Listen To The History Of Tacos Podcast Below. The Full episode contains taco facts, detailed history, information on who invented tacos (It’s not as simple as you think) and fun facts about taco records! Most importantly, it’s a fun and informative exploration of the tasty world of tacos.
In The Podcast Above You’ll Learn about:
- How tacos became a dish – and when.
- What was the first ever taco style? (We go eat it, live!)
- A roundup of some of Mexico’s tastiest taco styles
- What was the largest & most expensive taco in the world?
- And lots more!
PLUS: Below you’ll find notes & links from the history of tacos show, as well as a list of 24 top taco restaurants & street carts submitted by expert food & travel bloggers.
THE BELOW CONTENT IS NOT A TRANSCRIPT – It’s companion and bonus material ONLY.
What Is The Dish Podcast?
Welcome to the very first episode of “The Dish”!
This food travel Podcast Uncovers The Stories Behind The World’s Most Famous Dishes.
We are your hosts Tommo & Megsy. Join us & expert guests for tasty facts, foodie secrets and more!
Every episode we’ll be exploring the stories and history of a particular famous dish – It’s origins, it’s quirks, it’s flavours. Uncovering unexpected facts as well as injecting some fun into the information we discover. We interview food history specialists, chefs, restaurateurs, and local food fans. We visit the places where the dish is being made to eat it, and describe it, too.
This pilot episode on the History of Tacos is a forerunner for a full upcoming series – the first 6 episodes are out now, listen and subscribe below. As with any pilot, the format is under development and we look forward to hearing your feedback on what you like and don’t like, from this episode, so we can make changes to the final format.
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Taco Facts: A Brief History Of Tacos
Many people believe that tacos are an ancient food that has existed as long as tortillas have been eaten. According to Mayan legend, tortillas were invented by a peasant for his hungry king. Tortillas could date back to around 10,000 years BCE.
But in the above podcast episode, experts argue that not only were tortillas more often used more like a spoon than like a wrapper, but that there is no evidence suggesting that the word taco was even used before the 19th century. Sources often quoted in the history of tacos, like Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a chronicler who travelled with the conquistadors in the 1520s, suggest that tacos were eaten at a feast in 1521. However, with more detailed study of the original texts, we found they don’t mention tacos, or even the use of tortillas at the much quoted feast.
The very first reference to tacos as a food seems to have been by miners in the mid to late 19th century in the regions near mexico city. The taco then made it’s way to the city itself, probably an easy and cheap food that out of work miners could sell street-side to make some cash.
The word “tacos” as a food first appears in print in Mexico in the 1891 novel “The Bandits of Cold River” by Manuel Payno. And is added to the dictionary in Mexico in 1895.
By this time it’s believed tacos have already made their way north to San Antonio, where the opening of the railroad saw an influx of tourists and migrants to the city. Tacos are first named in print in the USA in 1905 where the Chili queens are sited as selling tacos and tamales at a popular local street market. From there, tacos spread in popularity throughout North America and eventually the rest of the world.
To get a more in-depth picture of the history of tacos, listen to the full podcast episode above 🙂
Taco Facts: Mexican Tacos Names
Throughout the history of tacos, the variety of fillings seems almost never ending. With new fusion options appearing all the time (Like K-tacos, Korean Fusion), you can pretty much put anything in a taco.
But there are some distinct and very popular varieties in Mexico today…
Tacos De Canasta – The earliest creation in the history of tacos: The original taco invented by the miners near Mexico city in the 19th century. Tortillas are filled with a dry filling, then wrapped in a blanket in a basket, to keep warm while being delivered by bicycle and sold streetside. Very cheap and simple taco style.
Carnitas – Meat slow cooked in it’s own fat for many hours to make it super soft. The most popular variety being made from Pork. Nothing is wasted with this snout to tail meal – expect anything from ears and stomach, through to the friendlier cuts, like shoulder and loin.
