Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food


As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest. Within fifty years the United States had shipped taco shells everywhere from Alaska to Australia, Morocco to Mongolia. But how did this tasty hand-held food--and Mexican food more broadly--become so ubiquitous?

In Planet Taco, Jeffrey Pilcher traces the historical origins and evolution of Mexico's national cuisine, explores its incarnation as a Mexican American fast-food, shows how surfers became global pioneers of Mexican food, and how Corona beer conquered the world. Pilcher is particularly enlightening on what the history of Mexican food reveals about the uneasy relationship between globalization and authenticity. The burritos and taco shells that many people think of as Mexican were actually created in the United States. But Pilcher argues that the contemporary struggle between globalization and national sovereignty to determine the authenticity of Mexican food goes back hundreds of years. During the nineteenth century, Mexicans searching for a national cuisine were torn between nostalgic "Creole" Hispanic dishes of the past and French haute cuisine, the global food of the day. Indigenous foods were scorned as unfit for civilized tables. Only when Mexican American dishes were appropriated by the fast food industry and carried around the world did Mexican elites rediscover the foods of the ancient Maya and Aztecs and embrace the indigenous roots of their national cuisine.

From a taco cart in Hermosillo, Mexico to the "Chili Queens" of San Antonio and tamale vendors in L.A., Jeffrey Pilcher follows this highly adaptable cuisine, paying special attention to the people too often overlooked in the battle to define authentic Mexican food: Indigenous Mexicans and Mexican Americans.


What is authentic Mexican food? Surveys show that Mexican is one of the top three ethnic foods in the United States, along with Chinese and Italian. But just as chop suey and pepperoni pizza are not typical of the foods of China and Italy, few people in Mexico actually eat the burritos (made with wheat flour tortillas) and taco shells (prefried corn tortillas) that often pass for Mexican cooking in the United States. Although there are growing numbers of cookbooks and websites, celebrity chefs and migrant restaurants all claiming to offer “authentic” Mexican, as opposed to Americanized food, when traveling across the country—or around the world—burritos and taco shells still predominate.

The global presence of Americanized tacos has provoked outrage from many Mexicans, who take patriotic pride in their national cuisine. But beyond a common distaste for “gloopy” North American versions, there is surprisingly little consensus about what is properly Mexican, even in Mexico. Every region and virtually every town has its own distinct specialties, which are regarded with deep affection by residents. Indeed, the first attempt to write a national history of Mexican food, Salvador Novo’s Cocina mexicana, o historia gastronomica de la Ciudad de México (Mexican Cuisine, or Gastronomic History of the City of Mexico, 1967), asserted boldly that the foods of the capital constituted the national cuisine. Mexican diets vary widely by ethnic group and social class as well as by region, and more critical histories, including one of my own . . .

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