While glistening towers of adobada are ubiquitous in the streets of Tijuana, San Diego’s bouquet of badass ‘bada is limited.
Adobada (“marinated”) is better known beyond borderland as al pastor (“shepherd style”), a nod to its roots with lamb shawarma, which was brought to Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants over 100 years ago.
Thin cuts of pork shoulder are first marinated in adobo, a descendant of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine that combines puréed red chili and cider vinegar with seasonings such as oregano, garlic, cumin, citrus juice, salt, and any number of abuelitas’ secrets.
Ground achiote (or annatto) lends vague notes of pepper and nutmeg and, moreover, works with paprika to give adobada its various shades of red.
The marinated pork is then stacked about two feet high on a trompo (“spinning top”), crowned with a pineapple and onion, and manually rotated until crisp.
The result is a true bruja’s brew.
The natural antibacterial properties of vinegar, garlic, and paprika help preserve the meatstack as it is singed and trimmed with a long blade over the next several days.
Pineapple juices ooze over the perspiring flesh-tower, tenderizing it with an enzyme called bromelain.
Paprika also enables rolling beads of lard to permeate the meat, impregnating each bite with sizzling, flavorful fat.
At its mightiest, the adobada taco finds well-crisped shavings cut directly from the pork-column onto a small, fresh-pressed corn tortilla and topped with diced onion, cilantro, and lime.
At its flimsiest, adobada is trimmed before its time, lacking in basting, and heated to order on the plancha. Adding insult to injury, the tortilla may even be premade, stale, and under-heated.
So, off we go, my fellow swinehounds, to explore everything from the 5 peso (40 cent) taco on the streets of TJ to the elusive adobada alcoves of sunny SD.