Mexican cuisine features endless styles, flavors and colors; it is so extensive and multifaceted that it has been named part of the “World Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. One dish that has become a symbol of the country is the taco.
The word taco comes from the náhuatl ‘tlahco’ which means “half or in the middle”, referring to the shape of the taco.
The true origin of the taco is unknown but it is believed to have been created in Pre-Hispanic Mexico. We have two references from this epic. The first is Moctezuma, who used tortillas made on hot stones as spoons, forming something that resembles the taco we know today; the second is the way that food was sent to the men who worked in the fields all day, wrapped in tortillas.
The oldest nixtamal table is from the year 1,500 B.C. and was found in Soconusco, Chiapas. The first taquiza, or taco feast, ever documented was during the time of the Spanish conquering, given by Hernán Cortés en Coyoacán for his captains. According to Bernal Diaz del Castillo in his chronicle, “True Story of the Conquering of the New Spain”, they were served pork with tortillas.
You will also find in the history of tacos and their varieties in Cabo, that tacos can be made with pork carnitas, longaniza sausage, grilled steak, shredded suckling pig, Arabic-style meat, barbacoa, birria, head meat, chicken, seafood and much more. In terms of how they are prepared, there are the following types:
Dorados: Originally from Sinaloa, made with fresh tortillas and filled with shrimp, beef, chicken, beans or potatoes. The tortilla is rolled or folded in half and fried in oil until golden and crispy.
Suadero: Two fried tortillas topped with suadero (beef) and served with onion and cilantro.
Canasta: These steamed tacos, served out of a canasta, or basket, are known for being very affordable.
Placero: This is the typical soft taco made with hot tortillas filled with meat or seafood.
Guisado: Filled with traditional Mexican guisados, or stews, of pork cracklings, mole, shredded pork, etc.
Ahogados: Ahogados, or drowned, in non-spicy tomato sauce.
Doblados: In a tortilla that is doubled and fried in oil, filled with potatoes, meat, beans, etc.
Eating tacos is an art; “the art of eating with tortillas”. Any day is good for enjoying them, and as the famous Mexican refrain says, “you never deny anyone a taco”.
There are interesting facts about tacos that you should probably be curious about:
-International Taco Day is celebrated on March 31st.
-Taquerías (restaurants that offer only tacos in their menus) have existed since the end of the 19th century, when tacos used to be sold in mobile stalls.
-During the Porfiriato time (the era when Porfirio Díaz was President), tacos were considered food for the lower classes, the upper classes consumed bread, not corn.
-Taquerías became very popular throughout the country during the Revolution, as it was a good resource to feed the troops.
-In 1904 the first machine was invented to automate the process of making tortillas, with the capacity to produce 16,000 tortillas per day.
-In 1998, astronaut John Glenn included tortillas on the menu for the space shuttle Discovery, which would be in charge of launching the Hubble space telescope.
-The cochinita taco was born in Yucatán, a region where pork meat began to be consumed with the arrival of the Spaniards.
-The largest taco in the world was registered in the Guinness Records in 2019. It was made in Querétaro based on carnitas with 1,507 kilos (3,322 pounds) of meat, 1,200 kilos (2,650 pounds) of tortillas and 102 meters (335 feet) long.
-The most expensive taco in the world is valued in $25,000 USD, and can be tasted at Grand Velas Los Cabos.
During the time of the Spanish conquest, historical records tell us about the tlatoani or ruler of the Aztecs, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, who accompanied his food with tortillas cooked on hot stones and decorated with cochineal, beans and chili, and used them as a spoon.
According to the memoirs of Bernal Díaz del Castillo written in “True History of the Conquest of New Spain“, with the arrival of the Spanish caravels loaded with European products and animals, Hernán Cortés started to offer feasts for his soldiers. These events included special dishes made of pork, and tortillas. The first taquiza (a banquet that comprises tacos only) that is known in the history of Mexico, took place at the Cortés’ hacienda, in the traditional neighborhood of Coyoacán, in Mexico City.
The Mexican Revolution (1910-1924) brought the emergence of tacos acorazados (armored tacos) in Morelos, which consist of a bed of rice and a stew over a tortilla. The usual dishes you can find in tacos acorazados are made of pork rinds in green sauce; breaded pork; green mole; longaniza (Spanish sausage) or potato with chorizo.
In the 1960’s, during a great Lebanese migration to Mexico, Mexico City witnessed the boom of tacos al pastor, which are an adaptation of the Arab shawarma, using pork instead of lamb. This is maybe the most popular variety of tacos within the city, and has been spreading all over the country with great success.
Out of the infinite list of this traditional dish, you can find tacos dorados and flautas, which are filled with potato, chicken or requesón (fresh cheese) and then fried in oil until the tortilla gets a crisp and brown golden texture; pork carnitas (assorted meat) or barbecue tacos; beef head meat or suadero, meat near the ribs, tacos de pescado (fish tacos), so common at the coast, just like in Los Cabos; or cochinita pibil tacos in Yucatán.