Every culture has their version of a meal designed for eating on the run. For Mexico, this is the taco.
Like most popular street foods, the recipe is simple:
• Take a warm tortilla (the thin Mexican flatbread kind)
• Add the filling
• Top with greens, herbs or salsa or drizzle with lime
• Provecho! (Enjoy!)
An excellent taco starts with the tortilla. Fresh, handmade corn tortillas are the best, but it is not always easy to get them or to make them from scratch. First, you must transform the corn from dry kernels into masa (corn dough) through a process called nixtamalization.
However, outside of Mexico and North America, most people who prepare tacos rely on industrially made, packaged tortillas. It is a bit like using sliced white bread instead of a bakery-fresh baguette. There are exceptions, however. Copenhagen-based Hija de Sanchez is one example of a restaurant that makes tortillas from scratch using corn imported from Mexico.
Food historians have traced the history of the taco back to 18th century laborers working in the silver mines in Morelos, Mexico. But tacos became truly popular as a street food only in the 20th century when vendors in Mexico City started selling tacos to workers in the city’s new factories.
In the 1960s, Lebanese immigrants in the city developed what is now one iconic variety, tacos al pastor. Much like shawarma or döner kebab, marinated meat is cooked on a vertical spit. The sliced meat is served on a tortilla instead of pita bread. However, in Puebla, a state in southern Mexico, you can also find taco árabes, which are served on pita bread.
Other classic varieties of tacos include carne asada (flame grilled beef), pescado (fish) and camarón (shrimp). Each is topped with fresh herbs or a crunchy radish on the side.
What is fascinating about the taco is how this humble street food has travelled beyond the borders of Mexico and around the world. Now you can find Korean tacos in Seoul that use fillings like bulgogi, galbi and kimchi. Meanwhile in Mexico City, you can find tacos made with traditionally southern U.S. meats such as brisket, pulled pork, and ribs.
Written by Anabel Mota – Study Visitor in Communication at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and student in the Master program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She speaks Spanish, English, and French and she is learning German.