Nothing says “America” quite like the hot dog and likewise nothing says “Mexico” quite like the taco. I have eaten quite a few of both. Each is quick, easy, and tasty.
When I was teaching junior high English in Minnesota our Spanish teacher would prepare tacos as a treat for her students four times a year. She would commandeer the home economics kitchen. She used the shells that come in a box– those hard, brittle tasteless things, ground beef, (no onion), a seasoned package of chili mix, a few shreds of chopped up iceberg lettuce, a sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes and a squirt of bottled taco sauce. Presto! Tacos. The students thought they were eating Mexican cuisine. And so did I. But, those tacos are far removed from the wonderful tacos of Mexico. I was surprised to learn that tacos in Mexico consist of carne (beef) grilled over an open wood fire, chopped up on a wood block, and served on corn or flour tortillas instead of hard shells. I didn’t know then that there were also fish and shrimp tacos with creamy white cheese.
Another US version of the taco is found at Taco Bell and Taco John’s. This taco is a mixture of a mystery, mushy seasoned meat, some lettuce, cut up pink tomatoes, finely shredded yellow cheese and taco sauce–served on a doughy flour tortilla. One is hardly enough. And three is two too many. If one is hungry they suffice, but hardly classify as a satisfying experience. And, really Taco John’s? Maybe those chains should have called themselves Taco Juan’s?
A neighbor woman back home introduced me to her version of a taco. She used store-bought flour tortillas and lightly fried them in oil, turning them unto themselves and creating a shell. Then she filled them with the familiar iceberg lettuce, seasoned ground beef, diced tomatoes, cheese, and bottled taco sauce. While a great improvement over the Spanish teacher’s tacos, they are still far removed from the corn or flour tortilla of the taco stands here in Mexico.
These were my early experiences and introductions to the taco. Of course, they had nothing what-so-ever to do with a real Mexican taco. Since living in Rosarito, I have discovered a world of tacos. My first Mexican taco in Rosarito was at Yaqui Taco: a flour tortilla filled with grilled carne. The smell of it alone, grilling over wood embers, whets the appetite. Add a scoop of slowly simmered beans, avocado, cilantro, and top with spicy salsa. Now there is a taco. The typical street taco differs slightly but shares the tempting aroma of meat being grilled. Another delicious type of taco is served on a crisp corn tortilla.
Ah, the Mexican taco: quick, easy, and delicious. And unlike any taco served up in Minnesota.