Anatomy and Biomechanics of a Taco
by Graciela Lozano
One of the questions that I have been asked the most as a Mexican living abroad, believe it or not is how to make a good taco?
Growing up, it was common that my mom would send me to get the tortillas to the local tortillería. She had a piece of cloth that was used exclusively to wrap the tortillas. After queuing in full sunlight, when I got to the counter and handed over the cloth napkin to get the tortillas, the one who dispatched will always offer you a tortilla warm to eat on your way back home. On one side of the counter there were always two containers, one with salt and another with tomato sauce and chili; it was there so you could make yourself a quick taco with a freshly made tortilla.
Now you know, a taco can be made even with grains of salt, but the most traditional are made with beans. So what is the anatomy of a taco? A warmed tortilla filled with most anything you can think of, but a good taco always has 3 important characteristics: spicy salsa, a crunchiness when you bite, and acidity which enhances the flavor.
There are tacos al pastor, “de canasta” or from a basket, fried, tripe, carnitas, tongue, barbecue, steak, chorizo, and many other parts of the cow or pig you might not even think anyone would eat. Those are the tacos you can find in taquerias, which could go from a fancy restaurant to a street vendor with a long line of customers just waiting their turn. When celebrations at home take place, it is quite common to have a “taquiza” or taco buffet where guests can try several stews, with a handmade fresh tortilla and a variety of different salsas.
But how do you eat a taco?
Let me tell you this, it is an art - a subtle balance between the position of your fingers and the posture of your body that allows you to be able to eat it without dripping any of the filling on your plate. So this is how it works:
Most of the tacos on the street are eaten standing up, because normally there are no more seats. They give you a plastic plate wrapped in a transparent plastic bag and they serve the tacos on a piece of brown paper. Once you have them in your hands, it is time to choose a salsa; normally there are red sauce, green sauce and avocado available. The obligatory question to the “taquero” is always: which one “enchila” more? You will also find limes, salt, roasted onions and in some cases hot beans from the pot as topping options as well.
You are already there, standing, with your tacos in hand. Do not hesitate , consider that street tacos are made with two small thin tortillas and that with a maximum of 3 bites your taco will cease to exist. You take your cue with your thumb, index and middle fingers, the ring and little finger remain in the air. f you eat standing, your arm will be at a 90-degree angle with respect to your torso, as if you were playing a violin, but at the same time you have your head bent forward with the aim of not staining yourself -and there, right there, you take the first bite, your first step towards glory. No judgment, it takes practice!
You can eat tacos at any time of the day, but normally the barbecue and basket ones are for breakfast, the golden ones and the stews are for lunch and for dinner they are the head tacos, al pastor, steak. Although these can be both for lunch and dinner, for some reason we crave them more for dinner.
When you visit Guadalajara and want to eat tacos, there are a couple of taquerias that you need to try: The Providencia Taqueria, a famous and traditional place where most everyone in the city has stopped by at least once in their lives. But for me, the best are the tacos from "los Alteños" in the Chapalita neighborhood. This taqueria has the peculiarity unlike all the other restaurants -you make the count of how many tacos you order straight from the taquero. They will trust your word and charge you accordingly. The stand is in an open space, and you really cannot find a spot to sit down because they are always packed. My favorite is pastor, lengua (tongue) and steak. But that is not everything, there is a carafe ice cream shop next door that just makes the entire experience worth the visit, but that is a story for another time.