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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Antigua Taqueria La Oriental,Puebla: The Original Asian-Fusion Tacos
Long before Los Angeles' food truck fetish with Asian-fusion tacos, Pueblans had already traveled down that road.There are many incorrect stories about the Lebanese influence in the taco arabe, or arab tacos, but actually the original creators of these Pueblan curiosities were of Iraqi descent.
It was in 1933, that the Tabe Mena family first served what is now known as the taco arabe, an adaption of the Greek gyros sandwich, which lept from lamb and a yogurt or tahini sauce to pork loin and chipotle. Other families of Iraqi heritage dispute the Tabe Mena family's claim, but the Tabe Mena family maintains that their grandfather Jorge Mena, who had fled the Turkish invasion of Iraq in the late 1800's, was the first to set up shop.
The Tabe family is still behind the spit of one of the largest tacos arabes chains in Puebla, Antigua Taqueria La Oriental. There are currently over 300 taquerias in the city of Puebla that produce this iconic taste of Pueblan cuisine.
Unlike the al pastor vertical spits, called trompos, the pork meat for tacos arabes is carved in the shape of a cylinder, not like a top, and the marinade consists of mostly herbs, no chiles nor achiote are used, so you get a more natural pork flavor. The meat itself is carved into wider swaths of the pork loin, or leg.
Today, you can get the sweet barbeque-like chipotle sauce,or an herb and mayo dressing from squeeze bottles.
In addition to the original tacos arabes, La Oriental has added all sorts of menu items featuring the same delicious pork, even cemitas and arab pizzas! The two items that are here to stay though, are the taco de harina and the taco oriental.
The taco oriental, oriental taco, is a lighter offering of the signature pork on a corn tortilla.
The taco de harina, taco in a flour tortilla, is what you likely have been served under the pretense of of a taco arabe, but if it's in a flour tortilla, it's just a taco de harina. Don't feel bad, these are great,too.
But the star here, and the most interesting taco, is the taco arabe, made from the pita bread-like pan arabe, or Arab bread.The firm and thick artisanal tortilla has a lightly course texture, and makes for a more satisfying bite. The pork was consistent at the two branches I visited, tender, and plenty of herb-laced pork flavor.
There are many great taquerias serving the Pueblan taco arabe, but La Oriental is a wise place to start. These are the original Asian-fusion taco, 100%Pueblan gastronomy, and one of the great tacos of Mexico.
Antigua Taqueria La Oriental
Over 30 branches(see link to website)
Historica Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla