How René Redzepi fell in love with tacos
Read his introduction to Tacopedia, the ultimate guide to all the taco traditions of Mexico's diverse regions
You might be aware of René Redzepi's admiration for Mexican cuisine; the world-famous chef, whose Noma restaurant is currently ranked third in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, told the New York Times towards the end of last year that Mexican cuisine was the “sleeping giant” of global gastronomy. Yet, how did he reach this conclusion? Read on to discover his epicurean awakening in this, his introduction to our new ultimate guide to Mexican street food, Tacopedia.
“I’ll never forget the first time I set off for Mexico many years ago. It was winter in Denmark, I was worn out from work, and I needed a beach. As I sat there on the long plane ride over, I couldn’t help but dread the fact that I was going to have to eat the food.
“You see, in Europe it’s virtually impossible to get a mouthful of authentic Mexican food. What we have here is a type of Tex-Mex, a tradition born in the U.S. that certainly has its rare pleasures. But imagine that variant being sent through a game of intercontinental telephone (Chinese whispers): what ends up here in Scandinavia is so far from its origins that it’s downright sad. I foolishly thought it would be the same in Mexico.
“What the heck, you have your books and the beach,” I reassured myself. “Just live off fruit.” We landed fairly late in Mérida, about 11:30 in the evening, and we were starving. I asked our host for something to eat. Stupid as I was, I requested pizza. He looked at me funny. I could almost hear him thinking “Stupid gringo.”
“We drove a good thirty minutes from the airport before stopping at a nondescript, over-lit restaurant. There was outdoor seating, all covered in plastic and soft drink logos. “This is it,” he said as we pulled over. “We’ll grab a bite here.”
““Remember the beach, remember the beach,” I repeated like a mantra to myself as we sat down, but within an instant I forgot those words. Ice-cold beers arrived at our table in a flash, as our host signaled the kitchen to send us a round of tacos al pastor. As I stared down at the plate, the first thing I noticed was that the tortillas had a yellow hue to them that was so different from the white and dense variety I was used to finding in Denmark. The grilled pork was flaky and moist. There were fresh leaves of emerald-green cilantro sprinkled on top, as well as some thin slices of pineapple. On the side, a little condiment of sour orange juice with habanero. “Put seven drops of that on your pineapple,” the host told me.
“I did, and folded the taco together. It was already levels above what I had experienced in Europe—the aroma, the very look of it. But then I sunk my teeth in. Immediately I felt the tenderness, the rich umami character of the meat. And the tortilla! It was sweet and smoky, with a gentle chew to it, like a good sourdough bread. Suddenlythe spice from the habaneros hit me, kept in check by the sweet, succulent pineapple. That perfect bite made it a moment I’ll always remember, sitting on those plastic chairs in the tropical heat."
For more on tacos, order a copy of Tacopedia here, and learn more about the book here; for more of Redzepi's writing get Noma and A Work in Progress; and for a firmer grounding in Mexican cuisine, get Mexico and Enrique Olvera's Mexico From The Inside Out.