There’s been a lot of talk about breakfast tacos lately. Much of it has focused on the people who prepare and sell Texans their favorite way to start day. The interviews amassed are crucial to the archives. We need the stories after those folks are passed. But what about the taco motherland and the breakfast taco analogs (tacos mañaneros) in Mexico? They exist, and not just in the sense that you can throw anything in a tortilla and call it a taco. Taken together, the work of culinary historians and taco experts Jeffrey M. Pilcher and Alejandro Escalante show that breakfast tacos were likely the first tacos. The word taco came into print and common usage in the 18th century with tacos mineros, named in favor of silver miners who subsisted on them and after the gunpowder-filled paper rolls (tacos) workers used to clear rock. (Of course, there are other theories.) With time, tacos mineros morphed into tacos de canasta, which today are regular morning noshes found on the streets of Mexico City. But they aren’t the only ones. In Michoacan, carnitas in freshly fried hard-shell tacos (tacos dorados) are a favorite breakfast food. In Jalisco, lamb tacos dorados are common.
Escalante, contributor to Mexican online food journal Animal Gourmet and author of the first comprehensive encyclopedia of the taco, La Tacopedia, took time to discuss Mexico’s other breakfast tacos. The interview that follows was conducted in Spanish and is presented translated into English.
Taco Trail: Tacos are eaten at all times of the day. In Mexico, tacos mañaneros, what we call breakfast tacos in the United States, include tacos de canasta. What are other tacos mañaneros, and what goes in them?
Alejandro Escalante: Tacos de canasta are the most common breakfast tacos in Mexico City. Tacos de guisados are perhaps equally popular in the capital now that they’re practically the national breakfast food: corn tortillas with one or two leftover guisados. They’re always accompanied with rice, beans, salsa and chiles…
Classic: chicharrón in a Green, red or mixed salsa; beef picadillo, rajas con crema; chorizo with potatoes, mole with shredded chicken, tinga, cochinita, bistek in salsa (pasilla, green, red, etc.), moronga [blood sausage], sausage, milanesa…
Vegetarian: nopales; quelites (in the form of a fritter in a salsa); verdolagas [purslane]; chile relleno ( chile poblano stuffed with cheese, chile ancho filled with refried beans, chile cuaresmeño filled with tuna or cheese); fritters of all sort (cauliflower fritter, chard fritter, potato pancake); tuna salad (or of other fish); sardines (with avocados, chile, tomato); beans, cheese; squash blossom…
Eggs: Rice with hard-boiled egg, a la albañil (scrambled in a salsa of chile pasilla or of your choice), with ham; with potatoes, dried and reconstituted salt beef, a la mexicana, sausage…
Variations: Tacos acorazados from Morelos state (also breakfast tacos) consist of two tortillas, rice, a guisado and a hard-boiled egg. They’re garnished with pumpkin seeds, salsas and pickled chiles.
Liver and onion tacos can also be considered a morning specialty since there are stalls that serve only them and are open from morning till noon.
On the weekends:Some carnitas tacos aren’t specifically breakfast tacos. However, they can be found at taco stalls that open early. Hildago-style lamb barbacoa (etc.) is a breakfast food and is eaten in taco form. Grilled tacos campechanos: cecina, chorizo (or longaniza) and chicharron. They’re found at El Villamelón or Rosita Alvires (two Mexico City taquerías).
Tamales: They’re not tacos, but they are an excellent breakfast and are found all over Mexico.
TT: How popular and how common are tacos mañaneros in Mexico?
AE: Tacos de canasta are everywhere in Mexico City, from bicycles, on street corners, in shops…from dawn to 4 or 5 p.m.
TT: Are tacos mañaneros eaten in corn tortillas only?
AE: In Monterrey, I’ve eaten breakfast tacos on flour tortillas. They’re filled with guisados—chorizo, picadillo, beans, cheese-stuffed jalapeños. If it’s an option, the tacos are eaten in corn tortillas.
TT: Do you have a favorite taco mañanero?
AE: I used to be a great eater of tacos de canasta, but no more…now I like guisados and on the weekends campechanos.
TT: Where are the best tacos mañaneros found?
AE: I’ll mention two spots that are more than 10 years old. Tacos Joven (for canasta)… El Jarocho in Colonia Roma (for guisados).
TT: Have you eaten tacos mañaneros in Texas? Did you like them?
AE: I haven’t, but I hope to try them soon!
Aside from writing for Animal Gourmet, Escalante can be heard on the radio show, Cowboys VS Gangsters Thursdays 7 p.m.–9 p.m., talking food. He is also working on two books about traditional Mexican cuisine that are expected to be published in 2014.
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