Yes, al pastor comes from Mexico. But the idea of spit-roasted pork doused in a sweet chili marinade didn’t come from Mexico. It came from Lebanese immigrants and originated from the dish known as shawarma. Even then, however, to dive down this rabbit hole a little further, shawarma originates from the Ottoman Empire, and not just shawarma, but a few spitfire types of meat. Ali Qleibo, a Palestinian anthropologist says, “Turks call it doner kebab, Greeks call it gyro, Iraqis call it “kas.”
All of these cultures, including the original al pastor taco makers (“taqueros”) in Mexico, are serving and eating extensions of the cuisine that dates back to when Saladin and Richard I were fighting the Crusades. As Lebanese people immigrated to Mexico, by the 1960s a mix of their homeland fare and Mexican tacos led to the al pastor advent. Instead of upward standing shawarma rotisserie, they used a horizontal spit roast, traded lamb for pork and used Mexican flavored spices and marinade.
Some specifications to make sure you’re getting the best al pastor possible:
Alex Stupak, a chef that went to Mexico City and ate 40 different al pastor tacos in three days, gave the following notes: first and foremost, the pineapples that sit atop the roasting pork do nothing for marinating. It’s excellent in the taco, but “pure myth” that it does anything for the flavor while it’s cooking. Second, using both rojo and verde salsa is key to the epitome al pastor. Lastly, a nice crisp char on the outside for some enhanced texture and, of course, topped with onion and cilantro.
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