Tacos: Fascinating Facts about Mexico’s Iconic Dish

Last updated on October 6th, 2023 at 02:33 pm

tacos are an iconic dish in mexico even though they're not officially the national dish of mexico

Mexico doesn’t have an official national dish, but it has several iconic and traditional dishes that are widely associated with Mexican cuisine. These dishes include tacos, tamales, enchiladas, mole, and many more. Of these, tacos might just be the most recognizable around the globe.

Our team at Remitly created this guide as part of our new series celebrating the traditional foods of our global customers. Let’s dig in.

The Humble Taco

Mexican cuisine is renowned for its bold flavors and vibrant colors, and tacos are one of its most iconic dishes. Tacos are a type of Mexican street food that has gained global recognition, with many restaurants and food trucks now offering their own unique take on this beloved dish. The popularity of tacos can be attributed to the wide range of flavors, fillings, and toppings that can be combined to create the perfect taco.

Tacos are a staple in Mexican cuisine and are enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. They are often served at festivals, family gatherings, and other social events. Tacos have become a symbol of Mexican culture, representing the country’s rich culinary heritage and cultural diversity.

A Brief History of Tacos: From Mexico to the World

Tacos have a long and fascinating history that dates back to the pre-Columbian era, when the indigenous people of Mexico first began to cultivate maize. It is believed that the first tacos were created by the indigenous people, who would scoop up meats and other ingredients with a flatbread called tortillas.

Over time, tacos evolved and adapted, incorporating different flavors and techniques from various regions of Mexico.

Tacos first gained popularity in the United States in the late 19th century, when Mexican immigrants began to open taquerias and sell tacos on the streets of major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today, tacos can be found in almost every corner of the world, from Mexico to Japan, and have become a beloved culinary icon.

What Does “Taco” Mean?

The word “taco” is believed to have originated from the Mexican Spanish word “taco,” which means “plug” or “wad.” It was used in reference to the way food ingredients were sometimes wedged or folded into tortillas to create a portable and convenient meal.

Over time, this term became associated with the folded or rolled tortillas filled with various fillings that we now know as “tacos.”

Traditional Taco Ingredients

Authentic tacos are made with a few simple ingredients, including tortillas, meat, and a variety of fresh toppings. The most common meat used in tacos is beef, but other meats such as pork, chicken, and fish can also be used. Traditional toppings include cilantro, onions, and salsa, but other toppings such as avocado, cheese, and sour cream have also become popular.

The key to making authentic tacos is to use fresh, high-quality ingredients and to keep the flavors simple and balanced.

The tortilla is the foundation of any good taco, and it is important to use fresh, homemade tortillas whenever possible.

Recipe: Classic Mexican Tacos


  • 1 pound of beef (such as skirt steak or flank steak)
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup of diced onions
  • 1 cup of salsa (your choice of mild or spicy)
  • Optional toppings: avocado, cheese, sour cream


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Rub the spice mixture onto the beef, making sure to coat it evenly. Let the beef marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight for maximum flavor.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the marinated beef and cook for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until it reaches your desired level of doneness. Remove the beef from the skillet and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing it into thin strips.
  3. Warm the corn tortillas in a dry skillet or on a griddle over medium heat for about 30 seconds on each side, or until they are soft and pliable.
  4. To assemble the tacos, place a few slices of the cooked beef onto each tortilla. Top with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, diced onions, and a spoonful of salsa. Add any optional toppings, such as avocado, cheese, or sour cream.

Taco Variations around Mexico

  1. Taco al Pastor: A Mexico City specialty, these tacos feature thinly sliced marinated pork cooked on a vertical rotisserie and often served with pineapple.
  2. Taco de Carnitas: Hailing from Michoacán, these tacos are filled with tender, slow-cooked pork (carnitas) and usually garnished with salsa and toppings.
  3. Taco de Barbacoa: Originating from the state of Hidalgo, barbacoa tacos are made with slow-cooked, tender, and flavorful meats, often lamb or beef.
  4. Taco de Birria: A Jalisco favorite, these tacos feature meat, typically goat or beef, stewed in a rich and spicy broth, often served with consommé for dipping.

  5. Taco de Suadero: Commonly found in Mexico City, suadero is a type of beef cut that is tenderized and then grilled, resulting in deliciously flavorful tacos.

  6. Taco de Pescado: Coastal regions like Baja California are known for fish tacos, featuring battered and fried fish, often topped with creamy sauces and cabbage.

  7. Taco de Camarones: Shrimp tacos are popular in coastal areas, with marinated and grilled shrimp as the star ingredient.

  8. Taco de Nopal: These vegetarian tacos use cactus pads (nopal) as the main filling, usually grilled and seasoned with various herbs and spices.

  9. Taco de Chorizo: Chorizo sausage is crumbled, cooked, and used as a flavorful taco filling, popular throughout Mexico.

  10. Taco de Canasta: Literally meaning “basket taco,” these are soft tortillas filled with ingredients like beans, potatoes, or chicharrón (pork rinds) and steamed in baskets for a unique texture.

  11. Taco de Lengua: Tacos filled with beef tongue that has been simmered until tender, often enjoyed with salsa and onions.

  12. Taco de Cabeza: These tacos are made from various parts of the cow’s head, including cheek and eye meat, slow-cooked until tender and flavorful.

  13. Taco de Tripas: Made from beef tripe, these tacos are often crispy and served with salsa and lime.

  14. Taco de Cochinita Pibil: Hailing from the Yucatán Peninsula, these tacos feature marinated and slow-roasted pork, traditionally cooked in a pit oven.

  15. Taco de Quesadilla: Not to be confused with the traditional quesadilla, these tacos are made with a folded tortilla filled with cheese and various toppings.

Each of these taco variations showcases the regional diversity and culinary creativity found throughout Mexico’s rich tapestry of flavors.

Learn More About Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine is a fusion of indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques with Spanish, African, and other international influences. Mexican cuisine is known for its bold flavors, colorful presentation, and use of fresh, local ingredients.

Common spices include chili peppers, cumin, oregano, and cinnamon, which add depth and heat to many Mexican dishes. Fresh herbs such as cilantro and epazote are also widely used to enhance the flavors of soups, stews, and salsas.

Corn is another staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine and is used to make tortillas, tamales, and other traditional dishes. Corn is considered sacred in Mexican culture and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is often ground into masa, a dough-like substance, which is then used to make various corn-based dishes.

Mexican cuisine is also known for its wide variety of salsas and sauces. From the fiery and smoky flavors of chipotle salsa to the tangy and refreshing taste of salsa verde, there is a salsa for every palate. These sauces are often made with a combination of fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chili peppers.

In addition to its savory dishes, Mexican cuisine is also famous for its sweet treats. Traditional desserts like churros, flan, and tres leches cake are enjoyed by people of all ages. These desserts often feature ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel, creating a rich and indulgent flavor profile.

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