The Humble but Mighty, Taco

“Don’t judge your taco by its price.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

What is your idea of a taco?

Is it made with a small, hand-sized tortilla, or are you all about a hearty, two-hander version. A single tortilla, or maybe with doubled up tortillas – for maximum strength and loadability. Is the tortilla made from blue corn, white corn, yellow corn…or flour? Does it come ready and loaded, with all the toppings – or with the main filling, you top yourself with some onion, pico or salsa? Does it have a soft and tender tortilla, or has it been dipped in oil and crisped?

“Thank you, hard taco shells, for surviving the long journey from factory, to supermarket, to my plate and then breaking the moment I put something inside you. Thank you.”

Jimmy Fallon

I’ve watched people rail against flour tortillas, insisting they are not a legitimate Mexican taco option. To claim any one style of Mexican taco is more correct or traditional and imply that the others are not, is a grave foodie offence – or at least it should be. Not to mention, it’s categorically inaccurate. When it comes to tacos, for something so seemingly simple, there’s a dizzying array of options available across Mexico and yes, this is includes tacos which use flour tortillas. And each of these options, with plenty of traditional origins, have a plethora of fans ready to back it up in the title race for ‘King of the Tacos’.

To be clear, there’s a distinction to be made between Jimmy Fallon’s beloved Tex-Mex, hard-shell, U-shaped taco…and a crispy Mexican taco. And we’re not talking about Tex-Mex here. Instead we’re talking about Mexico’s Tacos Dorados, or maybe Quesabirrias. Now that’s a crispy taco!

Regardless of your preference for hard or soft tortillas, corn or flour, or any of the other possible variations and combinations, most people would agree the humble taco sits firmly on the throne as the king of Mexican food.

Cozumel Tacos from Taquería Chiapaneca

Tacos can be found all the way from street carts and bicycle baskets, to some of the world’s most recognized top restaurants. In 2020, Enrique Olvera’s Mexico City restaurant Pujol, is recognized as one of World’s Top 50 Restaurants (number 5 as of 2020, in the Latin America category) and it features tacos on it’s menu.

If that doesn’t convince you tacos are king, we don’t know what will.

What Does the Island Have to Offer?

Throughout Mexico, the popular taco style will vary depending on the area, as will the fillings, so you may be wondering what specifically will you find here on Cozumel?

One of the interesting things about the island and surrounding area, is the number and mix of inhabitants from other parts of the country. Many come here to work in the tourism trade and as with most migrants throughout the world, many residents have brought the tastes and styles of food from “home” with them. This has led to a wide variety of Taquería offerings such as northern style tacos, Jalisco-style Birria and Quesabirrias, the popular Tlaxcala Tacos de Canasta (or Basket Tacos) and Mexico City-style tacos like Tacos de Guisados.

Mexico’s tradition of not wasting any good bits, means you’ll also find plenty of authentic taquerías serving Tripa (small, fried intestine), Buche (braised pork stomach), Tacos de Lengua (beef tongue) and Tacos de Cabeza (head tacos) – including Tacos de Ojos (eyes.) For many people raised in more northern areas of the continent, some of these tacos may sound unappetizing, of course, you’ll never know unless you try them.

The What’s What & Who’s Who, of Tacos

Fresh from the land of Taco Bell, or from an other area with tacos (but perhaps with different names) and unsure what to order here on Cozumel? Beyond the basic beef (res or bistek), chicken (pollo), fish (pescado) and pork (poc chuk or chuleta), Deliciosa breaks it down for you.

In no particular order:

Al Pastor. Known in some northern areas of Mexico as taco de adobada – Tacos al Pastor are made from pork, slathered in an achiote-based adobo sauce and layered onto a vertical rotisserie spit, called a Trompo. The meat is cooked by fire, along with onion and pineapple, thin slices of the meat are shaved off as they finish cooking and are added to the taco along with bits of the roasted onion and pineapple. Generally served with a bit of fresh onion and cilantro as a final topping.

Carnitas. From northern Mexico, Carnitas is slow cooked pork, simmered in it’s own juices with lard and seasonings. It’s then finished by being placed into the oven, or onto the comal to crisp.

Guisados. This is a style rather than any particular filling and essentially covers any fillings that are slow cooked and stew-y. Guisados can be made with any kind of meat, vegetable or blend thereof and if you see a selection of warming pans full of saucy, stewed items being used to fill tortillas, you’re in a taquería serving guisados.

Chuleta Ahumada. Tacos made with chunks of smoked pork, very much like a slice of ham.

Barbacoa. Sometimes available only on weekends, Barbacoa is flavoured with dried chilies and spices and may be made by slow roasting over a fire but is traditionally made by slow cooking it in a specially prepared, underground pit. Most commonly made with beef or lamb.

