Every Single Thing You Need to Know About Mexican Street TACOS
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The Most Common Street Tacos and Their Origin
The street taco has been around a long time but maybe not as long as you might think. The word taco as it is used today only arrived on the scene around the 19th century! According to Paul M. Pilcher, who has spent years traveling the world eating tacos and learning about their history, the word taco didn’t originally refer to food.
So if a taco wasn’t originally food then what was it?
According to Pilcher, the word taco originally came from the silver mines in Mexico. The miners would carve holes into the rocks and then they would wrap paper around gun powder, stick it into the hole they made and blow up part of the rock. They called these explosives, tacos.
So essentially a taco was a small piece of dynamite. If you have ever had a spicy street taco then you understand why the taco was named after these explosive charges!
The food itself was referred to for the first time in the 19th century. Humans have been eating tacos for millenniums but they weren’t called tacos until fairly recently. The Mexican people first referred to a taco as food in a book called, “The Bandits of Cold River”
In an early scene in the novel, set during the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Indians danced in honor of the national saint, while feasting on “chito with tortillas, drunken salsa, and very good pulque and the children skipping, with tacos of tortillas and avocado in their hand.”
Street tacos are traditionally served with a corn/maize tortillas and they are stuffed with many different types of meats including beef, pork, chicken and fish. However the filling for tacos are not always so mild and normal as the things we see them filled with today in the United States.
Tacos have become so popular that they even have their own day on the calendar, October 4th is national taco day.
The really good stands will also stock an avocado-based salsa, one made from roasted chiles — plus a mixture of chopped onions and habañeros, especially a large bowl of halved Mexican limes.
Here are some of the most common:
A LA PLANCHA
Also known as "carne asada," this taco is filled with steak or chicken that's been grilled and then chopped and placed on a tortilla. The best options to top a taco a la plancha are guacamole or red salsa.
If you love pork, this is your taco. Carnitas are made from medium sized portions of lean pork meat, as well as other parts of the pig, including the head, that are slowly cooked in pork fat—very similar to a duck confit. There are different types of carnitas, and the color of the meat will depend on the ingredients that the taquero adds to season the pork fat. The red raw salsa and the guacamole salsa are best for this one.
A tortilla holds a portion of rice or beans topped with a guisado — a pre-made traditional Mexican dish like chicken with mole, chicharrón in green or red sauce, chicken with green pumpkin seed sauce, or pork with spicy sauce. Every stand will have their specialities, and every day they'll offer a different variety.
Yes, it's cow head. This type of taco is very common as a nighttime snack, but they're not hard to find for lunch, either. The taquero will carve meat to order from a steamed cow's skull — very dramatic.
Probably one of the most iconic foods of the Estado de México, barbacoa is made from sheep, and the long-braising cooking method dates to pre-Colombian times. Saturday and Sundays are the best days to get barbacoa, because people from the nearby countryside come in to the city to sell their homemade product. There are two types of barbacoa taco: soft, which is seasoned with a pulpe-based salsa called salsa borracha, and deep fried, which is topped with sour cream and cheese.
This taco is the quintessential chilango taco, an object of extraordinary obsession. The cooking method — layers of pork on a vertical spit — is very similar to gyros, belying the taco's Arab origins. Every taquero has his own special recipe, and they are very protective of their craft. It's served with onions and cilantro, and often a little bit of pineapple.
Beef and chorizo are carefully chopped until they blend together into a meaty filling with a spicy kick.
Lamb meat is seasoned with chile and spices, wrapped up in parchment, and then slowly steamed or pit roasted, with succulent results. The traditional toppings are a purple onion and habanero mix, and chopped radish.
If you spot a bicycle carrying a small basket with a plastic bag inside, you've found tacos de canasta (basket tacos). Tortillas are filled with potato, beans, or chicharron, the tacos are carefully arranged in the basket until it is full. To finish them, the taquero pours hot seasoned oil over the tacos, covers them with the plastic bag, and lets them sit until the tacos are meltingly soft. They don't have a long shelf life, so try to buy them soon after the taquero has started for the day.
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