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Labib Mansour 21 Feb 2023

Historical Snapshot: The Tacos Arabes Lebanese People Brought to Mexico

What do we know about Lebanese immigrants to Mexico? Most will be able to name Salma Hayek and Carlos Slim when asked, but what if we went a little deeper into the Lebanese-Mexican relation. What if we delved deep into the deep pits of our stomachs, and explored the wonderful fusion that is the Taco Árabes.

Immigrants from the Ottoman Levant began to arrive in Mexico in the 19th century, with more waves coming soon thereafter. They have crossed the ocean into the New World, but these immigrants did not forget the lands they came from, and made sure their cuisines reflected that.

Now while some will claim that the entirety of the modern-day taco was invented by Lebanese and Arab immigrants to the region, most will agree that at least the Taco Arabes was invented.

Lebanese and other post-Ottoman immigrants arriving in Puebla, Mexico in the early 20th century, quickly spread their cuisine across the city. Their first major innovation was bringing shawarma-style cooking into the Mexican scene, with lamb replaced for pork in this cross-Atlantic instance.

This type of cooking, now known as Al Pastor, involves cooking pork marinated with dried chilies, spices, pineapple, and achiote paste on a shawarma-like rotisserie. Another variant of Al Pastor is what has come to be known as Tacos Árabes.

These tacos usually come with a Middle Eastern-twist, utilizing spices used in local cuisines such as cumin instead of the more dazzling Mexican pineapple. Additionally they are served on pan Arabe bread, which is basically pita. These tacos have spread through Mexico and the United States, and have been described as shawarmas al pastor.

The origins of these tacos remains somewhat mysterious, but what is certain is that arrived in Puebla in the 20th century, whether that happened at a restaurant called La Oriental or through some other form of immigrant fusion, we couldn’t tell you. In any case, it is truly a fascinating story of cross-cultural success and a symbol of Lebanese assimilation around the world.

We’ll take 6 tacos to go please.

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