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History of Barbacoa

Etymologists believe that the word "barbecue" is derived from the Spanish word "barbacoa" which has its roots from the Taino word "barabicu". "Barabicu" was derived from "ba" which comes from the Taino word "baba" meaning father; "ra" from "yara" (meaning fire); "bi" from "bibi" (beginning); and "cu" from "guacu" (the sacred fire), the word "barabicu" is generally translated to mean "sacred fire pit". 

Culinary historians believe the earliest practice in the art of barbecue originated hundreds of years ago on the island of Barbados, in the West Antilles of the Caribbean. Etymologists believe the word "barbados" can be traced back to Portuguese explorers who in the 1500s called the giant fig trees found on many of the Caribbean islands "Los Barbadoes" meaning "the bearded ones."

These same culinary historians credit the West Indies native Taino people, a subgroup of the South American Arawaks, with using fire-resistant, green fig branches for cooking. The Tainos seasoned foods in tropical herbs and spices to enhance the food's natural flavors and when combined with the "barabicu" cooking methods were superb at keeping their foods from prematurely spoiling. The Taino were wiped out by disease soon after the Spanish landed on their shores and brought with them "old world diseases" that the Taino were unable to combat. The closest modern day decedents to the Tainos would be the Haitians, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans.

The Spanish are likely responsible for introducing the barbacoa style of cooking to Mexico, where it still refers to meats slow-roasted over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a fire pit covered with succulent leaves of the maguey plant (also known as agave or century plant). Traditional Mexican barbacoa smokes and steams the meat at the same time resulting in a flavorful and moist meat.

About 15 miles northeast of Mexico City is the rural area of Texcoco (also referred to as Tezcoco), which is best known for its numerous small barbacoa restaurants and food stands serving this type of slow-cooked food. The region is generally recognized as the home of barbacoa in Mexico. While there are numerous types of barbacoa served there the regions signature dish is "barbacoa de borrego" (lamb barbecue).