Carnitas tacos as served in East Los Angeles, California, United States.
Barbacoa tacos.

A taco (play /ˈtɑːk/) is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, avocado or guacamole, cilantro, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.



According to the Real Academia Española, publisher of Diccionario de la Lengua Española, the word taco describes a typical Mexican dish of a maize tortilla folded around food ("Tortilla de maíz enrollada con algún alimento dentro, típica de México"). The original sense of the word is of a "plug" or "wad" used to fill a hole ("Pedazo de madera, metal u otra materia, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco").[1] The Online Etymological Dictionary defines taco as a "tortilla filled with spiced meat" and describes its etymology as derived from Mexican Spanish, "light lunch," literally, "plug, wadding."[2]


The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. There is anthropological evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Bernal Díaz del Castillo documented the first taco feast enjoyed by Europeans, a meal which Hernán Cortés arranged for his captains in Coyoacán.[3][4] It is not clear why the Spanish used their word, "taco", to describe this indigenous food.

Traditional tacos

Adobada meat for tacos, carved to order.
Grilled shrimp taco.

There are many traditional varieties of tacos:

  • Tacos de Asador ("spit" or "grill" tacos) may be composed of any of the following: carne asada tacos; tacos de tripita ("tripe tacos"), grilled until crisp; and, chorizo asado (traditional Spanish style sausage). Each type is served on two overlapped small tortillas and sometimes garnished with guacamole, salsa, onions, and cilantro. Also prepared on the grill is a sandwiched taco called mulita ("little mule") made with meat served between two tortillas and garnished with Oaxaca style cheese. "Mulita" is used to describe these types of sandwiched tacos in the Northern States of Mexico, while they are known as Gringa in the Mexican south and are prepared using wheat flour tortillas. Tacos may also be served with salsa.[5][6]
  • Tacos de Cabeza or head tacos, in which there is a flat punctured metal plate from which steam emerges to cook the head of the cow. These include: Cabeza, a serving of the muscles of the head; Sesos ("brains"); Lengua ("tongue"); Cachete ("cheeks"); Trompa ("lips"); and, Ojo ("eye"). Tortillas for these tacos are warmed on the same steaming plate for a different consistency. These tacos are typically served in pairs, and also include salsa, onion and cilantro with occasional use of guacamole.[5][6]
  • Tacos de Cazo for which a metal bowl filled with lard is typically used as a deep-fryer. Meats for these types of tacos typically include: Tripa ("tripe", usually from a pig instead of a cow); Suadero (tender beef cuts), Carnitas and Buche (Literally, "crop", as in bird's crop; here, it is fried pig's esophagus.[7])[5][6]
  • Tacos sudados ("sweaty tacos") are made by filling soft tortillas with a spicy meat mixture, then placing them in a basket covered with cloth. The covering keeps the tacos warm and traps steam ("sweat") which softens them.[5][8]
Tacos de suadero (grey) and chorizo (red).
  • Tacos Al pastor/De Adobada ("shepherd style") are made of thin pork steaks seasoned with adobo seasoning, then skewered and overlapped on one another on a vertical rotisserie cooked and flame-broiled as it spins (analogous to the Döner kebab used in Greek restaurants to prepare gyros).[5][6]
  • Tacos dorados (fried tacos, literally, "golden tacos") called flautas ("flute", because of the shape), or taquitos, for which the tortillas are filled with pre-cooked shredded chicken, beef or barbacoa, rolled into an elongated cylinder and deep-fried until crisp. They are sometimes cooked in a microwave oven or broiled.[5][6]
  • Tacos de pescado ("fish tacos") originated in Baja California in Mexico, where they consist of grilled or fried fish, lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, and a sour cream or citrus/mayonnaise sauce, all placed on top of a corn or flour tortilla. In the United States, they remain most popular in California, Colorado, and Washington. In California, they are often found at street vendors, and a regional variation is to serve them with cabbage and coleslaw dressing on top.[5][6]
  • Tacos de camarones ("shrimp tacos") also originated in Baja California in Mexico. Grilled or fried shrimp are used, usually with the same accompaniments as fish tacos: lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado and a sour cream or citrus/mayonnaise sauce, all placed on top of a corn or flour tortilla.[5][6][9]

As an accompaniment to tacos, many taco stands will serve whole or sliced red radishes, lime slices, salt, pickled or grilled chilis (hot peppers), and occasionally cucumber slices, or grilled cambray onions.

