Taco Talk-O. In a World of Tacos, Where Else Can You Find a Column Dedicated to Tacos? First Up: El Canaston.
By: Ryman Sneed | November 2020
‘Tacos de Canasta’ or ‘basket tacos’, were created to feed the ‘Camepnsinos’, the peasant farmers and field workers. Now, it’s a very sought after taco for the taco afficienado.
Different types of fillings, including vegetarian options, are available at El Canaston
Photos by Bernardo Flores
Heaven in a hand
Remember the old adage “ to hell in a handbasket?” To be honest, I never understood what that meant really, but living in Mexico, I think I just may have discovered the opposite.
“Tacos de canasta or ‘basket tacos’ were created to feed ‘campesinos,’ peasant farmers and field workers,” Olof Gallegos Garcia tells me. He and his wife Katherine own El Canastón, here in Tulum town. “Driven by the good example and motivation,” of his parents’ tacos de canasta business, where Olof and Kathy met twelve years ago, they decided to open El Canastón. Of the history of basket tacos, Olof told me, “There needed to be a practical way to keep food warm for long distances and long periods of time”. From there the idea was born to transport the tacos to workers in baskets covered with plastic and paper so that they warmed in their own steam.
On a quiet block of Satellite, several streets off the main Avenida, sits El Canastón. The quaint garden setting, vibrant wall mural, and “alebrijes” (stand for traditional folk art sculptures), isn’t the typical locale in which one would usually enjoy a taco de canasta. Instead, El Canastón’s basket is its kitchen, and the setting, evoking the magic of Frida Kahlo’s Coyoacan, begs patrons to sit, stay a while, and sample the menu.
“At the beginning,” Olof explains, “we only sold the classics; chicharron, barbacoa chicken or red mole, and beans and requesón. But Tulum has changed, and we must adapt to the type of people who visit us by adding innovative vegan and vegetarian options. It occurred to us to include the mushroom with mole (one of my favorites), potato with soy sausage, and Mexican zucchini.”
Upon arrival, the tacos may seem meager in appearance, but the first bite dispels any misconception about this understated taco. Its conservative filling is what has kept it so notoriously inexpensive, so it’s imperative that the flavors tucked inside pack a punch. This is also why salsas and encurtidos ( pickled garnishes) are so important for basket tacos as they provide a way to intensify flavor and bulk up the contents of the otherwise slight variety. At El Canastón though, the filings are so delicious, the supplemental salsas and garnishes aren’t necessary but rather an added bonus. First, I tried the Rajas con Papas; a soft buttery potato puree with diced poblano peppers, a vegetarian treat so easy and pleasing to eat, I could have had five. Next, the sweet, smoky, spicy notes in the Mole tacos both setas (oyster mushroom) and pollo, so delectably delivered inside a warm, chewy corn tortilla, it’s like tasting Mexico in a single bite. You’ll need a fresh juice to wash it down though gringos, as the spice level is considerable, and El Canastón offers awesome natural juices. I tried the “Super Chingon,” a blend of pineapple, passionfruit, guava, and ginger! ¡Muy refrescante!
In the world of tacos de canasta though, most would say chicharron is king, and the same goes for El Canastón. Fatty pork swims in a rich and tangy red sauce. The messiest taco, its liquid easily escapes the folded tortilla envelope. But not to worry, make like a local and simply wipe the plate clean with the last bit of tortilla pressed between your fingers for the final scrumptious bite. “Heaven in a basket” if you ask me!
El Canastón Satellite Sur. btw Neptuno Ote. and Venus Ote. Hours: Monday - Saturday 9AM- 9PM
Tulum Eats Magazine is published 12 times a year, unless we decide to go on prolonged vacations. You can find the print magazine at select locations throughout the Riviera Maya, and in some East Coast establishments, where we will randomly place, during selective times. The website will be updated monthly, with selected materials that may or may not be the same as the print version. Look for us soon, in other states of Mexico.