Tacos have become one of the most famous foods in the world. From street food to fine dining they are present in all strata of cuisine. There is now a whole genre of reaction videos of foreigners trying tacos in Mexico for the first time, their faces full of delight. Even with just three basic ingredients (tortilla, filling, and sauce), there manages to be an infinite array of combinations. Here, we are going to describe to you those various styles so you can order like a local.
Grilled tacos are a classic throughout Mexico. The age-old allure of meat roasting over hot coals is hard to resist. In CDMX sizzling steak and ribs are the most common, but you’ll find as many styles as citizens in the city.
A la plancha
The only requirement for this variety is that they are cooked on a griddle, thus making a multitude of possibilities. Typical market tacos are made with potato, cactus, and onion, but alambres, cecina, ribs, and steak, all finely chopped, find a place on this well-seasoned griddle.
Adopted from Lebanese immigrants, this style of taco is easily recognizable by its vertical spit and distinctive conical shape, the most popular being tacos al pastor, which originated in Puebla. The slow turning of the spit can be controlled to give the meat a tasty seared finish. Tacos árabes (Arab tacos) are also made on the trompo and served in pita or flour tortillas.
From distinctly pre-Hispanic origins, this method involves cooking the meat in an oven dug into the earth. Typically enjoyed on the weekends, this archaic pressure cooker allows the flavors to concentrate and the meat to tenderize and generate a restorative broth from the resulting juices. These smoky tacos include barbacoa (typical of the states of Hidalgo and Mexico), cochinita pibil, with its unique Yucatán flavor, birria, and mixiote, which can also be prepared al vapor.
Tacos al vapor
These steamed tacos are also known as tacos de canasta, or “basket” tacos. The most typical variety are tacos de cabeza (beef head). The taco is softened in a steam tray before being placed inside a plastic bag to keep them soft. These ubiquitous tacos are famous around Mexico for being sold from wicker baskets and bicycles.
Tacos de guisado
Literally “stewed”, from vegetarian dishes to classic stews like chicken with mole. These homestyle tacos are traditionally prepared in clay pots. They are typically served with beans or rice. The pinnacle of this category is a simple delicacy: the hard-boiled egg taco. Tortilla, egg, red rice, salsa, period.
Tacos cocidos en aceite
These tacos feature meat that has been cooked in abundant oil – think carnitas and suadero. A tribute to our mestizo culture, this cooking method requires long hours to obtain a mouthwatering result – fatty tacos full of flavor. In the case of suadero tacos, it’s a handy way to use a tough cut of meat, simmering it in a comal bola (convex griddle), while the tortillas heat in the center. Greasy and decadent!
Finally, “golden” tacos or taquitos. Characterized by different fillings rolled in a tortilla and fried in very hot oil until golden brown. Not to be confused with their longer cousin the flauta, they are served with lettuce, cream, and cheese. Crunchy and delicious.
The taco defies simple categorization, and as we have seen, there are limitless possibilities.
- La Tacopedia, Encyclopedia del taco
- Cocina mexicana, Salvador Novo.