United States and Canada

Hard-shell taco, made with a prefabricated shell.

Hard-shell tacos

Beginning from the early part of the twentieth century, various styles of tacos have become popular in the United States and Canada.[10] The style that has become most common is the hard-shell, U-shaped version first described in a cookbook authored by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca Gilbert and published in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1949. These have been sold by restaurants and by fast food chains. Even non-Mexican oriented fast food restaurants have sold tacos. Mass production of this type of taco was encouraged by the invention of devices to hold the tortillas in the U-shape as they were deep-fried. A patent for such a device was issued to New York restaurateur Juvenico Maldonado in 1950, based on his patent filing of 1947 (U.S. Patent No. 2,506,305).[11][12] Such tacos are crisp-fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sometimes tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, and avocado or guacamole.[13] In this context, soft tacos are tacos made with wheat flour tortillas and filled with the same ingredients as a hard taco.[14]

Puffy tacos, taco kits, breakfast tacos and tacodillas

Since at least 1978, a variation called the "puffy taco" has been popular. Originating in San Antonio, Texas, uncooked corn tortillas (flattened balls of masa dough[15]) are quickly fried in hot oil until they expand and become "puffy".[16] Fillings are similar to hard-shell versions. Restaurants offering this style of taco have since appeared in other Texas cities, as well as in California, where Henry's brother, Arturo, opened Arturo's Puffy Taco in Whittier, not long after Henry's opened.[17][18]

Kits are available at grocery and convenience stores and usually consist of taco shells (corn tortillas already fried in a U-shape), seasoning mix and taco sauce. Commercial vendors for the home market also market soft taco kits with tortillas instead of taco shells.[19][20]

The breakfast taco, found in Tex-Mex cuisine, is filled with meat, eggs, or cheese, with other ingredients.[21]

The tacodilla contains melted cheese in between the two folded tortillas, thus resembling a quesadilla.[22]

Indian tacos

Frybread taco

Indian tacos, sometimes known as Navajo tacos but served in various parts of the American West and Midwest, are made using frybread instead of tortillas. They are commonly served at pow-wows, festivals, and other gatherings.[23]

