Guess what? The tacos you’re used to eating are probably the Tex- Mex variety, not what you’d find in Mexico. But a small group of chefs is changing that and showing us what authentic Mexican tacos really are.
Think of tacos, and what comes to mind are goldenbrown hard shells encasing chunks of ground meat, drizzled with cheese and laden with sour cream. Newsflash: Those aren’t legit tacos. You know, the kind they actually eat in Mexico. You’re thinking of Tex-Mex tacos – an American adaptation, and the kind most commonly found here.
But a small group of chefs is now introducing the real deal to Singapore palates. These chefs are convinced that authentic Mexican tacos – Tex- Mex’s healthier cousins – will have their fans.
The differences are subtle, but they matter. “Tacos in Mexico are a lot more flavourful than the Tex-Mex variety, even though they’re not loaded with condiments, simply because the meat is prepared well and seasoned properly,” says Chef Vivian Wee, of the recently-opened Comida Mexicana, which offers traditional Mexican tacos.
Chef Daniel Shemtob, of taco specialist The Lime Truck, says business has been booming. “People really dig having something done differently,” he says, adding that authentic tacos are still fairly uncommon offerings in Singapore.
Chef Vivian had her first “real” taco – a common street-side snack – in Mexico some years ago. The real thing, she says, is about three to four inches (7.6-10cm) wide, consists of a freshly made soft corn tortilla (instead of the more brittle and dry wheat tortilla) that’s typically packed with grilled or slow-cooked meats, plenty of vegetables, and finished with salsa. Oh, and don’t expect lots of cheese.
Though meat tacos are most common, the fillings can vary depending on the region – coastal regions of Mexico, for example, have more seafood options. Bug tacos are also a thing, but thankfully only in southern Mexico.
In Singapore, Chef Jason Jones of Lucha Loco, one of the pioneers of authentic Mexican food here, says he adds local touches to the authentic tacos he makes. “We use tropical ingredients – to keep the options refreshing for this climate,” he says. So instead of tomato salsa, you get pina habanero salsa, which is made from pineapples. The sweet and juicy fruit gives a refreshing kick, while still packing spice from the habanero pepper.
Chef Vivian adds: “Awareness is growing, but I truly believe that authentic tacos are going to be the next big thing – as popular as burgers, even.” -SM
These are our favourite places to get a taco fix:
1 The Lime Truck – No #1 Steak Taco
Slices of smoky beef steak are paired with a piquant and aromatic chimichurri sauce for a riot of sweet and spicy flavours. We love the surprise element of shredded and fried wonton skins scattered on top, which adds crunch to this supersucculent taco. $4.60 from The Lime Truck, Pasarbella, #01-K39 North Wing, Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard.
2 Comida Mexicana – Tacos Mexicana de Adobadas
Soft, pliable white corn tortillas made from scratch hold large, succulent shrimps slathered in a mildly spicy chipotle cream sauce. If you can handle more heat, take a bite of the fresh whole jalapeno served on the side. This is some serious slow burn. $26 for three servings, from Comida Mexicana, 404 East Coast Road.
3 Lucha Loco – Barbacoa
Tender chunks of shredded barbacoa lamb (that’s meat slow-cooked with spices such as chipotle chilli, cumin and sage) is served with pickled cucumber, smoky grilled tomatoes, red onion salsa, and mint for a lighthanded touch of freshness. Juicy and aromatic. $9+ from Lucha Loco, 15 Duxton Hill.
TACO ’BOUT ESSENTIALS
The fillings vary, but these are the basics in any authentic taco:
Whether it’s fresh cabbage, pickled vegetables, or a dollop of ’slaw, you’re likely to find crisp, shredded vegetables in any taco for extra bite.
With so many hearty flavours packed into a taco, a quick squirt of lime always livens things up.
The corn tortillas should ideally be made from masa harina, a dough that has been ground from corn kernels, and soaked as well as cooked in lime water. The lime water makes the tortillas pillowy and pliable, which means they won’t break or flake when stuffed.
PHOTOGRAPHY DARREN CHANG STYLING SHAN