It seems confoundingly difficult to eat a crunchy taco without the shell breaking and the taco falling apart as you eat it. Have you ever been tempted to ask a native Mexican how in the world you were supposed to eat a taco without the shell falling apart and the fillings falling out all over the place? Good thing you didn’t because he would have thought you were off your rocker.
See, crispy tacos are not really a Mexican thing. They are more of a Tex-mex “north of the border” thing. In Mexico, tacos are served in warm in soft corn tortillas, not crispy fried tortilla “shells” shaped like a U. And they put a lot of different things in it besides the things we generally do, which most of us got from fast food tacos.
The closest thing you’d get to the American crispy taco is probably the tostada, which is a crispy fried tortilla that may be topped with different ingredients, sauces, and garnishes. Or, they may just be served as is alongside a soup. Incidentally, when you cut a tortilla into sections and fry them crisp, they are called tostaditas or totopos, what we call tortilla chips.
During the 1950’s, when tacos were little known in America outside the Southwest and California, there were many taco stands which did indeed deep fry corn tortillas to create “taco shells.” However, taco shells had never been prefabricated, and this labor intensive process meant that the tacos came a bit slower. The first person to automate the process and create pre-made crispy taco shells was Glen Bell of Taco Bell. Taco Bell, then, is responsible for inititating the spread of the crispy taco across America, and for the fact that we can buy taco shells at the grocery market today.
What About Flour Tortillas?
Wheat flour is not nearly as important as corn throughout Mexico and corn tortillas are preferred in central and southern Mexico. Flour tortillas are more popular in the Northern states of Mexico, and, of course, North of the Border. Don’t get the wrong idea. There are a lot of myths about how certain dishes are Tex-Mex inventions when in fact they still have roots in Mexican cooking.