"Chiquito pero Peligroso":El Tizoncito,DF,the birth place of tacos al pastor
After a long hike from the subway stop at Chapultepec to Condessa looking for a little nightlife in DF I happened upon El Tizoncito, Los creadores del taco al pastor(the creators of tacos al pastor).Mexico City really goes to sleep on Sunday night.I found only a few popular bars open to libate before running into the original El Tizoncito.Sort of knew where I was going but was on foot.It was a goal on this DF trip to check out some al pastor, good friend Kaire Raisu was down for the count on this Sunday in Mexico City and wouldn't be able to get a taste 'til the next day.
I hadn't had much luck with al pastor over the years, ususally dissapointed with the underwhelming favorites in LA,and not always having luck in other parts of Mexico either.My previous best had been in Cananea, Sonora.I stood by and watched a guy load his trompo(spit) during one afternoon in Leon, and came back excited later that evening only to taste some very average tacos.But, this is El Tizoncito, the creators of one of the top two tacos in all of Mexico, and one of the most loved tacos worldwide.
As I eagerly awaited my first crack at these things I ordered a Montejo beer, and struck up a conversation with the non-pastor taquero named Natividad. He spoke proudly of their prized tacos de pastor, only occasionally distracted by the film "Chiquito pero Peligroso"(Little Man from the Wayan's Brothers).I love the over the top translations.This movie completely blows, but the taqueros and meseros didn't mind a little potty humor and physical comedy de los hermanos Wayans while they tacoed away.Just like that pint-sized criminal posing as a baby in the Wayan's Brothers movie, the tacos at El Tizoncito are small but dangerously tasty.
The El Tizoncito in Condessa was started by Dona Conchita in 1966 along with her sons.Lebanese immigrants in Puebla had already invented tacos arabes, and these same immigrants in DF were already using the spit to make their shawarma. The evolution took place in this part of Mexico and probably involved several phases, but El Tizoncito was the first to put tacos al pastor in their current form on the map.Not to be confused with the earlier cabrito al pastor from Nuevo Leon(whole butterflied roasted kid).The lamb so adored by the Lebanese immigrants gave way to the more Mexican taste for pork,an unstated agreement regarding ingredients in marinades developed,and the rest is history.
Well, I was a captive audience watching these tacos go down. First, El Tizoncito use only quality lomo(loin) for their pastor, the marinade is all from scratch.On the trompo there are always three whole onions to form the base of support for the meat.A pineapple attached atop the spit gracefully flicked by the knife of the taquero where its circus like journey ends onto tortilla.The tortillas are the mini sized, which allows for a few slices of succulent al pastor to reveal their beauty.The tender pork is sliced thin leaving a well manicured round of meat.Onions and cilantro are generously applied, and that al pastor is supple to the touch. I've had it thin sliced before but usually dry, or flavorless.Listen up LA taqueros.The al pastor meat never touched the griddle at the bottom of the trompo.From trompo to tortilla to client.The ones I had in Cananea met all these criterion, but El Tizoncito's were better.
The taqueros are great and the show is part of their duty.Knives are sharpened constantly, this really isn't out of the ordinary unless your new to Mexico.Taqueros aren't just out to make a buck like stateside, they are skilled and dedicated people.I saw the same speed, accuracy, and execution at the Coyoacan branch where KR got his al pastor fix the next day.
The salsas served from an attractive tower were excellent, best of all the frijoles.
El Tizoncito isn't the best taco al pastor in DF, a city so densely packed with stands, taquerias, and every other delivery method imaginable.But, they are a benchmark that all who love tacos al pastor should know if given the chance.It's impossible with so many al pastor choices in DF to even have a clue.The two others I had in DF, one in Xochimilco which was solid, another near Mercado Sonora which was average were far better than what I've come across in LA.Every neighborhood has their favorites, and someone knows of someplace around the corner which you can't seem to find(this actually happened), and there are places that disappear and surface elsewhere.I'm ready to find better and equivalents but now have a standard by which all future tacos de pastor that come my way shall be evaluated. You could go mad searching for the best, but have a couple of these small but distinctively flavored tacos al pastor.Order a beer, watch the pineapple chunks fly, and discover why los tacos El Tizoncito son chiquitos pero peligrosos!
Condessa,D.F(original location at Tamaulipas and Campeche)
At various locations in DF, Chiapas,Estado de Mexico, Jalisco,Morelos, Nuevo Leon,Queretaro,Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi,and Yucatan.
My sideways El Tizoncito video
I am now in my mid 40s ( age, not tacos!). I ate 10 or so last summer when I last ate there. Next time try El Farolito, it is a wonderful taqueria. They are known for their beef tacos but all of them ( including pastor, carnitas, etc) are very nice. They have a restaurant on Alfonso Reyes in the Condesa area and another one in Polanco. If you feel more adventurous and can eat spicy food, go to El Villamelon, near the bull ring in Colonia del Valle. Go early in the morning for great beef tacos cooked in salsa roja.
The original "cabrito al pastor", entirely different deal, is from Nuevo Leon. This butterflied roasted whole kid would be the first al pastor. I've had this in Monterrey.
How the spit roasted marinated pork also called al pastor came to be so named, I don't know. But, the marinated pork on a spit "al pastor" comes from Mexico City, and El Tizoncito lays claim.
Sometimes the name given a dish isn't literal.Sonoran gallina pinta has no gallina at all?
Hmm.. so Mexico's contribution is salsa and tortillas? Windy, windy.
Cabrito was brought by the Spaniards, most middle-eastern, or Southwest Asian immigrants settled in Mexico City, Yucatan Peninsula, Puebla, and Vera Cruz.
