( ) is a traditional Mexican dish
composed of a corn
or wheat tortilla
folded or rolled around a filling. A taco
can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef
, allowing for great versatility and
variety. A taco is generally eaten without
and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa
According to the Real
, publisher of
Diccionario de la Lengua Española
, the word
describes a typical Mexican dish of a
around food ("Tortilla de maíz enrollada con algún alimento dentro,
típica de México"). The original sense of the word is of a "plug"
or "wad" used to fill a hole ("Pedazo de madera, metal u otra
materia, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco"). The Online
Etymological Dictionary defines taco
"tortilla filled with spiced meat" and describes its etymology as
derived from Mexican Spanish, "light lunch," literally, "plug,
The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. There is
anthropological evidence that the indigenous people living in the
lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small
fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish
conquistadors, Bernal Díaz
del Castillo documented the first taco feast enjoyed by
Europeans, a meal which Hernán
Cortés arranged for his captains in Coyoacán.
is not clear why the Spanish used their word, "taco", to describe
this indigenous food.
There are many traditional varieties of tacos:
- Tacos de Asador ("spit" or "grill" tacos) may
be composed of any of the following: carne asada tacos; tacos de
tripita ("tripe tacos"), grilled
until crisp; and, chorizo asado
(traditional Spanish style sausage). Each type is served on two
overlapped small tortillas and sometimes
garnished with guacamole, salsa, onions, and cilantro. Also prepared on
the grill is a sandwiched taco called mulita ("little
mule") made with meat served between two tortillas and garnished
with Oaxaca style cheese.
"Mulita" is used to describe these types of sandwiched
tacos in the Northern States of Mexico, while they are known as
Gringa in the Mexican south and are prepared
using wheat flour tortillas. Tacos may also be
served with salsa.
- Tacos de Cabeza or head
tacos, in which there is a flat punctured metal plate from which
steam emerges to cook the head of the cow. These include:
Cabeza, a serving of the muscles of
the head; Sesos ("brains");
Lengua ("tongue"); Cachete
("cheeks"); Trompa ("lips"); and, Ojo ("eye"). Tortillas for these tacos are warmed
on the same steaming plate for a different consistency. These tacos
are typically served in pairs, and also include salsa, onion and
cilantro with occasional use of guacamole.
- Tacos de Cazo for which a metal bowl filled
with lard is typically used as a deep-fryer. Meats for these types
of tacos typically include: Tripa
("tripe", usually from a pig instead of a cow); Suadero (tender beef cuts), Carnitas and Buche (Literally,
"crop", as in bird's
crop; here, it is fried pig's esophagus.)
- Tacos sudados ("sweaty
tacos") are made by filling soft tortillas with a spicy
meat mixture, then placing them in a basket covered with cloth. The
covering keeps the tacos warm and traps steam ("sweat") which
Tacos de suadero (grey) and chorizo (red).
- Tacos Al
pastor/De Adobada ("shepherd style") are made of thin
pork steaks seasoned with adobo seasoning,
then skewered and overlapped on one another on a vertical
rotisserie cooked and flame-broiled as it spins (analogous to the
Döner kebab used in
Greek restaurants to prepare gyros).
- Tacos dorados (fried tacos) called
because of the shape), or taquitos, for
which the tortillas are filled with pre-cooked shredded chicken,
beef or barbacoa, rolled into an
elongated cylinder and deep-fried until crisp.
They are sometimes cooked in a microwave oven or broiled.
- Tacos de pescado
("fish tacos") originated in Baja California in Mexico, where they consist of grilled or fried
fish, lettuce or cabbage, pico de
gallo, and a sour cream or citrus/mayonnaise sauce, all placed
on top of a corn or flour tortilla. In the United States,
they remain most popular in California, Colorado, and Washington.
In California, they are often found at street vendors, and a
regional variation is to serve them with cabbage and coleslaw
dressing on top.
- Tacos de camarones
("shrimp tacos") also originated in Baja California in Mexico. Grilled or fried shrimp are used, usually with the same accompaniments
as fish tacos: lettuce or cabbage, pico de
gallo, avocado and a sour cream or citrus/mayonnaise sauce, all
placed on top of a corn or flour tortilla.
As an accompaniment to tacos, many taco stands will serve whole or
sliced red radishes
slices, salt, pickled or grilled chilis
(hot peppers), and occasionally cucumber
slices, or grilled cambray onions.
United States and Canada
from the early part of the twentieth century, various styles of
tacos have become popular in the United States and Canada.
that has become most common is the hard-shell, U-shaped version
first described in a cookbook authored by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca
Gilbert and published in Santa Fe, New
Mexico in 1949.
Hard-shell taco, made with a
These have been sold by restaurants
and by fast food chains. Even non-Mexican oriented fast food
restaurants have sold tacos. Mass production of this type of taco
was encouraged by the invention of devices to hold the tortillas in
the U-shape as they were deep-fried. A patent for such a device was
issued to New York restaurateur Juvenico Maldonado in 1950, based
on his patent filing of 1947. (U.S. Patent No. 2,506,305) Such
tacos are crisp-fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground
beef, cheese, lettuce and sometimes tomato or sour cream. In this
context, soft tacos
are tacos made with wheat
flour tortillas and filled with the same
ingredients as a hard taco.
Puffy tacos, taco kits and breakfast tacos
Since at least 1978, a variation called the "puffy
", has been popular. Originating in San Antonio, Texas, and
exemplified as prepared at Henry's Puffy Taco of that
city, uncooked corn tortillas (flattened balls of masa dough
) are quickly fried in hot oil until
they expand and become "puffy". Fillings are similar to hard-shell
versions. Restaurants offering this style of taco have
since appeared in other Texas cities, as well as in California,
where Henry's brother, Arturo, opened Arturo's Puffy Taco
in Whittier, not long after Henry's opened.
Kits are available at grocery and convenience stores
and usually consist of
taco shells (corn tortillas already fried in a U-shape), seasoning
mix and taco sauce. Commercial vendors for the home market also
market soft taco kits with tortillas instead of taco shells.
The breakfast taco, found in Tex-Mex
, is filled with meat, eggs or cheese with other
Indian tacos, sometimes known as Navajo tacos but served in various
parts of the American West
, are made using
instead of tortillas. They are
commonly served at pow-wows
, and other gatherings.