In late 18th-century Mexican silver mines, workers would wrap small balls of gunpowder in paper, and slip them between cracks in the shaft wall before lighting them to explode: these fiery packets were known as tacos. Go ahead a few decades and we have the first recorded instances of tacos de minero being served–miner’s tacos. A couple of centuries later and tacos are no longer just the preserve of streetside tacquerias in Mexico City, but a gourmand’s gift to the entire world.
Tacos are a huge hit in Hanoi of course, enough that the city even has its very own taco festival. Hanoi-based foodie Anastasia Susilo set up the capital’s first Taco Fest in 2019 under her Melting Pot brand, which was founded in 2018 and has been putting on eye-catching food events throughout the city ever since.
Friendly and garrulous, Susilo’s eyes light up whenever food is mentioned, and she can chat about the Hanoi food scene at length, giving strong opinions or where to order the best cheap pizza or who serves up the city’s most authentic Chinese dishes. Whether its biscuits and gravy or sushi, Susilo will likely have a recommendation to hand.
“The Taco Fest is going to be a blast. We had over 1,000 people come last year, so would love it if we get similar numbers this year” she says. “We were delayed two months because of the virus, so it will be good to get this show on the road. I think it is going to be one of the first big food events in the city since the lockdown, so it is gonna be a good way to celebrate things returning to a semblance of normality. What better way of doing that than by smashing tacos and slamming margaritas!”
What constitutes a proper authentic taco has long left people divided. Hard or soft shell? Cornflour or wheat? Sour cream? Lettuce? Almost everyone has an opinion as to what should go in one.
The taco festival runs all day on Saturday June 6, and is set to see nine different vendors all vying to makes Hanoi’s best taco, with a trophy even awarded to the winner. There will also be a host of live entertainment including DJs, a live band and a drag show.
What constitutes a proper authentic taco has long left people divided. Hard or soft shell? Cornflour or wheat? Sour cream? Lettuce? Almost everyone has an opinion as to what should go in one, though perhaps it is better to just happily go with the flow and experiment.
Elvira Hoby runs a food company called Xin Free, which started out as a hummus brand but has expanded to include a wide range of healthy, vegan food. She missed last year’s taco festival so calls herself a “taco virgin,’ but is looking forward to slinging tacos at this year’s event. “Am very excited and a little nervous as I think it’s going to be our busiest festival yet. The entertainment and food is going to be the most fun and creative we’ve seen so far,” Hoby says. “Our menu is completely vegan and I have created two new recipes specially for the festival – vegan fried chicken made from tofu, and vegan pulled pork made from jackfruit. Am not sure exactly what is authentic these days but for me it’s all about the toppings. Pickled red onion every time.”
While Melting Pot undoubtedly puts food first, they also try to incorporate positive community work into what they do, either by encouraging their vendors to use green products or through engaging with local charities. This year will even have tacos being made by Keep Hanoi Clean, a volunteer group that started in May 2016, which has organized about 100 cleanup events to raise awareness about environmental protection in the city.
Despite not running a formal taco restaurant, the founder of Keep Hanoi Clean James Kendall is in combative mood and eager for his tacos to make an impact: “Our Greek taco packs a mean punch to the taste buds. So, I don’t think anyone will be able to bring the unique flavor like we will this year. Sure, it’s not authentic Mexican, but that’s what will make our tacos unlike anyone else’s!”
However, when it comes to taking the best taco in Hanoi prize, Naco Taco, a street taco delivery service, might just feel they have the edge, as they are basically four Mexican friends from across the country (Andres from the center of Mexico, Querétaro; Cyan from the North in Tijuana; and chefs Varela and Sam are from the South in Veracruz).
“Passion is the essential ingredient. The only rule applies on how to eat, all the rest can be made of anything.”
“A proper taco needs a handmade corn tortilla freshly cooked on a ‘comal.’ There are very few things that can top that for a Mexican. The smell, the taste, the touch… Luckily our chef Varela has sorted out, says Samantha Romero of Naco Taco. “But we are counting on our Taco Gobernador to win the taco contest! Who doesn’t like shrimps with cheese?”
The festival is set to take place at The 100 beer garden, a large outside space, set a few hundred meters back from Hanoi’s flower market on Au Co in Tay Ho, which specializes in a range of craft beers. It is because of this that Jordi Llagostera might be expected to do well at the taco fest. His tapas and sandwich restaurant La Veranda is based inside the 100 beer garden. He has home advantage.
“Passion is the essential ingredient. The only rule applies on how to eat, all the rest can be made of anything,” Llagostera says. “I’m putting my best efforts into making fusion tacos, trying to bring out Vietnamese flavours with Mexican standards and Spanish roots. All with a funny twist.”
Nobody knows who will pick up the “Best Taco” crown at the festival, but what is known is that there are set to be a stunning array of tacos made from scratch by people who care, not to mention eye-catching entertainment and plenty of booze to wash things down. “It’s great people can finally get out and go to fun events,” Susilo says. “Let’s just hope the weather smiles on us too.”
The 100 beer garden
June 6, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
68/238 Âu Cơ, Quảng An, Tây Hồ
091 266 67 36