Today I come to you with a very simple request and I do it with the best intentions. Truly. I don’t mean to sound like a snob or a jerk, or like a conservative blowhard but what I’m about to ask of you is really very important. It’s important not just to me, but to a lot of people out there. Are you ready for it? Ok.
Please stop disrespecting the tortilla.
A taco is an elegantly simple thing. It consist of three parts, a tortilla, filling, and salsa. Each thing is as important as the last. Each thing is essential for it to be a good taco and if any of these is not respected then it ceases to be a taco. Before I go on I must address the question that no doubt is coming up in some reader’s mind:
There is no such thing as “taco meat”. The issue with that is that it limits tacos to being ONE thing. OR a subset of one thing...beef or chicken. The filling of tacos is indeed very unique and one ingredient can be had in a variety of ways. Pork can be anything from Al Pastor to Cochinita Pibil. Any part of a cow can be in a taco, in fact some taco joints specialize in “Tacos de Cabeza” which can have about 5 different types of meat just from a beef head. Some of the best fried tacos have potatoes or beans as their filling. The point is, don’t undermine the variety that is present in the filling of a taco.
Secondly, what I mean by salsa is a garnish or topping. Usually “red” or “green” but it can be anything else. In fact a good friend of mine from Mexico City has told me time and time again that he would value one taco stand over an almost exact same one only based on the quality of the salsa present. Even if you don’t like the spicy stuff, lime, cilantro, and onion are all part of the “salsa” or garnish part of a taco.
With those two points out of the way, we’ve arrived at what I’m really trying to say. Too many times the tortilla is disrespected. It is not a taco if it’s wrapped in lettuce. Once again. It is not a taco if it is wrapped in lettuce. It’s not a taco if the “tortilla” in question is rigid and comes out of a box in a permanent V shape. I believe these are all simple things that everyone has come to an understanding of. However they’ve gone on to excuse these things by saying that there’s a distinction between “Street” tacos and “regular” tacos. To that I say, there is no such thing as “Street tacos” there are tacos and there are whatever the hell the Old El Paso corporation has created. Tortillas are not shells.
Let’s say you’ve made it past those two hurdles and are not at a place that is using “shells” or you yourself have thrown out all your leaves of lettuce. There’s still one last thing, perhaps the most egregious of all the crimes against the tortilla is not properly heating a tortilla. This one goes out to all the non-latinos out there that don’t know this. Tortillas should not be eaten straight from the fridge. They shouldn’t be put in the oven and they definitely should NOT be put in a microwave. A tortilla, flour or corn, should be heated up on the stove either on a comal(or a pan) or even directly on the flame. If you get a little bit of dark burnt parts of it even better. By properly treating a tortilla you are elevating the filling and salsa to a higher level and creating what is a genuine taco. Just like the quality and the way bread is handled for a sandwich can elevate it to a higher level so to can a taco. Isn’t a “lettuce wrapped” burger infinitely less delicious than one with real bread? Imagine if your local panini place used “shells” instead of real bread, or what if your toast came freezing from the freezer instead of properly heated. It’s THAT important that you properly heat up your tortillas, or that you go to a place that handles tortillas properly.
I hope that by reading this you’ve gotten an idea of how great a taco can be when each of its three pillars is treated with respect, but especially the tortilla. I also hope that you never again put a tortilla in a microwave, or call anything that’s in lettuce a taco.
Header image is the delicious Trompo taco from Dallas' own Trompo. Picture by me.