07 January 2007


In Guadalajara, Mexico, a man assembles a taco al pastor.

Ah, I distinctly remember my first street taco in Mexico. Already I am nostalgic for a moment that occurred only last week!

Allow me to reminisce.

Last week, my friends and my husband and I, joyous yet ravenous upon our arrival into the new country, stood in a dorky circle on a cobblestone street in Guadalajara. We smiled at each other through our tacos and joyfully proclaimed our meal’s magnificence in between sloppy bites of crispy al pastor goodness. Even though salsa was occasionally missing my mouth and splattering all over the sidewalk and my toes, I do believe that it was my favorite taco experience ever. When I am eighty years old and someone asks me to please list the top ten taco highlights of my life, there is no doubt that this one will remain my favorite taco experience for all eternity.

shaving pork from a spit for a delicious taco al pastor

When people travel abroad, they often learn things about themselves. One thing I learned about myself while I was in Mexico is that I would be perfectly happy if I could stay in Mexico for the rest of my life, but only on the condition that I could also eat eat a taco al pastor every single day of that life, and that the taco would have to be purchased from one of the many taco vendors that line Guadalajara’s streets and plazas. For my daily taco, I would like to watch the man above shave the pork off of a steaming spit, grill it into little, crispy, wonderful bits, shovel it into a soft, warm, corn tortilla, and smother it with onions, cilantro, and salsa.

garnishes for the wonderful tacos
(chopping block and various meats in the background)

I apologize for not having a picture of the glorious tacos themselves, but seriously, once you get one of those babies in your hands, there is no desire to take a pretty picture of it. There exists only the overwhelming urge to put it in your mouth. (For a picture of a similar-looking taco made at a restaurant in Chicago, see this post).

Taqueria de Los Faroles, one of our taco al pastor stops,
conveniently located across the street from the hotel.

If you ever have the chance to visit Mexico, be sure to shell out five pesos (a little less than fifty cents!) for a delightful taco al pastor, or five of them if you're hungry. It just might be your favorite meal of the entire trip.

a taco making a taco

Some other highlights of our visit, some food related and some not at all:

Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Guadalajara

so many beautiful sights to take in while walking down the city streets!

Metropolitan Cathedral from a different angle

This is the inside of Mercado Libertad, an enormous three-story market with restaurants, produce, groceries, clothing, and many many many other items. There, I ate goat for the first time. You will not see a picture I took of the goat stew (called birria), because if you see the picture, you will probably never want to try goat meat ever. Fatty and bony, and lit by fluorescent lights, the birria did not look appetizing at all.
But it tasted wonderful!

maracas in the Mercado Libertad

piggies at the market

a pretty building I should know the name of but I don't but I don't care because it's pretty

Papel Picado (a Mexican art form of cutting paper) hanging in a courtyard in Tlaquepaque

A Huichol Indian woman selling her crafts in Tlaquepaque.

Street musician

Cobblestone streets


At the Jose Cuervo Factory in Tequila, these are piñas, the hearts of agave plants. They are waiting to be put into ovens, where their starches will be transformed into sugars. After steaming in the ovens for quite some time, the piñas are cooled, milled into small pieces, and pressed. The pressed juices are then fermented, distilled, and sometimes aged. We sampled tequila at each stage of the process, from the roasted piñas themselves to 100% tequila that had been aged in oak barrels.

an agave plant just outside of the town of Tequila

The church in the town center of Tequila (if you look closely, you can see a man on top of the church) .

Driving from Guadalajara towards the coast. What a beautiful country!

More driving. Not a bad view at all!

A beautiful morning at the Banderas Bay on the west coast of Mexico. I hope I can return
soon to this amazing country.


Tammy said...

Amazing pictures! I like the street musician. And the sweet, sweet tequila. (I'll have to live vicariously through you since traveling with young children is my idea of hell.)

Rachel said...

Beautiful pictures!

Kate said...

Those photos are gorgeous and remind me of a place I just love. I have been to Mexico three times and would go back in a heartbeat.

I hope the street vendor didn't give you any cases of Montezumas revenge! While they have wonderful food for cheap, they tend to be the worst for sanitation as they are not regulated at all. (well, some of the restaurants aren't much either!) Sounds like you avoided that travelers dilemma

Kristen said...

Your photos are incredible... I felt like I was right there touring Mexico with you. I've been to Mexico several times and it is one of my favorite places to go as well. Thanks for letting me tag along through your photos and writing.

J said...

Wow, those are sure beautiful pictures! You made me want to go to Guadalahara!

chef yum yum said...

I don't even eat meat and I want al pastor, I love that smiling taco merchant so much. I would also consider giving up my vegetariansim for: taco al pastor from the friendly cartoon taco OR taco al pastor from the street musician against the violet wall.

