October 4th is honored in America as National Taco Day! Despite our country’s love of the taco, the origins of the taco itself is full of speculation.
The history of the taco
Historian Jeffrey M. Pilcher has dedicated his work life to the history of Mexican food, specifically the taco. And he says the origins of the taco remain more of a mystery, but they are definitely a more modern invention.
You began to first see reference to a taco at the end of the 19th century as tacos de minero (miner’s tacos). This leads to the speculation that Mexican miners coined the term because as they wrapped paper around gunpowder in their ore mining, it reminded them of the chicken taquito with a hot sauce. Explosive.
Related: Taco Bell prices
Taquerias popped up all over Mexico City flourishing as Mexico began employees factory workers during the industrial age. The taquerias were street carts, often run by the women in a family. Mexico City became a melting pot as various regions of Mexicans descended upon the city in the hopes of finding work in the city. The women would cook their regional foods and sell them from their stands.
The taquerias are the earliest roots of what we now know as Mexican restaurants.
Around the water cooler taco fun facts
- In 2015, Americans ate approximately 4.5 billion tacos. That is a lot of tacos!
- Ensenada, Mexico, is thought to be the birthplace of the fish taco.
- One traditional taco is the Taco de Cabeza which is filled with the brain, tongue, eyes and lips of a cow’s head.
- The first mention of the word taco in a US paper occurred in 1905.
The taco and the US
So how did we come to venerate and celebrate the taco in the United States? If we head back to the turn of the twentieth century, the taco and other Mexican foods began to enter into American culture and cuisine in some of the US border states like California and Texas as Mexican immigrants began to migrate into America to find work in new mines and on the ever-expanding railroad over the country.
Street carts began to pop up selling Mexican food fare. And some of these street carts gained national notoriety, like the Chili Queens. Tourists would visit San Antonio and make a point of trying the Chili Queen’s tamales which were considered quite spicy. American’s felt it to be a taste of Mexico without the perceived danger.
As the migrants had children and raised their families in the US, they established root in their new home country. And they began to mix their adopted home recipes with available, and somewhat comparable, foods in America — like hamburger meat in place of offal meat, and cheese and iceberg lettuce became a new staple. And we had the taco we now know today.
Taco Bell and the mass production of the taco
As the taqueria and taco carts grew in heavily dominated ethnic areas of cities like Los Angeles, it didn’t expand beyond the neighborhood borders until Glen Bell came along. He used the knowledge of his Mexican neighbors food carts and started a fast food joint and, for the first time, used the word taco in the restaurant name.
More and more began to partake in the fare of Taco Bell in the 1950s. Bell’s franchishing empire to bring fast food a Mexican flavor worked and created a massive niche within the fast food industry. And today we have a variety of yummy options to eat our beloved taco.
Go and celebrate your taco love
- Taco Bell – sharing National Taco Day Greeting cards
- Chevy’s Fresh Mexican – Check your closest location and see if they are participating in some National Taco Day eating contests
- Del Taco – Enjoy their Taco Tuesday special of 3 tacos for $1.29
- Qdoba – free drink or chips and salsa with the purchase of an entree (must be a member of their rewards loyalty program)
- Rubio’s Coastal Grill – original fish taco for $1.75
- On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina – mini crispy tacos for $0.50 all day and no limit
Celebrate other National Food Holidays!