Dawn of the Taco: The Hard Shell Truth

By Frank Furtado

Public Relations Student at Humber College | Monday, October 26, 2015

This past Saturday I walked into my favorite tequila bar and restaurant, El Caballito at 220 King Street W. in TORONTO. I have about two months left of free guacamole from winning their draw for following their Instagram page. I plan on exploiting it as much as possible, plus my friend Gavin is allergic to gluten, so corn tortillas is a great alternative to burgers. El Caballito is known as the “Home of the Midnight Taco,” where everyone present at midnight, gets a free taco. It’s authentic, Mexican, soft-shell heaven, stuffed with your choice of fresh ingredients and a lime wedge on the side. I like to consider myself a taco enthusiast, I enjoy them in the hard or soft shell variety, spicy or sweet, meat or fish; all forms of tortilla-filled goodness is fair game to me. After finishing my third wrapped Mexican delight, a question in dire need of answering came up among my fellow table mates, how was the taco invented?

After some research, the definite answer is still a mystery. Some hints lie as early as 1520 when Spanish explorers had met the Aztecs who had already began the fiesta, with flat corn bread. But the trail goes slightly cold after that. The current theory by Jeffrey M. Pilcher, a history professor at the University of Minnesota (and Mexican food explorer), is that tacos were invented in the silver mines in Mexico. In the 18th century, miners in northern Mexico would wrap gun powder in paper, creating dynamite to use in excavating precious silver. These makeshift bombs resembled, you guessed it, the modern day taco. Another clue that supports this theory is one of the first references of a taco, “tacos de minero,” a term used in a late 19th century archive, literally translating to miner’s tacos. Here’s where the trail goes cold once again until the taco migrates to Los Angeles and becomes a star.

In the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants began pouring into California bringing their recipes and culture. Street vendors known as the Chili Queens began serving up Mexican favourites and with American railroads bringing in more tourists, what was once considered low class food, became a culture sample, a taste of Mexico. Over the next 20 years, the taco, began to assimilate into American culture with new ingredients like ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes entering the mix. By the 1950s, hard taco shells were invented where soft shells could be fried in advance and served faster. Mastermind, Glen Bell, took advantage of this idea and created Taco Bell in the early 60s cementing tacos as a staple in North American culture. There you go, next time you and your friends are inhaling tacos, you can throw some interesting facts in their face.

The invention of the taco was an evolutionary process, we can see its beginnings in the early Aztecs almost 500 years ago, to the Mexicans using “taco dynamite” in silver mines and in its re-invention in America just some decades ago. It was shaped by more than one country and made greater for it. It continues to change and evolve with the introduction of gyros from Greece and shwarmas from Middle Eastern countries into Mexico. Mexicans are taking these flat bread wraps and adding pineapple as well as pork instead of lamb. Food will always be remixed when introduced into a new culture.

Hope I’ve made you hungry and curious – curious about the hundreds of years our food took to reach our plates, our mouths and our hearts. Do you have any awesome food facts?

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