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TACOS AL PASTOR WHERE MEXICO MEETS THE MIDDLE EAST

If you’ve visited Mexico and whilst having a stroll… you, in amazement, spotted an enormous spinning skewer of meat roasting kebab-shop style, wonder no more. We’ve got the story behind what is probably the most popular – and some say most delicious – taco in Mexico… tacos al pastor.

In the 1930s, Lebanese immigrants arriving in Puebla, south central Mexico, were happily making their spit-grilled lamb shawarma, grinning from ear to ear. Until one day, a crafty Mexican decided to swap the meat over to pork and marinate it with his locally produced achiote paste (made from annatto seeds, oregano, cumin and other spices). The taco al pastor was born and the grins continued to grow. Nowadays, vertical “spinning tops” better known as trompos, cook the meat slowly with a rotisserie type flame.

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The meat is topped with a fresh pineapple which the “taqueros” (taco bosses) slice along with the thinly carved, succulent pork into freshly made corn tortillas. These lush tacos are then sprinkled with chopped onion & coriander and served with a slice of lime for you to squeeze liberally (as Mexicans like to do). Tacos al pastor have fast become Mexico City’s most famous taco.

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As it evolved with the use of other chillies like guajillo, anchos and spices, legendary taquerias like El Fogoncito and El Tizoncito helped boost their popularity as taco parlours opened up around town, then expanded to the rest of the country and now the world.

So next time you visit Mexico watch out from early evening, as the trompos start rolling and tacos al pastor are served until early morning for those heading home after a night out. Yes, just like kebabs, but way tastier. Try them with the salsa “de la casa” and wash them down with your favourite Mexican beer. You won’t be sorry.

Watch out for trials of our own pastor grill being installed in Wahaca Charlotte Street as part of the Year of the Taco.

Photos by Gulliermo Villareal.

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Meet Jon Anders, mezcal & tequila prophet

Meet Jon, originally from Norway, and working for Amathus, one of our great suppliers, he is probably one of the world’s most passionate tequila and mezcal prophets. And if you have been lucky enough to see him give a masterclass (at the Amathus stores, at Wahaca bars, or as part of bar training) you will know exactly what we mean, We caught up with him to ask how can a Norwegian guy be so Mexican?

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How did your passion for mezcal begin?

I guess it started when I first lived with Mexicans, they had a flair for living and for parties, and with parities came drinks, and part of that was drinking Tequila. I guess you can say it all started with drinking Tequila.

There was mezcal back then but mostly industrial mezcal with worms, I did not know it as industrial mezcal then, it was just mezcal but I did not like it, sure it was a little exiting with the gusano (caterpillar) in the bottle but the taste was like industrial tequila on steroids, pure petrol and even with the added caramel and sweetness it was still not pleasant.

Now mezcal seems to be so much in fashion, even Mick Jagger told the crowd in Mexico City recently that he now drinks mezcal, how did things change?

When looking back I can’t imagine the mezcal category would have been where it is now, if this had been only type of mezcal on the market, it all changed with Ron Coopers Del Maguey and his work with the village palenqueros (producers, distillers and farmers).

What they together produced was revolutionary, the palenqueros Faustino, Don Lencho, Paciano, Espiridion and El Rey made the juice, Ron the bottles and the labels and what a winning combination, here was this product, this mezcal that was high in abv (alcohol by volume) that was unadulterated, free from chemicals, free from additional sweetener, that was pre-organic, pre-biodynamic, made in a way that was unchanged for generations, in small villages by one family, that was in essence just the pure juice from the agave. How can you not love this.

For me defining moment was going to Oaxaca, I had been to Jalisco on numerous occasions, visiting tequila distilleries in both Tequila and Arandas, but seeing the first palenque was like going to another planet, sure I had seen photos and heard the stories but to see one up close was insane.

What was the distillery like?

There is a big hole in the ground where the agaves are earth roasted and a round stone basin, where a round millstone is standing, it has a horse harness attached, so the millstone can be pulled around by a horse or a mule, crushing the halved cut cooked agaves into fibres, no modern equipment, no electricity, they use wood to heat the still up and for heating up the stones in the bottom of the cooking pit.

In the tick of the action there is one guy and his family, they run the whole operation, they do everything, plant and harvest the agave. They cook, crush, ferment and distil them self, with very little outside help. For this family to make one batch of mezcal can take them anywhere from a month to two months depended if you harvest wild or planted agaves.

