“DO YOU want some of THAT meat in your breakfast taco?” a Mexican friend asks me as we take our places in the queue at one of Tijuana’s best-known and most celebrated taco stands.
“What is it?” I ask.
Oh… no sooner had I asked, I realized that the long thick piece of meat being ‘shaved’ in front of me was in fact a cow’s tongue.
Shaved tongue anyone?
People say they enjoy going to restaurants where they can see the chefs preparing the food in front of them.
But on this occasion I beg to differ.
Taco stands – and the idea of simply pulling over on the side of the road and eating among strangers – are woven into the very fabric of life in Mexico.
They are inextricably associated with Mexico in the same way as a traditional fish and chip shop is linked to England.
The look of them, the smells, the tastes, even the sound of them, is so unique you can only be in Mexico.
And it seems that over the generations, Mexicans have developed a technique to eating tacos.
Much like the Chinese with their amazing ability to eat soup with a pair of chopsticks, Mexican folk devour tacos without any issue.
And me? Well… here I’m like a clown who got left behind by the circus.
The skill involved with eating tacos is something which I am yet to master and truly understand.
I’m sure it’s a secret art which has been whispered to young Mexican ears through the generations.
So what is the secret?
“Head down and eat fast,” is one answer from a Mexican friend here in Tijuana.
“Big bites, get your head close to the plate, eat quick, don’t talk, focus,” adds another.
However no matter how hard I try, I end up wearing the tacos instead of consuming them.
I mean, how hard can it be...?
It all went wrong from here
Napkin count for eating two tacos?
In the end I’m not sure whether the restaurant charged us for the tacos, or for the napkins.
I look around and other people have clear plates with no evidence that they ever held food.
As we leave the stand I’m fully expecting one of the staff members to shout after me (between giggles) “you haven’t finished your food…”
Yes I know, I’ve left most of it on my once-clean T-shirt.
New sense of the word ‘takeaway’.
Eating at a taco stand will never be classed as a fine-dining experience.
It is definitely not the place to take a girl on a first date. Can you imagine?!
“I really like you…” says the hopeful hombre with meat juice and chili sauce dripping down his chin.
However with all jokes aside, the food is goooooooood.
“The beauty of these taco stands is that you can drive for miles and miles into the middle of nowhere, you can be starving hungry, and then you’ll just stumble across a random one right there on the side of the road,” one Mexican friend tells me.
“It’ll almost certainly serve the most delicious tacos you’ve ever tasted. They can be the shittiest looking stands, but they’re guaranteed to serve the best food.
“That’s how it works.”
I mean, you just won't expect this to serve Michelin Star food right?!
Urban legends are always associated with culture, and – given the national obsession with tacos – it’s only natural that there will be some myths surrounding such places.
“They’re good, but they’ve not been the same since my friend was killed who used to work here…” a Mexican friend proclaimed as we tucked into tacos in Playas de Tijuana on another occasion.
“Car accident?” I offer between bites.
“No, he was shot dead by a gang.”
“Yeh, while serving tacos right?” I add laughing.
“Oh, you heard about that?” he asks me surprised.
“Um…WHAT?! I was joking!”
Yep sure enough, a while ago my friend’s favourite taco maker/server was murdered while doing his job in this very taco stand right here in Playas de Tijuana.
Gulp. Bon appetit!
Sure, you never really know what you’re going to get at these stands.
Some claim that another stand here in TJ once sold ‘cat’ tacos.
Admittedly when you look at the meat it’s difficult to tell which animal it once belonged to.
You can get egg and shredded beef tacos, which is basically your ‘breakfast’ taco.
As mentioned above you can also get ‘tongue’ tacos; chicharron (boiled pork scratchings) tacos; chicken tacos; intestine tacos; chorizo tacos; and fish tacos – or a strange combination of them all.
It seems that anything goes.
I’m sure that if someone discovered traces of horse meat in any tacos here, there would be a queue miles long across the border into San Diego.
Most tacos with either a mix of, or all, beans, chili, cheese, avocado and fresh herbs.
A relatively 'normal' taco
And most are actually delicious.
But with each visit comes a new surprise for me.
Last weekend Jacks and I took our seats at a taco restaurant in front of a cauldron-like bubbling dish of stringed meat.
The ‘meat’ turned out to be intestines.
Sometimes you just shouldn't ask...
Worst of all… after we ate relatively ‘normal’ meat tacos, I discovered that the actual taco tortillas are cooked in the fat which the intestines are fried in.