I believe a life-long Californian would be horrified to taste what passes as a “taco” in some parts of this country (read: places where there are no Mexicans). In the Midwest, tacos are made with ground beef. Period. (It is cattle country.) Every taco that I ever encountered, whether in my mother’s kitchen or at a friend’s house, started with browned ground beef, water and this key ingredient:
That’s right, taco seasoning mix. The Hamburger Helper of tacos. “The Taste You Trust” (when you have no idea how authentic tacos should taste).
By my mid-teens, I was a master of preparing this meal. Brown the hamburger. Check. Add water and taco seasoning; simmer until absorbed. Check. Meanwhile, put Old El Paso taco shells on a platter and shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced black olives, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream in bowls. Oh yeah, taco night is awesome. (And not too different from Taco Bell.) If I still ate red meat today, these “Midwest tacos” would be one of those guilty-pleasure comfort foods that would make my husband raise his eyebrows.
While I’m on this tangent, I need to raise the issue of Taco Pizza, another Midwest classic. The first time I had this was during my senior year of high school, when my Spanish class (all white kids, naturally) celebrated Cinco de Mayo by scarfing down three large taco pizzas from Godfather’s.
Ah, the authentic south-of-the-border flavors of hamburger and mozzarella pizza topped (after baking) with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. My husband never heard of this. No Californian has ever heard of this.
My point is this: the Midwest hamburger “taco” concoctions are delicious, but they are not authentic (hopefully no one believes that they are). Once you try authentic tacos, all that stuff looks like Taco Bell and you can’t go back. (Unless you want guilty-pleasure comfort food. See above.) I’ve seen so many kinds of tacos in California: shredded chicken, shredded pork, shredded beef, carnitas, lengua (beef tongue) and fish. I had no idea what I had been missing!