Food on a stick is the best food. In a world that includes Thai satay and Slavic shashlik, Peruvian anticuchos and Persian koobideh, the logic in unassailable. And chunks carved from a thick, spinning mound of meat, such as Greek gyros and Lebanese shawarma and shish taouk? Those are some of the greatest loves of all happening to meat today.
Mexican trompo traces its roots to the latter and just as I once made it a habit to stuff myself with mall food court shawarma in Montréal, trompo may be inheriting the same place in my diet in Houston.
At the very least, a trip to PlazAmericas, formerly the Sharpstown Mall, opened up a whole new world to this food court fetishist. But between a giant potato-and-chorizo huarache and a paleta filled with real strawberries that tasted suspiciously of strawberry Quik, I feasted on a pair of surprisingly excellent dishes from a stand simply known as Taqueria Americas. And yes, trompo is the centerpiece.
As a Newstonian, it was only then that I learned that cooking the raw pork on the turning trompo was illegal within city limits. Sad face. But the fatty meat the cook crisped on her griddle burst with unexpected flavor. Happy face.
I expected chile and achiote, from which the pig flesh gets its telltale red color. But what I didn't anticipate was how much the trompo-filled gordita would also inherit from its spiritual forebear, the shawarma. Traces of the Middle East came not only in spicing, but in the creamy, garlicky sauce on top. Basically, I was eating a thoroughly un-halal version of the Lebanese pita sandwich on a righteously griddled gordita.
As an afterthought, I decided to throw a pupusa into my order, too, along with a refreshing and not-too-sweet cantaloupe drink. I could not have anticipated it would be one of my favorite versions of the dish I'd ever tried. I don't like my pupusas too crunchy, and this masa blended seamlessly with the tangy quesillo inside. Smoky chipotle salsa was a great complement, but the ultra-tangy yet still crisp curtido was an even better counterpoint to the rich bite of corn and cheese.
So maybe not all the best food is cooked on a stick. But some of my new favorites can certainly be found at PlazAmericas.