Tasty Tacos

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Taco Bell, Danville, VA

Taco Bell, cross-cultural popularizer of the taco (photo from Danville, Virginia).

Tacos are tortillas which are often, but not always, folded; fried crisp; and then filled with meat, refried beans, or vegetables; and topped with a sauce. (Tostadas are similarly prepared, so “one señor's taco may be another hombre's tostada.” Generally speaking, though, the tortillas in tacos are rolled or folded. The tortillas in tostadas are flat.)

Tortillas, the “bread” or base used for tacos, are thin, round cornmeal or flour “pancakes” about 6" in diameter. The cornmeal type, “tortillas de maiz,” are the more traditional kind, corn/maize's being indigenous to America.

Taco shells

Taco shells on a supermarket shelf.

Mexican cuisine descended from that of the Native Americans who lived in the region now called Mexico. When Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500's, the cuisine of the native people was gradually affected by the introduction of different foods which the Spaniards brought. Later the dietary influence of other European cultures also touched the minds and hands of native Mexican cooks, bringing together old and newer culinary foodways. Eventually an offshoot of the Spanish/Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex, also developed.

Tacos, with their customarily zesty toppings, usually involving tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, have become emblematic of spicy Hispanic-style cooking.


Corn tortillas in a store's display.