Netflix Series 'Taco Chronicles' Traces the Lebanese and Mayan Origins of Mexican Recipes

The new Netflix food documentary series Las Crónicas del Taco, or Taco Chronicles, follows the sounds and smells of sizzling meat around Mexico (with at least one stop in Los Angeles), exploring six different kinds of tacos―ingredients, cooking methods, the top chefs. Each episode also tracks the historic origins of the various recipes, illuminating origin stories both indigenous and immigrant, but most often a combination of both.

The first episode of Taco Chronicles, about the al pastor taco, is typical of the combination of influences at the heart of these treasured Mexican dishes. "The best foods in the world are spaghetti and al pastor tacos," a girl in catrina makeup says.

In "Pastor," Las Crónicas del Taco traces the al pastor taco to the Anatolian peninsula, placing tacos al pastor in the same culinary lineage as shawarma and doner kebab. The episode traces the Mexican variant back to Lebanese communities settling in Puebla after coming in through the ports of Veracruz, immigrating from the Ottoman Empire. Replacing the vertical spit of lamb meat with pork, second and third generation Lebanese Mexicans began selling a fusion of shawarma and tacos, with tacos al pastor taking off in the mid-20th century.

A spit of pork, ready for tacos al pastor, in Netflix's new series "Taco Chronicles." Netflix

The episode "Barbacoa" shares a different origin story for its starring taco, founded in indigenous Mayan cooking traditions. The mouth-melting, soft pork in barbacoa tacos combines all the best qualities of roasting and steaming, by wrapping the meat in agave leaves and cooking it in a specialized, firewood-stoked well, where the meat is cooked beneath ground level for eight to 16 hours. Taco Chronicles traces this method back to the Mayan Pib, a sunken oven method used to cook pheasant, deer and peccary, in a tradition that survived the Mayans. When the Spanish brought lambs, goats and pigs, the pib treatment was an obviously amazing idea.

"This taco's flavor is very special, the meat is softer than the tortilla," Paco de Santiago, a cultural guide, says in the series' fifth episode. "Imagine that texture, it is exquisite. It's like the crowning moment for the glutton, having a barbacoa taco."

Other episodes confront the clash of imperial Spanish and indigenous food traditions, correcting longstanding myths about the origin of certain taco recipes, such as the widespread claim that it was Hernán Cortés himself who first invented the carnitas taco, during a victory celebration after the 1521 capture of Tlatelolco. Instead, the episode "Carnitas" traces the simmering pork and lard dish to the state of Michoacán.

"Taco Chronicles" premiered on Netflix July 12. Netflix

Over six episodes―"Pastor," "Carnitas," "Canasta," "Asada," Barbacoa" and "Guisado"―Taco Chronicles showcases some unforgettable, sensory-overloading tacos, like the succulent liver and onions guisado taco cooked by Tacos Hola chef Belén Mendoza Espinoza (with just a few jalapeños, otherwise "people tend to whine and say that the liver is too spicy," Espinoza shares as she expertly chops the liver apart in a sizzling skillet). It's not all history. The real pleasure of Taco Chronicles is the food.

Taco Chronicles, Las Crónicas del Taco, is streaming now on Netflix.