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Tacos Carnitas.jpg
Carnitas tacos
TypeFinger food
Place of originMexico
Main ingredientsTortillas, meat, vegetables, cheese
Cookbook:Taco  Taco
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Not to be confused with Tako (disambiguation).
For other uses, see Taco (disambiguation).
Tacos Carnitas.jpg
Carnitas tacos
TypeFinger food
Place of originMexico
Main ingredientsTortillas, meat, vegetables, cheese
Cookbook:Taco  Taco
Barbacoa tacos

A taco (/ˈtɑːk/) is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, avocado or guacamole, cilantro (coriander), tomatoes, minced meat, onions and lettuce.


According to the Real Academia Española, publisher of Diccionario de la Lengua Española, the word taco describes a typical Mexican dish of a maize tortilla folded around food ("Tortilla de maíz enrollada con algún alimento dentro, típica de México"). The original sense of the word is of a "plug" or "wad" used to fill a hole ("Pedazo de madera, metal u otra materia, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco").[1] The Online Etymological Dictionary defines taco as a "tortilla filled with spiced meat" and describes its etymology as derived from Mexican Spanish, "light lunch," literally, "plug, wadding."[2] The sense development from "plug" may have taken place among Mexican silver miners, who used explosive charges in plug form consisting of a paper wrapper and gunpowder filling.[3]


The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. There is anthropological evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Bernal Díaz del Castillo documented the first taco feast enjoyed by Europeans, a meal which Hernán Cortés arranged for his captains in Coyoacán.[4][5] It is not clear why the Spanish used their word, "taco", to describe this indigenous food.

Traditional tacos

Adobada meat for tacos al pastor, carved to order

There are many traditional varieties of tacos:

As an accompaniment to tacos, many taco stands will serve whole or sliced red radishes, lime slices, salt, pickled or grilled chilis (hot peppers), and occasionally cucumber slices, or grilled cambray onions.

United States and Canada

A hard-shell taco, made with a prefabricated shell

Hard-shell tacos

Beginning from the early part of the twentieth century, various styles of tacos have become popular in the United States and Canada.[11] An early appearance of a description of the taco in the United States in English was in a 1914 cookbook, California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook, by Bertha Haffner Ginger.[12] The style that has become most common is the hard-shell, U-shaped version described in a cookbook, The good life: New Mexican food, authored by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca Gilbert and published in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1949.[13] These have been sold by restaurants and by fast food chains. Even non-Mexican oriented fast food restaurants have sold tacos. Mass production of this type of taco was encouraged by the invention of devices to hold the tortillas in the U-shape as they were deep-fried. A patent for such a device was issued to New York restaurateur Juvenico Maldonado in 1950, based on his patent filing of 1947 (U.S. Patent No. 2,506,305).[14][15] Such tacos are crisp-fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sometimes tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, and avocado or guacamole.[16]

Soft-shell tacos

Traditionally, soft-shelled tacos referred to corn tortillas that were cooked to a softer state than a hard taco - usually by grilling or steaming. More recently the term has come to include flour tortilla based tacos mostly from large manufacturers and restaurant chains. In this context, soft tacos are tacos made with wheat flour tortillas and filled with the same ingredients as a hard taco.[17]

Crispy tacos

A crispy taco from a Sacramento, California taqueria

A mostly California variation where the (sometimes over-sized) corn tortilla is fried or deep-fried in oil (originally, lard). The meat can be anything, such as ground beef, steak, shredded beef, chicken or pork (carnitas). Ground beef is generally diluted with refried bean paste and/or potato, and heavily seasoned. Steak will usually be heavily chili-marinated, diced beef tip ("asada"). The meat is generally topped with jack and/or cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato (and sometimes avocado and/or sour cream), with salsa on top.[18]