Cabeza. Head tacos. Just like it sounds, the whole head of a cow is roasted, braised or steamed and then used for tacos. Several distinct tacos result from this, such as: ojo (eye), oreja (ear), cachete (cheeks), lengua (tongue), labios (lips), surtida (a mix of the head meat), molleja (sweetbreads – the thymus gland) and nervio (beef tendon).

Campechanos. With a possible orgin in Campeche, Campechanos are a popular option through much of southern Mexico and right up to the Mexico City area. Typically made with a mix of carne asada (or sometimes cecina), longaniza (a Mexican pork sausage) and chicharrón.

Arrachera. Delicious and tender, marinated skirt steak. Grilled and typically sliced into strips.

Cueritos. Pig skin (but not chicharrones) pickled in vinegar and seasoned with dried chilies, spices and peppers. By not being fried like chicharrones, it’s rich, soft and fatty and on it’s own, may not be desirable but it can work well in a taco with other meats, adding great flavour.

Tripa. Tripa is the small intestine of a pig, cow or goat, which are washed, boiled then fried to give them a nice crispy crunch. They sometimes have a subtle bacon-like taste.

Cochinita pibil. From the Yucatan Peninsula, Cochinita Pibil is pork seasoned with an achiote seed and spice blend and marinated with lime, bitter orange and/or vinegar, then wrapped in banana leaf and slow cooked until tender. A signature Mayan dish.

Buche. Made from pig gut (sometimes including neck meat and/or esophagus), this offal meat is most often stewed with chilies and spices for flavour.

Chicharrón. Crispy fried pork rinds, simmered in salsa to rehydrate them and add flavour.

Carne asada. A simple and delicious grilled beef taco, with the meat being first marinated in a mix of citrus juices and seasonings, then grilled.

Suadero. A beef taco made with chopped meat from the area between the belly and leg, cooked in oil, it has a roast beef pan-drippings kind of flavour due to the cooking technique used. The Suadero is cooked in a Comal Bola, usually with several other types of meat, adding flavour to the oil.

Cecina. Cecina can be either beef or pork meat that has been pounded thin, then seasoned with dried chilies and spices, salted and dried partially in the air, sometimes with sun or smoke.

Chorizo. Unlike Spanish or Argentinian Chorizo, Mexican Chorizo is a fresh mix of ground or finely minced pork (and/or sometimes beef or even turkey) and spices and has a loose texture and may come with, or without an edible casing. Once cooked, it is a flavourful, crumble of meat.

Longaniza. Very similar to Mexican chorizo, longaniza is a long, slim sausage made in a casing.

Tacos de canasta. Originally from Tlaxcala, the name in this case, refers to the style of tacos, rather than any specific filling. Vendors typically prepare them early in the day, frying the tortillas and filling them with simply fillings such a potato, bean and sometimes chicken. They then layer them inside a bag (with paper,) pour over a little flavoured oil and close up the bag, allowing the tacos to steam themselves inside. The bag is then loaded into a “basket” for transportation. Riding around on bicycles or scooters, they may be found near work sites or other areas, sometimes calling out, “Tacos de Canasta!” translation: “Basket Tacos!”

Chicken Tinga. Shredded chicken, typically cooked with chipotle (or adobo sauce,) onion and tomatoes.

Birria. Made with beef (or sometimes goat), Jalisco style Birria is a richly flavoured, slow cooked meat. It creates a rich, flavourful broth which is often splashed onto the meat before serving or may accompany the meat (as a secondary order of consumé). Birria QuesaTacos are a delicious, crispy variation of the dish, popular in other states of northern Mexico. Tortillas are first dipped in the red coloured, seasoned oil the beef dish creates, before being fried up on a comal, filled with meat and cheese, then folded in half and crisped some more.

Huitlacoche. Also known as Mayan Truffles or Corn Smut, huitlacoche is a corn fungus with a rich, earthy flavour. For more information, read our previous article about Huitlacoche here.

Tacos Dorados, Taquitos & Flautas. This is a situation where regionality can make a difference in the name and knowing what to expect and they don’t necessarily fit within the taco category but you may find them there nonetheless. Tacos Dorados may be a U-shape, or they may be a rolled tortilla, either shallow-fried or deep fried. Flautas are always rolled (the name means flute) and may be made with corn or flour tortillas.

Check out the multitude of different taquerías on the island to find these assorted styles and enjoy the hunt for your favourite taco!

Think there’s something we missed? If you have a favourite taco on the island that we’ve missed in our descriptions, drop us a line and tell us about it! Contact Deliciosa

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