Fish (Pescado) & Seafood (Marisco) Tacos – Aside from the classic baja california deep fried fish fillet tacos, which we’ll be talking about more in depth shortly, seafood tacos around mexico often include crispy shrimp, or octopus, lobster, conch and more. Expect garlic butter, tomato based sauces like Veracruzana, and many other styles, to appear all around the country. The creation of the Baja Fish Taco was quite a surprising story within the history of tacos – listen to the second podcast episode to learn the full story.
Cochinita – Traditional cochinita is pork, slow cooked underground in a traditional oven called a “pib”. A hole is dug in the ground, hot coals are placed inside and the meat, which has been marinated in Sour orange and achiote, is wrapped in banana leaves and buried overnight to cook. Get ready for some deliciously juicy pulled pork tacos – spice them up with habanero. Cochinita originated in the state of Yucatan. We’ve spent over a year in the region and released a Mega Guide to it’s capital city, Merida Mexico.
Guisados – Tortillas filled with a stew. They’re messy comfort food. Think slow stewed pork and beans. Shredded chicken stewed in tomato sauce. A classic leftovers, home cooked mama’s meal in Mexico that has made it’s way into restaurants.
Al Pastor – Mexican middle-eastern fusion dish. It’s like a mexican doner kebab taco made from a bright red tower of pork grilled on a vertical rotisserie. Topped with pineapple, onion and cilantro. It’s crispy and bursting with porky goodness. More on the story of Al Pastor, and it’s predecessor, tacos Arabe, in episode 2.
Cabeza – Simply means Head Tacos. Normally beef. A whole head is boiled or steamed. Nothing is wasted. Beef tongue is one of the most popular, if done right, it’s soft and packed with flavor. From beef cheek to more unusual bits, like eyeball & snout, and my personal favourite, the Sweetbreads – which are re-fried on the grill to be crispy and have an inexplicable richness and depth. Our favourite Cabeza taco is listed below in the “Top Taco Restaurants” section.
Fritanga – Literally means “Small Fried Meats”. This style features a specific cooking device – a large, flat metal pan with a well in the centre about 4 inches deep. This well is filled with oil and small cuts of meat are fried, then removed to the surrounding plate, ready to fill some tortillas
Carne Asada & Al Carbon – The simple classic: meat plus grill plus tortilla = yum. Keeping it simple with meat grilled on the hotplate (Asada) or over real coals (Carbon).
Taco Doradao / Taquito / Flautas – These are all tacos that are deep fried after the fillings have been wrapped in the tortilla – leading to a crispy filled tube.
Barbacoa – Similar to cochinita, this is also a style where meat is traditionally slow cooked underground. The cooking style originates from Caribbean islands, the most popular form in Mexico became lamb, but beef, goat and other meats are now used too. It’s a tender meat falling apart, oozing with juices type experience.
There are sooooo many more taco styles. You can view an awesome map of mexico’s tacos from all the different states.
Links & References From This Podcast Episode
Expert Guest Jeffery Pilcher – And his book Planet Taco
Expert Guest Dr Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz – His Books: Foodscapes, Foodfields, and Identities in the YucatÃn & Cooking Technology: Transformations in Culinary Practice in Mexico and Latin America
Tacopedia – An incredibly detailed encyclopedia of tacos.
24 Top Taco Restaurants & Carts Around The World
From the history of tacos to the present – where can you go and eat some incredible tacos!
As you know, we have been doing our own thorough taco research, especially around Merida Mexico where we currently live. But we wanted to know where other travelers have had amazing tacos experiences around the world. We wanted to hear stories of the best American tacos, international tacos, authentic Mexican tacos, best street tacos, and more. We wanted to find the top taco restaurants around the world!!!
So we reached out to some of our favorite travel bloggers and asked them: “Where did you have the best taco?” and they responded…oh did they respond…cause you just gotta luv tacos!
