The Unlikely Origin of Al Pastor
If you’ve ever eaten tacos before, then you’ve most likely tried tacos Al Pastor or “shepherd style”. If you haven’t, then you are missing out! These tacos consist of pork marinated in a variety of spices and chilies that give a nice orange color to the meat. Then it is topped off with onion, cilantro and grilled pineapple.
Al Pastor is iconic not only for its unique flavor profile, but also for its method of cooking. First, you take thin slices of marinated pork and stack them onto a long spit better known as a trompo. In Mexico, a trompo is a spinning top and it’s called this way because once it is all put together, the shape of the meat resembles that of the toy. Once it’s all stacked up, getting crispy while it rotates against the fire. As the taquero shaves some meat, it continues to cook from the outside, towards the inside.
Now, looking at Al Pastor it probably reminds you of another meat that cooks on a rotating spit, right? Correct! Turns out that Al Pastor, while being invented in the heart of Mexico City, gets its inspiration from the Lebanese dish shawarma. Going back to the early 20th century, many Lebanese immigrated to Mexico and brought with them their culinary traditions.
Before Al Pastor, these Lebanese descendants would sell tacos arabes. These tacos were made of lamb, using the trompo method, but instead of regular tortillas, they used pita bread as it was more familiar to them. The native Mexicans were intrigued by this and started experimenting with their own trompo meats. Al Pastor started with lamb, then it was made from beef, and finally ended with pork as it is known today. BBC writes an awesome article going more in depth about the history, if you want to learn more.
Since then, Al Pastor has continued to grow in influence with different varieties being created every day. Every taquero adds their own twist to their recipes and this leads to amazing combinations. Some people use orange juice, others try different chilies like guajillo. You want to know a Taco Bron secret? We use white vinegar!
There’s something mesmerizing about watching a taquero slice thin pieces of pork marinated in chilies and spices onto a tortilla. As the pork rotates through the fire it gently begins to sear in all the flavors, and as it cooks, each layer of pork cut off leads to another hidden layer of juicy pork, not quite charred like the previous. My mouth just waters thinking about it.