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Steak TacoA grilled steak taco with roasted corn and tomatillo salsa and sliced radishes. Photo courtesy McCormick.

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November 2011

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / International Foods

Taco Origin

The History Of The Original “Mexican Sandwich”

This is Page 1 of a three-page article on tacos. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

 

Taco History

If you only eat tacos at restaurants, you’re missing out on an easy-to-make lunch or dinner item that can expand far past its Mexican roots. Today, anything rolled in a tortilla becomes a taco—from octopus to leftovers of almost any type.

Dating back thousands of years, corn tortillas were the bread of Mesoamericans. In addition to providing sustenance, tortillas were also torn into pieces and used in the absence of utensils to scoop up other foods. The word “taco” derives from a Spanish word meaning “light snack.”

Each region in Mexico has its own cuisine, which extends to taco fillings. Mexican fillings vary widely from the typical selection at an American Tex-Mex restaurant. We have a “taco template” below, but first:

Taco Overview

Whether a taco shell is fried, grilled or steamed depends on the filling. The majority of tacos in Mexico are made with soft tortillas, grilled or steamed. Tacos dorados (dorado means fried) are fried until crisp.

The regional differences between Mexican tacos start with the type of tortillas used.

  • In the north, grilled meat is wrapped in flour tortillas.
  • In the south, corn tortillas are preferred, with white corn preferred over yellow corn.
  • The size of the tortillas also varies. Unlike supersized American adaptations, the norm is small corn tortillas, 3” to 4" in diameter, with two or three pieces to an order.

In Mexico you’ll find tacos in the morning and the evening, but not at lunch, which is the day’s main meal.

How To Build A Taco

Tortilla. Pick your base. We prefer corn tortillas or flavored wheat tortillas for more of a palate punch.

Garnishes. First into the tortilla are the garnishes: typically, chopped onion and cilantro. Radishes, cucumbers and green onions are also chopped and set out. As the taco spread internationally, any variety of salad has been added, including shredded lettuce and cabbage.

Salsa. Next, choose your salsa: fresh-chopped salsa, cooked red salsa, tomatillo-based green salsa or a guacamole-type salsa. Fusion recipes can go in any direction: chopped cucumber and mint in a lamb taco, for example.

Protein. The main ingredient comes next, typically a sliced or shredded meat or fish. Vegetarian tacos are often filled with beans.

Lime. Add a bright citrus note by squeezing a lime wedge over the ingredients.

Cheese. Americans like a layer of shredded cheese. Typically a Mexican cheese blend, any cheese can be substituted—including crumbled goat cheese for a fusion taco.

Topping. Although not common to most Mexican recipes, sour cream has taken its place in American-made tortillas. Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt and you’ll save in fat and cholesterol.

 

Continue To Page 2: Taco Ingredients

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