Tacos are a well-loved delicacy all around the world. And through the years, several people have experimented with the recipe, creating new ways to serve the beloved dish. But no matter the iteration, nothing beats an authentic traditional taco.
But for such a well-loved dish, not many really know about its history. We may have an idea of its origins, but there’s a certain magic that comes with learning the history of certain foods. If you’re interested in experiencing this magic, get ready to feast on this.
The Origin of the Taco
We can’t talk about the taco’s origins without discussing the development of the tortilla. After all, the tortilla is an integral ingredient of the taco.
According to folklore, soft corn flour tortillas date as far back as two thousand years, during the time of the Olmec people. This process was then adopted and developed by the various pre-Columbian groups in central and southern Mexico. This lineage involves the Aztec, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Zapotec empires. According to historians, the Aztec emperor or tlatoani, Moctezuma I, even used the tortilla to spoon his food. He would decorate it with cochineal and chili beans.
In a proposed origin, the word “taco” is said to come from the Nahuatl word, “tlahco,” which meant “in the middle” or “half.” And according to Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher of the University of Toronto-Scarborough, the earliest use of the word “taco” may date back to the 18th century. He theorized that the term was used in the silver mines of Mexico to refer to the small charges used to excavate the ore. In fact, one of the first tacos to be described was the tacos de minero or miner’s taco.
The Taco’s Journey to North America
During the late 19th century to early 20th century, many Mexican migrants found homes in the states of Texas and California. They brought with them many of their local specialties, such as the taco, and sold them at their own stands. These vendors were called the “Chili Queens” and prepared dishes such as tamales and chili con carne. And eventually, tacos became more and more popular.
As the second and third generations of Mexican Americans took the reins, the more exotic meats and vegetables were replaced with ground beef, chicken, tomato, iceberg lettuce, and cheddar cheese. And in the 1940s, taco vendors began frying the tortillas for mass production.
A certain man had noticed his Mexican neighbors frying the tortillas to create hard-shell tacos. He began to adapt their methods and eventually opened up a restaurant of his own in 1962. This man was Glen Bell, and the restaurant in question was Taco Bell.
Now, tacos can be enjoyed in a number of ways. You can get tacos from fast food establishments, food trucks, taco stands, and even at fine dining restaurants. But wherever you may get your tacos from and in whatever form they come in, remember its origins and significance in Mexican culture. Appreciate its rich culture and roots the next time you bite into a delicious taco.
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