Written by Kon-Tiki Taco
Tacos were originally marketed to America with bad knockoff concepts. But good tacos are the ultimate fusion food, kinda Mexican and kinda everything else.
When Europeans first came to the New World, among the spices they were looking for was black pepper. The red chilis they found were initially disappointing. But they eventually caught on, and now chili peppers pretty much hold world domination in food culture.
This is not just an observation of Los Angeles’ taco cart caterers. Diners from Zanzibar to Barkley Square enjoy their foods especia caliente (even though the local dialect might use different phrases (altawabul alssakhina in Arabic, epices chaudes in French, and heitt krydd in Icelandic). Mobile taco caterers might not be found in Riyadh, Marseilles, or Reykjavik, but they know tacos. The most identifiable Mexican food is now also the most international.
Which is great for taco catering at just about any event. Regardless of the diversity of your guest list, there’s a good chance a taco bar will make them happy (the mobile margarita bar help as well). There are vegan tacos, fish tacos, goat tacos, beef tacos, shrimp tacos, and with a little bit of ingenuity, gluten-free tacos.
And that’s only the beginning. There are Asian tacos (try shitake mushroom with lentils and amiso herb sauce), Cuban fish tacos (the secret is in a lime cream sauce and citrus mango fillings), California quinoa tacos (with black beans and avocado chunks, of course), and Korean BBQ tacos (with Gochujan sauce, a hot chili paste, and crunchy noodles).
Is this cultural appropriation? You bet it is! Because that’s really what tacos have been about for hundreds of years. Your local taco catering company may not know this (or maybe they do) but tacos have never been about one set of ingredients. The first tacos were likely made of fish, eaten by silver miners of the 18th century, but the popularity of filling a tortilla shell with whatever was on hand spread throughout the many regions of Mexico. Those regions can be hot and dry or hot and wet (the tropical climate of southern Mexico, for example), with some moderate temps in the mountain regions. Each has its own distinct agricultural products. Beef tacos (carne asada or lengua, which is beef tongue) are more likely served in the north of Mexico, nearer the U.S. border, while in central Mexico al pastor (spit roasted marinated pork) is more common. Not surprisingly, Baja California is the home of the flour tortilla filled with smoked marlin and prawn.
So the realm of creativity in taco creations is broad. Actually, it’s unlimited. We can leave out the dessert variations (ice cream tacos; yes, it’s a real thing) and allow the fast-food chains to have their breakfast burritos and tacos. What’s important to remember is that Columbus’s explorers failed in their mission to find black pepper. Their initial disappointment came to life centuries later when people were sufficiently open-minded to try something different.
Beef tongue tacos, anyone?