There are people who live their entire lives thinking the tacos, tostadas and various other “Mexican” cuisines served at places like Taco Bell (which I called “Taco Smell” when I was young) are just like the real dishes in Mexico.
Having been to Mexico (many years ago), I can’t even come close to agreeing with them. There isn’t a real Mexican dish called a tostada – tostada means toast or toasted. It’s an American invention. It’s really nothing more than a flat taco, which can be almost anything wrapped in a tortilla.
For years, I thought my family (my parents’ family) was calling a certain dish a taco when it should have been called a tostada. I was brainwashed by the so-called Mexican places that served tacos and tostadas. The only real difference between their tacos and tostadas was that the tacos had soft, curved tortillas while the tostadas had stiff, flat tortillas.
At least, that’s how it was back then. Nowadays, taco “shells” can be hard or soft. They can be made of corn or flour. My mother always used the corn tortillas. We laid them flat on our plates, like the so-called tostadas, and added refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. The tortillas weren’t stiff, so we had to hold them like tacos anyway.
In Mexico, tacos are pretty simple. The ingredients depend on how much you can afford to spend and where you buy them. I had some good ones and some that weren’t so good.
I know how a Mexican taco is supposed to taste. My wife, Josie, and I went to what was supposed to be a traditional Mexican restaurant around 30 years ago. The tacos sucked, as did every dish on our plates. I wonder if that place is still in business?
The best way to make a real Mexican taco outside of Mexico is to make it at home. You can find recipes in various recipe books or on the web. You don’t need them if you keep it simple. We make them sort of like the way my mother made them, except we use flour tortillas.
We start with a fried (or toasted) flour tortilla. Then we smear a layer of refried beans on it. A layer of fried ground beef comes next. Then we top it with lettuce, grated cheese, diced tomatoes and salsa. Too much of everything requires two hands to hold the taco without spilling the contents on the plate. It can be done cleanly, with one hand, if the right amount is used.
I don’t know of any Mexican-style restaurants in this part of the Philippines. I will never go to Manila to find out if any exist there. Some of the local restaurants serve tacos as a one-off kind of thing and I’ve eaten a taco or two over the years at a couple of different places. We make them better at home and we eat them every month.
There are other Mexican dishes Josie knows how to make, but I would rather not call them Mexican dishes. Like her chicken enchiladas. She makes them better than most of the Mexican-Americans I’ve known over the years.
Originally published in October of 2015. Updated for readability.