Lengua (Beef Tongue) Tacos – El Compa – Merida, Mexico
Tommo & Megsy – Food Fun Travel
Tongue may not be the first filling you think of for tacos. But in Mexico “Lengua” is incredibly popular. Some claim that taquerias that don’t have tongue on the menu, are not the real deal! It takes a pivotal role in the history of tacos.
You may expect tongue to be tough. When prepared well, like at El Compa, and also shredded, it reveals a soft and juicy texture with a beefy and just slightly earthy flavour. Mixed with salsa verde, onions and cilantro for a little pop, tongue can be a truly sensational taco filling.
In episode 2 of The Dish, the second part of this tacos podcast, we visit El Compa and eat Cabeza – head tacos. Essentially, a whole cow’s head is either boiled or steamed. Then the various parts are removed and served in tacos. Although tongue is the most famous, other amazing cuts from this culinary tradition include cheek (Cachete), and sweetbreads (Molleja)
Birria Tacos y Consome – Playa Del Carmen
Ayngelina – Bacon is Magic
Birria is found throughout Latin America and while it often signals goat meat in places like Ecuador, in Mexico it’s more commonly beef, which is more common.
Birria Tacos y Consome on 30 Avenida Nte. 8 in Playa del Carmen is about a ten minute walk from the beach. Most travelers pass it by as it doesn’t have much of a street presence but locals know it has some of the best tacos in the city.
Lucas de Galvez Mercado – Merida Mexico
Becky – Kid World Citizen
Salbutes are *the best* taco outside of Mexico City. These popular Yucatecan treats start with a lightly fried corn tortilla, topped with specially roasted, shredded rotisserie turkey, and finished with tomato, creamy avocado, cucumber slices, lime marinated purple onion, and an optional habanero salsa. The combo of the hot ingredients with the fresh toppings is perfect for this humid climate. We enjoyed these salbutes in the main market (Lucas de Galvez) in Merida, Mexico.
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Tourist favorites – as well as local secrets that almost all tourists miss!
The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada – Los Angeles
Callan – Singapore N Beyond
The name of this little taqueria says it all. The Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada is indeed exactly what its name suggests. Blink and you might miss it, Best Fish Tacos is located just off Hillhurst road on the way to the Greek Theater and Griffith Observatory in trendy Los Feliz, Los Angeles.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but once you step inside you’re transported to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico with thatched roof and palm trees. And the tacos? They’re fantastic, authentic and made with a “trade secret” that is addictive and tasty. The menu is small, consisting of fish, shrimp, and potato tacos, but that’s all you need really! The salsa bar is great where you can pick your spiciness levels. The shrimp is incredibly succulent, the fish is perfectly fried, and the tortillas are hand-made. Their horchata is also incredible and compliments the tacos perfectly. There’s also corn-on-the-cob, potato logs, and taquitos to snack on.
Criminal Taqueria – Medellin, Colombia
Jason Li – Mint Habits
The best taco I ever had was in Medellin Colombia on the super trendy La Provenza street. You get 2 tacos of your choice for 4 dollars (which is a lot for Medellin, but given the trendy location it is what it is!). Both tacos in the picture are amazing, but the taco on the top (seafood avocado) was to DIE FOR! It’s a mix of shrimp, squid, scallops, and the best tasting avocado in the world. The clear sauce on it was some type of sweet limey flavor which was perfect for this taco. You can walk up to this food truck style restaurant and grab a bunch of tacos for a quick meal as you go along your day. The restaurant is called Criminal Taqueria. Make sure you check it out!
Chacho’s Tacos – San Antonio
Kate – Our Escape Clause
“There is something that, in my totally biased opinion, San Antonio, Texas does better than anywhere else on the planet, and that is to make breakfast tacos.
Typically served on fluffy homemade flour tortillas, these tacos can be stuffed with anything from bacon to brisket, eggs to jalapenos, beans to sausage, and they are all, beyond a doubt, delicious.
