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René Redzepi’s Foreword to ‘Tacopedia,’ a Delicious Taco Memory

The European chef will never forget his first bite of a taco in Mexico.

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In 2012, Mexican publisher Trilce Ediciones published La tacopedia: Enciclopedia del taco. Authors Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena filled the book with everything anyone might ever need to know about tacos, from a history of the tortilla to recipes for classic fillings to diagrams about how to build the perfect taco. Next month, for the first time, Phaidon will release Tacopedia in English.

The English language version includes updated recipes (100 of them), as well as 250 photographs and illustrations. Chef René Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen) was called upon to write the foreword to the book. Earlier this year, he helped his former pastry chef Rosio Sanchez open a taqueria in Copehagen. The two chefs spent years honing their recipes and traveling throughout Mexico for inspiration. Here is Redzepi's foreword in full, in which he remembers his first bite of a taco in Mexico.

Tacopedia is now available for pre-order; the title will ship on September 28.

Image: NYT Video

Rosio Sánchez and René Redzepi [Image: NYT Video]

René Redzepi on Tacopedia

I'll never forget the first time I set off for Mexico many years ago. It was winter in Denmark, I was worn out from work, and I needed a beach.

As I sat there on the long plane ride over, I couldn't help but dread the fact that I was going to have to eat the food.

You see, in Europe it's virtually impossible to get a mouthful of authentic Mexican food. What we have here is a type of Tex-Mex, a tradition born in the U.S. that certainly has its rare pleasures. But imagine that variant being sent through a game of intercontinental telephone (Chinese whispers): what ends up here in Scandinavia is so far from its origins that it's downright sad. I foolishly thought it would be the same in Mexico.

"What the heck, you have your books and the beach," I reassured myself. "Just live off fruit."

We landed fairly late in Mérida, about 11:30 in the evening, and we were starving. I asked our host for something to eat. Stupid as I was, I requested pizza. He looked at me funny. I could almost hear him thinking "Stupid gringo."

He looked at me funny. I could almost hear him thinking "Stupid gringo."

We drove a good thirty minutes from the airport before stopping at a nondescript, over-lit restaurant. There was outdoor seating, all covered in plastic and soft drink logos. "This is it," he said as we pulled over. "We'll grab a bite here."

"Remember the beach, remember the beach," I repeated like a mantra to myself as we sat down, but within an instant I forgot those words.

Ice-cold beers arrived at our table in a flash, as our host signaled the kitchen to send us a round of tacos al pastor. As I stared down at the plate, the first thing I noticed was that the tortillas had a yellow hue to them that was so different from the white and dense variety I was used to finding in Denmark. The grilled pork was flaky and moist. There were fresh leaves of emerald-green cilantro sprinkled on top, as well as some thin slices of pineapple. On the side, a little condiment of sour orange juice with habanero. "Put seven drops of that on your pineapple," the host told me.

I did, and folded the taco together. It was already levels above what I had experienced in Europe—the aroma, the very look of it. But then I sunk my teeth in. Immediately I felt the tenderness, the rich umami character of the meat. And the tortilla! It was sweet and smoky, with a gentle chew to it, like a good sourdough bread. Suddenly the spice from the habaneros hit me, kept in check by the sweet, succulent pineapple.

That perfect bite made it a moment I'll always remember, sitting on those plastic chairs in the tropical heat.

Foreword by René Redzepi, taken from Tacopedia by Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena