Against “Street Tacos”

So the country is wild about street food right now, luxe-loncheras and the like, and I can live with that. Debate rages about what constitutes “authentic” Mexican food as opposed to the “fake” stuff, and I like debates like that.

What I can't stand, however, has been the development–growing over the past two years, but now reaching a crescendo–of people referring to tacos made with corn tortillas as “street” tacos.

I'll eventually find the etymological origins of this American term in the research for my book, but the term is a pinche misnomer. In Mexico, those types of tacos aren't exclusive to street vendors. There is no such term as “street taco” in Mexican Spanish; it's just a taco (there is a term for street food–comida callejera, literally “street food,” but we don't go on to refer to each specific foodstuff as, say, street mulitas, or street pambazos). You have tacos de (insert filling here), tacos dorados (fried tacos, although not of the preformed taco shell favored by America's gabacho taco barons), tacos árabes (a type of pita sandwich filled with al pastor meat favored in Puebla and introduced by Lebanese immigrants). But no tacos de la calle–if you're buying them from a taquero, or eating them at a taquiza, you're just eating tacos.

But of course hipsters and foodies love the term–I've lost count of how many times those crazy Yelp kids have raved about the “street” tacos offered at taquerías, or higher-end Mexi places advertising “authentic” “street” tacos on their menu, then charging you six bucks for a tiny trio with a straight face. American embrace of Mexican food–Mexican anything, really–has always come with a dash of danger attached, whether the farts created by refried beans, the pepper belly of salsa, tequila's horrible hangover, lead in candy, roach coaches, and the Montezuma's Revenge inherent with everything. Having people eat and sell “street” tacos connects them to this legacy of racism–let the detractors detract, but howzabout you read your history books before protesting? Learn your history, sons!

Seriously, folks: what's with the use of the term? Why don't people call ice cream sold from the ice cream truck street ice cream? Or street mangoes? Or street strawberries? I'll write a more eloquent treatment for the book, but in the meanwhile: let's deport the term like we did the home make-your-own-taco kit…

One Reply to “Against “Street Tacos””

  1. It’s 13 years after this was posted, but it’s only gotten worse. But I think I may be able to answer your question, at least if you’re in the midwest. People here love anything that makes them feel like they’re getting an “authentic foreign experience”—we can be very gullible for those sorts of things, and you can take advantage of it.

    “Street tacos” is just one more example. Merely say the word, and our imaginations whisk us away to some magical Mexican beach town where all the cool people gather at night, listen to Mariachi and eat tacos.

    You can make lots of money off people like that, so marketers do–and “street taco” is now a thing.

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