Carlos and the Taco

Carlos Slim is the richest person in Latin America and the 16th richest in the world according to Wikipedia. In Mexico City he built a modern building to house his art collection and opened it as a non-profit – free to the public, because that’s what rich people do these days, I guess.

Chapter One: Carlos

The Soumaya Museum in the Polanco neighborhood is named for Carlos Slim’s wife, Soumaya Domit Gemayel, who passed away in 1999.

From 2010 to 2013, Slim was ranked as the richest person in the world by the Forbes business magazine. In 2021 Forbes stated his net worth as $73.3 billion.

The original building of the Museo Soumaya, opened in 1994. The new building was designed by the Mexican architect Fernando Romero and opened in 2011.

There are works by the Old Masters: Picasso, Rodin, Renoir, VanGogh, a Fabergé egg with the Russian Tzar’s eagle in diamonds, Brueghel the Younger and Cranach. There are Mexican artists including Diego Rivera and many pre-hispanic artifacts.

The Cathedral of Mexico City by Ignacio Serrano c. 1850-1900.
The museum holds the largest collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France, and the world’s largest private collection of his art.

I liked how the paintings were grouped together by subject so you could compare different styles and representations of the paintings of, say, Mary Magdalene, or harbor scenes, or the Mexican Volcán “Popo” or of any other subject matter.

There was such a variety of collections including coins and currency, music boxes and musical instruments, watches and clocks, photographs, drawings, musical scores, carved ebony, sculpture, telephones and more.

Two dresses – one from the 1800s and a 1920’s cocktail dress.
The collection has over 66,000 pieces covering 3 millennia. The director of the museum has claimed that the total worth of the art it holds is over $700 million.

“Slim” doesn’t sound like a Mexican name. Could it be a nickname? His wife’s name, Soumaya Domit Gemayel doesn’t sound Spanish either. Of course, I researched it when I got home.

Chapter Two: Tacos

Tacos al pastor or “shepherd-style pork tacos.

“Guajillo chile, garlic, cumin, clove, bay leaf, and vinegar are common ingredients (in al pastor recipes,) with cinnamon, dried Mexican oregano, coriander, and black peppercorns found in many variants.”

In Mexico, tacos can be filled with anything. We’ve seen beef head, tongue, intestine, fish, shrimp, chicken, many varieties of pork or beef, as well as potato just to name a few.

In this story we’ll take a closer look at Tacos al Pastor.

This chunk of marinated al pastor meat is cooked on a rotisserie. See the pineapple chunk on top?
The cooked pork is shaved off as it browns and when served on a corn tortilla with a piece of pineapple and are called “tacos al pastor.”

Chapter Three: Carlos and the Taco

“In 1902, Carlos’ father, Julián Slim Haddad (born Khalil Salim Haddad Aglamaz) arrived in Mexico from Lebanon, all alone and 14 years of age, speaking no Spanish. He was escaping from the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, which at the time conscripted young men into its army; mothers therefore sent their sons to exile before turning fifteen.”

Did you notice how “Slim” was adapted from “Salim?

Carlos Slim’s mother, Doña Linda Helú, was born in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico. She was the daughter of José Helú and Wadiha Atta, Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Mexico at the end of the 19th century.

(Carlos Slim’s story is an interesting one. Link to if you’d like to read more.)

What do Carlos Slim and Tacos al pastor have in common?

The both have roots from Lebanon!

Chapter Four: The Taco Evolves

The vertically grilled and rotating chunk of meat that we’ve seen here is not unique to Mexico. We’ve seen it in Turkey, Greece, Israel and Middle Eastern restaurants in Europe and Asia. Originating in the Ottoman Empire, it can be called donar kebab or shawarma and is made of chicken, turkey, beef or lamb, but never pork – and served on pita bread.

How did al pastor meat end up as a Mexican specialty?

Twice we were told by tour guides that al pastor meat was introduced in Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.

“A wave of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, mainly Christians such as the Maronites who have no religious dietary restrictions on eating pork, arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and introduced the Lebanese version of lamb shawarma. In the 1960s, Mexican-born progeny of these immigrants began opening their own restaurants and combining their heritage with Mexican cuisine.”


Pork was more abundant than lamb and eventually Mexicans began to season the pork with red chilis and local spices according to their tastebuds and serve it, not on bread, but what was more readily available – corn tortillas!

Al pastor meat can be served lots of ways: on corn tortillas with onion and cilantro they are called tacos (top left) and gringas when served with cheese on flour tortillas (top right) or a torta when the meat is served on a bun (lower left), or a burrito when rolled up with cheese in a flour tortilla and grilled (lower right) not to mention tostados, gorditas, sopes, tamales, and huaraches!
In Mexico you find these gas-fired rotisseries along the sidewalk or barely inside the door. We thought they bought the chunk of meat, but the other day we saw a cook building the chunk by wrapping and layering strips of marinated raw meat around the skewer.
In Puebla there are specialty taco árabe (Arab) taquerias which originated in the 1930s from Arab Mexican cuisine. Tacos árabes use shawarma-style, middle-eastern seasoned meat carved from a spit and served in a pita-style thicker tortilla called pan árabe. The taco on the upper right was in a thick flour tortilla.

Chapter Five: The Taco Today

We love tacos, especially tacos al pastor. In fact, as soon as we left the Soumaya Museum we went to eat $1 tacos at a sidewalk taco stand right outside the museum.

How often have we had tacos in the last two months? We’ve lost count. The photos of tacos in this post are all from this trip and I have many more! My all-time favorite tacos al pastor were the ones we ate in Oaxaca.

Seen at a taco stand today: “Tacos cada día hace mucha alegría.” (Roughly translated as ‘Happiness is tacos everyday.’)
We’re in CDMX Thanksgiving 2021. Meet You There Next Time!

As you sit down for your Thanksgiving feast, just think, we will probably be eating tacos!

The End

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