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February 1, 2022 56 mins

It’s Taco Tuesday! If you like eating tacos, you’re going to love learning all about them in this delectable episode. You’ll realize how much you’ve taken tacos for granted and just what a debt we owe our friends in Mexico for inventing them.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Should Know, a production of I
Heart Radio. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh,
and there's Chuck and Jerry's even here, and this is
Stuff you Should Know. One of the best episode topics
I think we've ever come up with, I agree, ironically,

recording on a Thursday. You know where it's Taco Thursday.
But I ate tacos for lunch. Dude, I want a
taco so bad, but I'm holding out until I see
the next like good taco truck. Yeah, so what I did,
and I'm going to shout out my favorite taco places
at the end. But um, tacos is most people know
are aren't the best delivery food because that you know,

so you should eat right after assembly basically is your
best taco. That's why when you go to a taco
truck or a taco area, they're putting those things together
right in front of your face. But there's a place
in Atlanta called Bar Taco in Edmond Park, which they're
kind of fancy, swancy tacos. Uh, but they have a
couple of really good ones, and they deliver a little

taco kit like a little Bento box. Almost you got
your meat, separate from your tortillas, separate from your fixin's,
and then you put it all together there at home
and it's Uh. I got the the pork belly that's
flavored with pineapple sauce. It was sort of an l
past store kind of flavor sounds like and then like

a shredded beef, and boy did it hit the spot.
After researching this for the past day and a half,
I can imagine Deli turkey sandwich was weeping while I
was eating it. I could not have tacos. I tried
to think of something else, but I got my tacos.
I think that was the right thing to do. I'll

tell you what else was the right thing to do?
Chuck asking Dave Rouse to help us out with this one, right,
because it turns out that Dave Ruse was apparently born
to write this episode. So so, just a little bit
of backstory, Um, Dave and his wife moved to Mexico
looking for adventure years and years ago, and while he

was down there, he'd being the journalist he was uh
and and meeting up with like really really good, authentic
tacos for possibly the first time in his life, he
decided he wanted to write a story, an article about
how we got from authentic, you know, real good Mexican
tacos like the ones you just described, to the kind

of tacos we had in America as kids outside of
Texas and California, which is like that crispy hardshell, little
ground beef, little taco, seasoning, iceberg, lettuce, tomatoes and just
shut up and eat it and don't ask for anything else, which,
by the way, I do love those. I think it
could be good. There's a place for them, but it's
the same place that that grilled cheese occupies. Yeah, you know,

or your square pizza. Yeah well, well, well said so. Um.
The thing about Dave, though, is when he when he
started researching this, he he found out, like I guess,
he reached out to a guy named Jeffrey Pilcher as
a source. Jeffrey Pilcher's a Latin American or he's in
a story and of Latin America. I don't think he's
Latin American. Um, And Jeffrey Pilcher realized that he didn't

know actually, with the answer to that question, how we
got from authentic Mexican tacos to kind of blandish American tacos,
right yeah, and it seems like he might have even
like Dave may have possibly been an inspiration for what
ended up being the Jeffrey Pilcher book Planet Taco, a
Global History of Mexican Food, because he's even listed in

the acknowledgments. Right yeah, he thanks Dave um directly for
helping come up with this idea. And I can't remember
exactly how you put it, so okay, So then now
we fast forward to one we asked Dave to help
was with the tacos article, and Dave goes back to
Jeffrey Pilcher's book that he helped inspire as a source

for this episode. Yeah, I mean it's pretty great. And
Dave loved Mexico so much he uh, he ended up
living there several different times for a total of about
nine years. The country he found so nice. He lived
there twice thrice. I think, oh, yeah, that's right. Country
is so nice he lived there thrice. It still works. Yeah,

it makes I mean, I've done very little travel in Mexico.
I've done some of the border town stuff in Tijuana
and Alcadonis, but I really want to go south, south
south into central and south Central Mexico. Uh, I just
gotta do it. It's wonderful. Uh. I worked at Mexicaly
Girl in college in eight Mexican food literally every day
for three years, and it's just one of my favorite

