One of the most frequent questions I get asked is what is typical Mexican food. The question might seem very easy to answer, but is complex. In my opinion, there are two answers: tacos or mole. Mole is perhaps one of the best representations of the complexities and tradition surrounding Mexican food. However, tacos seem to be a more diplomatic and well-known answer, not to mention true. In this post, I want to expand on the varieties of Mexican tacos with delicious vocabulary for your next visit to Mexico (or your local Mexican restaurant)!
What is a taco and which tortilla should it have?
A taco is simply a corn or flour tortilla (maiz o harina) filled with something. Because we love picante or spicy, we usually add some type of sauce, a squirt of lime and voila! Buen provecho!
You are probably more familiar with the tacos with tortilla de harina because these are basically the ones Tex-Mex food adopted. However, flour tortillas are actually just as authentic as maiz. The northern states in Mexico enjoy flour tortillas with their food, traditionally because it wasn’t possible to grow maiz in these areas because of the extremely warm summers. Flour was a lot easier to store and preserve.
The central and southern parts of the country eat their tacos with tortillas de maiz and these can be all sorts of colors depending on the type of maiz used. Beige or a very light yellow are the most common but you can also have blue tortillas which taste exactly the same.
When it comes to tortillas, there are somethings you should keep in mind. Like all things food-related, homemade tortillas are the best, in the case of tortillas, handmade or hechas a mano means that they will be more delicious, thicker and softer. You should also know that there is an inside and an outside to a tortilla. The side of the tortilla that is smooth goes on the outside. Last but not least, any taco with a crispy shell is not really Mexican, but rather Tex-Mex. This doesn’t mean it is better or worse, simply a different style!
¿De qué quiere sus tacos?
I recently saw a meme that asked which type of taco you would be willing to give up forever. While I don’t think I like all types (tacos de sesos or cow brains and tacos de machito or bull’s penis is not really my thing), I do find the question very hard! I am originally from Mexico city and tacos al pastor are definitely one of mis favoritos. These were inspired by the Turkish kebab. It is a tall rotating spit with layers upon layers of pork seasoned with achiote and peppers. Once the meat is cooked, the taquero slices it up, sprinkles some cilantro, cebolla and a slice of piña.
I am also a fan of tacos de fajita from the north of Mexico. Fajita is the cut known as beef skirt, grilled and then sliced. You can also have the chicken version of this which is basically pechuga de pollo or chicken breast. This taco is served on a flour tortilla with a squirt of lime, grilled onions and guacamole!
The following video is with Chef Oropeza, a popular TV chef in Mexico. He teaches you how to make tacos de chicharrón prensado and a vegan version for those of you looking for a healthier option.
Can a taco really have everything?
In Mexico, we accompany everything with tortilla. Your mom made some pollo encacahuatado, you eat it with a tortilla. You go eat steak at a nice restaurant, they will bring you a basket with tortillas. You go to the seaside and order grilled fish, you also get a tortillas. This means that you can put pretty much anything into the tortilla to turn your meal into a taco. Another option is to sprinkle some salt to the tortilla and roll it up to make it a very skinny taco.
Is there anything a taco should or shouldn’t be?
Like I mentioned, some people argue that tacos with tortillas de harina are not really Mexican (but they are wrong!). Tacos can have either of these tortillas, you can add anything as a filling and, if you like spicy, a sauce is really a must. There are no basic rules so experiment with all types of filling, both with mean and vegetarian versions! There are plenty of videos on YouTube to get your appetite going.
What is your favorite taco?
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