Javier Cabral may have the best job on the planet, at least for anyone who is a hardcore taco lover. As the associate producer and "taco scout" for Netflix Latin America's latest food-centric documentary series Taco Chronicles , available to stream now in the U.S. and Latin America, the food journo and former MUNCHIES staff writer spent months traveling through Mexico to find the most delectable, mouth-watering tacos to highlight on the series, which depicts not only their savory goodness but also their sociocultural significance. Tacos feed all, regardless of age, gender, or class, and in honoring the beautifully stacked ingredients enveloped in a soft, warm tortilla with artful shots and storytelling, the series pays respect to their importance as a culinary staple.
But with great hunger comes great gut-bustification. Cabral ate taco upon taco upon taco, documenting his journey under the Instagram hashtag #tacosforpablo . With a will to get the job done and a "hyper-crazy metabolism," Cabral carried out his mission. He told us what it’s like to spend months deep in taco research.
You start writing about food, and this just kind of happens somehow. The creator [of Taco Chronicles]—his name is Pablo Cruz—it turns out is just a big fan of food and tacos. Maybe like six years ago, we had dinner, and I guess he liked me. Ever since then, we've been trying to work together on a food project. It's his first food series that he's ever made. He hit me up one day and was like “Hey, I'm doing this show called Las Crónicas del Taco for Netflix Latin America, and I trust your taste in tacos. Would you want to help out?” And I was like, "Fuck yeah!"
They hired me first as a researcher, so I researched the fuck out of the first season. It's six types of tacos in total: barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada, tacos de canasta, guisados, and al pastor. I delivered a manuscript magnum opus on tacos called "the Taco Bible." This was the piece of content all the guionistas, all the writers of the script, and the directors and producers would refer to while making the show.
The second part, that is a lot more fun, is going out there doing field research. We sit on our asses a lot doing work, but we also get to go out and eat and drink, and that's part of our job. When I was [in Mexico], it was kind of insane because I was writing a cookbook at the same time. I was working like 70 hours a week: Monday through Friday on the cookbook, and on Friday nights, I would take off to Mexico. I went everywhere from Mexico City to Tlaxcala, Hidalgo to Monterrey, to Hermosillo, Sonora, and Michoacán.
Sometimes I would eat at up to 17 or 18 taquerias in a fucking day. I would go by myself because this is work that you’ve gotta do by yourself. Not everyone can hang. I'll give you an hour-by-hour of my first scouting mission in Mexico City, when I was scouting out the place for al pastor. I arrive at 9:30 p.m. on Friday. I show up, and I know what I need to go out and eat. That's the easy part. But I know I have to go out and interview taqueros; get to know interesting personalities and characters while also stuffing your mouth with tacos at the same time. But also not stuffing yourself too much. My first stop was at Pulquería because pulque is my tonic. I need it to live. After that I hit five different taquerias from 10 p.m. up to like 3 or 4 a.m.. This is just my first night of research.
Of course, it's a dream job, but it really does become a test of your willpower as a taco lover because you need to eat an ungodly amount of tacos. I remember the feeling that I had when I would go on these trips; I had such limited time and such limited stomach space that as much as I wanted to have coffee in the morning or some fresh fucking fruit or something, I couldn't afford a) the time to go eat that stuff, and b) knowing I should be [saving room for] tacos instead. I know this sounds exaggerated, but I would come back to L.A. and I remember looking at my first toast like, "Wow, what is this piece of non-taco food?" I would eat so many tacos in order to get the job done.
It was a momentous moment in my life. I started my food blog in 2006. So this is the culmination of my almost 15-year career of being a food nerd, specifically about tacos, because I am Mexican American. There aren't many Mexican Americans (especially women) who are writing about food. Everything happened at the right time, and I was there to heed the call. It all lined up. Instead of a yellow brick road, it was a taco brick road for me to follow.
I really do feel like tacos are the perfect food. There's a double standard on tacos compared to the rest of the world's staple [dishes]. No one complains about spending 30 bucks on a bowl of pasta, which is essentially just flour and water and a handful of nice ingredients. But if you charge 30 bucks for a plate full of tacos, they'll come after you. That double standard was on our minds as we were working on this project. We wanted to show the nuances and complexities and techniques of the work that goes into tacos, and why some tacos cost a little more.
The theme that we abided by throughout the whole season is that tacos are the great equalizer in a country that is very classist. You'll see this on various levels in each taco. The one that comes to mind are tacos de canasta—they're the cheapest tacos in Mexico. And then you see the juxtaposition of the carne asada tacos en el norte, the meat is more expensive.
We talk about these things and we show tacos are enjoyed by all of Mexico. With tacos al pastor, we wanted to celebrate how it's the taco of Mexico City that everyone goes to eat after they drink and party. You see the kind of people that meet up at taquerias after a good night out: It's everyone.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alex Zaragoza is the senior culture writer at VICE and wholeheartedly believes Tijuana's tacos are the best in the world. Follow her on Twitter.