The taco as we know it today is a blend of ancient Mexican recipes and International influences. However, before it was known in America, natives in Mexico were eating a version that looked quite different.
Where did America’s favorite comfort food originate? Here’s the history of one of the best foods on the planet.
The Ancient Taco
Tacos are thought to come from Mexico, long before the Spanish arrived. Ancient Mexicans used freshly made, soft, flat corn tortillas and gave them with fillings like fish and cooked organs. It was a staple meal that provided vital nutrients and energy to those who consumed it.
These tacos didn’t contain the cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and tomato that we associate with the meal today. In fact, the taco as we know it is less than 100 years old.
The Name “Taco”: A Modern Invention
The word “taco“ is quite new.
It originated from Mexican silver miners in the 18th century. Gunpowder was wrapped in a paper like a “taquito” and inserted into rocks before detonation.
By this time, tacos were known as the food of the working class, which included miners. This resulted in their portable street food being called “tacos de minero“, also known as “miner’s tacos”.
The tortilla in these miner’s tacos wasn’t a hard U-shaped shell like we know today. Instead, it was a corn tortilla with a spicy filling. This daily staple was filling, delicious, and affordable.
Coming to America
The Taco was first introduced to the United States in 1905. Mexican migrants were coming in to work on railroads and other jobs and started to bring their delicious food with them.
Tacos were essentially a street food at this time since they were highly portable and cheap. In fact, Americans first became exposed to tacos through Mexican food carts in Los Angeles that were run by women called “chili queens”.
These ladies sold delicious economic Mexican food like soft corn tortilla tacos, and they were deemed exotic by any American that tried one. The fillings were incredibly spicy and unfamiliar to the American palate.
By 1920, the food Mexican immigrants brought in started to fuse with American ingredients.
Organs were replaced with the more palatable ground beef and chicken. Cheddar cheese, cool lettuce, tomato became standard fillings. This became known as the ultimate taco to Americans whose traditional cuisine favored more subtle flavors.
In short, the taco was becoming something of a Mexican-American fusion. Things got even more interesting when Taco Bell became mainstream and created a breed of “Mexican” food that wasn’t authentically Mexican at all.
The Best Taco… Wasn’t Even Called a Taco
Did you know that Taco Bell’s Founder, Glen Bell, found that “taco” was actually a word that Mexicans didn’t use to describe the meal? Instead, Mexicans used other words to describe tacos that varied by region and local culture.
“Taco” was a word that Mexicans would use toward Americans to identify the dish. This is much like how the Korean food chain Bon Chon calls their “egg rolls” “potstickers” on their mainstream menu but the dish is properly called “mandu” among Koreans.
That Crunchy Shell
The pre-fried u-shaped taco shell we love didn’t come into existence until the 1940s. Mexicans patented this idea first to expedite the taco-making process. Taco Bell took this idea 10 years later to streamline their operations.
Previously, tacos were cooked to order and were just soft tacos. The pre-made crunchy taco shell made it easier to mass-produce the taco in America.
Nowadays, you can find tacos practically everywhere, from your local street food stand to Chipotle. Each place has a different experience to offer, whether it’s authentic or a Mexican-inspired fusion meal.
Lately, due to a Millennial preference for “mom and pop” restaurants, Taquerias are starting to become more popular. These restaurants offer authentic Mexican food like Tacos al Pastor, de Barbacoa, and Carnitas.
Mexican restaurants are turning away from Americanizing their ingredients and are now bringing the real taste of Mexico—and Americans are falling in love.
These tacos are different from the ones Americans preferred in the 20th century. There’s no cheese or lettuce. Instead, you’ll see soft corn tortillas filled with authentically flavored meat, cilantro, radish slices, grilled onion, and an assortment of hot sauces.
Tacos of All Kinds
The future of tacos looks bright. As confident chefs bring in the real taste of home, the cultural exchange only deepens America’s appreciation for Mexico’s ancient taco. As a result, you can see more delicious fusion tacos coming to be. In fact, you can sample tacos that embrace flavors from both Mexico and around the world at Twisted Taco.
Here you can find tacos loaded fresh tomato, lettuce, and sour cream with the authentic flavor of cilantro while experimenting with delicious meats like gyro meat, American barbecue, and Korean bulgogi. Come experience these great tastes for yourself today!