Spice City Toronto: Delicious Spinning Meat of Mysterious Origin
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Spice City Toronto: Delicious Spinning Meat of Mysterious Origin

El Trompo's tacos al pastor are undeniably Mexican, but the dish's deeper roots may lie elsewhere.

Tacos al pastor from El Trompo.

El Trompo in Kensington Market serves some of the best tacos in Toronto. Their tacos al pastor are Mexico City–style pork tacos served in corn tortillas with pineapple, coriander, and lime, with the pork cooked in a way that’s similar to a Middle Eastern shawarma.

At El Trompo, the meat is marinated for two days and then put on a spit and slowly roasted for an entire day with onions and pineapple. They do this during the week when the restaurant isn’t as busy, because it makes the restaurant very hot. It’s this rotisserie “spinning top”—trompo in Spanish—that gives the restaurant its name.

The waitress says she’s not aware of any connection between tacos al pastor and Middle Eastern cooking, but it’s easy to see that it shares a lot in common with the Lebanese staple shawarma. Indeed, David Sterling, an American chef who runs a cooking school in Mexico, writes that waves of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a big impact on Mexican cuisine.

“The traditional spit-roasted meat called shawarma—generally comprised of layers of seasoned lamb on a vertical skewer that rotates in front of a flame—evolved locally with the substitution of pork marinated in achiote with a pineapple balanced on top,” he writes on his website, Los:Dos.

“Thin pieces of pork and pineapple are shaved off of the skewer and onto a fresh tortilla. The now-Mexicanized name of this dish—tacos al pastor, or shepherd’s taco—reveals its ancient mideastern roots and belies its principal ingredient, which would no doubt be viewed as a scandalous twist in the pork-eschewing land of its origin.”

If you have any information on the origins of this tasty dish, please comment below.

El Trompo (277 Augusta Avenue, south of College), 416 260 0097, open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world. Find more photos and details about El Trompo here.