Cancun Taco… deliciously simple

By Tim O’Connor

I never tire of exploring the cuisines from around the world that can be found in Ottawa and sometimes found in our own kitchen.

Recently I was planning a special menu for Flora Fest 5, our annual anniversary party at Flora Hall Brewing. I asked our staff to suggest ideas for food that fits having beer in hand and a celebration, a good late-night street food. Manny, who was born in Mexico City and spent many years in Cancun, said: “I have a neat one, one that nobody has talked about here.”

That’s when I met the delicious simplicity of a Cancun taco.

It’s made of pulled pork (cochinita pibil) slowly cooked in bitter orange sauce. You can get this bitter orange sauce in bottles, so we’ll do a small plug here as I love to send customers to small local businesses. La Chingadera Mexican Market recently opened in the Glebe, next to Home Hardware. The owner has bottles of this orange sauce on her shelf, plus the other key ingredients you need for this pork, including dried chilis, tortillas and a banana leaf to wrap around the pork while cooking.

The pork is marinated in garlic, bitter orange, lime and grapefruit, and the sweetness of the pork with the bitter blast of citrus is a great combination. If you like, you can add a bit of salsa verde or sour cream, and a little cilantro goes a long way with this. You don’t have to load it up on toppings, and it’s fantastic with none.

Cook the pork in the banana leaf on the grill or in the oven, though the grill creates an appealing bit of crispy exterior. When we made it, Manny grabbed pork to put in a tortilla as fast as we could pull it. He couldn’t resist, because this is so good, screw serving it for dinner, just have your kids stand around you and eat it. It feels so authentic.

This is great dish for late-night celebrations and also for watching football or soccer. Put it in the oven at the start of one game and at the end of the next game it’s ready to come out, and you look like a master of the kitchen. Invite people over and let them praise you, as you smile. You look like a world-class chef, but you did almost nothing.

Tim O’Connor grew up in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

The author with the orange sauce that is the secret ingredient for tacos made the Cancun way.   Photo: Peter Simpson

Cancun Taco

Manny’s marinade

8 garlic cloves
1 cup Goya (bitter orange)
2 limes, juiced
1/3 cup Annatto paste
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chili flakes

Purée. Season pork with salt, then rub in marinade, keeping the shoulder whole. Rest for 8 hours in fridge.
Wrap in banana leaves with shiny side out, then wrap in foil. Cook in oven at 375° or grill at 325° for 4 hours.


3 1/2 cups of Maseca instant corn flour
4 cups hot water
1 tsp salt

Mix until dough is formed, and portion into sizes a little smaller than a golf ball. Place a ball between two sheets of plastic wrap and flatten with tortilla press, or between 2 plates. Cook on a just-warm, cast-iron pan, and flip once until both sides have a slight colour. Place in an open plastic bag until ready to eat.

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