Personally, I usually opted for the refried bean and cheese tacos: a combination that I once would have found revolting early in the morning, but quickly realized after moving to San Antonio is one of the world’s most desirable breakfast foods.
In my two years of living in San Antonio (and eating more breakfast tacos than I care to admit) I never once had a bad breakfast taco, but if you’re headed to the area and are overwhelmed by choice, Chacho’s Tacos is a reliable favorite.”
Con Quesos Fusion Tacos Fayetteville, Arkansas
Logan & Kallsy – Pages of Travel
In the small college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas there are plenty of inexpensive and unique dining options to choose from. Con Quesos Fusion Tacos is one that won’t break the bank and adds a twist to your normal taco experience. At Con Quesos you can order tacos like the Santorini with grilled chicken and feta cheese, the Gameday with chopped brisket, or the Bombay with Chicken Tikka Masala. My personal favorite was the Osaka. It had a combination of hibachi shrimp, fried rice & egg, and a spicy mango dressing with a nice chili pepper kick. The fusion of sweet and spicy flavors made for a noteworthy flavor.
Tacos Gus! – Mexico City, Mexico
Dean and Pauline – Living la Vida Global
It was a chance meeting in a quiet residential suburb of Mexico City, we were on our way back to our B&B after a big day of exploring when a garage roller door rumbled to life just ahead of us and a guy with a sign came through. We slowed to see what it was about and had no idea it would be a moment that would live in our food memories forever. It simply read Taco Gus!
We overcame our initial concerns about eating food from someone’s driveway because of the spicy and sweet aromas that wafted from the simple but well-stocked kitchen, plus the promise of tacos for under a dollar. The concept was easy to understand even with the language barrier, grab a steaming hot fresh tortilla, point to one of the dozen or so meat or veg main ingredients, and then head to the self-serve salsa table which overflowed with about two dozen colourful and varied options. Then just eat and repeat until you can’t take any more. When you are full head to the cashier and tell them how many of these tasty treats you managed to consume.
This was a few years ago and from recent reports, Taco Gus! has grown considerably, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. They now have three locations around the city so getting your hands on this tacoey goodness is even easier. I will never pass up the chance to eat from someone’s driveway kitchen again and neither should you.
Taqueria Del Sol – Houston
Cody – Travel Devoted
Houston is the land of the taco. With a Hispanic population of over 1.7 million the taco choices are endless. The best tacos I’ve ever had were from Taqueria Del Sol (8114 Park Pl Blvd, Houston, TX 77017) Juicy succulent meat, freshly chopped onion, cilantro, and the most important part: a fresh, handmade tortilla. It can’t be the best taco without a handmade tortilla. Taqueria Del Sol’s tortillas are just what you need to make the perfect taco. Another huge bonus of having so many Mexican restaurants is the competition. You always get a great price and the standards are set really high. Taqueria Del Sol’s tacos will have you buying a ticket to Houston before you can even say “Arriba!”
El Pescadito – Mexico City
Claire – Tales of a Backpacker
The best tacos I’ve ever had were in Mexico City, in a restaurant called El Pescadito (the Little Fish). A non-descript café style place, where you queue up to order your food as it is fried fresh in front of you. Here there are only 10 items on the menu, all made with fish or shrimp. Choose your taco filling from a generous combination of battered fish fillets, juicy battered king prawns, or steamed marlin, and add some cheese-stuffed chilli peppers too if you fancy. Take your order & stuff your tacos with coleslaw, salsa and a good squeeze of lime to finish it off. I seriously defy anyone to have just one taco here; the flavours of the salsa and freshness of the seafood with the crunchy batter was like heaven in my mouth. Five tacos was my record here, and I came back at least once a week during the four months I lived in the city!
