Why birria tacos are becoming Toronto's latest budding food trend
There are lots of tacos in Toronto, but a few places are now specializing in a style that's gaining popularity: the birria taco.
It's typically a meaty taco dipped into a consommé, but how did the idea of dunking the handheld snack into a stewy broth originate?
According to Yasmin de Leon of Latin American restaurant Comal y Canela, the first birria tacos appeared in Tijuana over 40 years ago as a result of Mexico's close proximity with the US border.
It's an evolution of popular traditional dish birria stew, which originated in Jalisco and has a history that stretches back to the 1500s and the introduction of landrace goats into the Indigenous culture, an animal that destroyed their crops. They used herbs, spices and cooking methods to make the meat tender and palatable.
"Street vendors from Tijuana began stuffing birria into tortillas filled with white cheese to create the first quesabirria tacos, a form of Mexican grilled cheese. As time went by quesabirria tacos began to pop up in other regions of Mexico as well as the southern US," says de Leon.
"Canada's recent appeal as one of the best countries in the world to live in has created a steady influx of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Americans into Toronto, making the appearance of the quesabirria taco in Toronto inevitable."
"Birria is a traditional Mexican dish where meat is braised for hours with chiles, spices and pure love," Jazmine de Borja of newly opened Mexican restaurant Libertad told blogTO.
"To make tacos with birria, the corn tortilla gets dipped into the bright red consommé and onto the grill where it is typically topped with cheese, meat, we use beef brisket, onion, cilantro and lime, served with consommé on the side."
Meanwhile, at Comal y Canela, making the quesabirria takes three days from start to finish. De Leon outlines four critical components that make a good birria taco.
"The consommé should be the result of all the natural juices released by the meat vegetables and spices, not the addition of litres of water to the cooking process. Two, The tortilla should be crispy, not soggy or soft, but not crispy like the taco shell kits sold in supermarkets," she says.
"The beef birria should be juicy and tender not tough, stringy or dry. Four, When biting into the taco it must be an enjoyable effortless bite and not have you drag everything out from inside."
The staff at Comal y Canela have been eating birria tacos privately for years, and spend relentless hours on research and development trying to adapt old family recipes using what's available in Canada, incidentally perfecting the birria tacos by making them so often for themselves.
"A couple of months ago we were eating our birria tacos and the sous chef and I looked at each other and both at the same time said 'It's time to put birria tacos on the menu.' If I had known that that would be the last day I enjoyed one because of the demand, I may have kept
our light under a bushel," says de Leon.
Some of the makers of birria tacos even feel these deliciously sloppy tacos swear by their borderline magical, curative powers.
"Birria is a truly delicious authentic Mexican dish born out of hunger and desperation. It is eaten to cure hangovers and served during special occasions, as it is a cultural dish full of flavours and tradition," says de Leon.
Aldo Lopez echoes this sentiment. He's been able to capitalize on the desire for comforting birria tacos with Tacos Maria Bonita, a taco ghost kitchen without a physical storefront specializing in the dish.
"Fun fact — the consommé is a elixir for the hangover, and it's full of flavour because of the meat slow-cooking process," says Lopez.
Though the global village as a whole may already love birria tacos, it seems like Toronto is just now catching up, with the dish slowly making its way onto more and more menus.
"Tacos made from birria are popular all over Mexico, California and Texas. Toronto has a great food scene, even amidst a pandemic, and it was only a matter of time before these tacos hit our streets as well," says de Borja.
De Leon and Lopez both feel that while birria tacos are remarkable for their versatility, uniqueness and restorative abilities, the reason we in Toronto are now embracing them is actually quite simple.
"During uncertain times we all want some comfort food and at this point in time our global village is traversing a quagmire. It only makes sense that when we need sustenance we search out birria tacos which are at their core the ultimate comfort food for the people by the people," says de Leon.
"Birria is a very friendly dish, you can eat either in taco, in a quesadilla," says Lopez. "Who doesn't love cheese, meat and tortilla, right?"
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