Category Archives: Lengua Sessions

La Tacopedia Author Alejandro Escalante Talks Breakfast Tacos

Alejandro Escalante at the North Texas Taco Festival/Alex Flores

There’s been a lot of talk about breakfast tacos lately. Much of it has focused on the people who prepare and sell Texans their favorite way to start day. The interviews amassed are crucial to the archives. We need the stories after those folks are passed. But what about the taco motherland and the breakfast taco analogs (tacos mañaneros) in Mexico? They exist, and not just in the sense that you can throw anything in a tortilla and call it a taco. Taken together, the work of culinary historians and taco experts Jeffrey M. Pilcher and Alejandro Escalante show that breakfast tacos were likely the first tacos. The word taco came into print and common usage in the 18th century with tacos mineros, named in favor of silver miners who subsisted on them and after the gunpowder-filled paper rolls (tacos) workers used to clear rock. (Of course, there are other theories.) With time, tacos mineros morphed into tacos de canasta, which today are regular morning noshes found on the streets of Mexico City. But they aren’t the only ones. In Michoacan, carnitas in freshly fried hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados) are a favorite breakfast food. In Jalisco, lamb tacos dorados are common.

Escalante, contributor to Mexican online food journal Animal Gourmet and author of the first comprehensive encyclopedia of the taco, La Tacopedia, took time to discuss Mexico’s other breakfast tacos. The interview that follows was conducted in Spanish and is presented translated into English.

Taco Trail: Tacos are eaten at all times of the day. In Mexico, tacos mañaneros, what we call breakfast tacos in the United States, include tacos de canasta. What are other tacos mañaneros, and what goes in them?

Alejandro Escalante: Tacos de canasta are the most common breakfast tacos in Mexico City. Tacos de guisados are perhaps equally popular in the capital now that they’re practically the national breakfast food: corn tortillas with one or two leftover guisados. They’re always accompanied with rice, beans, salsa and chiles…

Classic: chicharrón in a Green, red or mixed salsa; beef picadillo, rajas con crema; chorizo with potatoes, mole with shredded chicken, tinga, cochinita, bistek in salsa (pasilla, green, red, etc.), moronga [blood sausage], sausage, milanesa… Continue reading

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Filed under breakfast tacos, interviews, Lengua Sessions, Mexico City

An Interview With 60 Day Taco Challenge’s Jeff Old

JeffOld

Tacos can be challenging. There are tacos made with pork stomach lining. There tacos made with cow uterus. There’s the Michoacan dish, rellena, a loose blood pudding with pancita, tripe and heart that goes by the name moronga when encased in intestine. It’s amazing in a handmade tortilla and dressed with salsa chile de árbol.Then there are taco challenges such as the Austin vegan taco cleanse and, in Dallas, the 60 Day Taco Challenge undertaken by Jeff Old and documented on Facebook. He took some time out of his taco itinerary, which is nearing its end, to answer some questions for the Taco Trail.

Taco Trail: What sparked the taco challenge?

Jeff Old: It started from a conversation I had with my wife. I was bragging about how much I loved tacos and that I could eat them every day. From that conversation was the idea that I could eat tacos for 60 days in a row. She thought I was “all talk” and that I wouldn’t actually go through with it. After some thought, I came up with the idea of the 60 Day Taco Challenge. I realized how much fun I could have with this and I wanted to share my taco journey with others through social media.

TT: How do you select which establishments to patronize?

JO: I select the places I will eat at based on my previous experiences, online research and recommendations from friends and through others on social media. Continue reading

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Filed under Dallas, DFW, interviews, Lengua Sessions

An Interview With L.A. Taco’s Blazedale

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When it comes to taco hot spots in the United States, there is no spot more incandescent than Southern California, with Los Angeles as its bright center where every type of taco is seemingly within reach and where the taco’s boldface proselytizers congregate. Among them is the crew behind L.A. Taco, a website established in 2005 to shine the spotlight on all that is great in LA via the taco and taco lifestyle. The mission has resulted in a vibrant mix of urban photography, interviews with artists, musicians and writers. The latter has included taco scribes Bill Esparza, Gustavo Arellano and Jeffrey M. Pilcher. Along the way there has been plenty of fun, including a mascot, bracket-style competition Taco Madness and the contest’s subsequent taco festival.

That festival took place on April 20—the same day as the Taco Trail co-founded North Texas Taco Festival in Dallas, Texas. In the run up to our shindigs, L.A. Taco’s Blazedale and I struck up a correspondence.

We caught up with Blazedale again this week for a Taco Week interview.

Taco Trail: What was the inspiration for L.A. Taco?