Have you tried cabrito al pastor in Monterrey? I doubt you would find it to resemble any middle-eastern traditions, and you'd probably have the observational skills to see more than just salsa and tortillas.
And, if you went back far enough, you'd find that those regions of the world also absorbed influences from many cultures, as well as Mexico. Many countries roast kid and cook in a similar manner, but this one is a Mexican food. I'm here talking about a delicious Mexican food that you should try when in Mexico, not have a contest on who did it first.
Tacos al pastor, cabrito al pastor, and tacos arabes are Mexican foods. Kibbis? Well, unaltered and eaten in Mexico very much like they are in the middle east, which is a beautiful thing.
Middle Eastern shepherders as a dominant economical refugee? The richest man in Mexico and second richest in the world is Carlos Slim, of Lebanese ancestry.Mexico was pretty covered in the goat herding when the various middle eastern immigrants arrived.
But, goat or lamb(there is no borrego al pastor)?Athens Or Beirut? Then.... throw salsa on it. Hmmmm...
When in Nuevo Leon. give it a try, see what you think
I look forward to going to Nuevo Leon just to give it a taste. Seems like a worthy excuse for a trip.
And in no way did I mean to diminish the many contributions of Mexico to inventing and reinventing marvelous foods. All those Spanish recipes brought across taste better in Mexican renditions, at least to my palate.
That al pastor spit though--very like those served in the desert by Bedouins (who claimed our goat was a lamb) and what is beloved elsewhere as schwarma. Or if you want a Mediterranean food fight, gyros.
Maybe more appropriation is in order. Mexwarma? Definitely not passed down from the Aztecs or Maya.
I hope you get there soon, Windy.Let me know when you do!
Yes, the vertical spit is a great contribution, which has given rise to three wonderful tacos, al pastor, adobada, and tacos arabes. But ultimately, just a cooking instrument. Just as chocolate brought back from what is now Mexico was brought to Europe where it was given a new life as a sweet rather than a savory.Mexico doesn't claim any rights to Swiss or German chocolate.
Cultural exchange has been going on forever, and all cultures borrow from others, but ultimately cuisine is more than a piece of cookery or an ingredient, it's a cultural identity.
There were no Aztec peoples, the Mexica ruled an empire of many tribes, all which had their cuisines, the Maya also were an array of tribes. Their traditions continue in Mexican cuisine in plain sight and hidden amidst subtleties.
I would suggest DF for al pastor, Monterrey for cabrito, but if you're ever in Tijuana, you will find excellent adobada.
Hey, you can find amazing Spanish food in Mexico, too, much better than we have here in LA. Nice to chat with you.
Relative to the volume of "al pastor" you'll find in the D.F., I suspect a very, very small percentage will be made using cabrito. Other, often "mystery", meat combinations are used. There's a fairly well-defined preparation of pastor, which food historians acknowledge has its roots in the Middle East. Mexicans enjoy taking credit for anyting they can get away with. ;-)
Cabrito is cooked an entirely different way, not on a vertical spit, and it's not a street food.There's a well known restaurant for cabrito on Lopez in the San Juan de Letran neighborhood.Again, this is from Nuevo Leon.
"fairly well-defined preparation of pastor, which food historians acknowledge has its roots in the Middle East"
A most likely non-commitment to hypothesis.
Food historians? Who? I mean if you're knowledge relies on food historians. Food historians are engaged in food anthropology, a highly hypothetical social science not always practiced by professionals.These are the same people that in music try to say that American jazz has roots in the Baroque!
There's no doubt that the vertical spit and cooking method come from the Middle East. After that, pure hypothesis. There is no "French Dip" moment in al pastor origin.
It is logical to say that the vertical spit and cooking method found its way into the hands of taqueros, using the more popular pork with a citrus, achiote, dry chile rub, and carved onto a tortilla. Since then it has become one of the most popular tacos in and outside of Mexico. This is the information used by food historians, nothing more. El Tizoncito claims to be the first, but it is likely it was being done at street vendors before. One story has the owner of Tizoncito seeing shawarma while traveling in the Middle East and returning to Mexico to invent a Mexican version of shawarma. This is only a story and should be taken with a grain of salt, as it's in El Tizoncito's interest to have done such a thing, be the first ones to do it. Part of their allure is certainly to be the originators of al pastor.I thought I'd addressed this in the post.
The best place for al pastor is Mexico City and Puebla, not in other parts of Mexico, certainly pork al pastor isn't found in Turkey or Lebanon, nor have I ever seen tacos al pastor at a Middle Eastern restaurant here in LA.
I believe all foods are a fusion, and authentic cuisine is just a snapshot of what exists in a given place during a given time. Everything is rooted in some other place but no one calls Italian pasta "Asian food." At the end of all hypothesis is the taco al pastor itself. Do you like it? Have you been to El Tizoncito? How does it compare to your favorites? I think it's a good place to start, to set a benchmark.
The purpose of this post was to talk about a food that is popular and delicious in Mexico City report on El Tizoncito's place in that development. It's the folly of food historians to worry and fuss over their speculations, mine is to have a great dining experience.
"Mexicans enjoy taking credit for anyting they can get away with. ;-)" All emoticons aside, I would be happy to participate in a thoughtful discussion on food origins ,
but I see little value in such statements in an adult forum.
El Farolito in the Condesa goes way back too; that's where I use to down too many de carne asada and a few al pastor back in 1969.......(though perhaps it has moved, I remember it being on Juanacatlan, not on Alfonso Reyes? Obviously, my memory could be faulty on street location after all these years, but I still think about the taste....)