El Pastor – London
Liza – Tripsget
Some of the best tacos I’ve ever tried were in London, in a restaurant El Pastor. It’s an authentic Mexican bar/taco place located under the bridge in Borough market. Unlike most of the tacos in London, the tacos in El Pastor were very traditional and delicious. The best ones, of course, are tacos al pastor (as you can guess from the name of the place) – the famous Mexican tacos, which were actually inspired by Lebanese shawarma. El Pastor even made it to the top 100 restaurants in London according to TIMEOUT magazine, so it’s definitely worth visiting.
Taco Casa – Ubud, Indonesia
Abbie – Speck on the Globe
Taco Casa in Ubud is THE spot to satisfy any south of the border cravings while in Bali. Southeast Asia offers some of the best cuisines, but occasionally I’m in the mood for Mexican and I’ve gone here several times for a fresh and simple meal. Their build your own burrito and taco options make it perfect meal for the pickiest of eaters. I love that you have several hot sauce choices if you need extra spice in your dish. Be sure to get some guacamole, it’s a necessity if you are like me and can’t seem to kick the avocado habit. The rest of the island has caught on to the tastiness and now there are Taco Casa locations in Seminyak and Canggu as well.
Looking for something other than tacos to eat in Bali? Click Here for our Bali Food Guide
Toloache – New York City
Kaylie – Happiness Travels Here
Trying to recreate an experience can be a tough ask. We spent our honeymoon traveling around Mexico and eating amazing tacos and have since been trying to recreate the experience. When a friend heard we would be staying near Times Square, on our trip to New York, she suggested we try Toloache. This restaurant is known for their delicious margaritas and inventive Mexican food. We could have happily chosen anything on the menu, so decided to go with the chef’s recommendations for the day. I thought I had found my perfect taco in the garlic and chipotle shrimp, sweet fresh shrimp, moist and perfectly cooked served with tangy tamarind salsa on a soft corn tortilla. But the best was yet to come in the beef short rib taco, a caramelized crust holding together the succulent perfectly cooked meat, served with decadent bone marrow and sweet roasted red onion salsa. Happiness found here.
Big Daddy’s Grill -Boquete, Panama
Sarah – TripGourmets
Even as a self-confessed non-lover of fish, I can say without doubt that the best tacos in the world are fish tacos. And the best place in the world to eat them is at Big Daddy’s Grill in the beautiful and relaxed mountain town of Boquete, Panama. Located downtown on Main Street, Big Daddy’s is a small place with a big reputation. It is seemingly always packed with hungry tourists who have built up a hefty appetite after a day spent hiking Volcan Baru or rafting on the Rio Chiriqui.
The fish tacos are made with fresh red snapper and crispy salad, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. The fish is delicately spiced and grilled to perfection. They were so good they inspired us to try making our own when we got home. Perhaps these fish tacos taste the best because of that huge appetite built up from a days mountain activity, or perhaps they really are the best tacos in the world!
Taco Casa Ubud, Indonesia
Erin – Explore With Erin
You would never expect it, but after 76 countries and hundreds of tacos, my favourite taco was at Taco Casa in Ubud, Bali. I have since returned to Bali 14 times and eaten at Taco Casa more then 30 times. I can’t get enough. Not only is the taco filled with delicious goodness, and the guacamole free, but served with this Mint, orange, lime, ginger slushy, cold goodness, it’s all you need in the perspiring humidness that is Bali. By the way for those times when you just can’t face another taco. The taco salad is to die for!
El Fogon – Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Hannah – Getting Stamped
The best tacos in the world are hands down in Playa del Carmen at El Fogon. We had our first taste in 2015 and a few months later moved to Playa del Carmen. There are 3 locations, all on 30th Ave, Google maps knows them all. Our personal favorite was Constituyentes & 30th right next to the Mega supermarket. The menu is all in Spanish and it’s large, everything is good but the best thing on the menu is the Al Pastor tacos.
