Written by Kon-Tiki Taco
There are many flavorings – spices, seasonings, chilis and rubs – that make tacos exquisite gourmet catering food. It’s part of the fillings, not dependent on salsa.
Across the vast array of American kitchens, tacos and Mexican food in general are a blending of American gastronomy and the original, south of the border cuisine. While a good thing in many ways, much has been lost in translation. But at least a few taco cart caterers have revisited the original ingredients, spices and preparation and service methods from Mexico to return to authentic or more adventurous versions of tacos.
The uninitiated cook in mid-America – let’s say, in Indianapolis – approaches a taco like it’s a hot dog. The shell is the bun, the fillings are the hot dog, and on top goes the salsa, just as one might put ketchup and mustard on a ball park frank. Bless his or her heart, but a taco is so much more complex than that.
The flavoring begins with the tortilla, be it corn or flour based (they don’t taste the same). Fillings can range from shrimp to tilapia to tofu, chicken, pork or beef, but each of those might be marinated or otherwise flavored prior to grilling. Added toppings such as tomato, onions and greens can add flavor as well, but so too can avocadoes, cilantro, lime juice and Mexican cheeses (Cotija, Añejo, Enchilado and Chihuahua, Penela, Queso Asadero and Queso Fresco). It’s possible to dispense with salsa altogether if the diner so chooses – most mobile taco catering setups allow for individual diner variation as they provide cart service at various event locations.
From a health standpoint, the herbs, spices and spicy vegetables used to flavor an authentic or creative taco is a welcome break from simple salt and red pepper. Here is a partial list: Archiote seed (sometimes called annato), anise, avocado leaves, basil, Cacao powder, Ceylon cinnamon, cilantro, cloves, coriander, cumin, spazote, garlic (powder, granulated and roasted), spearmint, nutmeg, sage, thyme, and chills (ancho, chipotle, cascabel, de arbol, guajillo, habanero, mulato, pequin, passilla de Negro, pasilla de Oaxaca, puya and serrano).
For anyone contracting with a mobile taco catering company, it’s wholly appropriate to inquire which of these flavorings are used in their recipes. It’s great to be able to tell guests the food is authentic and well planned.
So as not to disrespect the vast majority of salsa lovers, many of these same spices are used in salsa preparation as well. It explains why taco-themed parties are so well received – it’s not just because of the effects of having a margarita bar.
Whether in Indianapolis or Palm Springs, Atlanta or Los Angeles, caterers are upping their game in the taco business. Smart, healthy and exciting spices have a lot to do with that.