Puffy tacos, taco kits, breakfast tacos and tacodillas

Since at least 1978, a variation called the "puffy taco" has been popular. Henry's Puffy Tacos, opened by Henry Lopez in San Antonio, Texas, claims to have invented the variation, in which uncooked corn tortillas (flattened balls of masa dough[19]) are quickly fried in hot oil until they expand and become "puffy".[20][21] Fillings are similar to hard-shell versions. Restaurants offering this style of taco have since appeared in other Texas cities, as well as in California, where Henry's brother, Arturo Lopez, opened Arturo's Puffy Taco in Whittier, not long after Henry's opened.[22][23] Henry's continues to thrive, managed by the family's second generation.[20]

Kits are available at grocery and convenience stores and usually consist of taco shells (corn tortillas already fried in a U-shape), seasoning mix and taco sauce. Commercial vendors for the home market also market soft taco kits with tortillas instead of taco shells.[24][25]

The breakfast taco, found in Tex-Mex cuisine, is filled with meat, eggs, or cheese, with other ingredients.[26]

The tacodilla contains melted cheese in between the two folded tortillas, thus resembling a quesadilla.[27]

Indian tacos

Indian tacos, sometimes known as Navajo tacos but served in various parts of the American West and Midwest, are made using frybread instead of tortillas. They are commonly served at pow-wows, festivals, and other gatherings.[28][29]

See also


  1. ^ "Definition: Taco". Real Academia Española. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  2. ^ "Online Etymological Dictionary - Taco". Douglas Harper. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  3. ^ "Where Did the Taco Come From?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  4. ^ "History of Mexican Cuisine". Margaret Parker. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  5. ^ "A Thumbnail History of Mexican Food". Jim Conrad. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos (Part One of Two)". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos Part II: Nighttime Tacos". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  8. ^ Feld, Jonah (2006). "The Burrito Blog — Buche". Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  9. ^ "Tacos Sudados (Mexican recipe)". Mexican Cuisine. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  10. ^ Graber, Karen Hursh. "Tacos de camaron y nopalitos". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  11. ^ "Tacos, Enchilidas and Refried Beans: The Invention of Mexican-American Cookery". Oregon State University. Archived from the original on 2007-07-18. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  12. ^ Ginger, Bertha Haffner (1914 (2008)). California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook. Bedford, Massachusetts (USA): Applewood Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4290-1256-0. Retrieved 10 June 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Freedman, Robert L. (1981). Human food uses: a cross-cultural, comprehensive annotated bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-313-22901-5. Retrieved 27 December 2011. 
  14. ^ US 2506305, Maldonado, Juvencio, "Form for frying tortillas to make fried tacos", published 1947-06-21, issued 1950-05-02 
  15. ^ Pilcher, Jeffrey (Winter 2008). "Was the Taco Invented in Southern California?". Gastronomica (Berkeley, California: University of California Press) 8 (1): 26–38. doi:10.1525/gfc.2008.8.1.26. ISSN 1529-3262. 
  16. ^ Gilb, Dagoberto (2006-03-19). "Taco Bell Nation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  17. ^ "Homemade Chorizo Soft Tacos (recipe)". BigOven.com. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  18. ^ "Crispy Tacos Picadillo". Martha Stewart Living. June 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  19. ^ "Homemade Corn Tortillas (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  20. ^ a b Lankford, Randy. "Henry's Puffy Tacos - San Antonio". TexasCooking.com. Mesquite Management, Inc. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  21. ^ "Puffy Tacos (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  22. ^ Gold, Jonathan (2008-07-23). "Getting Stuffed at Arturo’s Puffy Taco". LA Weekly. LA Weekly LP. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  23. ^ Chisholm, Barbara (2004-04-30). "The Puffy Taco Invasion". The Austin Chronicle 23 (35) (Austin Chronicle Corp). Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  24. ^ "Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit". Ciao! Shopping Intelligence — UK (blog). Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  25. ^ "Ortega Taco Kits". B&G Foods. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  26. ^ Stradley, Linda. "Breakfast Tacos". What's Cooking America. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  27. ^ "Green tomato and corn tacodillas". Honest Fare. June 1, 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  28. ^ "Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos: History and Recipes of Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos". Linda Stradley. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  29. ^ "Hundreds attend powwow". Louisiana Broadcasting LLC and Capital City Press LLC. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 


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