Tacos Al-Pastor, which means literally “shepard-style”, is a type of taco where the meat is cooked on a vertical spit, and shaved off with a knife by hand into the tortilla. It is quite common here in Tulum, and you’ll know who sells al-pastor as the cooking meat is often visible.
What is “al-pastor”?
It is almost exclusively pork, which they marinate in several spices, including dried chiles, and pineapple. Often cooks add achiote, giving a light bitter orange flavour and a characteristic reddish hue to the meat.
They place the marinated pork on a vertical spit, called a trompo. Some add even a slice of pineapple on top for flavour. An open flame on one side cooks it thoroughly as it rotates. Vendors expertly shave off the meat with a knife and let it fall onto a corn tortilla, where they serve it with finely chopped onions, cilantro, and occasionally pineapple. A slice of lime or lemon, and some hot salsa are also a common accompaniment.
The history behind the taco
There is evidence that people have roasted meat on a spit since ancient times. However, it seems that shawarma, tacos al pastor, and gyros all originate from the popular Turkish döner, invented as recently as the 19th century. The practice made its way to Mexico with an influx of Lebanese immigrants in 19th and 20th centuries. Immigrants were escaping the collapse of the Ottoman empire as they emigrated en masse. Later, in the 1960’s, Mexican-Lebanese children of the original immigrants started opening restaurants and fusing their heritage with Mexican restaurant practices. Lucky for us, we now have this delicious dish ingrained in Mexican culture!
Show me the tacos!
Great tacos al-pastor can be found all over Tulum, from restaurants to street food vendors, but we recommend Antojitoes la Chiapaneca on the corner of Av. Tulum and Calle Acusrio Norte.