birria bowl

The Origins Of The Birria Taco

Here in Puerto Vallarta — and Mexico for that matter — has a long tradition of great and delicious “street food.” One of the dishes that best represent the beautiful State of Jalisco is the famous “Birria.”

Here at Vallarta Eats, when you book and take our Signature Taco Tour, you will notice that birria takes center stage. Of course, you will be introduced to other, no-less-worthy and amazing tacos, but for the purpose of this article, we are just going to focus on this spicy, warm and deliciously meaty dish that has captivated others around the world.

Birria is a wonderful traditional Mexican dish, originally made with goat meat, but also made with beef, veal, lamb or pork. It can be served as a stew or as a taco filling.

In gastronomic terms, the word birria means: “Exquisite savory dish, full of culture and tradition.”

Birria, originates right at the center of the state of Jalisco, in the town of Cocula, located northwest of Lake Chapala, and southwest of Guadalajara.

During the era of the “Conquista”— around the XVI century — the cultural exchange between the Spaniards and the Mexicans changed the way they lived and ate, giving birth to new foods and traditions. The conquistadors also introduced exotic spices and new animal species, never seen on this side of the Atlantic, and in effect, changed our cuisine forever.

The first hundred years after the conquest were very difficult and devastating for the Mexican people; the alarming decrease in the native population caused by disease and subjugation of the conquistadors, was in part, the reason for their annihilation.

Some newly introduced animals were well accepted by those who lived in Mexico at the time. Favorite among them were pigs, which soon became a staple, and were raised by many.

Not all new farm animals enjoyed the same acceptance as pigs, chickens, and cattle; and this was the case for goats, or as we call them here in Mexico, “chivos”.

Goats became a real nuisance to the inhabitants of this land; they bred quickly, causing devastation to crops and land. Herds, ate everything in their path, including the field crops and seedbeds of the indigenous peoples. Remember, back then, paddocks and fencing didn’t exist; before the conquest, no large farm animal roamed these parts, and to a large extent, the increased goat population was an indirect cause of the famine, suffered by so many native Mexicans.

During this time of famine, the locals began using goats for meat. And just like that, the first “birriero” (birria maker) was born.

Goat meat is very “gamey,” especially the meat of older goats. As a way to counteract the strong taste and smell of the meat, they began adding different kinds of herbs and fragrant spices that contributed to the flavoring. In addition, by cooking it in the earth or in kilns, they helped soften the meat, adding to the palatability.

From the beginning, Cocula, Jalisco, is considered the birthplace of the dish we now call “birria.” The tradition of the “birriero” families continue to this day, all with their unique recipe and style, which gives birria its distinct and delicious flavor.

Nowadays, birria is not only prepared with goat meat; today, it is also prepared with lamb, pork, beef, and chicken, but it is still a very special dish. It can always be paired with a good tequila, mezcal, beer or any other drink like agua fresca. And like anything here in Mexico, if it’s accompanied by the beautiful music and sounds of the Mariachi band, it is sure to taste amazing.

Birria is an authentic Mexican Flavor born out of hunger.

As we now have learned, this dish is associated with the state of Jalisco but nowadays, it is eaten in many parts of the country.

It is often served at events such as weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms or other holidays. It is also known as a hangover cure, for its flavor and strong spices, and it is usually served for brunch or the day after a celebration.

Birria is usually eaten in the morning as a breakfast or an early lunch meal, usually sold from street stands or small mom-and-pop restaurants, each with its own flavor, but always good.

Birria stew or tacos are prepared with fresh chopped onions, different salsas, shredded cabbage, cilantro, and lime — so make sure to add some — when preparing your own birria stew, or birria tacos.

If you fall in love with its flavor and just have to make it at home, here is an easy recipe that you can follow.

Traditional Jalisco Style Birria Recipe
By The Spruce

Plan ahead when making this dish, the meat needs to marinate overnight. A Dutch oven or a slow cooker will be used for this.


For the Chile Paste:
4 guajillo chiles
3 ancho chiles
3 cascabel chiles
2 tablespoons vinegar
For the Meat Rub:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon thyme (or 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme)
For the Meat:
3 to 4 pounds goat meat (mutton, beef, veal, and/or pork, with or without bones)
1 cup water
1 onion (peeled and coarsely chopped)
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic (peeled and finely diced)
For the Garnish:
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped onion
Shredded cabbage


Make the Chile Paste:
Toast the chiles on a hot griddle or skillet over medium heat until browned, but not burned.
Remove the seeds and veins, then place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
When chiles have rehydrated, drain them.
Process chiles and vinegar in a blender to make a paste.

Make the Meat Rub:
In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, cloves, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and thyme.
Rub the meat well with this mixture.

Marinate the Meat:
Coat the meat with half of the chile paste.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Cook the Meat:
Pour the water into a Dutch oven or deep casserole dish and add the coarsely chopped onion, bay leaves, diced garlic and the remaining chile paste.
Place meat on a rack that sits just above the water mixture. Place lid on the pot, making sure that it covers tightly, and bake for 4 hours at 350 F (176 C).

Finish and Serve the Birria:

Remove the meat from the Dutch oven and distribute it among 6 to 8 bowls.
Finish the birria and serve with broth (as a soupy stew) or as a saucy taco filling with corn tortillas.

Brothy Birria Variation:
After removing the meat from the Dutch oven, let the liquid cool slightly and remove the bay leaves.
The broth can be left as is or it can be blended into a smooth sauce.
Add enough hot water to the broth to make at least 2 cups. Ladle the liquid over the meat and top with chopped cilantro and onion. Serve with a spoon and warm corn tortillas.

Saucy Birria Variation:
After removing the meat from the Dutch oven, remove the bay leaves from the liquid. If the liquid is watery, reduce it by boiling in a small pan to thicken.
Break the meat into chunks and coat them with the reduced liquid. Fill warm corn tortillas with the filling and top with chopped onions, cabbage, and cilantro.

When you visit Puerto Vallarta, don’t forget to come and visit us at Vallarta Eats Food Tours, we would love to show you this beautiful port through its delicious food…

Make sure to book one of our gastronomic tours. Remember to always… Come Hungry!

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