Yay for Tacos! This crunchy handheld piece of deliciousness is celebrating the recognition it deserves as today is National Taco Day! It occurred to me that although I know the taco exists, and that it is found on the Mexican food aisle at the local grocery store, I didn’t really know the 411 on how the taco came about. So, I did some digging and here is what I found.
Tacos are a popular American comfort dish, but where did they originate? According to historians, the ancient Mexicans ate fresh, soft, flat corn tortillas with fish or cooked organs. It was a regularly eaten meal that provided important vitamins and energy to people who consumed it. However, these tacos didn’t include the cheese, lettuce, sour cream, or tomato that we typically associate with a taco. In fact, the taco as we know it is only a century old.
And as a matter of fact, the word “taco” is relatively recent. In the 18th century, Mexican silver miners invented it. In their line of work, gunpowder was wrapped in paper and placed inside rocks before being detonated. Miners’ tacos became known as such as a result of this filling. As a result, the phrase miner’s tacos was coined. The tortilla in these miner’s tacos wasn’t a hard U-shaped shell; instead, it was a corn tortilla with a spicy filling. This inexpensive food helped to keep the miners fed and well nourished.
In 1905, the Taco was brought to the United States for the first time. Mexican laborers were coming in to work on railroads and other enterprises and bringing their delicious cuisine with them. Tacos were a street food in their early days since they were easily transportable and inexpensive. In fact, Los Angeles’ Mexican food carts, which were run by women known as “chili queens,” provided Americans with their first taste of tacos. These ladies sold exotic, delicious Mexican food like soft corn tortilla tacos to Americans who had never tried anything similar before. The fillings were incredibly spicy and unfamiliar to the American palate.
By 1920, the food Mexican immigrants brought in started to fuse with American elements. Ingredients such as ground beef and chicken were used in place of organs, while cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato became standard fillings. This new dish was known as the ultimate taco to Americans whose traditional cuisine favored more subtle flavors. In short, the taco was gradually becoming a Mexican-American fusion. When Taco Bell became mainstream and introduced its version of “Mexican” food, it started to stray away from being authentically Mexican.
Interestingly enough, the u-shaped pre-fried taco shell that we adore didn’t exist until the 1940s. Mexicans were the first to come up with this concept in order to speed up the taco assembly process and Taco Bell adopted this idea to cut costs. Tacos can be found nearly everyplace these days, from your neighborhood street food cart to Chipotle. Each establishment has its own flavor profile, whether it’s authentic or a Mexican-inspired fusion dish.
Nowadays, Mexican restaurants are no longer imitating American ingredients and are instead giving the genuine flavor of Mexico—and Americans are flocking to them. There’s no cheese or lettuce in these tacos, which is different from what Americans liked in the 20th century. Soft corn tortillas packed with genuinely seasoned meat, cilantro, radish slices, grilled onion, and a variety of hot sauces.
Tacos appear to be on solid ground. With confident chefs bringing in the genuine flavor of home, America’s affection for Mexico’s ancient taco grows stronger. As a consequence, you’ll start seeing more interesting fusion tacos emerge. And that is a definite win-win for all of us! So in the name of Taco’s, go grab your favorite cerveza and devour a taco or two or ten!