Few dishes are as distinctive and characteristic of Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, as tacos de canasta or basket tacos, also known as tacos sudados or sweaty tacos. The dish is sold throughout the city in their typical baskets, most of which are lined with blue plastic and paper wrapping to maintain their temperature.
Last month, Global Voices republished an interesting article from partner Public Radio International about the relationship between tacos al pastor and shawarma, and its origins dating back to the times of the Ottoman Empire. And a few years ago, our colleague Laura Schneider wrote a post on typical Argentine food – every time we read it, our stomachs grumble and we can't help but drool over the asado (roasted meat).
To continue exploring local Latin American dishes, let's look at basket tacos, which consist of small, folded tortillas containing some sort of stew. Traditionally, the stews most commonly used for basket tacos have pork rinds, adobo, refried beans, and potatoes with chorizo. Some baskets can have more variety, with chicken tacos in green mole sauce or cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork).
Vendors generally transport the tacos by carrying them in a basket on the back of their bicycles, or sometimes they set up a stand in a busy area in the city. People normally eat them unceremoniously standing up. Currently, you can get three basket tacos for 15 Mexican pesos, which equates to approximately one U.S. dollar.
Because of their price and their easy accessibility, they are a common food choice for students and people on a budget. Many of the residents of Mexico City, which is the fourth most populated in the world with over 21 million people, don't have much time to eat breakfast or lunch.
Almost a year ago, José Ignacio made the following comment about the dish in question in the cuisine section for cultural website Arca:
Los puedes encontrar en muchas esquinas, ya sea en una bicicleta, dentro de una tienda miscelánea o en un puesto improvisado. Estos tacos son una tradición culinaria propia de nuestro país, son conocidos por ser baratos, rápidos y por su manera de preparación: la cocción en una canasta repleta de cebollas matizadas con grasa de chicharrón y aceite.
Todos alguna vez tienen que probar esta delicia que la comida tradicional mexicana nos ofrece.
You can find them in many corners, be it on a bicycle, in a random store, or a makeshift stand. These tacos are a culinary tradition of their own in our country, known for being cheap, fast, and for how they're prepared: cooked in a basket full of onions tinged with fat from pork rinds and oil.
Everyone at some point has to try this delicacy of traditional Mexican food.
José Ignacio mentions an essential ingredient in this dish: the fat it contains, which in some recipes comes from the pork lard used in its preparation, undoubtedly an element that keeps Mexico's dietitians and cardiologists busy. It's worth noting that according to official information shared by the federal district's government, obesity and overweight are the main public health problem in Mexico. In fact, the country faces the most serious obesity crisis of Latin America, according to Forbes.
But we'll leave the discussion about health issues for another time and will instead expand on the origin of these tacos. In an article by El Memo in online magazine Chilango, the author asserts that a significant number of the basket tacos consumed in the capital are prepared in the tiny east-central state of Tlaxcala, specifically in San Vicente Xiloxochitla:
Ahí, la mitad de los lugareños se dedica a la elaboración del taco y hasta tienen un día dedicado a eso: el 1 de diciembre, cuando desfilan con sus bicicletas por todo el lugar, aventando tacos por doquier. Cargados de su característico frasco de mayonesa lleno de salsa verde, estos tlaxcaltecas han cambiado la agricultura por los tacos sudados.
Dice Jorge Ibargüengoitia que los tacos sudados son como el Volkswagen de los tacos nacionales: prácticos, buenos y económicos, y que constituyen uno de los momentos culminantes de la tecnología mexicana. Su elaboración es sencilla: tortillas recién hechas, guisados preparados al momento, aceite hirviendo con un poco de chile guajillo (y que les da ese toque colorado) y si nos ponemos exquisitos, cebollitas para acompañar.
La salsa se prepara con tomate y chile hervido al que posteriormente se le agrega cilantro y cebolla cruda.
There, half of the locals are dedicated to making the taco and they even have a day dedicated to it: December 1st, when they parade their bicycles all around, throwing tacos left and right. Loaded with their typical mayonnaise jar full of green sauce, these Tlaxcala natives have changed the agriculture for sweaty tacos.
[Mexican novelist and playwright] Jorge Ibargüengoitia says that sweaty tacos are the Volkswagen of national tacos: practical, good, and economical, one of the highlights of Mexican technology. Their preparation is simple: fresh tortillas, stews cooked on the spot, boiling oil with a bit of guajillo chile (which gives them their touch of color) and if we want to get fancy, little onions on the side.
The sauce is prepared with tomatoes and boiled chile, to which cilantro and raw onion is added later.
On Twitter, user Mónica Robles tweeted this tongue-in-cheek observation:
Vivimos en un mundo en el que la mitad del planeta muere de hambre y la otra de colesterol y obesidad *se come sus cinco tacos de canasta*
— Mónica Robles (@sirena_deamortz) June 17, 2015
We live in a world where half the planet dies from hunger and the other have from high cholesterol and obesity *eating her five basket tacos*
The vendors of this dish have also opted for modernization, leaving behind the traditional bicycle, as user Migan Lever pointed out:
Modernizarse o morir, hasta el de los tacos de canasta entiende el concepto. pic.twitter.com/4euHr4jtKa
— MIGAN LEVER (@MiganLever) June 14, 2015
Modernize or die, even the basket tacos guy understands the concept.
Alberto Rojas used the social network in question to boast about digging into an order of this iconic dish:
@elcachorroshow #notedeseoelmal pero que se les antojen mis tacos de canasta pic.twitter.com/yBljD7viYH
— Alberto Rojas (@beto360320) June 17, 2015
#Nottowishyouharm but I hope you're all craving my basket tacos
“Basket tacos” are not considered gourmet Mexican cuisine (at least not yet), but they nonetheless represent an everyday element of the urban scene in Mexico City, as well as an undeniable source of employment and food for thousands of Mexicans. So, why not try them during your next visit to the Mexican capital?