cuisines and favorite cultures in the world. It's pretty good.
One of the things that really is kind of shocking
um about all this, though, Chuck, is the taco, the
thing that pretty much everybody in the world associates with
Mexican cuisine, is possibly the latest comer of all of
Mexican what we would identify as Mexican cuisine. It's actually

fairly recent invention. And that's pretty much what this episode
is going to be about. How the taco got invented
and then how we got from an actual authentic Mexican
taco to the americanized kind of Taco bell version of it. Yeah,
and Dave makes a great point that, you know, growing
up in the seventies and eighties, like we did, we
had our our what's the brand again, old El Paso. Yeah,

the old El Paso like Taco kit style tacos. And
like I said, I still love him. You love them.
There's a place for that. Uh. If you get if
you put that pop that taco shell in the oven
and get it crispy, it's really a beautiful thing as
long as it doesn't break in half. That you can
get a little messy. But while there's a place for those, uh.

Dave makes the point, and I agree that, like we
are truly in the golden age of tacos here in
the United States, because it used to be, like you said,
Texas in California, you could always get pretty good tacos
once they came on the scene in the nineteen fifties
or so. But now every major city has world class tacos. Yeah, yeah,

And I mean not just like taco trucks that somebody
pulled up and and thank God for those as well,
but I mean like like multiple taco restaurants Takorea's like
authentic ones all over the place. Then they're that in
just about any town in the country. And I don't
know exactly how it happened, but it happened, and it's
great that it did, because it's not like people from

south of the border started showing up in you know,
two thousand five, and then that was it, you know,
and they brought tacos with them and in that kind
of cuisine. Like, there have been plenty of Mexican and
Central American immigrants that have moved up into the United
States for a very long time, and they did bring
tacos with them. But for some reason there those authentic

tacos just took a while to catch on. I think, Chuck,
it was America that finally came around and caught up
to what the the Mexican cuisine actually was, rather than
being like, no, we don't want that, we want this
taco bell version. Yeah, I think I agree. And when
I said every major American city, I'm talking, if you want,
you know, fifty taco places to choose from, Atlanta probably

has that many, I've got. I looked on the map
today out of curiosity. I counted like seventeen taco places
within literally three miles of my house. And those are
just places that have taco in the name, right, Yeah,
I mean these were places that I mean they weren't
I kind of through some generic or not generic, just
some overall Mexican restaurants in there that have really great tacos.

But most of those were sort of Tacorea style or
taco trucks. But you know, forget major American cities, like
small towns like you can find really good tacos everywhere
in this country. Now, yes, yeah, the best. The best
taco I ever had actually was in some little countryside

rural area outside of Boston. I remember we had a
show in Boston. Then we had another show somewhere else
that was within driving distance, and I was driving there
and no, okay, it was driving from Seattle of Portland.
Best taco IVE ever had. Driving Seattle of Portland in
the middle of the like nowhere, and there was a
taco truck and they had a beef tongue taco and

it was hands down the best taco I've ever had. Yeah,
I'm not in love with the tongue. I would you know?
When I worked at Mexicali and College in Athens, that
was the guys in the kitchen would they would make
our food, but then on special days they would make
their own food for themselves. And Mexicali didn't have stuff
like tongue. It was a bunch of frat boys and
stuff that we're eating it, so they weren't into tripe

and tongue, but they would make that stuff and I
would always try it don't love the texture of tongue.
I definitely don't love the texture of tripe um, but
I gave it a whirl. I did not like tripe.
I would eat kabeza, which is cheek and jowl meat taco.
Those are I like those better than the tongue in tripe.
I've never had beef cheeks, but I've had no Actually,

