“Its yellow flesh was made of yellow corn and white corn; the arms and legs of man were made with maize dough. The flesh of our ancestors is made with corn”        Popol Vuh, the Book of the Council, where the origin of the Mayan life is narrated.

From the inexpensive basket of tacos to the most expensive restaurant, tacos can be found in any city, and in any corner of Mexico, but … how much do you know about this dish?

To learn more, let’s take a look at its history.

A bit of taco history

The word taco comes from the Nahuatl word ‘tlahco’ which means “half or in the middle”, referring to the way it is formed.

Tortilleras by Nebel

Delicious and historic, the taco forms part of the cultural and gastronomic diversity of Mexico. Whether it be an al pastor, carnitas, longaniza, cochinita, barbacoa, birria, carne asada, chicken, chile, nopal with cheese, grasshoppers, avocado, and many many more. The taco has an incredible variety that suits all kinds of tastes, and it is a heaven for those who can’t tolerate gluten.  Almost everything in Mexico starts with corn. Although its origin is unknown, it is believed that the taco was born as the basis of an Olmec diet thanks to the first traces of nixtamalized corn.

In an interesting interview with Jeffrey M. Pilcher, researcher and professor at the University of Minnesota, he recounts his findings in regards to the history of taco. For the past 20 years, Jeffrey has been devoted to the investigation of Mexican food, he is about to publish a book called “Global Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food” (edited by the University of Oxford). Some of the results of his investigations point to interesting chapters like some of the following.

The oldest table of nixtamal comes from the year 1,500 BC and was found in Soconusco, Chiapas.

It is said that Moctezuma used the tortilla as a “spoon” to hold the food, which were prepared on hot stones and decorated with cochineal, beans and chili. While women used to send food to their men who worked long hours in the fields and could heat it and eat it half a day later, wrapped in tortillas.

In an interesting interview with Jeffrey M. Pilcher, researcher and professor at the University of Minnesota, he recounts his findings in regards to the history of taco. For the past 20 years, Jeffrey has been devoted to the investigation of Mexican food, he published a book called “Gran Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food” (edited by the University of Oxford). Some of the results of his investigations point to interesting chapters like some of the following.

The oldest table of nixtamal comes from the year 1,500 BC and was found in Soconusco, Chiapas.

It is said that Moctezuma used the tortilla as a “spoon” to hold the food, which were prepared on hot stones and decorated with cochineal, beans and chili. While women used to send food to their men who worked long hours in the fields and could heat it and eat it half a day later, wrapped in tortillas.

Source. Nibbles and Bites

“And as a celebration for the arrival of the Spanish caravels and their pigs”, according to Bernal Díaz del Castillo, “the banquets organized by Hernán Cortés for their soldiers were based on pork dishes with tortillas.” In fact, in True History of the Conquest of the New Spain, Coyoacán witnessed the first taquiza (taco party) in history. Since then, the taco became the base dish consumed in all areas of the Conquered “New World”.

It was not until 1908, in the State of Morelos, that the revolutionary era brought the emergence of the armored tacos: tortilla, a bed of rice and finally a stew of pork rinds in green sauce, smoked pork, mole verde, sausage, potato with chorizo ​​and many others more which brought unexplained pleasure to the palate. It is said they were born Cuautla, Morelos, eventually finding their way to its capital Cuernavaca.

In the 1950’s, during an economic crisis and shortage of jobs, the residents of San Vicente Xiloxochitla, in Tlaxcala, began selling the famous basket tacos. In fact, this site became the capital of the basket cue; where dozens of taqueros (taco makers) with their bicycles are seen every morning reaching their points of sale in the nearest municipalities. They leave their homes with a basket loaded with tacos, covered with a small tarp and with some bottles of red and green salsas to sell to the workers, students and employees, who find them on their way to school and work.. There are even those who take vans, carrying bicycles, basket, jars and coolers, to keep them warm, allowing them to reach more remote areas such as Mexico City, Puebla and Hidalgo, etc.

Finally, in Puebla, tacos al pastor are born – the undisputed adaptation of the Arab shawarma to the Mexican palate. Between the 1930’s and 1960s, during a large Lebanese migration to Mexico, an attempt was made to recreate the foreign dish, however they had to resort to marinating and changing the type of meat according to the ingredients available in the city. The tacos al pastor come, in fact, from the gyros of Greece, the döner kebab from Turkey and the shawarma from Lebanon. Who could have thought that one of the most prevalent dishes in Mexican culture had a common origin in the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire?

The taco, in its entirety, is part of the Mexican culture that provides, in addition to being food at an accessible price, it also brings nourishment to the body.

So, after reading this article, and in case your saliva has flooded the inside of your mouth, what better way to spend a day than tasting this delicious pre-hispanic dish, and you can do it by booking one of our Taco tours (Signature Taco, or Tacos After Dark).

Mexican cuisine has endless styles, flavors and colors; it is so extensive and multifaceted that it has been named as an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The Taco has become the symbol of Mexico’s cuisine..

Eating tacos is an art, “the art of eating with tortilla.” Any day is a good to enjoy them… and as that famous Mexican saying goes: “A taco is not denied to anyone”.

So come and join one of our two food tours that bring tacos to the forefront, choose between our Signature Taco, or our Tacos After Dark tour, trust us… you will be happy you did.

More articles related to the story of food will be published soon so… stay tuned.