Sunday Dinner: Barbacoa!
Photo: Edyael del Carmen Casaperalta Velazquez
"Es una tradiciÃ³n de su pueblo, General TerÃ¡n, Nuevo LeÃ³n, que conoce desde que era chiquito y querÃa continuarla aquÃ.ï¿½?
"It is a custom in his town, General TerÃ¡n, in the state of Nuevo LeÃ³n, México. He grew up with this custom, and he wanted to continue it here.ï¿½?
So answered Miguel Angel Rodriguez's sister, Nena Rodriguez, when asked what had inspired her brother to open a tortilleria (tortilla factory) in Edcouch, Texas, fifteen years ago. The business has done well, even receiving awards from the local chamber of commerce. And its main attraction is a traditional Mexican Sunday morning meal: Barbacoa and corn tortillas.
A quiet yet confident-eyed Rodriguez nodded agreeably in the background as he listened to the entire family tell the creation story of Tortilleria Rodriguez.
Eldest son Jesus Rodriguez explained that his father, "has always worked as a tortillero (tortilla factory worker), and after suffering a job injury, he invested his worker's compensation in opening his own tortilleria.ï¿½? Jesus himself has worked in the family business since he was 13.
Now 23, he and his younger brother Miguel Angel Rodriguez, 20, are in charge of the daily operations of Tortilleria Rodriguez. But their most important responsibility takes place during the weekends: the elaborate art of making barbacoa. Every Friday and Saturday evening, the brothers prepare over 60 pounds of barbacoa to be slowly cooked overnight in a giant steamer pot, five-feet tall. Saturday and Sunday mornings find Jesus and Miguel Angel ready for anticipating customers who flood into the tortilleria beginning at 5:00 A.M.
After Jesus shares his account, grandmother Rodriguez, DoÃ±a Maria Luz Rodriguez, 72, intercedes to clarify the traditional way of preparing barbacoa.
In her rural home town of General TerÃ¡n, barbacoa is a daily morning meal that people either purchase at a barbacoa establishment or make in their own backyards.
Barbacoa is traditionally made with the head, tongue, and cheek of a cow, adding salt, water, and any personal preference for seasoning (but no seasoning besides salt is necessary). A hole is dug in the ground, deep enough to contain the pot with the desired amount of meat. Logs, stones, or charcoal are placed at the bottom of the hole and ignited; then, the hole is covered to build an oven-like temperature.
Once the hole is ready, the container with the meat is placed on top of the hot logs/stones/charcoal, and the container is covered with maguey leaves. A sheet of metal is placed on top of the eaves to prevent dirt from falling onto the food. Finally, the hole is covered with dirt, and the meat is left to steam for at least 12 hours.
Photo: Juan Ozuna
Because the traditional way of making barbacoa is elaborate, new generations have found ways to keep this custom alive, but slightly modified. So whether barbacoa is available daily or only during the weekends, whether it is prepared in a giant steel pot or buried under ground, people manage to get their barbacoa fix. Preparing barbacoa this way for as long as Grandma Rodriguez can remember is what keeps generations enchanted with the succulent flavor.
At Tortilleria Rodriguez, barbacoa keeps the Rodriguez family busiest from 5:00 to 11:00 a.m., before church, and from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., after church. Tortilleria Rodriguez closes by 2:00 p.m. on Sundays, a time when the Rodriguez family returns home to partake of the delicious barbacoa Sunday meal tradition.