L.A. Taco: L.A. is such a diverse city and while there are thousands of things which unite different communities, there are fewer which bring the city together. By far the tastiest of these is the taco. We wanted to create a place to document our favorite unsung parts of the city such as street art, dive bars, and of course tacos. At that time, these things weren’t nearly as celebrated as they are today.

TT: L.A. Taco supports the taco lifestyle. What is the taco lifestyle?

LAT: To us the taco lifestyle is about getting out of the house and exploring your city. Checking out a new bar, an art show, live music, or hunting for a new taco spot you’ve never tried before. Finishing up a great night out with a taco is really the best thing ever, and an experience that is quintessential Los Angeles.

TT: L.A. is the taco capital of the United States. What are your thoughts on the rise of the taco across the country? Continue reading

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Filed under California, interviews, Lengua Sessions, Los Angeles, Taco Week

An Interview With Chef Antonio Marquez of Lazaranda Modern Kitchen & Tequila

Chef Antonio Marquez

TacoWeekBannerI love Lazaranda‘s sweet, rice-and-beans layered lobster taco, an homage to the resort town of Rosarito Beach in Baja California. But the Dallas-area restaurant—co-owned by Mario Letayf and chef Antonio Marquez, partners in other restaurants Mexico—offers more than tacos. Its name refers to the restaurant’s specialty—grilling—and the preferred tool—la zaranda (a grilling basket). During a week-long visit from Mexico, Marquez, who ditched economics for culinary school in Paris, took time to answer some of our questions.

Taco Trail: Lazaranda specializes in grilling with a zaranda. Why did you and your business partners decide to go with that concept?

Antonio Marquez: The advantage of that implement is that you can cook in the grill any type of food using it, some food direct to the grill whit the basting, marination’s and sauces, will be difficult to handle in the direct grill, small pieces too are very easy to work with the zaranda.

TT: How did it influence what dishes were put on the menu?

AM: Monterrey is a grill-lovers city, the families and friends every weekend or event, meet in patios or terraces with all the different types of grilling equipment, they share their recepies and secrets. So using the zaranda gives diners that type of taste experience.

TT: When it came to adding tacos to the Lazaranda menu? Were there tacos you insisted be available? How did you decide what tacos to offer?

AM: First of all, grilled tacos, that’s because the grilled corn tortilla get’s a better flavor. They are easier to handle and last longer before getting soaked and the tortilla start to break. We can do all types of tacos. Remember that the tortilla becomes a plate to taste the flavors inside it. And I always try to put flavors and techniques for all the different customer preferences, grilled items, roasted, barbecue, fried, etc. Continue reading

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Filed under Addison, interviews, Lengua Sessions, Taco Week

An Interview With Claire Weissbluth, Director of “Lonche: A Tale of Two Taco Trucks”

Claire Weissbluth

TacoWeekBannerIf you read this blog, odds are you have a favorite food truck, taco or otherwise. It might be a lonchera, a taco or catering truck, or it might be a slick, gourmet rig. And that’s fantastic. In most cases, you’re supporting a small business. These mom and pop operations deserve support. We at the Taco Trail, we’re partial to immigrant-owned concerns. Documentary filmmaker Claire Weissbluth shares our passion and sees beyond the quick-service tacos and kimchee fries. She sees the people. She see their stories, stories paved with sacrifice on the road toward the American Dream. Her latest project, Lonche: A Tale of Two Taco Trucks, features a truck servicing field laborers and a first-generation American immigrant’s  gussied up take on Mexican cuisine. It’s a stirring short that doesn’t take the easy way out.Weissbluth, who also goes by the moniker La Osa (The Bear), took time between film festivals to answer our questions.

Taco Trail:How did you come to be a documentary filmmaker?

Claire Weissbluth: I think I became really interested around 2004 when all these Iraq war documentaries started coming out. Although I was only in high school at the time, they made a big impact on me. I appreciated the critical perspective that they presented that I wasn’t getting through other mainstream media outlets. I went on to study Film and Latin American & Latino Studies at Hampshire College, and I became fascinated by using film as a medium to tell stories and to shed light on social issues.

TT: Your films show a love and respect for Latin American culture. What’s the source?

CW: Well, growing up in California it’s hard not to acknowledge and respect Latino culture because it is just so present everywhere and so vibrant. I live in the Mission District of San Francisco, which is full of amazing colorful murals and street art, not to mention so many great restaurants and taquerias. Often the first time that people are introduced to other cultures is through food, and in my case that’s definitely true. Although I’ve never been to Central or South America I’ve come to love pupusas, ceviche, empanadas, etc. I have been to Mexico a couple of times and was so touched by the warmth and generosity of the people I met. I also spent time in Cuba making my last documentary and I was very impressed by their creativity and resilience.

