More than 4.5-billion fish tacos are consumed in the United States each year and Americans do not even have to look beyond the country’s inner-city streets for the finest ones.
“The best tacos in America are those you get from the taco trucks,” Gqeberha chef Mthobeli “Sunshine” Ndaleni said.
“For people coming from Mexico, they always remind them of home.”
Ndaleni, who has cooked for celebrities in the States for a number of years, aims to replicate this authenticity in his creation featuring on the Radisson hotel’s menu this summer.
It depends on who you ask, of course, but most agree that the origins of the fish taco can be traced to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
Centuries ago locals met Asian traders who introduced them to deep-frying techniques, a game-changer that enabled them to combine battered local fish and their beloved tortillas.
The legend goes that it was San Diego native and surfer Ralph Rubio who “discovered” fish tacos and brought them to the rest of the world in the 1980s.
In an interview with On the Water magazine this year, he told how he had encountered a man selling beer-battered fish and tortillas in the Bajan village of San Felipe, when the area was still largely unknown to people outside Mexico.
The trader on the beach was happy to write down the recipe and when Rubio returned to San Diego, residents were introduced to this exciting new taste.
The secret to the dish was the batter, which comprised beer, mustard powder, garlic powder, oregano and black pepper.
As it so often is when it comes to food, there will always be debates around what makes the perfect fish taco too. Is it the batter, its originality or the infusion of new flavours that innovators love but traditionalists hate?
The best placed South African to answer these questions is perhaps Ndaleni with his first-hand experience of America’s fish taco fixation.
“You need your ingredients to be fresh and the spices are what give the tacos their flavour.”
Together with Radisson Blu executive chef Tyran Vaghi, he has produced blackened fish tacos with mango and pineapple for the season.
He brings together a range of spices – including ancho chilli, ground cumin, dried oregano and cayenne pepper – for the rub in his own dish.
The combination, he found, gives the taco the authenticity it needs.
While Ndaleni is humble by nature, even he believes the offering must be a contender for the country’s greatest fish taco.
Before deciding on the make-up of his version, he travelled around the republic sampling different variations of the North American favourite.
Nowhere had he come across that distinctive flavour that made the Mexican taco what it was.
Research completed, he and Vaghi spent months testing different combinations before settling on what now features on the menu.
“The reason we did this is because we want our guests to be reminded of home. At the same time, we want our locals to be able to taste the world,” Ndaleni said.
“It’s the best taco I’ve tasted [in SA].”