How Mexican Birria Went From A Famine Solution To Fine-Dining

If you’ve found yourself on the food algorithm of any social media platform these days, then there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Mexico's Birria. Birria has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity, becoming a viral sensation on the internet and cropping up on every trendy menu in the USA and beyond with the New York Times even referring to Birria’s popularity as ‘relentless’. The captivating visuals of chefs, home cooks and influencers sharing mouthwatering birria tacos, quesadillas, stew and everything in between have sparked a craze among foodies worldwide. 

The combination of tender, slow-cooked meat, the vibrant red hue of the spicy adobo sauce, and the blend of toppings may have been making waves today, but before this dish was a trendy menu insert, it was a relatively unknown dish outside of traditional Mexican cuisine. 

The dish can be traced back to the state of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco in Mexico, particularly in the city of Cocula, where it is believed to have originated around the 16th century. When Spanish conquistadors made their way into Mexico, they forever adapted the way locals farmed and cooked. Along with decimating native populations, they introduced new animal species that disturbed the existing biosphere. 

Some animals like pigs were integrated into the farm cycle without much issue, but others like goats posed more of a problem. They became a nuisance as they bred quickly and caused widespread destruction as herds moved through farmlands eating indiscriminately. This in turn triggered a famine and suddenly, the goats seemed useful again and the first ‘birriero’ (birria maker) came into being.

Video Credits: Mexican Food With Laura/YouTube

Locals weren’t thrilled about the gamey texture and flavour of goat meat so decided to cook it low and slow with a lot of spices and chillies to disguise the less appetising aspects. The word birria itself translates to ‘worthless’ in reference to the meat's distasteful properties. Birria was a dish born of necessity and adapted into something cherished. It was a marker of resilience and how magic can be made with food even in dark times. 

The social media phenomenon surrounding birria has also led to innovative variations and fusion dishes, contributing to its continued popularity. Food entrepreneurs and chefs have been quick to capitalise on the trend, creating new and exciting ways to enjoy birria, such as birria ramen, birria pizza, and even birria-inspired burgers. As the viral nature of the dish continues to spread across digital platforms, birria has firmly established itself as a global culinary sensation, bringing people from different cultures and backgrounds together to savour this delectable Mexican delight.


For the Birria:

  • 1 kg goat meat, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-6 dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
  • 2-4 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 cups beef or chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil for searing

For Serving:

  • Corn tortillas
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Chopped white onion
  • Lime wedges


  • Prepare the Chilies: In a dry skillet over medium heat, lightly toast the dried chilies for about 1-2 minutes on each side. Make sure not to burn them. Once toasted, transfer the chilies to a bowl and cover with hot water. Allow them to soak for about 20-30 minutes until softened.
  • Make the Birria Sauce: In a blender or food processor, combine the soaked chilies (discard the soaking water), chopped onion, minced garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of the beef or chicken broth. Blend until you get a smooth, thick sauce. You can add more broth or water if needed.
  • Sear the Meat: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat chunks in batches and sear them until browned on all sides. This helps to lock in the flavours and create a rich, caramelised base for the stew. Set the seared meat aside.
  • Prepare the Birria Stew: In the same pot, add the chopped onion and cook until softened and translucent. Then, return the seared meat to the pot and pour the Birria sauce over it. Add the remaining beef or chicken broth and water, enough to cover the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer the Birria: Cover the pot and let the Birria simmer on low heat for about 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the meat is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
  • Shred the Meat: Once the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and shred it using two forks.
  • Serve: Serve the shredded Birria meat with warm corn tortillas, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped white onions, and lime wedges. You can also offer a bowl of consommé on the side for dipping the tortillas.