It’s all hand made in it truest form.

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How was your interaction with the mezcal makers?

You are then invited for lunch, expertly cooked by the women, cooking downwards by hand over open fire, in some cases the day before you arrive. You sit on the best table, surrounded by the family and eating some of the best food you will ever eat, drinking mezcal straight from the still, feeling close to nirvana, wishing they could serve something else than coca cola…..

You leaving with a family richer, wishing to come back soon, you sit in the car thinking to yourself how unique this experience was, almost like traveling back in time, thinking this must be a special one and the only one left, but as you travel around and visiting other palenques you start realise they all are like this, the country side is littered with small palenques like that, sure not all of them are like this, some will have concrete floor, a corrugated metal roof and a few wall, but they all have the same layout, using the same process. Some of this mezcal producing families are indigenous to the region, they are either Zapotec, Mixtec or Mixe (and others, 30% of all the indigenous people in México lives in the state of Oaxaca)

And last but not least as it’s the Year of the Taco, what is your favourite taco ever?

There used to be this taco stand next to the big square in Arandas, called Tacos Machete which did this amazing tacos al carbon (grilled), bistek, pollo and so on…. they also did the fresh nopal pads with melted cheese that was delicious.

 

You can catch Jon at a Wahaca Bar near you very soon for some very special masterclasses, keep an eye on our blog for more info.

 

 

Why you don’t want to miss our Day of the Dead Festival

On November the 7th, we are throwing  a 12 hour party in London’s Tobacco Dock, celebrating the dead and the living, indulgence and debauchery, loud music, fine food and provocative debate, surrounded by beautiful art. You should come.

A celebration of Day of the Dead comes to life on a scale the UK has never seen before, with 2 main live music stages, plus an electronic Mextronica stage, all set in the vibrant setting of this most life affirming of festivities.

From melodic mashups of Mexico and the UK’s finest bands and DJs to a death café for discussing your own mortality over tea and cake, you’re going to want to get down here early to explore everything that’s going on.

Get your tickets before it’s too late.

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WHAT YOU’LL FIND AT TOBACCO DOCK

Bands across the oceans The UK and Mexico’s finest rock, post-punk, cumbia and electro-indie bands coming together on our 2 main stages with The Horrors, Savages, Crystal Fighters, Zoe, Mexrrissey & Erick Rincon amongst many more.

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Voodoo Love Orchestra

Street food to die for Spend lunchtime grazing round our market street food stalls, offering favourites from the Wahaca and DF/Mexico kitchens and bars – Festivals don’t get much tastier.

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DF/Mexico NY style tortas

Holy smoke Discover a hidden Mezcaloteca offering tastings and a chance to take home some of Oaxaca’s famous smoky elixir, that mysterious cousin to tequila, Mezcal.

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Tequila & Mezcal served at Wahaca

Market style Our underground Mexican market will be offering artisanal crafts for your perusal, bringing a taste of San Juan market from Mexico City to East London

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Mexa design

Masked crusaders Yep. There’s going to be Lucha Libre – Masked wrestling, Mexican style. Not just a chance to watch, but for the adventurous, a chance to take part too.

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Roger Alarcon Photography

Wapping INK La Roma & Depftord’s finest ink artists tattooing LIVE to preserve this day forever and ever.

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NeoAzteca

Top grub If you were lucky enough to grab one of 120 tickets to attend Enrique Olvera (Whose Mexico City restaurant Pujol, is currently sitting at no. 16th in The World’s Best Restaurants) & Thomasina Miers’ supper club at the festival, expect the finest contemporary Mexican experience. If you’ve missed out on a seat at the chefs table, fear not. Enrique will be cooking up some of his signature tacos from his own taco stall throughout the evening.

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Tommi & Enrique

Let it SHRINE Day of the Dead is all about remembrance, and setting up a shrine (ofrenda) to your dearest departed with food, flowers, personal possessions and candles is common in Mexico, and at the festival, expect to find 2 stunning ofrendas by artist Betsabe Romero and the Mexican London community remembering those who have died fighting for free speech.

