What: The ancient way of Mexican barbecue is to slow-roast lamb (borrego) or goat (chivo) for many hours in a pit dug into the ground, covered with maguey leaves. No sauces or marinades are traditionally used before it’s fully cooked in its own juices, which is when the meat starts to fall off the bone. (Notable exceptions to this include parts of northern Mexico, where beef cheeks or head are preferred for barbacoa, and the Yucatán, which has its delicious cochinita pibil, or marinated pit-roasted pork.) The meat can be served a number of ways, but is often chopped up or shredded, served with (or wrapped in) tortillas, and/or accompanied by consomé, a broth made with drippings from the roasted meat. Though the dish is attributed to the east-central state of Hidalgo—and is otherwise often associated with festival days or weddings in much of Mexico—barbacoa is readily available at many markets and restaurants around the country, for whenever that earthy, meaty craving strikes.
Where: We got our barbacoa fix for 15p at Oaxaca’s Friday Candiani market (near corner of Jorge L Tamayo Castellanos and Calle Martires de Tacubaya, approx map; southeast of downtown, about seven minutes in a taxi), where several vendors (Tlacolula, Las Gemelas) set up shop with pots of bubbling barbacoa: carne blanco, “white meat,” the ladies called it, after confirming it was lamb. The fragrant, shredded meat, spooned and wrapped in a large tortilla, was beyond tender; the texture was soft and melt-in-your-mouth fatty, with incredible flavor. Also in Oaxaca, we tried some amazing cabrito (baby goat) from a barbacoa vendor called San Pedrito (Saturdays and Tuesdays only) in the middle of the labyrinthine Mercado Abastos (betw. Calle Mercaderes and the periférico, map).
Alternatively: In the Tlalpan borough of Mexico City, the raucous, 2,000-seat-plus Restaurante Arroyo (Insurgentes Sur 4300, map) is famous for its pit-roasted lamb barbacoa, which it heroically prepares every day. If you make the trip down there, don’t miss the carnitas and chicharrón either.