A taco (/ˈtækoʊ/ or /ˈtɑːkoʊ/) is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, avocado or guacamole, cilantro (coriander), tomatoes, minced meat, onions and lettuce.
According to the Real Academia Española, publisher of Diccionario de la Lengua Española, the word taco describes a typical Mexican dish of a maize tortilla folded around food ("Tortilla de maíz enrollada con algún alimento dentro, típica de México"). The original sense of the word is of a "plug" or "wad" used to fill a hole ("Pedazo de madera, metal u otra materia, corto y grueso, que se encaja en algún hueco"). The Online Etymological Dictionary defines taco as a "tortilla filled with spiced meat" and describes its etymology as derived from Mexican Spanish, "light lunch," literally, "plug, wadding." The sense development from "plug" may have taken place among Mexican silver miners, who used explosive charges in plug form consisting of a paper wrapper and gunpowder filling.
The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. There is anthropological evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Bernal Díaz del Castillo documented the first taco feast enjoyed by Europeans, a meal which Hernán Cortés arranged for his captains in Coyoacán. It is not clear why the Spanish used their word, "taco", to describe this indigenous food.
Beginning from the early part of the twentieth century, various styles of tacos have become popular in the United States and Canada. An early appearance of a description of the taco in the United States in English was in a 1914 cookbook, California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook, by Bertha Haffner Ginger. The style that has become most common is the hard-shell, U-shaped version described in a cookbook, The good life: New Mexican food, authored by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca Gilbert and published in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1949. These have been sold by restaurants and by fast food chains. Even non-Mexican oriented fast food restaurants have sold tacos. Mass production of this type of taco was encouraged by the invention of devices to hold the tortillas in the U-shape as they were deep-fried. A patent for such a device was issued to New York restaurateur Juvenico Maldonado in 1950, based on his patent filing of 1947 (U.S. Patent No. 2,506,305). Such tacos are crisp-fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sometimes tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, and avocado or guacamole.
Traditionally, soft-shelled tacos referred to corn tortillas that were cooked to a softer state than a hard taco - usually by grilling or steaming. More recently the term has come to include flour tortilla based tacos mostly from large manufacturers and restaurant chains. In this context, soft tacos are tacos made with wheat flour tortillas and filled with the same ingredients as a hard taco.
Here are links to the last two labs: Lab One, Lab Two