Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tacos Estilo Zacoalco Doña Toña: Let's Give a Hand for Tacos Torteados

While dashing all over Jalisco and Colima last week from the lowlands of Jalisco; to the pilgrim's trail to Talpa; down to Colima's capitol, magical towns, and lime-groved beach cities; and finally to the highlands of Jalisco before a much needed pause in Guadalajara I saw a sign. A sign of tacos yet unknown. Tacos torteados? What could those be? There were a few stands claiming tacos torteados near the town of Zacoalco, Jalisco, on the free highway just south of Guadalajara on the way to Ciudad Guzman.

To the obsessed soul, the curse of perpetual observation has it rewards. I snapped a picture of the sign to remind myself to catch it on the way back from Colima, if the tequila would allow such recall. That's what the picture is for.

When I headed back for Guadalajara I arrived at the perfect time of day at Tacos Estilo Zacoalco Doña Toña at an ideal time. I was in between truckers, police, and vacationers and had these engaging, giggling women all to myself.

These tacos stared about 80 years in the small town of Zacoalco, Jalisco--a place most tourists and big-city Jaliscans will never know--at woman's house who made them for the working men of her community. Antonia had worked for 15 years with one of the original vendors, but struck out on her own a year-and-half ago with her family and the next generation of torteado torchbearers. These tacos have gained a very local reputation with a handful of sellers in Zacoalco--where everyday feels like a lazy Sunday--and a few roadside stands.

The subtlety of this new type of taco--yes, it is a new genre now that it has spread beyond its original vendors and continued to be enjoyed if only by a small group of dedicated regulars, and passersby who'd not likely recall any jolt in any taco revolution--is in the touch of a woman's hand.

It gets its name from a hand-formed tortilla that is slapped to an imperfect circular shape and filled with a guisado. This results in a slightly thicker tortilla with a softer chew; the guisado can be enjoyed without condiment in this local riff on the taco de guisado.

A taco based on tortilla making means this is one of the few venues where the tacoing is matriarchal. Tortilla making is exclusively the domain of women in Mexico. Let's hear it for the taqueras!

Pictured from left to right: Karina, Lusila Avalos, Antonia Ortega Bentitez(Doña Toña), Rosa Avalos Ortega, and Margarita Avalos will make you feel like part of their family.

The cooking area is a wood-fired camp style set up. Guisados and tortillas share real estate on a rustic, smoky comal that'll leave you with the aroma, and residue of a campsite on your apparel.

Try a taco torteado of refried beans, they are stand alone, a delicious mash of porcine bliss.

These women couldn't stop giggling, teasing, and laughing from the moment I started talking to them--Margarita, or Mago, only stopped laughing when I started to photograph her preparing the chiles largos--but she talked with me my entire stay. I was there for over an hour just for a couple of tacos--too much fun.

The long dry red chile that could be like a chile California is what Mago called the chile largo, which is the base of their main stew.

Oh,and I loved the way each member of the family had their names on their aprons:adorable.

When I asked one of them to hold the chile up they all pointed to Lusila, who had been teasing me with smiles,titters,blinks, and flashes the entire time I was there, in an innocent way that reminded me of when I met a group of female cousins for the first time in Aguascalientes when I was young. I must say it was a little hard to leave, and had it been possible I would have come back the next day, a one and a half hour drive just to have a bite and see the Doña Toña señoras and señoritas one more time before I left for Los Angeles.

Although they offer several tacos the pork in chile largo is a must, and is the type of guisado that I crave: pure dried chile flavor that clings to the surface of the pork and seeps into its welcoming fibers. The dish appears pastoral but delivers a bounty of fruit and developing heat that slowly dissipates at the optimal moment of pleasure, like a fine cigar.

In the soft, and earthy tortillas, nothing is needed but the pork. Mago said, "some people add salsas and whatever, it depends on what they like." But it's best as is, right? "Yes!"

I can't wait to get back to Doña Toña's. I was so intrigued by these women and this memorable lunch that I even took a little walk through Zacoalco just to have that connection. Vendors like this are special, they exist in this one small space and often only know little beyond their stand and some quiet musings that cross their minds at dusk while in the town square shopping for the next day; but all too often there's just the darkened houses they return to at nights to wash away the highway and ash, and rest. All the while, they remain positive in spirit and energy, unaware of the joy, and serenity they brought to this incurable itinerant.

Tacos Estilo Zacoalco Doña Toña
On the free highway from Guadalajara to Cd. Guzman at km 43
Acatlan de Juarez, Jalisco
8AM-2PM 7 days a week


Nick said...

I think I'm in love. I need a Lusila in my life.

2Φ3Σ27Φ (\)λ√λ22Φ.·. said...

I couldn't have said it better my self, Iv'e been living in Zacoalco for 10 years now. I often tell the story of when me and a friend of mine ate 45 of these tacos each, that was a long time and a few waste sizes ago. But I'll allways enjoy Zacoalco's Tacos even if I have to limit my self to only 5 or 6.