“Mexican food is a way of life,” (8) – Gustavo Arellano, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America
WIKIPEDIA: A taco (/‘tä-ko/) is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables, and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, chili pepper, avocado, guacamole, cilantro(coriander), tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.
Tacos originally migrated to California and Texas in the 1920s and into Mexican cookbooks in America in the 1930s. They gained recognition with the rise of Taco Bell in the 1960s. Taco Bell is the way that most Americans were introduced to “Mexican food” It’s almost like a “gateway” food before diving into the world of real Mexican food. Into the world of authenticity.
Taco Map (in English) from Tacopedia by Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena.
Such a simple, brilliant meal: a tortilla wrapped around a stuffing. No utensils needed. The taco. That’s it. Oh, modifications are possible: fold the tortilla in half and deep-fry it to create a taco dorado, what Americans know as the hard-shelled taco. Roll it like an enchilada, deep-fry it, and you have taquitos (also called flautas). Eat them at breakfast? Breakfast tacos. Fine for lunch and dinner. As a snack. As a full meal. Serve them with one or two tortillas. From a truck, from a grill, from fine china. Sprinkle some salsa, maybe some cilantro and onions. Grasp and grub. That’s it. (52)
Fun (Hilarious) fact: Even the employees at Taco Bell don’t eat Taco Bell as mentioned:
“They actively follow the many top-shelf taco trucks that flood Irvine’s corporate parks everyday, standing in dozens-long lines, enticed by Twitter feeds and word of mouth to wait for tortillas stuffed with Korean barbecue, with Argentine sausage, with sautéed tofu and even jackfruit—everything but the hard shelled version.” (51)
It’s even more humorous to wonder how Glen Bell would feel about his employees lining up to eat any and everything but Taco Bell tacos.
“Oh those employees,” one owner says with a laugh, as a line stretches out before him. “They’re some of my best costumers. They act as if they’ve never seen a taco before.” The taco at Taco Bell is dead. Long live the taco. (52)
Tacos have ingrained themselves in American culture. American food has become a mix of food from different cultures from all over and Mexican food, i.e tacos, has become part of our collective American diet.
An interesting article that I read was from the Smithsonian magazine website and it was titled, Where Did The Taco Come From? written by Katy June Friesen as she discussed the origins of tacos with Jefferey M. Pilcher, a History professor at the University of Minnesota. (Author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food!)
Something that I find fascinating, that Pilcher mentions in the interview, is the combining of cultures both in America and Mexico. A mix happening simultaneously. Mexican-Americans coming up in America and starting to bring their food and a migration happening in Mexico like Lebanese migrants. And even today this is still the reality. Mexicans coming and bringing their dishes to America. Their children and future generations keeping up tradition but also evolving the dishes with the change of times. With the migrants in Mexico I’m not surprised even though I’ve never been to Mexico but whenever I’ve traveled outside of the US I noticed that there were people from Bangladesh or China who spoke perfect Spanish or French or Italian! They moved there and assimilated into the culture so I’m not surprised the same happened in Mexico. Pictured below are Navajo/Indian Tacos that are typically eaten at POW WOWS.
If there is an appreciation of Mexican food like with tacos from those not necessarily born within the culture there should be an understanding on their part regarding the difference between Appreciation and Appropriation. We should also acknowledge the fact that certain staples of types of tacos that we know today didn’t necessarily come from Mexico. Like with tacos al pastor that have pineapple in them.
You’re also starting to see new migrants coming into Mexico. For example, there are a lot of Lebanese migrants, and one of the things they bring with them is shawarma, or gyros—vertical rotisseries where they cook lamb, and they put it on little pita breads. But when they start putting [the meat] on tortillas, they’re called tacos arabes: Arab tacos. Again, it’s the second generation, the children of these Lebanese migrants, who change the recipe a little bit and start using pork instead of lamb. And they start adding a little pineapple. Tacos al pastor, which really doesn’t catch on until the 1960s, then becomes a standard Mexican dish that’s everywhere. (Pilcher)
What I really love is that while Taco Bell may have been the ones to introduce tacos to Americans in the 60s it is the Americans who today want authenticity with their meals.
