Forgive Y&H’s obsession with tacos this week, but I’ve been fascinated by the wealth of history behind this simple Mexican street snack. Take tacos al pastor. Many taquerias don’t prepare them the traditional way, which requires a vertical rotisserie like the ones you see in shawarma shops.
In the video above, Nicholas Gilman explains the presence of these spits in Mexican taquerias. They’re legacies, it seems, of the Lebanese natives who brought them to Mexico in a wave of immigration in the mid-20th century. Mexican taco makers merely adapted them to a meat more common in Latino cuisine.
Not that I don’t trust Mr. Gilman, but I wanted to do some fact-checking on this page in culinary history, so I turned to Mark Miller’s excellent cookbook, Tacos. Miller, if you’ll recall, is trained both in anthropology and cooking. The father of Southwestern cuisine, Miller founded the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe and the late Red Sage in D.C.
Here’s what Miller says about tacos al pastor:
The meat for these “shepherd’s” tacos is commonly seen roasting on vertical spits displayed with pride on street stands throughout Mexico. The spits are usually topped with a pineapple, which is thinly sliced and served in the tacos. This method of cooking meat is identical to that used for the spit-roasted lamb (shawarma) brought to Puebla, Mexico, by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s. The technique was copied by the Mexican taqueros (taco masters), who substituted pork for lamb. The original stand for tacos al pastor still exists in Puebla, with vertical spits of pork still revolving in front of its huge wood-burning hearth.
So where in the D.C. metro here can you get tacos al pastor still prepared on spits? This place right here.