Searching For the Origins of Mexico City’s Beloved Snack, the Taco

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This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Campbell's. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

Great eating means great recipes. Together with Campbell's Sauces, we're looking at the origins of some classic preparations, from around the country and around the world.

Long before tortillas were fried to crisp yellow envelopes, Mexican migrants were the first to bring the tasty snack of meat wrapped in a handmade corn tortilla to the America. In this episode of "The Source" we dive into the history of the taco. Plus here are five facts you didn’t know about tacos.

1

The word "taco" originally referred to tiny of pieces of paper wrapped around gunpowder and used to excavate the mines. But "taco" wasn’t associated with street food until at least the 1880s, when miners nicknamed them after the dynamite they worked with. The word was officially recognized in the Diccionario de mejicanismos in 1895.

2

Put any kind of food inside a tortilla, and you’ve got a taco. Evidence of tortillas — and cultivation of their main ingredient, corn — can be found in Mexico, and even in Arizona and New Mexico, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Taco factories in Mexico are largely a home-based industry, using nixtamal (limed kernels of corn ready to be ground into masa, or flour) for mills and hand-pressing them into flat circles. The invention of the fried hard taco shell associated with Tex-Mex cuisine, part of the 20th century industrialization of food, created the tacos Americans know today.

3

The indigenous Mexican people were primarily vegetarians until the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, bringing cattle with them. Meat from the Spanish cows eventually met the staple of the indigenous diet, the corn tortilla, creating a version of meat tacos we know and love today.

4

A popular taco filling in Mexico City is suadero, a cut found between a cow’s leg and stomach. Many confuse suadero with other cuts of meat; only Mexican butchers recognize this area of the underside as the suadero. It’s prepared like barbecue — cooked slow over low heat — except that it’s commonly greased in lard first.

5

Tacos al pastor, another popular type of taco, has Middle Eastern roots and is a descendent of spit-roasted lamb shawarma, brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1900s. Pastor translates to "shepherd," which Lebanese immigrants were called when they first arrived in Mexico. Using pork instead of lamb, the meat is cooked on a spit roast and often topped with pineapples, onions, chiles, and other spices.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Campbell's. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.


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