You’ll see the big wheel of pork spinning on a spit. Freshly cooked meat is shaved off put on two corn tortillas topped with cilantro, onion, and a chunk of pineapple. One taco is 15 pesos, our typical order was 3 tacos each, an order of guacamole and chips, and two beers for only $10. It’s the best restaurant in Playa del Carmen. We have literally planned a trip back to Playa del Carmen just eat tacos at El Fogon.
Spruce Goose – Wellington, New Zeland
Nicole – Travel Gal Nicole
The best tacos in the world that I have had were in New Zealand – lamb tacos at a place called Spruce Goose in Lyall Bay, Wellington. The tacos were so fresh and flavourful and a surprise for me as they were made with slow cooked, melt in your mouth lamb and then topped with fresh slaw and guacamole. These were so packed with flavour from the lamb, the slaw, the avocado and I also think there was a chutney in there. Of course not authentic, but still delicious. And the views didn’t hurt either as Spruce Goose is right across from the beach where you can walk along the beach and watch the surfers.
Valentina’s BBQ – South Austin
Yulia – The Foodie Miles
Some of the best tacos I’ve ever tried are made in Austin, Texas. I would even go as far as to say THE best tacos, but I live in Austin and so I am biased. If you check multiple lists of must-try tacos in the capital of Texas, you are likely to see Torchy’s Tacos and Taco Deli. Both of them are absolutely great, but there’s one major drawback – they use store-bought tortillas.
One of my personal favorites is Valentina’s BBQ in South Austin. Not only do they make their tortillas from scratch, they also fill those tortillas with meats, combining two of the best foods Texas has to offer: tacos and BBQ! Try their smoked brisket taco with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato-serrano salsa. One taco weighs at least half a pound and makes for a satisfying meal.
Condesa – Copenhagen, Denmark
Sierra – Passport Voyager
I discovered these delicious tacos after a long day wandering around Copenhagen at a popular restaurant (and bar!) called Condesa. It is a fish taco, made with fried cod, marinated cabbage, chipotle mayo and sesame kimchi. Let me just say – YUM. I didn’t have high hopes for this place, given that it was in a fairly touristy area of central Copenhagen, but after a recommendation from a friend who lives nearby, I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. This taco has the perfect balance of crunch and flavors, and tastes so fresh! The only sad part of this meal was that it left me wanting about 200 more fish tacos.
Lazy-Su – Canberra, Australia
Kim-Ling – Travel-ling
If you thought Tacos are only a Mexican dish, you were wrong. Lazy-Su in Canberra, Australia has redefined the humble taco into an Asian flavoured explosion. Gone is the standard-filled corn shell and in its place is a crunchy, fried nori (seaweed) shell, filled with special rice, spicy avocado puree, shiitake salsa (yes, you read right!) and a signature mayo with bonito flakes. All topped with the choice of salmon, kingfish or sweet potato as the main filing. I’ve never seen or tasted anything like it! This taco gets points for creativity, punchin’ flavours and that irrespirable ‘crunch’ that is a must for any taco – Asian or Mexican. And while you are there getting your taco fix, make sure you also get one of their Wagyu Cheese Steak Spring Rolls! (You can thank me later!) 😉
Salsa Kitchen – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Nathan – Foodie Flashpacker
I’ve found surprisingly great Mexican food, tacos specifically, at Salsa Kitchen in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The food is more Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican but the ingredients are fresh, the portions are large, the service is friendly and the drinks are strong – all of this makes for a winning combination.
My favorite taco they serve is the shredded jackfruit taco. The jackfruit has a similar texture to pulled pork and it’s seasoned to replicate the flavor as well. The jackfruit makes for a great meat substitute for vegetarians or anyone trying to eat healthier. The jackfruit taco tastes so good that you don’t even miss the meat!
Want to learn more about the history of tacos and some of most interesting and surprising taco styles you can find around Mexico? Part 2 of this tacos podcast is coming in episode 2 of The Dish Podcast.
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