Shaun Hurrell of Barrio Comida started the hugely popular monthly Mexican pop-up. Inspired by the amazing taquerias dotted all over Mexico and California, they try to create something that’s authentic. ‘We source all our chillies, masa flour, spices and pulses from Mexico to make sure the flavours stay true,’ says Shaun. Ethical sourcing is important to too. ‘We only use free range, hormone-free and ethically-reared meat, and our fish is sustainably sourced,’ explains Shaun.
Whilst on the search for a more permanent home, we spoke to him about Mexican cuisine, homemade taco shells and why burritos might actually be tacos too.
How did you come to be involved in the world of Mexican food?
I grew up in California eating a lot of great Mexican food. I missed being able to eat it on a regular basis so I started Barrio Comida. Having moved to the UK 10 years earlier, my main aim was to train in high-end kitchens – that’s where my aspirations were at the time. After experiencing some amazing restaurants in London, I thought applying my new-found knowledge and passion to something humble and under-appreciated was the next path to go down. It’s been a huge learning experience, but it’s something that still excites me every day.
What are some Mexican speciality dishes?
Tacos are universal across Mexico but they come in many variations, shapes and sizes. Mexico has an intensely regional cuisine that varies from town to town. In areas like the Yucatan you see a lot of pit cooking, with dishes like Cochinita Pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish) and Barbacoa (a method of cooking meat, from which the term barbecue derives). In Oaxaca there are a multitude of Moles (these are traditional, complex and varied sauces) served with stewed meats as well as Tlayudas (a Mexican pizza made from a large flour tortilla, topped with creamy beans and toppings). In Jalisco you get Birria (a lamb or goat stew served with broth and tortillas). The Northern border towns like Mexicali tend to have more flour tortillas and small burritos with stewed meats, while areas like Baja are famed for amazing seafood and ceviches (raw fish and citrus dishes).
Talk us through tacos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas.
A taco is essentially anything in a tortilla, which means there are arguments to suggest that even the traditional Mexican burritos are actually tacos, enchiladas are a dish of a rolled tortilla, typically filled with meat, then smothered in sauce. Similar to a cannelloni. Fajitas are actually Tex-Mex and rarely seen in Mexico.
What is the taco-making process?
There are two main types of tortillas – flour and Nixtamalized corn. Some people will make tortillas from other types of corn flour, like Columbian arepa flour, but in Mexico you only tend to see flour or Nixtamal. Flour tortillas are mainly eaten in the north and sometimes in areas like Oaxaca. They are a blend of wheat flour, fat and water and are made by being rolled and griddled.
The most common type of tortilla eaten are made using Nixtamalized corn. This method is slightly more complex. Starchy corn is soaked in a solution made of calcium hydroxide, which de-natures the corn and makes it digestible; it is then ground in a volcanic stone mill and what comes out is masa (a form of dough). This is then flash dried and re-ground to create masa harina (Nixtamal flour). Most people in Mexico tend to use masa harina to make tortillas as it’s consistent and doesn’t require a mill. But there is a technique to pressing and cooking a tortilla properly. A good tortilla should always puff up like a balloon, this ensures you get the chewy texture – that’s what makes a good taco.
How would you make a taco at home?
Start by buying a tortilla press and some good quality masa harina, and you’re set. The easiest way to learn (and the way I also learned to make a great tortilla) is by watching hours of videos on YouTube of Mexican women making tortillas at markets.
How do you go about choosing the contents?
We do traditional tacos filled with the classic meats you would find in Mexico. I tend to pair salsas based on the styles of tacos – for example, stewed meat tacos don’t usually require any salsa. It’s important not to overfill a taco or you won’t be able to eat it properly and, just like any great dish, use as few elements as possible but keep them high quality and well thought out.
What are some of your favourite taco fillings?
I love the Mexico City classic Al Pastor – pork roasted on a large spit and served with pineapple. In the summer you cant beat a classic fish taco and in the winter I love braised meat tacos.
Why don’t we see a lot of Mexican cuisine locally?
I think this mainly comes down to migrant communities. In California there is a huge Hispanic presence and Mexican food and culture is a big part of day-to-day life – even down to celebrating Cinco de Mayo. In England you find less Mexicans, but a great deal of other ethnic communities like Bangladeshi and West Indian, therefore we have the amazing food influences from them instead. Mexican food is a very exciting cuisine though, and I believe it will become more embraced and understood over the coming years. At Barrio Comida we hope to be part of that process.
If all the taco-talk has whet your appetite then head along to one of our Mexican hotspots for a feast of your own
El Chupitos, Hull
Mexican street food prepared fresh every day. Taking the diversity of street-style Mexican cuisine from distinct regions of Mexico and serving it up in a funky Mexican setting. El Chupitos offer a wide ranging menu and, of course, an impressive taco offering. Our favourite? The Taco Roulette – six chicken and beef tacos, and one with a spicy kick.
175 Newland Ave, Hull HU5 2EP
Neon Cactus, Leeds
Neon Cactus offers an informal but inviting vibe, and a vibrant menu to boot. Enjoy tacos inspired by the traditional cantinas and old town street vendors, and your Margarita cocktails borrowed from the cosmopolitan bar scene of Mexico City.
35 Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7BT
Passionate about providing an alternative to Mexican fast food, while still being fast food. The street food chef even offer gluten and dairy-free options – because everyone is entitled to enjoy a taco or two. Passionate about food that makes you feel great, they use fresh ingredients with no added nasties – simply choose your style, select your filling, decide on a heat and top it with extras and you’re good to go.
8 Railway St, Huddersfield HD1 5DL
Fiesta Latina, York
Wall art and innovative signature dishes inspired by the chef’s work in Mexico and LA. At Gringos the toughest decision you’ll make all day will be whether to you try the king prawn burrito or the pulled pork taco.
14 Clifford Street, York YO1 9RD