That word meant next to nothing to me before Texcoco. It was a random word that would pop up on the odd Mexican menu if I ventured far enough into Jackson Heights or East LA. I naively thought it was like Mexican Barbecue or something. Everything changed when I took a rickety two hour bus outside of Mexico City. Let me be clear, this is not a dish, this is an event. Pit Cooked for 18+ hours, enshrouded in maguey leaves the way the ancestors would have, shared in a manner that I can only describe as music festival-esc.
There’s a salsa station, a blue corn tortilla station, a pulque station, someone jabbing tamarind laced straws into gigantic neon red cocktails that resemble a mutation of a Michelada. Family after family, vendor after vendor it’s what I’d imagine going to Phish concert in ’98 would be like but instead of the band crowds are there for Barbacoa.
Who knows where everyone came from? How far have they driven? Do they do this every weekend? So many questions and so little Spanish.
Sure, I had some of THE BEST meat in my life and discovered ancient preparations like the pit-cooked pancita (lamb stomach filled with innards) but it was the community of it all that blew me away. Grandparents laughing with grandchildren, hardened working-class laborers smiling ear to ear as they sipped beer and went full karaoke on every song that came on the loudspeaker. Three, sometimes four generations sitting around giant tables.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place filled with so much love and lamb. I almost felt intrusive, like I was crashing a Mexican wedding but at every turn, someone was kindly offering a taste of this or a tip on where the shortest line for more tortillas was.
I love this Mexico, it’s a different universe from much of what we see up north. Words like cantina or barbacoa end up on fast food menus and crappy chain restaurant signs devoid of any connections to their origins. Where centuries-old cooking techniques are preserved and become the centerpiece for family and a tipsy uncle to tell an old story everyone has heard a thousand times. It’s because this Mexico is Mexico. I’m glad I had the chance to see it for a day.
-Reggie Milligan, Co-Founder Mantry.
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