The History of the Taco
The Mexican staple has come a long way from the Battle of Puebla.
PopoJito tacos / Photo by Jay Lopez
In honor of Cinco de Mayo — which, contrary to popular conception, is not Mexico’s Independence Day, but rather a commemoration of the Battle of Puebla — we wanted to highlight an authentic Mexican dish: the humble, beloved taco.
The word “taco” originally referred to charges that miners used to blast holes in a rock face. They rolled little pieces of paper to envelop explosive gunpowder. It’s a pretty apt namesake, as far as culinary analogies go.
Much of the taco’s history is wrapped in ambiguity, but one recurring theme is its versatility. From the melting pot of Mexico City, the taco has evolved to reflect distinct generations, ethnicities, and agriculture. Mexican-Americans introduced iceberg lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese into the dish — ingredients readily available in U.S. markets. Lebanese migrants in Mexico wrapped their lamb in tortillas instead of pitas; their children swapped out lamb for pork and eventually added some pineapple, giving rise to tacos al pastor, now a hugely popular Mexican dish.
Eventually, the advent of Taco Bell brought with it the deterioration of regionalism and ingredient quality. Of course, as any true taco taster knows, the best tacos are the offspring of tradition and innovation, not national chains. Read on to find out where you can snag some of the most flavorful tacos in the Hudson Valley.