I love them all.

Gourmet Peasant said...

Wow. This entry reminds me of how much I love and miss Mexico, Pazole, Pescadillas, tortas, Mole, enchiladas, chilaquilas....

sillypants said...

Your photography is absolutely gorgeous. Have we told you that lately ?


Erielle said...

Tammy, thanks! I felt like such a tourist taking pictures of the locals, but I just couldn't help it with the purple background and the cigarette.

Rachel, thank you!

Kate, no Montezuma's Revenge for me! Succesfully avoided. We were careful with our drinking water, but I suppose it was luck that kept our food uncontaminated. I miss those tacos so much I'd almost eat one even if I knew I'd get sick.

Kristen, thanks and I'm glad you enjoyed the ride! Isn't Mexico just amazing? I never knew until now, and I will be back for sure.

J, you should definitely go. It's a beautiful city with wonderful architecture and culture AND good food!

Chef, wouldn't it be nice if there was always a bright violet background for anything we wanted to take a picture of?
It's too bad there really is no vegatarian substitute for pastor.
I've heard of vegetarians starting to eat meat because they wanted to be able to enjoy bacon, but maybe you would be the first vegetarian I know to start eating meat because of a taco al pastor!

Gourmet, oh all those foods. I wish I was eating the foods you just said instead of the chex cereal that's getting soggy in my bowl right now. When we were at a grocery store on the coast, they had mole concentrate at the deli, and all you had to do was add stock and simmer for awhile. So delicious and so much more low maintenance than making your own mole, if you don't have half a day to cook. Oh why don't they sell delicious mole concentrate in the USA?

Silly, thanks! I love that you love the photos.

Jason G said...

I too, just got back from Mexico, and experienced the overwhelming urge to put everything in my mouth. To date, I haven't blogged on my foodie honeymoon in Mexico City/Puebla/Veracruz since returning in mid-December. But, seeing your charming entry has inspired me. Tonight is the night to tell my story.

Let me tempt you and your readers with this tasty bit and you can see my blog for the rest:

I'm a veggie (ovo-lacto-pesca whatever). But, in 12 days in Mexico, I did not want the frustrations or limitations of my dietary/ethical lifestyle. No. I wanted el sabor de Mexico, sin preguntas (the flavor of mexico, without questions). Mostly, I ate cheesy and/or chicken dishes sin ensalada (wthout fresh veggies, to avoid water contamination). The diversity of intense and exciting flavors was amazing and bountiless, erupting from every sidewalk cart and every other storefront. But, when the local speciality involved meat, or my wife ordered something that peaked my interest, awwww heck, I ate the junk, animal, vegetable or mineral.

In Puebla (the cutest city in the world, perhaps), there are tacos al pastor everywhere, like you might see steak and cheese subs in so many US eateries. So, considering my limited eating opportunities (3 meals a day times 12 days, or 5 street food snacks per day), I had to have the best al pastor just once and then procede with my culinary adventures. Everyone agreed, in Puebla, La Ranas is the king of al pastor. Their restaurant is packed and the two pork spits were loaded down with at least 75 lbs of pork each. It took three of four teen age boys hopping around each one shaving off meat for the hungry hordes.

The tacos were in such demand that the pork hardly had time to cook between shavings. So they made you wait until the meat was just right, during which time you watched and salivated as the monsterous kebab oozed crackled and popped little dribbles of juice that ran down over the layers of pork. In some cases, they would use a blow torch to put just the right singe on the outside for each customer's order.

But the amazing thing was (besides the ridiculously cheap price of 40 cents per taco) was the flavor contained in each bite. You could actually feel the fire that had so freshly scalded the meat as it warmed your mouth. I could hardly believe the depth of the smokiness in combination with the sweet pineapple sauce that glazed each piece of pork. And of course the accents of fresh herbs between the layers of meat elevated the experience with a clean-sharp finish. I can't even mention the spicey-ness in passing, because the options of salsas and peppers are so numerous and each one so impressive and full of personality that a little blog entry can't really do justice to the chili flavors. You just gotta eat the stuff (or bring the dried chilis home like I did). But let's just say that all of the gyro vendors in the world should hang their heads in shame and change the name of their flacid meat sandwiches to "pita im-postor" out of respect for Mexico's taco perfection.

As for my inner vegetarian, he's trying to pretend like that little trip to Mexico didn't really happen. Maybe that explains my writers block for the past month. Take a peek at my blog and you'll see what else I've got to say on this subject. But a big thanks to Fancy Toast for caring and sharing.

Y said...

