There are tacos, and then there are tacos, the way you eat in the market of 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca, home to some of the best Mexican food. This is a guide to the Best Tacos experience.
In one corner of this market, appearing from beneath all the smoke and the unmistakable smell of charcoal, is a row of red, on both sides of the aisle. The red, are large thin slices of meat, stacked in a display like piles of paper alongside some chorizo. Above it, hangs a curtain of tripa (tripe).
Step 1 : Choose your meat
Of the many stalls, I chose the one that appeared to be the most popular. Effectively, they all have exactly the same products on offer: beef, “enchilado” beef and chorizo. You can buy 1kg, 1/2 kg of 1/4kg of any or a mix of these. A 1/4kg “Mixto” was MXN75.
Step 2: Grilling!
They will grill your meat for you. The smell gets irresistible and you start feeling even more hungry. You’re handed a laminated card with the stall ID and your order ID to take to your chosen table (they are communal tables and a lot of fun).
Step 3: Choose your condiments
Pretty much as soon as you take your seat, you’ll be approached by vendors carrying small plastic containers of avocados, tomatoes, onions, guacamole, chillies and a lot more. They’re MXN 15 each, and you choose what you want. There’ll also be someone bringing over tortillas. I admit I quite like the occasional gringo burrito from Chipotle in London every so often, but my Oaxacan Taco experience is like no other Mexican Food you will find in London (or anywhere else outside of Mexico, I imagine).
Step 4: Assemble your Tacos
Finally, the meat arrives and the fun part begins! At this point you just have to forget the concept of “cutlery”. Mexicans just tear up the meat using their hands, because…well, this is the only way. Here’s a tip: don’t use a whole tortilla to make up your taco – the pros use half a tortilla at a time. This will save you from having to hold on to a rolled up taco with bits and pieces falling and dripping all over the place. It’s impossible to do this elegantly though, so don’t worry too much about making a right mess.
Step 5: Mexican Food Heaven…Eat!
I was an amateur with my first Taco and used a whole tortilla…
The atmosphere is buzzing and it’s such good fun. At any moment during your Taco-assembly, you might be asked to get up from your bench and let other people in/out of your communal table. Loads of vendors will approach you as you bite into your Taco, trying to sell you a wooden comb, a book mark or a spoon. To be honest, I don’t think they even expect you to buy anything while you eat….it’s just something they do. It’s all part of the experience, and the chaos of the market adds an extra flavour to the chargrilled meat. A Taco fan or not, this is definitely something you should try if you’re in Oaxaca. Mexican food isn’t all about tacos, but they do seem to eat a lot of it here!