TT: From Lonche‘s trailer alone, the viewer gets and get a sense of the picture’s power and passion. Why did you want to share this story? Continue reading

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An Interview With Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Taco Historian

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Jeffrey Pilcher has a thing for tacos and Mexican food. So much so that he has dedicated much of his research to tacos and Mexican food on both sides of the border. He came to popular attention with his 2012 book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, a sequel of sorts to ¡Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity, a tracing of the development of Mexican nationalism through a history of its food from the domestication of corn to the 20th century.

Pilcher, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, took the time to answer a lengthy set of interview questions from Taco Trail HQ, providing answers both light-hearted and rigorous. We cover taquerias outside of North America, favorite salsas, the future of tacos, the need for a beer after eating more than one’s fill in tacos and loads more.

Taco Trail: If pre-Hispanic peoples have been filling tortillas for more than a millennium, why is it important to distinguish that food from the taco?

Jeffrey Pilcher: Food is not just nutrition. It is also culture. Just think about what maize means to Mexicans and compare that with most folks in the United States. We know that ancient Mexican civilizations worshiped maize and ate tamales as a form of communion. They believed that if they did not make sacrifices to their gods, the maize fields would not grow and people would starve. These are deep and important meanings, but they are very different from the taco shops that first appeared in Mexico City about 1900. Historical context is essential for understanding what was important in people’s lives, and I think the taco tells us a lot about working-class people in modern Mexico.

TT: What’s the inspiration for your study of the taco?

JP: Precisely that it gives us such a good opportunity to study the lives of ordinary people.

TT: What are the marks of a great taqueria and a great taco?

JP: Freshness. Fresh tortillas. Meat just off the grill. A really good salsa (that smooth guacamole is my favorite). A squeeze of lime. A Mexican beer. It’s all about freshness. And having a lively scene, with people waiting in line for tacos, is how the taco vendors can serve fresh food and still make a profit. Continue reading

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Introducing Taco Trail’s Newest Contributor, Nick Zukin

Taco Trail contributor, Nick Zukin

When I received Nick Zukin’s email invitation to join him on a taco crawl along Maple Avenue in Dallas, I had no idea who he was. After reading the email, I knew I could learn some things about tacos and eat damn good tacos if I accepted the offer from the Portland, Oregon, resident. Since then, Nick has been a kindred spirit and my taco reference book mule. On his way back to Portland from Mexico, Nick has passed along essential reading material.

But Nick is more than a taco enthusiast and trafficker of the printed word. He’s also a food writer, restaurateur, cookbook author, tireless debater, tour guide, friend and, now, a Taco Trail contributor.

Let’s get to know him before moving on to his first post.

Taco Trail: You’re involved in myriad aspects of the food and restaurant world. How did you go from writer to owning and operating your own restaurants, a deli and Mi Mero Mole, a taqueria—even writing a cookbook, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home?

Nick Zukin: I get bored easy. That’s basically it.  I was a computer programmer who got tired of sitting behind a computer screen all day and decided to make my hobby my career instead.  I knew it’d mean a pay cut and longer hours, but for me it’s more about building something. Writing a cookbook, writing reviews, researching obscure Mexican antojitos—those are all things I’d do anyway just because.  There’s not much pay in food writing, as you know, but it’s nice to know that my reviews made a difference for the bottom line of restaurants where people care enough to put out a good product. And my mom gets to have a book on her shelf with my name on it.

TT: When and where does your passion for and knowledge of Mexican cuisine, specifically tacos, come from?

NZ: My mom is from Arizona and my dad from California. I grew up eating Mexican food several nights a week. When we went out to eat, it was either Mexican or pizza. My first cooking memory is my dad showing me how to fry tortillas for crispy taco shells. In college, Mexican was about the only food I could afford to go out and eat that didn’t come from a drive-thru, but even then I wanted to find the best. And then when I started traveling, Mexico being relatively cheap and close and having food that I loved was an obvious destination. It just snowballed from there, especially once I started food blogging, buying Spanish-language Mexican cookbooks, and chatting with people more knowledgeable than me on the internet. I still keep in touch with people I met online and shared a love of Mexican food with, like Steve Sando, Cristina Potters, Sharon Peters, Ruth Alegria, and Nick Gilman. All of us are professional Mexican food nerds of one kind or another now.

TT: How has it changed your view of Mexican food?

NZ: I guess my view has just broadened.  There’s just so much more to the landscape of Mexican food than I could have realized as a 5 year old learning to fry tortillas. I think it can be difficult for an American under the age of 40 to really understand the diversity and regionality of Mexican food because the regionality of American food has disappeared so much. Continue reading

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Filed under interviews, Lengua Sessions, Mexico City, Portland