El taco es el plato más famoso de México (The taco is the most famous dish of Mexico). You may be familiar with Taco Tuesday, but in Mexico it’s Taco Every Day! The almighty taco can be eaten at all times of the day. It’s just as good for breakfast as it is a late-night snack. In this post we’ll take a closer look at tacos and learn some useful Spanish for ordering them. But first, let’s answer an important question…
What is a Taco?
A taco can be a lot of things. The options are basically endless when it comes to putting together a taco. Each region and even each city in Mexico has its own local traditions when it comes to making el taco perfecto (the perfect taco).
At its core, though, this is a pretty good description of a taco:
Un taco consiste en una tortilla doblada, generalmente de maíz, que contiene algún alimento encima y algún tipo de salsa (A taco consists of a folded tortilla, usually corn, containing some food on top and some type of salsa).
Los tacos también pueden ser con doble tortilla (Tacos can also be made with double tortillas). Actually, this is very common in Mexico. The tortillas typically used for tacos in Mexico are small and soft, so doubling them helps hold the toppings. They’re also more filling that way!
This sometimes comes as a surprise for Americans visiting Mexico for the first time. You see, we’re quite used to eating tacos in the US. It’s just that our tacos aren’t exactly the same as they are south of the border…
American vs. Mexican Tacos
The most common type of taco in the US really looks nothing like a traditional Mexican taco. These are known in Spanish as tacos duros de carne molida estilo americano (American style ground beef tacos).
Everything about American-style tacos is different from the original – the tortillas are hard and not soft, for starters. Mexicans make plenty of crunchy things, por ejemplo volcanes y tostadas (for example volcanes and tostadas), but tacos are generally soft.
Tacos dorados (fried tacos) are definitely a thing (and they’re delicious), but they’re more like a spin-off of the original. Tacos blanditos (soft tacos) are definitely the most common type.
Another famous type are the tacos de canasta (basket tacos), which are also known as tacos sudados (sweaty tacos). I know that name sounds gross, but these are just steamed tacos that are sold out of a basket. They’re very popular among the working class and students as they’re super cheap and filling.
The toppings and garnishes are also different. Mexicans never use carne molida (ground beef), nor do they ever put queso (cheese) on a taco. When you do that, it’s a quesadilla (duh!).
Mexicans very rarely put lechuga (lettuce) or tomate (tomato) on a taco, and you won’t find crema agria (sour cream) as an option.
Different Fillings for Tacos
So, what do Mexicans actually put in tacos? Here are some of the most common fillings for Mexican tacos:
- carne asada = beef
- bistec = steak
- al pastor = spit-grilled pork
- adobada = marinated pork
- carnitas = braised/simmered pork
- chorizo = sausage
- chicarrón = fried pork belly
- birria = goat/mutton stew
- cabeza = beef cheek
- lengua = beef tongue
- tripita/tripa = tripe
- pescado = fish
- camarón = shrimp
- pulpo = octopus
- papas = potatoes
- frijoles = beans
¿Cuál es tu taco favorito? (What is your favorite taco?). A mi parecer, los tacos al pastor son los mejores (In my opinion, tacos al pastor are the best). In fact I’m dreaming about them as I type this. They really are the “King of Tacos.”
You can learn how to make tacos al pastor and practice your Spanish listening skills by following this YouTube video:
También me encanta comer tacos con mariscos, como tacos de pescado y tacos de camarones (I also love eating tacos with seafood, such as fish tacos and shrimp tacos).
One of my favorites to eat in my home away from home of Puerto Vallarta are tacos de marlin (marlin tacos). Our guide on a street food tour called it “the bacon of the sea” and I’ll never forget that description!
Check out some highlights from that street food tour to get a better idea of what real-deal Mexican tacos look like:
Toppings for Mexican Tacos
As I mentioned, Mexicans aren’t covering their tacos in cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. Go to Taco Bell if that’s what you’re looking for!
The quintessential toppings for Mexican tacos are cebollita y cilantro (diced onion and coriander). When you order tacos in Mexico, they’ll typically ask you “¿Con todo?” (With everything?), which is just asking if you want the onions and coriander or not.
These aren’t the only toppings for tacos, though. Here are some other common ones:
- rábanos = radishes
- encurtidos = pickled veggies
- pepino = cucumber
- salsa verde = green salsa
- salsa roja = red salsa
- salsa picante = hot sauce
- limón = lime
It’s really up to you how you want to enjoy your taco! Most locals get their tacos “con todo” and then eat the other goodies on the side. I personally love the encurtidos, which are usually carrots and jalapeños. That’s right – me gusta picante! (I like it spicy!).
Speaking of spicy, it’s best to get your feet wet with Mexican salsas before diving right in. Sometimes they can be insanely spicy. There have been far too many times where I doused my tacos in something I thought was guacamole only to have it end up being some crazy salsa that’s muy picante. At least the locals usually get a good laugh at the expense of the dumb gringo trying to hang with their usual spice level.
Tacos are definitely one of my favorite things. In fact, I usually respond to the question “¿Por qué te mudaste a México?” (Why did you move to Mexico?) simply by saying “Porque me gustan los tacos” (Because I like tacos). I’m not joking when I say “Podría comer tacos todos los días” (I could eat tacos every day). How about you?
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