History: Tacos Al Pastor

Those pineapple-and-pork tacos served on almost every street corner in every Mexican city? You know them as tacos al pastor, and their origin story is fascinating. Tacos Al Pastor is widely popular throughout Mexico as well as other countries, such as the United States. This dish typically consists of shaved spit-roasted pork, pineapple, onion, and cilantro all on top of a cooked corn tortilla. Of course there are slightly different variations of tacos al pastor in the different regions, however, the preparation and cooking style of the pork remain relatively the same throughout Mexico. Tacos al pastor is prepared by first marinating pork slices in a marinade that usually contains fruit juices, chilies, and spices such as oregano, achiote, cumin, and more. After the pork is thoroughly marinated, it is then placed on a vertical spit called a ‘trompo’. As the pork spins on the trompo, the pork fat heats up and drips down to create a crispy exterior. On top of the trompo, it is common to see either a pineapple or onion that is sliced off and placed into the taco. Along with the pineapple and/or onion, cilantro is a common ingredient that is added to tacos al pastor. Depending on the region, chef, and family recipe, the tacos’ toppings vary.

The origins of tacos al pastor are linked to Lebanese immigrants who migrated to Mexico during the 1930’s. These immigrants migrated from the Ottoman Empire due to a multitude of different reasons such as evading military conscription, escaping violence, and searching for better economic opportunities. The use of the trompo was inspired by the method used to prepare Shawarma, which is spit-roasted lamb on pita bread. *Shawarma was a very popular dish in the Ottoman Empire and its popularity spread throughout the empire. The vertical spit was invented in the Ottoman Empire during the 14th century and was quickly accepted as the only way to prepare Shawarma*. During the 1930’s, some of the Lebanese immigrants opened their own restaurants in which they served the popular Middle Eastern dish. There was also a variation of shawarma that popped up called tacos arabes which was lamb on a flour tortilla. Later, during the 1960’s in Puebla, the Mexican-born children of these immigrants opened their own restaurants and put a Mexican twist onto the popular Lebanese dish. Lamb was switched out for pork, which was then marinated in a variety of spices and chilies that are popular in Mexican cuisine. The pita bread and/or flour tortilla were then switched out for corn tortillas. At one point, pineapple began to be included in the taco al pastor recipe. The origins of the inclusion of pineapple remain a food mystery to this day. It was also during the 1960’s when tacos al pastor found its way into Mexico City and gained immense popularity. Since then, tacos al pastor have become a long-lasting part of Mexican cuisine and a go-to street food choice.

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