The Greatness of the Taco
By Merilee Mackay
Tacos are a gift to humanity from the maize god Hun Hunahpu and the genius who first folded the tortilla around the bits of meat and beans and vegetables and handed them off. Probably that cook became the hot foodie of the ancient neighborhood and gave cooking demos around the fire pit. The argument can be made that I have no claim, and perhaps not even a right to put myself forward by writing about tacos. My heritage lacks the genetic markers found in the ancient Mexican chefs. My nationality could be described as neighborly, though sometimes not on the best terms, to the place of taco creation. So why then should anyone read my opinion concerning the greatness of tacos?
Perhaps you shouldn’t. I might be overly biased towards the perfection of the taco as a culinary form. I might be entirely off base in my recognition of the importance of components and their preparation. However, I think you should listen. I think you should listen because sometimes an outsider has worthwhile insight. Viewing from the outside can allow us to cherish something familiar to someone else. And the most important reason you should listen is I bet you love tacos too.
To be clear, barring infancy, there never was a time in my life without tacos. There were weeknight dinners with ground beef and a can of chili as the main filling, cheese, and lettuce as child acceptable additions, and tomatoes, and olives for the adults. The school lunch tacos with grease dripping out the bottom with processed cheese food and lettuce, fast food tacos with variations of the same, college tacos with additions of guacamole on payday, or mahi-mahi tacos on vacation.
While not a daily consumer, I have eaten my fair share of the beloved food icon and am always tempted when I see it on the menu. And now I can find tacos in just about any restaurant regardless of cuisine: Korean beef and kimchi, bbq pulled pork with pickled onions, burnt brisket ends and coleslaw, inside a soft or crispy tortilla? Broken cookies with berries, cream, and drizzled chocolate? Any of these renegade combinations elicit that sense of anticipation, seasoning the best dishes before they are even ordered.
A true tacologist may protest these fusions with other culinary categories. But it is the suitability of the taco to foster other cuisines with such success while remaining true to its identity that best proves greatness. There is no reason for a taco to take on Vietnamese or American Southern cuisine. But that the taco beautifully highlights these flavor profiles without losing any degree of consequence for the
beloved tacos al pastor, or the comfort of the homestyle taco, is a testament to the inherent superiority of tacos.
I have no obvious right or claim to the taco. But like all the best pieces of culture and humanity, the taco is capable of claiming outsiders and bringing them in. Perhaps I don't qualify for the fine dining taco restaurants, but I can go to the taco cart on the corner or the taqueria down the alley and across from the beach. I can order in my clumsy Spanish with an attitude of appreciation and the taco in return is good to me, allowing me to be included. And frankly, I’d rather share tacos on the sidewalk with a happily munching stranger than on candlelit linen and fine china.
And I think the taco agrees. It seems to me that the taco is happier being a delicious reminder of what can happen when we are open to the amazing, everyday, fantastic world around us. Tacos are for everyone, and that is the real greatness of the taco.