Tacos: Tasty, handheld snack has been around since the Aztecs

March 25, 2022
Most of us have enjoyed the spicy treat known as a taco without giving much thought to its origin story and subsequent evolution into the versions we find today. The tasty and nutritious handheld snack has been around since the time of the Aztecs in what is now Mexico.
Its name comes from the Nahuatl word ‘tlahco' which means “half” or “in the middle” which describes how tacos are formed. The word taco also has a connection to the 18th-century Mexican silver mines. At this time, the phrase “tacos de minero” or miner’s tacos referred to gunpowder charges wrapped in a paper cylinder. These were inserted into the veined rocks and detonated to enable the excavation of silver ore. Nothing at all like the soft corn tortillas folded around a filling of fish, vegetables or inexpensive organ meats.
By the 1920s, we began to see a fusion of Mexican and American tastes in the building of a taco. Organ meats were replaced with beef or chicken, spiciness was softened with the addition of shredded cheese and sour cream. Another significant change can be traced to the Taco Bell restaurant chain that used pre-fried, u-shaped crunchy shells to expedite the taco-assembly process.
Today, we see tastes for tacos traveling on two different pathways. The commercial version of tacos favors the more-convenient, crisp and sturdy shells with a list of taco ingredients that continues to expand into guacamole, refried beans and salsa. The traditional or “authentic” purveyors of tacos are reducing the volume and variety of taco contents, focusing on elevating flavor and texture with curated meats and seasonings.
If you live in the Lewes area, there are a number of restaurants that serve tacos, ranging from the Americanized version in a crunchy shell, to streamlined heritage-style tacos to the most unusual take on fish tacos in a puffy shell that resembles a beignet. Many seafood tacos include pieces of fish that have been breaded and fried, while a healthier approach is to bake or sauté a filet, as in the fish tacos in the photo. When pressed for time, tacos are quick and easy to assemble if you’re willing to forgo the overnight marinating step for your meat. The most basic (and quite inauthentic) protein for tacos is ground meat, spiced with a packet of taco-seasoning; you’ll find this in the same boxed kit with pre-formed, crunchy fried shells. If you plan ahead, you can make the most delicious tacos, whether carnitas (“little meats” similar to pulled pork) or carne asada (grilled beef).
The recipes here include one for carnitas that uses orange juice to tenderize the meat and form the backbone of a delicious sauce. Once the pork has been cooked and shredded, it’s quickly crisped in a skillet before filling the taco shell. The recipe for carne asada tacos calls for lime juice and soy sauce as tenderizing ingredients. These can be made with skirt steak or flank steak.
The fish tacos can be made with any mild, white fish, such as cod, tilapia or halibut seasoned with chili powder and a creamy sauce. Instructions include spreading the sauce on the tortilla before adding the remaining ingredients for a moist taste in every bite. 
Fish Tacos 
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C lime juice
1 t Tabasco sauce
2 C shredded red cabbage
4 sliced radishes
4 sliced green onions
1 lb white fish filet
1 T chili powder
1/2 t salt
1 T olive oil
8 corn tortillas
1/4 C chopped cilantro
In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, and hot sauce; set aside. In a mixing bowl, toss together cabbage, radishes, green onions and 3 T creamy sauce. Sprinkle the fish on both sides with chili powder and salt. Heat skillet over medium-high. When hot, add olive oil and tilt the pan to entirely coat the bottom. Place fish in the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Flip the fish and cook until opaque and flaky, about another 3 minutes. Transfer the cooked fillets to a platter and use a fork to break the fish into large chunks. Wrap the tortilla shells in damp paper towel and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. To assemble the tacos, spread the tortilla shells with sauce; top with fish, cabbage mixture and cilantro. Yield: 8 tacos.
1 T oregano
2 t cumin
2 t salt
1 t pepper
1 T olive oil
4 lb pork shoulder 
1 chopped onion
1 seeded, chopped jalapeño
4 minced garlic cloves
1 T olive oil
In a small bowl, combine oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Completely coat the exterior of the pork with olive oil. Coat meat with spice mixture. Place the meat in a slow cooker, fat side up. Scatter onion, jalapeño and garlic on top of the meat. Pour orange juice over the meat. Cover and cook for 7 hours on high or 10 hours on low. Remove meat from the cooker and allow to cool slightly. Using two forks, shred the meat. Skim out the fat from the liquid in the slow cooker; reserve remaining juices. Heat oil in a large skillet over high. Spread a thick layer of shredded pork in the pan, drizzle with reserved juice. Once the juice evaporates, turn and briefly sear the other side. Remove pork to a serving platter and repeat with remaining meat. Use for tacos, tortillas or burritos.
Carne Asada Tacos
2 T soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 T olive oil
3 minced garlic cloves
2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
1 t oregano
1 lb skirt steak
1 T olive oil
8 corn tortillas
1/2 C diced red onion
1/3 C cilantro
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, lime juice and oil. Pour into a zip top bag and add garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano. Cut the steak into 1-inch pieces and add to the bag. Press out excess air and seal. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours, turning the bag occasionally. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high. Add steak and marinade; cook, stirring often, until steak has browned and marinade has reduced, about 5 minutes. Wrap the tortilla shells in damp paper towel and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Distribute steak across tacos and top with onion and cilantro. Yield: 8 tacos.

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