National Taco DayLast year Americans ate over 4.5 billion tacos! We love our Tacos! That’s 490,000 miles of tacos, which could take you to the moon and back or if you prefer, could, at 775-million pounds, equal the weight of two Empire State Buildings.
The word taco is the Mexican equivalent of the English word sandwich. The tortilla, which is made of corn or wheat, is wrapped or folded around a filling that is generally made of spiced proteins - beef, pork or fish.
For National Taco Day this October 4, consider the countless variations you can create using traditional meats or with seafood, chicken, beans, cheese, and eggs. Yank out your garnishes – salsa, cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, onions and lettuce and you have a dish of great versatility and variety.
Some Taco HistoryFor a dish so widely available, the history of the taco is really unknown. But according to taco expert Jeffrey M. Pilcher, the word originates from the silver mines in Mexico in the 18th century, when taco referred to the little explosives workers used to extract the ore.
These were pieces of paper wrapped around gunpowder and placed into holes carved into the rock. “When you think about it, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite,” says Pilcher in an online article at Smithsonian.com. “The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero—miner’s tacos.
So the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial.”
till others claim tacos predate the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico in the 16th century. Anthropologists say there is evidence suggesting inhabitants of the lake region of the Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish. The fish were replaced by small live insects and ants in the states of Morelos and Guerrero, while locusts and snails were favorite fillings in Puebla and Oaxaca.
Taco Bell is believed to have pushed the widespread popularity of Mexican food in the U.S. Founded in California in 1962, the chain of fast-food restaurants serves up a variety of Tex-Mex foods to more than two billion customers in 5,800 restaurants in the U.S. alone.
The hard-shell taco was invented long before Taco Bell, a discovery that would aid their expansion across North America. The U-shaped version is first noted in 1949 in a cookbook by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca Gilbert. A device that would hold the taco in its U-shape as it deep fried helped in the mass production of this product. Kits are now available everywhere.
Taco TypesThere are many traditional varieties of tacos, some of which include Tacos de Cabeza, which are the brain, tongue, eyes, and lips of a cow’s head. Others include crispy tripe tacos, shrimp tacos, and Tacos dorados, which mean fried tacos. Called flautas because of their flute shape or taquito, these tacos are filled with cooked and shredded chicken or beef and rolled into a tube or flute shapes and deep-fried until crispy.
Taco al Pastor, which means shepherd’s style taco, is the most popular variety in Mexico. It generally consists of spiced pork, which is cut in slivers from a vertical spit over an open flame. Breakfast tacos are served at many restaurants, especially in the American Southwest. This fried corn or flour tortilla is rolled and stuffed with a mixture of meat, eggs or cheese and topped with onions, salsa, and avocado. Huevos rancheros, anyone?
Ensenada, Mexico is said to be the birthplace of the fish taco, a claim many of the city’s restaurants try to make their own. The best place to sample them is at any of the small food stands that line the streets around the Mercado Negro, Ensenada’s fish market. The fish tacos served are small pieces of battered, fried fish in a hot corn or wheat tortilla.