Either in taquerias, cantinas, high-end restaurants, pubs, food trucks, tacos are very popular and trendy in the food scene, but what is the origin of this tiny tortilla full of flavourful stuff?
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”). Basically, this meaning of the Spanish word “taco” is a Mexican innovation.
Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of food history at UOTSC, researcher focused on Mexico and Latin America history. He is the author of ¡Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity (1998), The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City (2006), and Food in World History (2006). His latest book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (2012), seeks to historicize authenticity and show how Mexico’s national cuisine developed through global interactions, particularly with Mexican American cooks.
Mr. Pilcher, in an interview, said “The origins of the taco are really unknown. My theory is that it dates from the 18th century at the Mexican silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word “taco” referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore. These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face. When you think about it, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite. The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero—miner’s tacos. So, the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial.”
Jeffrey M. Pilcher has a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from the University of Illinois, an M.A. in Mexican history from New Mexico State University, and a Ph.D. in Mexican cultural history from Texas Christian University. He has taught at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.