Nice and spicy: a fish taco with guacomole
Nice and spicy: a fish taco with guacomole

Sandwiches are just a poor relation to tasty Mexican tacos

A sandwich is to a taco what Flemish clogs are to Gucci loafers

Samuel Muston
Tuesday 13 October 2015 17:28
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Most weekends, if it's dry out, I go on a little pilgrimage. Not to Lourdes but to the car park of an empty school about half a mile from my door. There, on Saturdays, cars and children are sent on their way, and in their stead are stalls and people with beards. I leave it to you to decide which you think is better: the growl and fumes of a car or the gentle hum of hipsters talking about organic cheese. To me, the choice isn't difficult to make because, amid the stores selling katsu curry wraps, falafel and organic trousers, on the site opposite London Fields, there is a colourful little stand called Mission Mariscos.

A large sign underneath the name of the stall reads, “Let's taco 'bout it” – which gives a fair indication as to what they are selling. For £5 you can get fish or prawn tacos or you can have the taco du jour, which is often an agreeable “pork carnita” number. Eat any one of their tacos, with those pillow-soft corn tortillas and punchy fillings, and you soon understand why the astronaut John Glenn eschewed lots of down-home American treats and instead took a taco with him on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998.

If that surprises you – and it did me – you might like a book published by Phaidon yesterday. Tacopedia is a 317-page compendium-cum-love letter to Mexico's best culinary export. As well as an opening paean to the taco written by Nordic culinary divinity René Redzepi, there is an exhaustive – but not exhausting – list of all known tacos and their origins, including a “tacographical” map of Mexico, several pictures of taco joints that seem to have been fashioned out of large sombreros, and, apparently, the recipe for every taco ever conceived and cooked in the history of the world. The real draw, though, is the collection of taco facts, which traverse the pages of the book in little white boxes: I can now tell you, for example, when the taco was invented (between 1000BC and 500BC); what quantity of tortillas the average Mexican person consumes per year (135 pounds); and that, in 1979, artist Maris Bustamante registered the taco as legally hers and tried to patent it (nice try, Maris!).

If you think several hundred pages of taco wordage is overkill then you have not been eating the right tacos. Like sandwiches, they were created to be a sort of edible form of cutlery: welcoming arms to embrace flesh or fish.

The thing is, the comparison ends there. A sandwich is to a taco what Flemish clogs are to Gucci loafers. A fine sandwich is a very good thing– but, well, they are not that easy to come by. Cut a slice of bread too thick and you might have the most ambrosial filling ever produced but you'll only taste that claggy, door-stop bread; too thin and it falls apart like a boy band two years into a world tour. And eat it too long after it has been made and you might as well eat a used bath loofah. A taco is much more forgiving, much kinder. The yellow hue, the casual smoky flavour of a good tortilla and that light, barely-there bite – it is the finest companion to a bit of fried fish you're ever likely to find.

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