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Ofrenda to Periodistas de a Pie

A feast for the eyes There’s going to be art too with the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition “Dead: A celebration of mortality” showcasing work which comments on the inescapable subjects of death, decay and mortality; alongside live street art from of Mexican political muralists Lapiztola who will bring their own comment on death and life to the festival.

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Lapiztola mural in Oaxaca City

Provocative talks In between the music and margaritas, join English PEN to get a real insight into Mexico’s cultural and literary scene with speakers like Diego Luna, DBC Pierre and Thomasina Miers in conversation with Enrique Olvera.

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Diego Luna

Find your spiritual home at La Casa Loca From silly dancing to Elvis Corpsely to Musical Bingo and thumb wrestling to taco battles, this will be the room to let yourself go into the uknown.

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Support free speech 10% from the sale of all food and drink at the festival, will be donated to Periodistas de a Pie, a charity helping Mexican journalists in danger fighting for freedom of speech. The more you eat, the more you’re helping this incredible cause.

 

At the heart of Wahaca’s Day of the Dead Festival is a lofty ambition, fuelled by an awareness of a perceived defect in much  of UK society. It’s their belief that here, we live in an age that is repulsed by death, we fear the pain of remembrance and clad it in stiff ceremony and  we don’t create enough opportunities to honour those who came before us.

We are becoming more and more obsessed with the future and detached from our past. Meanwhile in Latin American, and specifically, Mexican culture, death is celebrated as an occasion to remember and honour  friends and family who have gone before us.  Wahaca’s Day of the Dead festival is a chance to bring some of that vibrant celebration to life on the biggest scale the UK has ever seen. We’ll raise a glass to that.

Click here for tickets.

Wahaca’s top picks: September

How did it change from a hot summer to sharp autumn? Don’t worry… we have some fab suggestions to keep the Mexican heat going this September:

 

PARTY: Mexican Independence Day FIesta, 15th of September 7-11pm, Wahaca Soho’s Azuluito Bar. FREE

Every 15th of September Mexico takes on to the streets to party and celebrate independence with street food and tequila, do we need to say more?

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ART: Shaped in Mexico, 4th to 12th of September. Bargehouse, Oxo Tower, London FREE

Returning to London for its second edition, presents a contemporary art exhibition that brings together over 150 works by 32 international artists working across painting, drawing, video, photography, performance, sculpture, and installation in an exploration into contemporary art from, and influenced by, Mexico.

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Photo: Roger Alarcon Photography

 

FOOD: Wahaca Manchester and DF/Mexico Tottenham Court Road open

The first Wahaca in the North of England opens in Manchester on the 10th of September and our cheeky little brother DF/Mexico hits Noho in London on 17th of September with the tastiest NYC tortas, tacos and boards in town.,

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DF/Mexico Tottenham Coart Road

 

TEQUILA & MEZCAL: Tequila & Mezcal Fest 2015, 19th and 20th of September, Spitafields Market, London. £15

Love Tequila? here is your chance to learn and try tequilas from across Mexico, talk to producers, take a masterclass and grab a bite of Mexican food.

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FILM: Raindance Film Festival, 23rd September- 4th of October. London

Raindance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in Europe, once again presents outstanding Mexican cinema this year with 7 feature films and 3 shorts. Another Mexican highlight is the masterclass by acclaimed Mexican screenwriter (21 grams, Amores Perros, Babel) Guillermo Arriaga. Wahaca is a proud partner of Raindance.

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Monterrey’s Cholombianos, a fascinating Mexican sub-culture

Cholombianos: An exhibition documenting the unusually authentic style of a sub culture in Mexico throughout the time the drug violence was engulfing the country. Their folkloric and seemingly patriotic approach making and creating every part of their style often personally is endearing and fresh in when streetstyle seems to be getting more homogeneous and less individual.

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British photographer and fashion designer, Amanda Watkins behind the project: When I first started going to Mexico in 2007 Monterrey was a very safe conservative city, I spotted these guys downtown playing Cumbia music beside the river and dancing with their own band. Social classes do not mix there at all and it is easy to see that immediately, there were crucial different cultural elements to take in. At first they were quite cool and distant with me, not unfriendly but it took a while to become relaxed on both sides really.

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I was surprised at how brave the style of the boys was, they really dared to create an impact.

Although in a way I was pretty scared I found it really refreshing and exciting also, I made friends with a couple of the guys and they took me to more risky downtown areas and markets and I started to be accepted, I was always the only foreigner around.

