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From Worthless to TikTok Trend: The Rise of Birria

It should come as no surprise that to help me, a food blogger, fall asleep at night, I watch videos of particularly impressive cooking. Yes, I know, completely unheard of.

Something I’ve been noticing is a spike in popularity with a particular Mexican soup – birria – and a bunch of slick TikTok chefs offering their contemporary take on the traditional soup. Here, here, here, and here are a few examples that I’ve come across in just the last couple of days.

So, what is birria, how is it made, and why am I seeing so much of it?

How to Make Birria Soup

If you did the actual homework and clicked on all four links above, you get the basic idea: birria is a soup made from slow-cooked meat, dried chillies, herbs, spices, vinegar, and stock.

Birria is made in a closed cast-iron pot (see my previous post for further details about how great cauldrons are), and while traditionally made with goat meat, it is now usually made with beef, lamb, or chicken. Marinated and cooked for hours, the goal is to have the meat soft enough to be pulled apart and served as a thick soup or stew.

The Origins of Birria

Birria is traditionally made for large family gatherings: quinceañeras, weddings, or Easter in Jalisco state will see tables laden with birria. However, its history echoes the colonial history of Mexico.

Birria dates back to the early 16th century when Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of the Aztec Empire and began to violently suppress their people and culture. With them, they brought technology, social classes, and European livestock.

The Spanish ultimately introduced the goat to Mexico. Goats took to Mexico greedily, eating the Aztecs’ crops and overpopulating the farmlands. The Spanish, now having entrenched themselves as overlords, found eating goats to be below their station, so the Aztecs themselves had to come up with a solution to their goat problem.

Birria was the way forward. As a traditionally tough meat, slow-cooking goat in vinegar allowed the meat to soften considerably. Combined with the spices native to the region around Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), it made for a delicious soup that has survived to this day.

As I said – it’s a dish that tells the story of Mexico’s colonial past: the Spanish arrived, made a complete mess of the systems already there, and the indigenous people were left with the task of cleaning up the mess themselves. A dish that was borne out of necessity, greed, indifference, and neglect that has ultimately produced a unique fusion of cultures and histories.

One can even see the colonial attitude through birria’s name – it meant ‘worthless’ in 16th-century Spanish slang, giving you a clue as to how the invaders viewed the popular dish.

Not Worthless Anymore

The last few years have seen birria skyrocket in popularity. And I’m not the first one to notice this: even the New York Times published a thought piece on birria once it became apparent that it was the next viral food trend to be sweeping the internet.

Food creatives on Instagram and TikTok are making birria everything. As the above videos demonstrate, the birria soup itself feels more like a consommé or a dipping sauce for the resultant taco, burrito, sandwich, waffle, or ravioli that uses the slow-cooked meat from the soup as the main ingredient.

The various thought pieces on birria don’t have a solution as to why the last two years have seen birria become so popular. Perhaps because it’s a way to get the most out of cheaper cuts of meat in a world where a recession is looming – it’s tough to be sure.

What I am sure about, though, is that I will have failed as a food blogger if I don’t try out one of these recipes in the next month. Who’s with me?

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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