See also


  1. ^ "Definition: Taco". Real Academia Española. http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=taco. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  2. ^ "Online Etymological Dictionary - Taco". Douglas Harper. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=taco&searchmode=none. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  3. ^ "History of Mexican Cuisine". Margaret Parker. http://www.iccjournal.biz/StudentScholars/Undergraduate/history_of_mexican_cuisine.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  4. ^ "A Thumbnail History of Mexican Food". Jim Conrad. http://www.mexicanmercados.com/food/foodhist.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos (Part One of Two)". Mexico Connect. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/recipes/puebla/kgtacos1.html. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos Part II: Nighttime Tacos". Mexico Connect. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/recipes/puebla/kgtacos2.html. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  7. ^ Feld, Jonah (2006). "The Burrito Blog — Buche". http://www.burritoblog.com/2006/04/buche_yummy_pig.html. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  8. ^ "Tacos Sudados (Mexican recipe)". Mexican Cuisine. http://cocina-mexico.com/ingles/menu/typical_food/20.html. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  9. ^ Graber, Karen Hursh. "Tacos de camaron y nopalitos". Mexico Connect. http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/3447-shrimp-and-nopal-tacos-tacos-de-camaron-y-nopalitos. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  10. ^ "Tacos, Enchilidas and Refried Beans: The Invention of Mexican-American Cookery". Oregon State University. Archived from the original on 2007-07-18. http://web.archive.org/web/20070718154326/http://food.oregonstate.edu/ref/culture/mexico_smith.html. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  11. ^ US 2506305, Maldonado, Juvencio, "Form for frying tortillas to make fried tacos", published 1947-06-21, issued 1950-05-02 
  12. ^ Pilcher, Jeffrey (Winter 2008). "Was the Taco Invented in Southern California?". Gastronomica (Berkeley, California: University of California Press) 8 (1): 26–38. doi:10.1525/gfc.2008.8.1.26. ISSN 1529-3262. 
  13. ^ Gilb, Dagoberto (2006-03-19). "Taco Bell Nation". Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/features/magazine/west/la-tm-tacobell12mar19,0,3787670.story. Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  14. ^ "Homemade Chorizo Soft Tacos (recipe)". BigOven.com. http://www.bigoven.com/14723-(Homemade-Fresh)-Chorizo-Soft-Tacos-recipe.html. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  15. ^ "Homemade Corn Tortillas (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. http://www.saveur.com/food/classic-recipes/corn-tortillas--51762.html. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  16. ^ "Puffy Tacos (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. http://www.saveur.com/article/food/Puffy-Tacos. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  17. ^ Gold, Jonathan (2008-07-23). "Getting Stuffed at Arturo’s Puffy Taco". LA Weekly. LA Weekly LP. http://www.laweekly.com/2008-07-24/eat-drink/the-air-in-there/. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  18. ^ Chisholm, Barbara (2004-04-30). "The Puffy Taco Invasion". The Austin Chronicle (Austin Chronicle Corp) 23 (35). http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:208403. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  19. ^ "Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit". Ciao! Shopping Intelligence — UK (blog). http://www.ciao.co.uk/Old_El_Paso_Taco_Dinner_Kit__5314334. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  20. ^ "Ortega Taco Kits". B&G Foods. http://www.ortega.com/products/products.php?id=4. Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  21. ^ Stradley, Linda. "Breakfast Tacos". What's Cooking America. http://whatscookingamerica.net/Eggs/BreakfastTaco.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  22. ^ "Green tomato and corn tacodillas". Honest Fare. June 1, 2010. http://honestfare.com/green-tomato-and-corn-tacodillas/. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  23. ^ "Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos: History and Recipes of Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos". Linda Stradley. http://www.whatscookingamerica.net/History/NavajoFryBread.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Taco — Taco …   Deutsch Wörterbuch

  • taco — sustantivo masculino 1. Pedazo de madera o metal corto y grueso para tapar un hueco, unir dos partes o apoyar alguna cosa: un taco redondo o cónico de pared. Pon un taco a la pata del mueble para que no se mueva. 2. Piezas pequeñas cónicas o… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • taco — 1. m. Pedazo de madera, metal u otra materia, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco. 2. Pedazo de madera corto y grueso. 3. Cilindro de trapo, papel, estopa o cosa parecida, que se coloca entre la pólvora y el proyectil en algunas armas de …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • taco — [ tako ] n. m. • 1988; du nahuatl ♦ Plat mexicain fait d une galette de maïs ⇒ tortilla pliée en deux et fourrée. Des tacos au poulet. ⊗ HOM. Tacaud, tacot. ● taco nom masculin (du nahuatl) Crêpe de farine de maïs généralement garnie de viande,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • taco — s. m. 1. Pau com que se impelem as bolas no jogo do bilhar ou em jogos como o golfe. 2. Torno ou prego de madeira. = BUCHA, TARUGO 3. Peça de madeira com que se fecha qualquer orifício ou abertura. 4. Peça retangular de madeira usada para… …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • taco — (n.) tortilla filled with spiced meat, etc., 1949, from Mexican Sp., light lunch, lit. plug, wadding …   Etymology dictionary

  • taco- — elem. de comp. Exprime a noção de velocidade (ex.: tacômetro).   ‣ Etimologia: grego takhós, eos, velocidade, rapidez …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • taco — ☆ taco [tä′kō ] n. pl. tacos [AmSp < Sp, a plug, wadding, light lunch] a Mexican dish consisting of a fried and folded or rolled tortilla filled with chopped meat, shredded lettuce, etc …   English World dictionary

  • Taco — Para otros usos de este término, véase Taco (desambiguación). Los tacos son un platillo de origen chinimeca que consiste en una tortilla doblada a fin de que pueda contener diversos tipos de alimentos. Es una receta fundamental, pero con… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Taco — ► sustantivo masculino 1 Trozo de madera, metal o de otro material sólido, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco: ■ puso unos tacos bajo la lavadora para equilibrarla. 2 Trozo de madera, metal o plástico, cilíndrico y alargado que,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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