Have you ever wondered where tacos originated? They’re one of the most popular items on the menu of any Mexican restaurant, and for good reason. They can be customized in a number of ways, they taste great, and they’re very easy to eat. But when were tacos first served, and who came up with the idea of putting meat, vegetables, and cheese in a shell?
No one actually knows when the first tacos were made or who actually created them. However, the history of the taco can be dated back to the 18th century. During this time in Mexico, many people worked in silver mines. One tool used in these mines was called a “taco.” Instead of food, however, this was the term used for small explosives that were used to excavate silver ore. The explosives were made by wrapping gunpowder and a fuse in small pieces of paper and inserting it into the rock. In some ways, they looked very similar to a taquito. As far as food goes, one of the earliest references was to miner’s tacos, indicating that either the food was named after this explosive, that miners tended to eat tacos often since they were easily portable, or both.
Ancient vs Modern Tacos
While the word “taco” is fairly new in the historical sense, foods similar to tacos have been eaten for centuries. Early Mexicans often filled tortillas with fish and other meats, though they didn’t usually add lettuce, cheese, tomato, or any other fillings that we often do.
These ancient tacos were eaten by many people, but modern tacos, at least in the beginning, were eaten mainly by workers. This included those in the silver mines, but they were also sold on the streets to anyone who needed a quick meal. While these first forms of the modern taco did include more fillings, they weren’t yet what we think of as tacos. Instead of the hard shell shaped like a U, they were served in corn tortillas.
The Tacos Comes to the U.S.
The taco first came to the United States in the very late 1800s or early 1900s. One of the first mentions of the food is from a newspaper printed in 1905. Many workers had immigrated from Mexico around this time to work on the railroad or in the mines. Mexican food was still typically considered a street food, so there were more food carts than Mexican restaurants. Women typically operated these carts while the men worked the more labor-intensive jobs. These women earned the nickname “Chili Queens,” and their pushcart stands became very popular.
These women and their, by American standards, incredibly spicy foods were a hit in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and the other cities in the Southern part of the U.S. It wasn’t long before tacos were a staple among the working class. They were considered exotic foods, but more than that, they could be eaten on the go and were very affordable.
Food Fusion Created What We Call a Taco
By the 1920s, these Chili Queens and others had begun experimenting. Sometimes, this was out of curiosity, but other times, it was a necessity since they didn’t have access to the same ingredients they did in Mexico. This led to an interesting fusion of American and Mexican cooking. This is when what we think of as a taco first appeared beef or chicken in a wrap or shell along with lettuce, cheese, and tomato.
While the meat was still spiced, it was toned down, so it wasn’t too much for American tastebuds. In 1940s, the crunchy shell was added. It made it easier to make the tacos, reducing the time workers had to wait to get their foods. What had been called a taco up to this point is now usually referred to as a soft taco. Still popular, of course, but no longer the “taco” most of us think of.
Tacos Continue to Evolve
By the mid-1900s, the taco had cemented its place in American cuisine, but that hasn’t stopped people from continuing to experiment. Some tried different meats, leading to the fish and steak taco. Others added different sauces and toppings. Some chefs even tried really thinking out of the box with options like dessert tacos. While some of these ideas may not have caught on, the taco remains a very versatile food that can be customized in a number of different ways.
Hungry for tacos now? Come on down to El Chubby’s in Aurora, Colorado, and take a look at the different taco options on our menu. We’re sure you’ll find something you love.