Posted by Patrick Maness
And why are they all the rage on social media?
Beluga caviar, pâté de foie gras, white truffles, oysters — these are the hallmarks of luxury in the culinary world. But if forced to choose between a delicate plate that combines any of these ingredients and a well-made taco, most Americans would rightly choose the taco.
The origins of this king of handheld street foods are shrouded in mystery. Writing for the Smithsonian Magazine, Katy June Friesen speculates the taco first appeared in Mexican silver mines in the 18th century. It was a food that workers could easily carry from their homes to the mines. The tacos these laborers ate several hundred years ago, however, had only a passing resemblance to what we eat today. Likely they were little more than corn tortillas and beans. But just as the beans Jack planted in the fairy tale grew into something enormous, the beans in those first mythic tacos were the beginning of what would become an international sensation.
An American revision
Just like many of the staples served under the banner of American Cuisine — like pizzas or hamburgers — are variations on other national dishes, the Mexican taco is quite different from the tacos served in the United States.
The classic taco combination is a hard shell with some combination of beans, meat, cheese, lettuce and salsa. And with everything that crosses into this great country of ours, American ingenuity has transformed this simple meal into numerous combinations. Double-shelled tacos, street tacos, curried tacos, taco salads and, of course, the indomitable fish taco have all made their marks.
Now, this isn’t to say that tacos from Mexico are in any way bland. In fact, as more Americans have begun to crave authentic Mexican tacos, restaurateurs and chefs have responded by exploring regional taco traditions in Mexico. Tacos de quelites, Tacos de Tuetane (bone marrow tacos) and Tacos de guisado are just some of the examples of the exciting Mexican flavors making a splash in U.S. restaurants.
The enduring appeal
Every taco lover — which is to say, almost every person — can offer to explain why tacos are so popular. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have the space to explore even a fraction of those explanations. From a business standpoint, the important takeaway is that tacos are more popular, and come in more forms, than ever before. From food trucks to gourmet restaurants, tacos occupy a leading role in today’s culinary world.
In this series of blogs, we’ll dive into this meal of meals and look at some of the ways you can use tacos to draw customers to your restaurant and increase sales. The blog topics will include:
Creative taco fillers
Whether it’s a hard or soft shell, you can, in theory, put anything in a taco. But what combinations work and what ingredients lend themselves to the taco form? We’ll take a closer look at the versatility of the taco and how restaurants can make their own signature items. Some of the creative fillings we’ll consider are those found in fish tacos, street tacos, wonton tacos and breakfast tacos.
A history of tacos in America
Tacos may have originated several hundred years ago in Mexico, but what is the more modern history of the taco? How did this simple food become so popular in America? We’ll look at some of the more fascinating chapters in the evolution of this handheld delicacy.
Kitchen tools you need to create great tacos
If you already serve tacos or you are thinking of adding them to your menu, what can you do to efficiently prepare and serve them? We’ll look at some of the tools you’ll need, such as lettuce graters, onion and tomato slicers, tortilla warmers, citrus squeezers, etc.
Secrets of the best taco spots and how to boost your taco sales
What makes a taco spot stand out and earn a reputation for having great tacos? Is it their ability to combine meats, vegetables and salsa in creative ways? Are there any secret ingredients that only insiders know about? From classic street tacos to creative variations, we’ll consider the essential ingredients and what role atmosphere plays in the creation of popular taco spots.
Chefs have a lot of creative freedom when it comes to creating their own spin on the taco. Conversely, it’s hard to go wrong by putting a traditional taco on the menu. Whatever you choose, this blog series will help you both appreciate — and profit from — this delicious food.