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Eating tacos in Mexico

8 July 2009 6 Comments


My first experience of the real Mexican taco came at about 9pm on 1st October 2005 in Guerrero Negro, a dusty town in the middle of Baja California, famous for salt production and whale spotting.

Having spent the previous 12 hours on a bus from Tijuana, I badly needed sustenance. My day had been spent it a state of perpetual worry, as I had managed to walk across the border without completing any formalities at all. I was illegally in Mexico. Not the best way to begin my first solo travelling experience! On top of this, I didn’t have any local money, and I had a hangover.

Luckily, as I stepped off the bus, I saw a shining light, my deliverance from hunger, in the form of a taco stand, or Taquerilla. I sat down and asked what was cooking. Taco’s. Came the reply.

I had three. And a can of coke.

From that point, until I left Mexico about 6 weeks later, I ate countless tacos from a lot of different street stands, market stalls, and restaurants. I ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And some snacks in between!

Tacos de Patzcuaro

Taco Stand – photo from Flickr

There are many different types of taco, each with their own traditions, however the four types that I ate the most were Tacos de Carne Asada, Tacos al Pastor, Tacos Dorados & Tacos de Pescado.

yummy tacos

Mmmm tacos… – photo from Flickr

Tacos de Carne Asada, along with al Pastor, were probably the most common variety I found. These tacos are small strips of beef, fried and diced into cubes about 5mm thick. The beef cubes are then put onto a tortilla (you will often be given a choice between flour and corn tortillas) and garnished with cilantro and onion.


Real Mexican tacos – photo from Flickr

Tacos al Pastor (Shepherd style Tacos) are usually made from pork. The meat is shaped and put onto a kind of doner-kebab style rotating spit where it cooks. When ready, meat is chopped from the spit and diced into small chunks, put onto a tortilla and garnished with the usual cilantro and onion.

Al Pastor

Al Pastor – photo from Flickr

Tacos Dorados are slightly different as the meat filling (chicken or beef) is put into a tortilla, which is the sealed and deep fried until crispy. They are served with a creamy sauce, lettuce and tomatoes.

Tacos Dorados

Tacos Dorado from Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast

Tacos de Pescado (fish tacos) originate from Baja California and the Pacific Coast. They consist of deep fried fish (or shrimp) on a soft tortilla with the usual array of garnishes.

Customising your tacos with various accoutrements is half the fun. Most taquerias offer an array of garnishes which can be heaped copiously atop the tacos. Cilantro and onion are usually added by the vendor, with a few wedges of lime on the side. You are then free to add your tomato relishes, radishes, cucumbers and the unappetizing (but superb tasting) runny green guacamole sauce.

el taco loco

A taco stand in Mexico City (*notice the green sauce in the foreground) – photo from Flickr

Los Poblanos

Los Poblanos – photo from Flickr

I’m sure that one of the biggest companies in Mexico is Maseca, maybe only sue to amount of advertising they do. Advertising is very pronounced in Latin America, every concrete wall along the roadside is painted with the logo of some company or other, which makes for very colourful roadsides! Maseca are manufacturers of various flour products that a lot of tortillas are made from. In a market in the town of Tequila I watched two old ladies as they made tortillas. They made a paste of Maseca and water, rolled it into a ball, placed it between two sheets of plastic, put them into a press and then tossed them onto the hot grill for a short time.

Here’s a video I found on flickr of a lady doing the same thing.

There is a noticeable difference in taste and texture between flour and corn tortillas, so be sure to try them both to see which you prefer.

The size of the taco gets smaller the further south you are. In Baja California and the Northern mainland, tacos were about six inches in diameter. In Chiapas in the south, the tacos shrink to about two inches in diameter.

As you might expect, the price shrinks with the size. From about $10 pesos per taco in the north, down to the holy grail, the $1 peso taco in a market in San Cristobal de las Casas! As I wrote at the time, the cost of meal came down disproportionately to the size of the taco.

I also found the Mexican equivalent to the Holy Grail – the $1 peso taco. This equates to roughly 5 pence. Eat ten of those bad boys and you will be full, which translates to a £0.50 meal. When I arrived in Mexico the tacos were around $10 pesos each. The further south I have ventured the cheaper the tacos (and generally everything else) have become. I will add that they have got smaller, in the north it took 4 to fill me up, but that makes a $40 peso meal. Now 10 fills me up @ $1 peso each. That’s a $10 peso meal. Bargain.

Beware. Although street food is delicious, you have to be aware that standards of cleanliness may not be what you and your stomach are accustomed to. This can sometimes lead to some bowel issues. This did happen to me, and although it didn’t put me off eating street food, it made me more aware of the cleanliness and food preparation. Below are some general guidelines you may want to take into account when selecting a Taqueria:

  1. Go to a stand where other people are eating. Whether in a big city, town or village, the locals know what’s good, clean and safe.
  2. Go to a stand that “specializes” in a particular type of taco. They will have limited preparation equipment to keep clean, and a limited inventory of ingredients to keep fresh. This is basically the same advice given for eating in restaurants anywhere; the bigger the variety of food on the menu, the greater the possibility of something going wrong.
  3. Use your senses. Look and smell. Is the place clean? If frying is taking place, is the cooking oil or lard clear or does it look like what gets taken out when your car gets an oil change? Does the meat smell good or do you detect an “off” odor?
  4. Remember that the customer has an opportunity at a taco stand not available in restaurants: that of watching the preparation, the cleanliness of the cook’s hands and cooking utensils. For this reason, many people feel safer eating in the street.
  5. Avoid places that are right at the edge of the sidewalk or curb, especially along busy streets. Traffic and wind both stir up dust, especially during the dry season.
  6. Try it! If you like the look, smell and filling ingredients offered at a taco stand, by all means try it. Some of the tastiest food in Mexico is street food, and only a lack of common sense will stand between the visitor and some terrific eating experiences. Many people say that if you don’t eat on the street you’re missing Mexico.

Taken from Mexconnect

Street food in Mexico varies greatly. From Tamales in Chihuahua, to Mole in Puebla, the vast majority is absolutely delicious. For anyone thinking of heading to Mexico, be sure to eat on the street!


Taco Outlet – photo from Flickr

Where the beef is

Another Taco Outlet – photo from Flickr

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