Lets just say that the Mexicans have been a lot more successful at bringing their Mexican food to the United States than Americans have at bringing their Mexican food to Mexico. Taco Bell has tried on a couple occasions to establish restaurants in Mexico, and they have invariably closed down very quickly. But I think Mexican regional tacos—like tacos al pastor, tacos de barbacoa—are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. I think the reason for that is Americans want something they perceive as being a more authentic variety. They want the “real” thing. (Pilcher)
My personal favorite when it comes to tacos has to be Bistec tacos. Or steak tacos. Below I have a recipe from Wikipedia. (My #1 place for tacos is hands down Homemade Taquería right off of the 7 train on Junction Blvd here in Queens!)
- Shaved Steak or cut steak may work.
- Corn Oil, or Manteca (lard) (can be omitted or substantially minimized)
- Cilantro, diced small
- Onions, diced quite small
- Salsa Verde (Can be bought pre-made in a supermarket)
How to make:
- Cut the onions and cilantro and put them in bowls.
- Cut the limes into 4 pieces.
- Shave, or cut the steak into fine pieces.
- Put the corn oil, or Manteca in a pan or griddle and warm it up.
- Cook the steak in the pan as needed.
- When the steak is ready, keep it warm. You can also use the same pan to warm or cook the tortillas.
- Next warm or make the tortillas.
- Once everything is ready. Put the meat down the middle in the tortillas, which typically are used in layers of two to help the taco hold together without breaking (flour tortillas only need one layer).
- Squeeze as much lime juice as wanted over the meat as wanted.
- Put as much cilantro, onions and salsa verde as wanted.
Many of us I’m sure to have used the pre-made meal kits at the supermarket for taco dinners. I myself love making pork tacos at home. I don’t have pictures but I did find this website that was by what seemed like the only Mejicana on the internet! Here is her recipe written out if you don’t want to click the link: (Serves 4)
- 2 pounds thinly sliced Steaks of Ribeye or Sirloin or Diezmillo at your local Latin Store.
- 12 corn tortillas
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or lard Lard is better for an authentic taste
- 1 medium onion finely chopped about 1 cup
- 1 bunch of cilantro finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A good spicy salsa to top the tacos
- Add salt and pepper to the steaks.
- In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat add the vegetable oil. Place the steak when the oil is hot and brown the steaks.
- Cook for about 2 minutes and turn. If you are making several steaks, wrap the cooked ones in aluminum foil and keep warm in an oven while you finish cooking the rest of the steaks. Do not overcook.
- While the steaks finish cooking, start warming the tortillas in a medium heat skillet and wrap them in a kitchen towel.
- Chop the meat into small pieces and place some of the meat into each warm tortilla. Top each taco with the chopped onion and cilantro.
- Add the chopped steak to the skillet. Mix and serve in warm tortillas topped with chopped cilantro and onion. Now you are ready to enjoy a real taco!
Tacos. They’ve come a long way from being taken from Glen Bell to being restored in glory and power. No longer do people consider Taco Bell as authentic Mexican food. Generations of people here in the US are expanding their taste buds to the different types of tacos. Even I, who only eat pork or bistec tacos, am curious of other variations. Taco Bell may have won the “battle”… but Mexico? They won the war.
Arellano, Gustavo. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Scribner, 2013.
Friesen, Katy June. “Where Did the Taco Come From?” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 3 May 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/where-did-the-taco-come-from-81228162/
Holtz, Déborah, and Juan Carlos Mena. Tacopedia. Phaidon Press Limited, 2015.
Martinez, Mely. Mexico In My kitchen. Mexican Steak Tacos
“Taco.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taco.
“Taquito.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taquito.