, buen probecho.
There are many Mexican restaurants Playa where they serve tacos al pastor. You won’t find them on Fifth Avenue however you will have to be more adventurous and venture out to 30th Avenue for example where you will find my favorite El Pastorcito (Avenida 30 x Calle 30) and don’t come too early either because they won’t serve a single taco al pastor before 7 PM!
By Monica Hartlief – Monica is the Restaurant Chairperson for Taste of Playa 2010. She owns and operates a local Property Management and Vacation Rental company, Latido de Mexico, www.latidodemexico.com.