I continued to return to their parties and go to areas around that city that I otherwise would never have ventured into, that for me was a great way to see the city and their culture.

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Cholombianos, an exhibition is now on at London’s Rich Mix until the end of August & the book is out now.

FREE ENTRY

Win the ultimate Mexican summer evening.

To celebrate the Baja California specials menu, part of our #CuilinaryTrip series of regional Mexican dishes, and the arrival of Mexico’s national company Ballet Folklorico de Mexico De Amalia Hernandez, we are giving you the chance to win dinner for two at Wahaca Covent Garden and the best seats in the house for the Ballet’s performance at the Coliseum round the corner.

Our Baja menu, exclusive to Wahaca Covent Garden includes Octoups Tostada with peanut chilli oil, Clam, mussels and prawn arroz rojo to MSC smoked herring pescadilla and Roasted vegetable hibiscus & Peanut dressing. For pudding a Lime posset with shortbread. This new specials menu is sure to blow your mind and transport you to the beautiful coastal towns of foodie Baja.

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To complete your evening, Mexico’s national dance company Ballet Folklorico de Mexico De Amalia Hernandez heading to the UK at London’s Coliseum from July 22nd  to the 25th of July, 42 years to the day since their last UK engagement as part of the year of Mexico in the UK.

Formed by the charismatic Amalia Hernandez in 1952, the company have become Mexico’s leading artistic ambassadors. They were the first to travel to china and have been seen by over 45 million people worldwide, not least by the thousands of visitors who visit the company at Mexico’s  Palace of Fine Arts – the foremost stage for the arts in Mexico City which has housed the company since 1959.

Amalia’s work tells the of the building of a national. Her vibrant and energetic pieces see a cast of 40 dancers and 16 musicians bring the fierce traditions of Aztec Warriors and thrill of the fiesta dances to London in a blur of hundreds of colourful costumes.

Prize includes pre-theatre dinner at Wahaca Covent Garden up to the value of £40 and the best seats at the Coliseum on Wednesday 22nd of July. To enter simply share with  us your ideal #MexicanSummer pics on Twitter or Instagram. We will pick a winner on Friday the 17th of July.

To book tickets  for the show click here.

The Palette of San Cristobal De Las Casas

As our #CulinaryTrip takes us across Mexico, we have joined forces with Roady Magazine to bring you an insight into a real road trip across the mother land. On the first of this series, we take you to Chiapas…

Famed as the cultural capital of Chiapas region in Mexico, San Cristobal de las Casas deserves every praise expressed through the lips of locals. Red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and iron balconies covered in flowers makes this city a must-visit destination for tourists seeking to discover an outstanding Mexican heritage. Cantered around stunning displays of flower-based art and local food stalls this city attracts thousands of tourists every month with its vast spectrum of colours and smells.

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The whole city seems to be striving and filled with activities to dive in. During the weekend different groups of masked entertainers stroll through the streets singing and dancing and the majority of the bustle can be found near the Central Park, where entertainment does not stop until late in the evening. Local people blend with vacationers as they fill the stools of small market eateries and enjoy the delicacies of the Mexican legacy. The food in the Chiapas region is based on vast amounts of chicken and pork prepared with local seasonings. The tendency of using small amounts of chilli peppers, as opposed to the other regions around, can be easily distinguished. Regional specialties include Tasajo (thinly sliced beef marinated in an achiote chilli sauce), chicken with mole (sauce prepared with chilli peppers, spices and chocolate) and pork with pipian (pumpkin seed sauce). Most of the market dishes are served with a side of radish, onion, coriander and lime to give you the choice of making every bite slightly more unique. Prices vary from stall to stall so enquire before you order and enjoy trying different styles of regional dishes served by the local people of San Cristobal.

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After a vast dinner the buzz moves to the textile and local souvenir stands where you can find anything from a colourful scarf to organic healing potions and if you want to learn more about the history of San Cristobal de las Casas, the stall keepers can tell you endless stories on any subject you are interested in regarding the region and its mythical legends.

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The ex-capital of Chiapas has been labelled as the treasure of Mexico and there are no better words to describe it. For those who admire Spaniard Colonial design, great ancient tales of the heritage of Central America complimented by amazing food, San Cristobal is the place to be. To read more click here.