Tacos are a super food. When you become aware of their over-dominating presence, you feel as if the warmth of the sun just touched your naked skin for the first time.
Tacos are amazing because of three main factors:
- They taste delicious
- They are extremely portable
- They are cheap
Convenience aside, tacos have a great value-to-taste ratio—especially if you make them fresh at home. They are a simple way to convert cheap proteins into delicious flavor parties in your mouth. They are also an easy, cheap way to cook at home, as creating them requires very little knowledge of a kitchen or equipment.
Let’s discuss the two basic types: traditional tacos and “mom tacos.” Then, you can decide which fits your budget and entices your taste buds.
Mom Tacos: The Childhood Favorite
Mom tacos are a pervasive part of American culture, and almost everyone has interacted with them. From the bottom up, a mom taco typically includes: a hard shell, ground beef (with cumin, chili, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and sautéed onions… or a seasoning pack), shredded cheddar cheese (usually bright orange), sour cream, shredded iceberg lettuce, and diced tomatoes.
This type of taco was made famous by franchised eateries and southwestern dry goods and tortilla companies. They usually sell kits with spices and shells that are ready to be added to fresh ingredients. These kits are a great place to start for a quiet, easy, and cheap meal at home. The texture of the shell and the smell of the “taco seasoning” pack are hallmarks to childhood—and still delicious.
The mom taco can be your canvas to start reimaging and manipulating. What if I spread guacamole on a soft tortilla and wrap that around my hard tortilla? What if I like pickled jalapenos? What if I want a hot cheese sauce? Pineapple? Salsa? Crushed up tortilla chips as cruchies on top? To all of these questions, I say GO FOR IT! If you can add value to your mom taco, you should. You will be rewarded with a delightful and affordable meal.
Traditional tacos come in many styles and are celebrated around México the same way different parts of Italy celebrate their local pasta and sauces. Their first key distinction is the tortillas: they’re corn, soft, smaller than you’d expect, and usually come in sets of two. On top of these round, chewy corn discs, you typically find braised or stewed meats, a little crumbly cheese, and some kind of crunchy root vegetable—usually radish or white onion.
The beauty of this process is the braised or stewed proteins. This long, low-temperature cooking process slowly breaks down cheap, hard-to-eat cuts, creating not only a fork-tender meat but also a delicious sauce out of the cooking liquid. Just put chicken legs, pork shoulder, beef short ribs, goat, or lamb shank, cheeks, tongues, etc. in a pot of water or broth. Add some regionally selected spices and aromatic vegetables, and you will have an incredibly delicious meal in a few hours.
Now, I understand that cooking for hours sounds exhausting, but here is the best part: You do not need to “cook” for hours. Low-temperature braising allows you to work at the beginning and then “set it and forget it”! Leaving you free to study, clean your home, go to the store, etc.
A Taco Adventure
For those of you unfamiliar with tacos, I suggest finding an experienced friend to shepherd you through your first few experiences. Also, read online about the best taco joints in your neighborhood, and start experimenting with the flavors that they suggest.
Once you understand the process, you can build your own amazing and unique taco flavors that everyone will love.
Have a favorite, cheap taco recipe? Share it in the comments.