Netflix’s excellent new show, Taco Chronicles, opens with a dramatic burst of fire. Flames blow tempestuously onto a spinning hunk of meat which sizzles and browns.
“What do you see?” the narrator asks the audience.
Cue more food shots; this time of a white onion expertly chopped; cilantro cut; tortillas lifted from the griddle.
“This is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.”
And that’s it. A Hollywood introduction to Mexico’s most famous handheld food.
The opening episode of the series covers tacos al pastor — ‘the taco that cares for you’ according to the narrator. And where else could you start?
The ubiquitous street food was recently named the world’s tastiest dish by Taste Atlas, cementing Mexico as one of the world’s great foodie destinations. If you like food, you’ll love street food. If you love street food, there is no better than tacos al pastor.
But, as any traveler to Mexico will know, al pastor is just the beginning of the country’s rich culinary offerings. In its following episodes, the Taco Chronicles covers tacos carnitas, canasta, asada, barbacoa, and guisado. And that’s just tacos. Mexican street food also includes tamales, tortas, sopes, tostadas, and quesadillas — each of which can be enjoyed in several different ways.
The fact that tacos have been honored with their own Netflix series proves how popular Mexican street food is right now. But that can also be seen in the success of the country’s finest restaurants, which take skills learned on the street into highly polished kitchens.
For example, Pujol, number 12 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, has curated a menu unashamedly based on ‘Mexican ingredients and techniques’. There’s mole, tlayudas, and tacos — all executed in a manner befitting one of the world’s great restaurants — but still the same names you’d see hand-drawn on a road-side cart.
The accolades for Mexican street food don’t end at the country’s borders, either. Daniela Soto-Innes, who was born in Mexico City but is now a resident in New York City, has recently been named the world’s best female chef.
Once again, the offerings at her restaurant, Cosme, are heavily influenced by traditional Mexican dishes and boosted by her extraordinary talent and vision.
The success of Mexican street food is not, as one might think, just down to the flavors. Yes, your first good taco is a mind-blowing experience, but it is the culture behind street food that turns a delicious dish into a world-beating experience.
As the end of episode one of Taco Chronicles draws to a close, it discusses the culture behind tacos al pastor.
“Al pastor tacos are a part of our Mexican identity,” says one lady. “Saying, ‘let’s grab some tacos’ means hanging out, fellowship is implied.”
And there it is, captured in a sentence. The driving force behind it all and the reason why the world is raving about Mexico’s food.
Eating tacos, and Mexican street food in general, is much more than filling your belly. It’s about chatting with friends, it’s sharing stories, it’s bonding. It’s doing what every person in the country has done for decades. It’s ingratiating yourself into a world and seeing it through the eyes of a local and being accepted. And, most importantly, it’s about love.
Love for the food and love for one another.
Chef Roberto Solis has the episode’s final word: “Ultimately, that is what we want to achieve when making a taco, to make a connection with people’s souls, and if they are not Mexican, they can become Mexican through tacos.”
Experience Mexican street food at its source by taking our Culinary Tour Through Mexico City, Puebla, and Oaxaca. This 12-day trip takes you to three of Mexico’s great foodie destinations to discover the country’s most delicious dishes.