During YEAR OF THE TACO, we will be bringing you various taco conversations with some of our friend musicians, chefs and artists, to find out what they are saying about the most mouthwatering of street food dishes.
Here’s how René Redzepi, head chef at two Michelin star restaurant Noma, recalls his ﬁrst experience of real tacos in his introduction to 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, 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 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 & the beach,” I reassured myself. “Just live off fruit.” We landed fairly late in Mérida, at 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, overlit 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 signalled 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 coriander 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. Suddenly the 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.
Feature taken from the current issue of Ola Magazine, which you can find at every Wahaca restaurant.