FACT: Mexican tacos are amazing.
FACT: Mediterranean spit-roasted shawarma meats are amazing.
A taco and a shawarma walk into a bar, and you get AL PASTOR.
It really is mindblowing.
Joking aside, al pastor is a beautiful representation of different cultures, histories, and traditions, served to modern consumers as food.
Immigrants of Lebanese ethnicity first began arriving in Mexico during the nineteenth century. At this time, Lebanon was not a sovereign state, and the region we today call Lebanon was a territory controlled during that period first by the Ottoman Empire and then as a French colony. The immigrants that made the journey to Mexico would be most accurately described as stateless people, as they did not have a nation-state to call home, which recognized them as citizens, or which offered them protection. These immigrants usually arrived in Mexico seeking safe Christian community. Later, more Christian Lebanese would come and strengthen the communities after fleeing the Israel-Lebanese War of 1948. These immigrants were incredibly economically active, and they contributed to culture immensely.
The most visible and popular of these cultural contributions is al pastor. Al pastor is a fusion of Lebanese cooking style with Mexican ingredients. While most Mexican taco or burrito fillings call for stewed meats, Lebanese immigrants liked to cook their meats on a spit; in large-scale restaurants, this usually resulted in a vertical rotating spit of stacked slices of meats cooking next to an open flame. While this shawarma cooking method usually called for chicken or beef, Mexicans who often preferred pork adapted it to their tastes and spices, and al pastor was born.
Today you can find delicious al pastor food options, especially in culturally rich cities like Los Angeles. I am partial to Leo’s Al Pastor. The chain has several food trucks around Los Angeles where you can watch and smell them prepare your sweet, juicy al pastor order right in front of you.
Although Lebanese Mexicans today make up only five percent of the population of Mexico, they have forever left their impression on Mexican cuisine everywhere.