Savoring The ‘Ground Game’ In Mexico
We are inspired to travel for many reasons. Wandering encourages us to get out of our comfort zones, helps grow our world view, and allows us to have experiences distinctly different than what our normal milieus provide—making us appreciate the lives we live even more when viewed in contrast to something different.
Recently I was asked to go to a paragliding mecca known as Valle de Bravo, Mexico in the state of Michoacán, which is also the region where carnitas, originate. I have visited this small resort town around ten times over the past 15 years, and I’ve witnessed it grow into a thriving hotbed of activity for the elite of Mexico City, which makes it incredibly accessible as a foreign tourist.
...often it is the ground game of the amazing places we go for our passion pursuits that leaves the most lasting memories.
I eagerly accepted the invitation with only one thing on my mind: the best street tacos I have ever encountered in the whole wide world—aka “Taco Alley.”
Some take cooking classes in Thailand (amazing) while others go to France and enjoy five-hour-long dinners. To me, the tortilla—flour or corn (all good)—is the finest delivery vehicle for protein, vegetables, or any savory edible for that matter.
For around 5 dollars a night you can gorge yourself on the many options that Taco Alley provides. The menu board can be a bit overwhelming at first. Here’s a starter guide, so when you saddle up to the stainless-steel counter you’ll have a head start on your first half dozen.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR SO YOU KNOW YOU HAVE ARRIVED
Freshly cut limes, radishes, big bowls of cilantro, and the omnipresent and generously applied 321-brand vegetable oil.
HOW TO PICK OUT THE BEST PLACE
The number of customers at a stand usually signifies if the spot is hot or not. If the street is slow, look for how many employees a place has. If it has more than others, then it means it usually is busy there (hence the extra staff). Check out the offerings in terms of salsas, fresh limes, and other add-ons. A good spot will have a plethora of all condiments including a light avocado-based salsa that is not to be missed.
Salted and peppered sirloin that is flattened with a meat-tenderizing tool, and then chopped up into small morsels. This is my go to, palate cleansing taco of which I often order one in every three just to reset. A delicious variant you might like is to add cheese (con queso por favor) for the south of the border cheese steak equivalent.
Adobada is generally pork that’s typically marinated in a "red" chile sauce with vinegar and oregano. In Mexico, the special seasoning often includes allspice, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, and/or nutmeg, all in subtle amounts. They cook most of the heat off of this lovely pork treat. Cheese can also be added to Adobada tacos for a bit of a greasier, yet scrumptious, affair.
This pork dish is very similar to Adobada in its spice profile but with one distinct difference—pineapple. It is a dish developed in Central Mexico, and credited to an influx of then-Ottoman citizens from what is currently Lebanon immigrating to Mexico and fusing two amazing food cultures. It is a shawarma spit-grilled meat that is usually carved in front of the hungry customer and grilled to perfection then adorned with pineapple as garnish along with the typical cilantro and white onion accoutrement.
Carnitas or “little meats”:
Usually a breakfast taco in Valle de Bravo, of which I enjoy thoroughly, it also can be an evening tradition and shouldn’t be overlooked in this rundown as it’s so dang delicious. Slow-roasted pork seasoned perfectly. I try to get rid of a lot of the fat they love to carve off for you with the meat as I’m guessing they think that’s where the “real” flavor is. I figure that this dish is created from braising and simmering a nice chunk of pork in lard, which is enough for me.
THE TACOS THAT I SPLASH OUT AND TRY WHEN I’M FEELING FRISKY
Suadero, in Mexican cuisine, is a thin cut of beef from the meat that hangs from the breastbone on a cow. Suadero is noted for having a smooth texture rather than a muscle grain. It tastes like carnitas but with a bit more texture like flank steak.
The name Alambre literally means "wire" in Spanish. It is commonly believed that the name refers to the act of skewering the ingredients while cooking, although this is not always the case. It is a mixture of beef, pork, green bell peppers, onions, and cheese served on a corn tortilla. If you are looking for more veggies in your all-taco diet, this is a must-have.
This is a taco and a quesadilla at the same time. Two flour tortillas hold in a large helping of Pastor pork, pineapple, and cheese.
With nearly every culture serving some form of this dish consisting of edible lining from the stomachs of various farm animals, usually cattle, Mexico is no exception. While I generally steer clear, many enjoy the texture of this nuanced cut of meat.
Tongue is more and more difficult to find as it takes a bit more sophistication to prepare and execute on this delicacy. If you do see it on the menu, it’s worth a try. Prepared correctly, it is flavorful and delicately tender from the slow braising process and the fine cut of the muscle.
If you are looking for a taco that will knock the socks off of all others in flavor—and fat—chorizo will be your jam. This pork-stuffed sausage is usually made with native chili peppers of the same Capsicum annuum species in Mexico. Chorizo can also be added to all the other tacos above to supercharge the grease and taste quotient.
Adventures and travels are a patchwork of experiences, and paragliding trips are often reported from the aerial accomplishments we achieve. But often it is the ground game of the amazing places we go for our passion pursuits that leaves the most lasting memories.
Let’s not even get into the fresh churros!
KEEN Ambassador and adventure paraglider Nick Greece gets to enjoy a bird’s eye view wherever he travels. When he touches down, you can always count on Nick to find the cultural gems of every place he visits. For more adventure inspiration, follow Nick on Instagram at @nicgreece