Tacos al pastor

Moorish culture had an impact on more than just the medicinal practices of the Mexicans.

The method of cooking tacos al pastor (in the style of the shepherd), is a dish developed in Central Mexico that is based on shawarma spit-grilled meat brought to Mexico by Iraqi immigrants in the early 1900s and Christian Lebanese following the Israel-Lebanon war in 1948 and the 6 day war in 1967.

Tacos arabes

Being derived from shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyros. The variation of shawarma called tacos árabes (Arab tacos) which is lamb on a flour tortilla (pita bread) is popular in Puebla where they were introduced by Middle Eastern immigrants and it is believed that tacos al pastor evolved from these “Arab tacos” once they found a home in México City. Mexican shepherds adapted the Lebanese style of spit-roasting lamb, using pork instead, and the original marinade, heavy with cumin, oregano, and onions was mexicanned up with annato.

Tacos al pastor are made from thin strips of pork that have been marinated in spices and chiles and then stacked onto a long spit called a trompo.

El trompo

In many cases, a pineapple and onion are placed on top of the spit. As the meat cooks, the outside layer gets crispy from exposure to the heat. El taquero (1) shaves off the outer layers straight into tortillas, and might top the pork with sliced pineapple, onion, cilantro and salsa.  Why and how the pineapple came to be placed on the trompo is not clear.

  1. El taquero/taquera – one who makes/sells tacos

Tacos Al Pastor (Recipe adapted from La Michoacána Meat Market)


  • 2 ancho peppers
  • 2 guajillo peppers
  • 1/2 achiote paste bar – about 50g (also called annatto)

If you can’t find the prepared achiote then you can make your own (See Post on Achiote/Annatto)

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sour orange juice

(or substitute with a mix of – 2 parts orange juice, 1 part lemon juice,1 part lime juice)

(or you could use pineapple juice)

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) pork steak


  • Blend the peppers, achiote, vinegar and orange juice.
  • Place pork into a large bowl and massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and let rest for 2 hours.
  • In a hot pan or on a grill, fry the onion. Add the marinated pork.
  • Cook pork until browned and chop meat to the texture you like.
  • Heat the tortillas and construct your tacos.
  • You can accompany with onion, coriander, a squeeze of lime and your favourite hot sauce.

“Traditionally” a sliver of pineapple which has been roasting on the trompo with the meat is served with this taco.

Tacos al Pastor

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