What is a taco?
An authentic Mexican taco (pronounced ‘TAA-koh’) is far removed from the hard, yellowish shells we might find on supermarket shelves. The original taco is a small, freshly baked corn flat roll complete with topping. Different flavour combinations can be enjoyed, with common ingredients including spiced meats, fresh lettuce, beans and pulses, not to mention creamy cheese. By lifting the soft taco on both sides with your fingers, the distinctive shell shape appears, with the topping transformed into a generous filling.
The exact history of the taco is shrouded in mystery. One of the more credible theories relates to the silver mines of eighteenth-century Mexico. Then, a taco was a paper casing that was folded around gunpowder in order to be used as an explosive. It wasn’t until the end of the next century that the word taco became associated with an actual dish, tacos de minero, otherwise known as miners’ tacos.
Mexican immigrants brought the humble taco to America at the beginning of the twentieth century. American taste buds and locally sourced ingredients have inspired the evolution of the taco since, with minced meat and iceberg lettuce becoming staple additions thanks to the eating habits of Americans.
With the rise of the American fast food industry, so came the invention of the deep-fried taco with its yellowish colour and crunchy shell. This variation meant there was no need to worry about pressing and baking fresh tortillas for recipes. Taco shells could be kept for longer and prepared just about anywhere, at anytime.
Throughout the rest of the world, the hard taco (American or Tex-Mex) is often considered the signature taco offering. However, there’s plenty of restaurants serving up the softer alternative. If you’re opting for wheat flour instead of corn or adding iceberg to your taco, you’re not feasting on a wholly authentic taco treat. That said, thanks to all manner of delicious variants, there’s no harm in breaking a few rules.
Did you know....
America’s biggest taco restaurant chain, Taco Bell, offers up a taco with a shell made from Doritos. You can also tie the knot there, with a Las Vegas branch hosting its own wedding chapel.
How to make tacos
Filling tacos is all about building up tasty layers. If you stick to simple ingredients with little variation, then the whole thing ends up rather flat and flavourless. Dare to liven things up with more variety, however, and a flavour sensation awaits you.
To make a quality taco, you’ll need a range of fillings. Popular choices include spicy meats, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Here’s a few authentic examples for you to try:
*fried mushrooms with truffle oil and chipolte
*zucchini, corn, feta, parsley and mint
*pumpkin and chorizo
*spicy chicken and beans
Grab freshly cooked tortillas from a hot oven. On each taco, add a spoonful of each of your chosen fillings, topped with a little salsa, chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime juice.
How to eat tacos
For each person eating, serve four or five small tacos, or two or three larger ones if you’ve gone big with the recipe. Remember, eat with your hands only – forks are forbidden!
Salsa is simply a must.