The first time I had basket tacos was in the streets of Tijuana. Years ago, my husband and I took a weekend road trip across the border in search of a great meal. This trip was on a whim when we were young, wild and childless. We thought “what the heck”, dusted off our passports and made our way south.
We sampled lobster, lots of lobster. Washed it down with margaritas and micheladas and concluded our lunch with flan and arroz con leche. Day two was supposed to be a day of shopping for souvenirs, hand made crafts and stocking up on Mexican candy. We planned for our meals to be light and quick in order to take advantage of full daylight before heading back to the US.
As we walked in and out of downtown Tijuana streets, a little taco cart caught my eye. “Tacos Sudados” or “Sweaty Tacos” read in big, bold, red hand painted letters. “Sweaty?’ I thought. A term not appealing at all. I asked the taco vendor what these tacos were and he told me they were “al vapor,” steamed. He pulled back the plastic sheet from a giant basket behind the cart and displayed mounds and mounds of steamed tacos. All stacked up in order of filling, with an aroma of smoky dried chile, and shredded beef. “They are also called basket tacos,” the vendor reaffirmed.
Needless to say, we had ourselves a street curb picnic and sampled every different filling folded in a tender, steamed tortilla. Day turned to night and we rushed home as soon as we could.
I researched the origin of these delicious tacos endlessly and found out that basket tacos, also known as tacos sudados (sweaty tacos) or tacos al vapor (steamed tacos), are sold in the streets of Mexico by basket toting vendors in bicycles or stands. These popular tacos steam in a whicker basket lined with parchment paper and plastic for at least one hour before enjoying. Fillings include of not too wet ingredients such as ground or shredded meat, chicken, chicharron or chopped potatoes, Poblano strips or beans. They are considered a traditional Mexican street food that originated in the streets of Tlaxcala.
So there you have it. Basket tacos are fairly simple to prepare. The delicate steamed tortilla tends to fall apart on your plate, so make sure you have a fork in hand to enjoy every last morsel of this tasty Mexican street food you can now prepare at home.
- 5 sheets parchment paper
- 8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed, rinsed
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ white onion
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
- 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
- 25 corn tortillas
- 1 wicker basket
- 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
- 1 ½ pounds ground beef 90/10
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/3 cup white onion, chopped
- 1 cup Yukon gold potato, small dice
- ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
- Line basket with 3 sheets of parchment paper, leaving approximately 6 inches overhang or enough to cover tacos.
- In a large stock pot, boil dried chiles with enough water to cover for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside and let cool.
- In a blender container, place boiled chile skins, garlic clove, ½ onion, cilantro, salt and 1 ½ cups water chiles were boiled in. Blend until smooth.
- Heat grapeseed oil in a large saute pan. Pour in sauce and fry for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cover.
- For filling:
- In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add oil and add ground beef garlic and onion. Stir and break up meat until meat begins to brown. Add potatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Add peas and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Return sauce to medium heat for 2 minutes until sauce begins to bubble. Decrease heat to low.
- Dip tortilla, one at a time in sauce, covering both sides. Transfer dipped tortilla to a large plate and fill with meat mixture. Fold and place taco in basket. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Cover basket with overhang and 2 sheets of parchment paper and a plastic bag or wrap. Let tacos rest and steam in basket for 1 hour before serving.