In the world of gastronomy, there are few dishes that so embody the place they come from the way that tacos do. Originally found only within the territory of Mexico, their numerous variations have crossed several borders (and stratospheres) to establish themselves, according to Taste Atlas 2019, as the best dish in the world. Here are five curious facts you probably didn’t know about tacos.
It may seem like something from science fiction, but the truth is that reality surpasses any fantasy. In 1985, Neri Vela became the first Mexican to reach outer space. For his expedition, he made what seemed a peculiar request, however, it was one that would make history. He asked for tortillas to be included on the menu. Since then, and to the astonishment of many, tortillas and tacos have become a mainstay on every NASA special mission, according to Vela himself. It turns out that the tortilla, apart from being nutritious and delicious, has a particular characteristic that makes it perfect for outer space – in zero gravity it doesn’t leave any crumbs that could potentially damage an instrument.
Patents and copyrights
Maris Bustamante is a conceptual artist who, in 1979, created a visual and literary work called La patente del Taco (The Taco Patent). Although she is erroneously credited with having claimed the patent, in reality, the work sought to defend the taco. Faced with Taco Bell’s apparent attempt to patent the word “taco” in the United States, distorting its original meaning, the artist wanted to design a tribute that would safeguard this dish from a “complete expropriation, as well as from the distortion of its original emblematic character.” Regardless of the result, the taco nevertheless deserves more monuments, sculptures, poems, books, buildings, churches, and an endless list of etceteras to celebrate and pay homage to it.
Of love and tacos
Renowned Mexican singer Chava Flores wrote an amusing song called “La taquiza” in which he praises the taco as only a poet in love can. It is an ode to this delicious dish and a tribute to some of the less popular versions (offal, snout, head, brains). Just a sample verse from Flores mentions several of the above, as he, scorned and sad, wields his sharpened pen to recount the heartbreak of his love to a woman with a voracious appetite:
“Al seguir con los de oreja,
entróme la preocupación,
vino trompa, sesos, buche,
los de nana, chicharrón,
siguió el cuero, la taquiza,
hasta el hígado surgió
y llegó longaniza,
la cecina, el riñón,
y al entrarle a la maciza,
me saliste con que no.”
“By continuing with those from ears,
I got worried
then came the snout and brains,
those of innards and rinds,
followed by the pigskin, the taco feast,
even the liver went down
and sausage arrived,
the jerky, the kidney,
and when taking in the morsels,
you came out with no.”
Automation came for corn in 1947, when Fausto Celorio, who is credited with more than 150 inventions, created the first automatic tortilla machine. It was an important milestone in the history of Mexican cuisine, since before then the preparation of tortillas was a laborious process, performed by women on their knees in front of the metate. Although there had been previous attempts to automate this staple food, it was Celorio who managed to unify the processes into a single machine, where once the nixtamal has been transformed into dough, it is flattened, cut, and cooked. No more metate! Goodbye knee pain! Thanks to Celorio, streamlining the process for tortillas helped to universalize them, and subsequently, the mighty taco.
A Taco Revolution
It turns out that the Mexican Revolution was not only about political upheaval, but whose repercussions permeated through several layers of society, and into the culinary habits of its citizens. During this period, taquerias had a significant boom in Mexico City, as they served the troops who were stationed here, and who had little interest in the Frenchified menus typically on offer. During the Porfiriato period, the taco was considered food for poor people, peasants and laborers, and it was not until a year after the fall of the dictatorship, in 1918, when taquerias began to be considered formal businesses. While seemingly trivial, the result is important because today this dish has infiltrated all levels of Mexican society, informal or not, and now the taco is served in some of the finest restaurants in Mexico and the world.
So, whether in a restaurant or in outer space, handmade or machine pressed, with vegetables or unlikely cuts of meat, gourmet or from the street, the taco is Mexico.