The taco has become an All-American – available coast-to-coast and border-to-border. How did it get here? Here’s the story of the taco in 4 fun facts.
1. From the Ancient Aztecs to the Mexican Silver Mines: Wrapping meat in a tortilla can be traced back as far as the ancient Aztecs in Mexico. You may be thinking burrito, but think early taco. Researchers believe that the “taco” got its name in the18th century when silver miners brought something like a chicken taquito to work in the mines. To them, taco was a small charge of gunpowder wrapped in paper and stuffed in holes to loosen the ore. But, that chicken rolled in a tortilla resembled the paper-wrapped charges – not to mention, that they were also hot. Thus, the name taco was born.
2. Meet the Chili Queens: While Mexican food was considered a street or lower-class food, the Chili Queens made it an exotic choice for tourists and residents of San Antonio. In the 1880’s, a group of Mexican women were street vendors – bringing the spice of Mexican food and beautiful women to the public. It was an adventure to visit both the Alamo and the Chili Queens. Although the Chili Queens had tamale, not taco, carts they were starting to make Mexican food popular and the taco would soon follow.
3. Northern Mexico and California: Can California lay claim as home of the taco in America? Maybe. The Mexican Revolution brought Mexican immigrants from Central and Southern Mexico to California. The taco was more popular in these regions and the new immigrants wanted to eat the food of their homeland. They ate tacos at home and restaurants followed suit. Tacos made an appearance in restaurants around the 1920s. They were the rolled tacos we often call taquitos and they were winning foodie fans.
4. The Taco Evolves. The taco became more American after its arrival to the States. Hamburger replaced offal meat. Cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce became standard ingredients. The evolution continues. In Mexico, Lebanese migrants brought the gyros – the vertical rotisseries and that was the beginning of what Mexico called tacos arabes or Arabian tacos made with lamb. In the 1960s, the children of these immigrants changed the meat from lamb to pork and added pineapple. By the 1960s, these tacos, tacos al pastor, became a standard dish in Mexico and beyond. Today, when you go to a chef-inspired Mexican restaurant you’ll find even more combinations like sweet potato and black bean taco plates. It’s easy to change the ingredients in that crispy or soft shell so the taco continues to evolve.
Don’t get stuck on eating just your favorite taco, whether it’s the “hard” shell filled with shredded beef or carne asada served on soft tortillas. When you visit an innovative Mexican restaurant, try a different kind of taco. From beer-battered shrimp tacos to street tacos, you’re going to find delightful new tastes. Enjoy!