Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Evolution as a Taco Eater or How I Learned to Love Corn Tortillas

Way, way back in time before 1972, my family never ate exotic or ethnic foods like lasagna or tacos.  We ate roast pork, potatoes, gravy and bread.  Lots of bread. For desert we might have kolaches, a Czech pastry filled with fruit.  Then in August 1972, my family and I embarked on our fateful trip to Tucson, Arizona to visit my dad's brother and his family.  During this trip, my mother and her infamous shortcut in New Mexico found us on a dirt path with grass growing between tire tracks for at least 100 miles.  Picture this... One green Ford LTD with the mom, the dad, and three children, 12, 7, and 2 years old, pulling a fold down camper bumping along a dirt path to shorten the trip by 50 miles.  It probably took us an extra 2 hours to navigate the holes in the road/cow path.  The only people we saw during the entire 100 miles were ranch hands on horseback.  You should have seen the crazy stares we received.  The best part was at the end of the trail. There was a big ditch and steep incline up to the interstate highway and Dad declared, "I'll be goddamned if you think I am going to turn around."  He roared the engine and barely made it up to the highway.  Anyway, I'm off topic... again.  Sorry, Mom, you knew someday that the cow path story was going to be in print, however you didn't know it would be on the internet where millions could read it!

During this trip to Tucson, I discovered a couple things.  Cheech & Chong with Sister Mary Elephant who yelled, "Class, Class, Class, SHUT UP! Thank you."  And tacos. Tacos was the first meal I ever learned to cook.  I learned from my cousin Candi who told me the secret ingredient was adding garlic salt to the hamburger meat.  The taco meal I learned to cook came in a kit minus the hamburger meat.  Brown the hamburger meat, drain (except the time my sister forgot), add garlic salt and the package of seasonings from the kit with a little water.  Heat the taco shells in the oven for 5 minutes so they become crispy to the point of breaking any time you tried to stuff meat, cheese, lettuce, onion or tomato in them. Voila!  A taco dinner.

Fast forward to 2005 when I first came to the Rio Grande Valley.  Instead of the crispy U-shaped yellow shells like back home, you can stuff a soft flour tortillas with just about anything imaginable.  Potatoes and eggs (breakfast tacos), nopales (cactus), or any part of the cow that isn't mooing.  When I first tried the corn tortillas, the smell reminded me of my dad's old musty leisure suit from 1975 that still hangs in his closet.

Then I went to Durango in 2007. It was my first trip to the interior of Mexico.  I learned that Durango is called "Taco Town" and if you want to eat, you better like tacos.  Unlike the border area, you are not asked if you prefer flour or corn for tortillas.  Tacos are stuffed with everything that can be chopped, sliced or shredded as long as it is classified as meat but always in a corn tortilla along with cilantro, salsa verde and avocados. Yum, yum. I guess I got so used to eating corn tortillas that now I think the flour ones taste funny.

Even tacos in Texas are fairly basic, but my first trip to Mexico City blew my mind with the variety of tacos on the menu.  As I stared at the menu of 30 taco choices, Sergio asked me, "What do you want?"   I hadn't the faintest idea.  I told him, "This is your town so you choose."  Again, he asked me what I wanted. This time I told him that I had no freaking idea what was the difference between tacos saudero or tacos longaniza.  Again, he asked me what I wanted..........."ARRRGGGHHH!  Just order something," I hissed between gritted teeth.

So, here is a list of types of tacos that I know about.  I am sure it is just the tip of the iceberg but as you have read, attaining taco knowledge has been a 37 year process for me.  Surely I will learn more in the next 37 years. Oh, by the way, there is a pastry shop in McAllen called the Kolache Factory and they do indeed sell the Czech pastry.  I was shocked.  But not as shocked as I was when I found out they sell jalapeno stuffed kolaches.  That's just wrong.

Tacos al carbon (meat is grilled)
Tacos al pastor (pork meat on a rotisserie)
Tacos de trompo or tacos arabe ( I think these are the same as tacos al pastor)
Tacos de carnitas (cuts of pork)
Tacos de carne asada (roast beef)
Tacos saudero (brisket)
Tacos de bistec (sirloin)
Tacos adobada (marinated mystery meat, maybe pork)
Tacos de tripas (intestines)
Tacos de barbacoa (can be from head or cheek of cow)
Tacos de pescado (fish)
Tacos deshebrada (shredded beef)
Tacos de cecina (salted beef)
Tacos de sesos (brains)
Tacos de chorizo (some kind of sausage)
Tacos de longaniza (pork sausage)
Tacos de lengua (cow tongue)


  1. Mizz Rita I REALLY like this post! You've got a knack for writing when you're remembering the past and I was RIGHT THERE with you during your trip! I hope you'll write more like this, I truly enjoyed it :)

    And have you HAD the taquitos de trompo? SOOOO good! :) (no freakin clue what animal it is but it tastes great) :P

  2. If the meat is kinda orangy, then trompo is pork from vertical rotisserie thingy. I am so technical when it comes to writing about taco stuff. HA!

  3. Kolaches. MMMMMM. My grandmother made kolaches when she was younger. Apricot, prune, and poppyseed filling. She even made them with me once so I could see how it's done. No matter how I try, they're still not "hers."

    I guess you've never been to a taqueria in California. No English in the authentic ones, and yes, they have a variety of selecciones sufficient to intimidate any Iowa farm boy.

    If you ever get to Italy, you're in for a treat. 30 kinds of spaghetti and only two with red sauce. It's really amazing how limited the average American palate is. I'm not even going to talk about Thai or Indian food...

  4. Tacos de ojos? Ojos de que? It doesn't matter. "Eye tacos" are just plain wrong. I'd rather eat a jalapeno kolache.

  5. I think they are cow eyes, not sure; but I am sure that I have never and will never eat one. They are advertised here along with tacos de sesos (brains) and other assorted inner parts, which I don't eat.

  6. This is so great, I love the stories. I never knew what a Kolache was until yesterday when someone brought a menu from a new restuarant and yes it had the jalepeno and egg one. LOL