Happy National Taco Day!
I didn’t even know this holiday existed in the United States until today when I was doing my daily morning food reading, but I’m glad I came across it because who doesn’t need another excuse to talk about tacos? Although practically every day is taco day in my house and we don’t need a holiday just to eat them, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some history about one of Mexico’s most common culinary delights.
My good friend Claudia, who is from Puebla, Mexico, and is also a linguist, shared with me a little lesson about the origin of the word “taco.”
There are various accepted origins; literally, it means a plug for an empty gap. Which makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the perspective of food – you eat a taco to fill the emptiness in your belly that is hunger.
According to Real Academia Española, the word “taco” means plug and referred originally to the rounded patches of paper or cloth stuffing for a type of ammunition for an early form of a musket. Another source offers that the word is derived from common corruptions of the language due to differences in Spanish dialects in the new world. Yet another source says that it’s possible that the word actually originated from the Aztec native language, Náhuatl, written as itacatl, which was the word used for a large tortilla filled with habas (broad beans) or sal (salt).
And I think scholars who suspect the word has Náhuatl origins are on to something, too.
In the writings of Bernardino Sagahún, a Spanish Franciscan missionary in the 1500s assigned to the college of Santa Cruz in Tlaltelolco (part of what is now Mexico City) who dedicated himself to learning Náhuatl, he noted the variety of words used and their evolution: ueitlaxcalli, quauhtaqualli, tlaxcalpocholi, taqualli, and tlaco. Some linguistics scholars believe this sequence of Náhuatl words is how we ended up with the modern-day “taco.”
Whatever the origin of the word, there is evidence that the taco was a popular food among the inhabitants of Mesoamerica, and that the Spanish adapted and incorporated them into their daily diet after coming to the new world.
For centuries, the existence of tacos has accompanied Mexican villages and their people through all kinds of weather – from struggle and crisis to triumph and comfort. Tacos are truly a staple important to the cuisine. They can be filled with just about anything; meats, cheese, vegetables, and even just a little crema y sal. José likes to eat just about anything as a taco if he can.
Soon, I’ll be writing a bit about one of our favorite kinds of tacos and a Mexico City specialty, tacos al pastor (and their cousin, the gringa).
I hope you enjoyed the little history lesson and if you didn’t get the chance to celebrate National Taco Day just yet, I hope you will soon. In the meantime, you can check out other posts here with the taco tag to get some ideas on how to celebrate.
- What’s your favorite kind of taco?