It took me awhile to warm up to tacos de canasta. They’re the soft, steamed tacos sold on the street, and they’re usually stacked in cloth-covered basket.
Unlike at the regular street taco stands, where the vendors are furiously chopping meat or dunking flautas in a fryer, nothing really happens at a tacos de canasta stand. A man, or woman, stands under an umbrella next to a basket. The end.
I didn’t try them for months, because the idea of eating food that’s been sitting in a basket all day sounded kinda gross. But then one day Alice mentioned that they were her favorite. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she described this specific tacos de canasta stand near the Chapultepec Metro. (“Oh my god, they are so good.”) I tried them for the first time shortly afterward, at a stand in Tlalpan.
I’d chosen an potato and rajas taco, and the vendor lifted up a section of the cloth and handed me an oily taco that looked nearly translucent in the middle. I was momentarily disappointed (is this going to taste like a mouthful of grease?) but then I bit into it. The potatoes and rajas had been stewed into this soft mixture that you barely had to chew. It was the taco equivalent of baby food. I loved it, because it was comforting and simple, and sometimes you need a break from all that chopped meat on the street.
I’ve eaten tacos de canasta a few more times since then. Last week, I finally visited La Abuela, a crowded tacos de canasta stand in my neighborhood. The vendor is an old man who wears a newsboy cap, and he stands underneath a red umbrella. He has this weathered, kind face, like the stereotypical grandfather character in the movies. Every time I walk by, I steal a glance at him and think: he’s so cute.
He’s not smiling here, but I promise, when he does, it’s kind of adorable.
La Abuela has a pretty extensive variety for a street stand. Crayton and I chose the frijol, papa, tinga, chicken with mole, and cochinita pibil.
All of them had been cooked in the way that I remembered: oily tortilla, stuffed with a soft, stewed filling.
The cochinita and the potato were the best — the former with just a slight whisper of spices, and the potatoes, mashed to smithereens so that they slid down your throat with this kind of slick earthiness. They reminded me of the potatoes my great-grandmother used to make. She would slice them and fry them in lard, and then let them drain on paper towels for hours and hours, until they were so soft you could practically mash them with a fork.
I would highly recommend La Abuela if you’re in the neighborhood. The stand is located at the corner of Rio Rhin and Rio Lerma in Col. Cuauhtémoc, and it’s open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. La Abuela also has other branches around the city, and they offer home delivery, if you’re having a party.
If you’re interested in making your own tacos de canasta, this site has pretty extensive instructions, including recipes for various fillings and how to properly line your basket to keep the warmth in.