Gorgeous photos! You're right, what a beautiful country. Regretably, I haven't had a single memorable taco highlight in my life so far, let alone ten!

lee said...

Man, as if I didn't miss Mexico enough already! It's been six years. I loved the market at Guadalajara so much (particularly the tortas) that I stayed longer than planned. Your photos make me sad. See, we took a bus through those ajave fields and then the next day went back to tour the tequila factories and I left my camera on the bus! I can't wait to go back now that I'm much more into photograghy! You're actually lucky you left when you did. I was there for 2 months and when I left I wanted to eat anything that wasn't wrapped in a corn tortilla. Ha! You shoulld look again for the mole paste now that you know what you are looking for. It's available where I live. It's my secret ingredient in chili! Thanks for the post.

Erielle said...

Jason, thanks so much for sharing your taco story! You described the taco al pastor experience quite vividly, and now I miss them even more. I'm sure your inner vegetarian has forgiven you.

Y, no taco highlights? You better get some, stat! I suppose I can only think of three or four taco highlights off of the top of my head, but hopefully I have several more decades of life left with which I can fill more taco highlights.

Lee, you have put a small flicker of hope in my heart. Just knowing that mole paste is available in the U.S. makes me more determined to try and find it here.
That is so sad about your camera! I would have shed many many tears. I hope you can go back and visit soon.

actonbell said...

oooooooo, aaaaaaaaah! It's obvious that you had a marvelous trip. I'm jealous. The best taco I ever had was in Guadalajara, too--but it was Taco de Lingua, at a little place called The Guadalajara Grill. Thank you for the recommendation! I hope to get back there, someday.
For breakfast, we would stop at street vendors and have yogurt, which had fresh fruit, nuts, and granola added. Best breakfast in the world!

Thank you for the memories. btw, anyone who likes food should go to Acapulco. I recommend El Cabrito (the baby goat), a place known for their mole sauce.
I love Mexico!!! Your pictures are fantastic!

Lisa said...

How wonderful it all looks! Makes me long to go back to Mexico. Man, those tacos...the tequila...ay.

thepassionatecook said...

while i haven't bee to guadalajara myself, i had my fair share of tacos when i lived in mexico - and al pastor have always been my favourite!!! oh how i wish i was back there now!

Rachael said...

mmm, I am in love with your photography. You have quite a knack!

Mae said...

I've enjoyed browsing through your fabulous Mexico photos! Sounds like a wonderful trip.

I'm dreaming of taco al pastor right now. I've never had it before mind you but your photos and description just make me want a piece!

Jeanne said...

Oh I LOVE your pictures!! They really capture the feeling of Mexico - I've only been to Chihuahua but would *love* to go back. I particularly love the saxophonist.

I would have to list tacos as pastor as one of my all-time culinary moments too. We were at a friend's wedding afterparty in Chihuahua and they had hired caterers with the rotating spit equipment to make tacos al pastor as a starter. I had never had them and thought they were the most incredible collection of fresh tastes I had ever experienced. Fab post - thanks for letting us travel with you!

Anna said...

I love your pictures and stories of Mexico! In October a friend and I wandered all around the state of Jalisco, including Guadalajara, Tequila and Puerto Vallerta so your pictures brought back good memories. If you are a mole fan, you should check out Trader Joe's Red Mole sauce. I know that is almost sacrilegious to say but when prepared according to the directions with a little adjustment to the spices to taste, it is actually a pretty good substitute. Not AS great as the real thing of course, but a very tasty and easy substitute when you just can't bear spending ten hours grinding spices!
I have to also confess one of the biggest reasons I can't bear the thought of moving from Chicago is the multitude of tasty taquerias that I would miss so much next time I am tipsy at two in the morning!

Erielle said...

Actonbell, thanks for the tips on good food in Mexico. We have some friends visiting there soon, so we'll send along your recommendations. P.S. Did you know that your name has almost the same letters in it as tacobell? If you had one more 'o,' it could be No Tacobell.

Lisa, ay is right. I'm starting to miss it and it's only been 2 months!

Passionate Cook, I wish I was there, too. Even though it's 6:30 in the morning, I could totally eat a taco right now.

Thanks Rachael! I love my new camera.

Mae, it's too bad I can't send you a taco al pastor in an envelope, because I would if I could. I mean, I can, but it just wouldn't be the same.

Thanks Jeanne! Glad you like the photos. That wedding sounds like a blast.

Anna, if I ever move from Chicago, tipsy two-in-the-morning tacos will be one of my favorite memories, for sure. Thanks for letting me know about TJ's mole. I think a friend brought it to a party once, and we were all impressed with how good it tasted, and it didn't take four hours for her to make. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I all of a sudden feel like taking off work and making mole all day. Sounds like heaven!