Tacos: A delicious culinary tradition

By Wayne Gersie, vice president for equity and inclusion September 27, 2023

Two tacos on a dish

Tacos are a symbol of the rich and diverse Hispanic culinary heritage. They represent the fusion of Indigenous traditions with Spanish and other global influences, resulting in a versatile and beloved food loved by people of all backgrounds.

During Hispanic Heritage Month and throughout the year, celebrating tacos is a delicious way to honor the cultural contributions of Hispanic communities to the world of food.

Tacos rich history dates back centuries.

The word "taco" itself has roots in the Nahuatl language, spoken by the Aztecs, where it referred to a small piece of paper used to wrap food. The taco as we know it today, however, has evolved over time and is the result of various cultural influences.  Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century, Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs and Maya, were already consuming tacos. They used tortillas made from maize (corn) to wrap around various fillings, including beans, fish, and insects.

When the Spanish colonized Mexico, they introduced new ingredients like beef, pork and cheese to the Indigenous diet. These ingredients were incorporated into traditional dishes, and tacos began to evolve into the diverse and flavorful creations we enjoy today.

Mexico's diverse landscape led to the development of countless regional taco variations. For example: In Baja California, you'll find fish tacos, where fresh fish is battered and fried before being served in a tortilla with cabbage and creamy sauce. In Oaxaca, you might savor tlayudas, a larger tortilla topped with various meats, cheese and salsa.

Carnitas tacos from Michoacán feature slow-cooked pork. Al pastor tacos in Mexico City are influenced by Middle Eastern shawarma and are made with marinated pork cooked on a vertical rotisserie.

Globally, tacos have transcended borders and are now enjoyed worldwide. In the United States, for example, Mexican immigrants played a significant role in popularizing tacos, leading to the establishment of taco trucks and restaurants across the country.

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