Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Are the authentic Mexican tacos in Kensington Market based on a Lebanese recipe?

El Trompo at 277 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market serves some of the best tacos in Toronto. The tacos al pastor are Mexico City-style pork tacos served in corn tortillas with pineapple, coriander and lime. It's cooked in a way that's similar to a Middle Eastern shawarma.

At El Trompo, the meat is marinated for two days and then put on a spit and slowly roasted for an entire day with onions and pineapple. They do this during the week when the restaurant isn't as busy, because it makes the restaurant very hot. Indeed, it's this rotisserie "spinning top"—trompo in Spanish—that gives the restaurant its name.

The waitress says she's not aware of any connection between Tacos Al Pastor and Middle Eastern cooking, but it's easy to see that it shares a lot in common with the Lebanese staple, the shawarma. Indeed, David Sterling, an American chef who runs a cooking school in Mexico, writes that waves of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a big impact on Mexican cuisine. 

"The traditional spit-roasted meat called shawarma—generally comprised of layers of seasoned lamb on a vertical skewer that rotates in front of a flame—evolved locally with the substitution of pork marinated in achiote with a pineapple balanced on top," it says on his website Los:Dos

"Thin pieces of pork and pineapple are shaved off of the skewer and onto a fresh tortilla. The now-Mexicanized name of this dish—tacos al pastoror shepherd’s taco—reveals its ancient mideastern roots and belies its principal ingredient, which would no doubt be viewed as a scandalous twist in the pork-eschewing land of its origin."

If you have any information on the origins of this tasty dish, please comment below.

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  1. I was just in Mexico and, yes, there is an Arabic influence; the taqueirias called these "Tacos Arabe" or "Tacos Orientale".

    BTW, got to your site via TasteTO.
    Eat well, live well! Vivian

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the info Vivian.

  3. Went to El Trompo today and was not impressed. 5 small soft tacos for $10 is not good value. The Taco Al Pastor had very little meat and very little flavour. The Spict Chicken Tinga was slightly better, but still not very flavourful, or spicy for that matter.
    Coming back to this page I realize that nowhere does it say the food is good at El Trompo.