The Carnicería Connoisseur: A Glossary

Carniceria is the Spanish word for butcher shop or meat market. Most Houston carnicerias still sell raw meat. But they are best known for Mexican meat specialties that are already cooked.

The Mexican tradition of buying cooked meat at the carniceria is partly a matter of convenience and partly because it’s a big job to prepare carnitas, barbacoa and chicharrones, and it’d be impractical to do so at home.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the things you might want to try in Houston carnicerias:

Al pastor – literally, in the style of the shepherd. Tacos al pastor usually means marinated pork, classically cooked on the vertical roaster called a trompo, but more often just grilled, served with roasted pineapple

Barbacoa – literally, barbecue. Texas barbacoa is made from cow heads that are typically steamed rather than smoked

Barbacoa de Borrego – Interior Mexican-style lamb or mutton barbecue steamed over a spicy broth, sometimes while wrapped in a maguey leaves

Birria – Goat meat steamed over a spicy broth and usually served with some broth in a bowl

Cabrito – baby goat

Cabron – goat

Cachete – cheek. The cheek meat is the best part of barbacoa and is often sold separately for a higher price

Calabacitas – literally, little squash. A pork, summer squash, corn and chile stew

Carne asado – literally, cooked meat. This term as well as “carne asada” means different things to different people. It can be anything from grilled steak to a pork roast braised in an ancho sauce

Carne deshebrada – shredded meat

Carne guisada – stewed meat, usually a beef stew

Carnitas – pork cooked in lard until the meat is soft and the outside is crispy

Chicharrones – fried pork skins. You also occasionally see beef chicharonnes in Houston

Cochinita – baby pig. Cochinita pibil is marinated baby goat steamed in banana leaves

Fajitas – grilled beef strips, the most common offering in every Houston carneceria

Gorditas – literally, little fat ones. Deep-fried hollow masa rounds that are stuffed with fillings

Higado – liver

Huaraches – literally, sandals. Shoe sole-shaped ovals of masa similar to sopes

Lengua – tongue

Masa – the corn dough used to make tortillas, tamales, and other shapes

Mollejas – sweetbreads

Pollo asado – roasted chicken

Sopes – little masa rounds with raised lips that are lightly fried, then filled with beans and topped with meats, cheese and vegetables

Tamales – corn husks or banana leaves stuffed with masa and other fillings

Tortas – Mexican sandwiches usually served on talera bread or bolillos

Torta Cubana ala Mexicana – the Mexican version of a Cuban sandwich

Torta Pambazo or Pambazo – a sandwich on a chile-dipped bun

Trompo – literally, the child’s toy called a top. The name describes the shape of the marinated pork strips on a vertical roaster. Tacos al trompo are the same as tacos al pastor

-- Robb Walsh

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