I guess I have had beef cheeks, but it wasn't
in a taco. It was like prepared, like braised beef
cheeks and they were deish. Yeah, but give me some
carne asada or shredded beef or carnitas or l pass store.
I'm down with rizo, but that's probably lower on my list,
just because I like the others more. Yeah, I'll lead
a fish taco. I'll lead a shrimp taco. I love

those seafood tacos. I like it, definitely, definitely. Yeah good.
A good fish taco with some red cabbage slaw on
there is pretty tough to beat. Really, Yeah, let's just
do this. We'll talk about the tacos that we like
for the rest of this episode. Like the fried fish
in this Dude Fish, It's all good and so it's
worth restating again. I think we're living in a golden

age of tacos here in the United States, clearly, because
you can find end all these tacos. And if you're
not out there finding all these tacos and this sounds good,
make a concerted effort to go find an authentic taco
place and see what's what, and I'll bet you never
really go back. That's right. One last taco that I
love is the Korean taco. Yes, the little fusion tacos
that are out now that are so delicious. Do you

know the first time I ever even knew that existed
was Uh, Chad Crowley, who produced, one of the producers
on that show, had that catered some Korean taco, Korean
barbecue taco place somewhere over on the West Side, had
it catered and cooked Tacorea. My friend, is that what
it was? Okay? And and I it was like, I

don't I don't ever want to leave this craft services table.
I just want to stay in here and eat these
tacos for the Let's just call off the shoot and
do this and yeah, that's still go there. Uh, there's
a lot of houseware places over there, so whenever Emily
and I go over there to look at those, I
always pop into handcook for some sesame fries and beef
bull tacos. And the guy there, dude still recognizes me

from stuff you should know, the TV show That's awesome,
that's really cool. He's like, it was no good, but
I recognize you every time I go and he's, hey, man,
how you doing. You're still doing the TV show, like
for the fiftieth time. No, no, he said, get very
nice guy that went delicious tacos. We gotta shout out though.
Roy CHOI apparently was the guy who came up with
Korean barbecue tacos, so he's worth mentioning for sure, at

least for that. So I guess we should really talk
about tacos instead of just salivating and talking about our
favorite tacos. Agreed, because, like I said, tacos are fairly
recent creations as far as Mexican cuisine goes. But one
of the things that is essential to a taco, the tortilla,
is actually very very very old. Yes it is, and

technically if you put something in a tortilla and eat it,
you could describe it as a taco. But you know,
basically since the domestication in southern Mexico of corn about
eight seven hundred years ago, they have been grinding that
stuff up, flattening it out, and cooking it near a
fire usually you know back then, like on a hot

rock or you know, we saw in Guatemala they were
still doing this hand every morning. Some of the best
tortillas you're ever gonna have. Yeah, but that was it,
Like then you have a tortilla after that. And they've
been doing this for thousands of years. I think it
was kicked off by the Maya who figured this out.
And then there was another really important innovation that the
old Mec people came up with, and that was to

take that corn and soak it in hot water with
wood ash, which made an alkaline solution basically, and that
actually broke down the um. The I think the pair
of carb the whole of the corn um and change
the corn nutritionally like it made a lot of the

stuff inside more bioavailable. So it took something that was
already like okay, this is this is fine, we can
stay alive on this and actually turned it into like
a really nutrient rich food. So the tortillas you're eating
um as long as they've undergone a process called Nick's tomalization.
Um is actually pretty pretty healthy for you. That sounds

like you said the word tomali in there, I did, Yes,
would you like to spill the beans? And being KOI
so in the uh nahuaddle language that the language of
the Aztecs next teale was means ashes and then tomali
with an eye means unformed maze dough, which will sound
familiar if I've ever had a tomali with an e

on the end. Let me ask you this, do you
and youumy ever do tacos yourself at home? Yeah? We
do more like just variations on taco salad typically, but
you know, yeah, we'll get like some blue corn tacos
once in a while and fill them up, or else
we'll make We'll get like some of those like um
some usually we do flower though, like that this the

ones you have to refrigerate, we'll get those, the lucy
goosey ones. Make some fish tacos with slaw that kind
of stuff. Yeah, we do sometimes, all right. If you
ever want to just kind of take it to the
next level, I highly recommend making your own tortillas. Get
a tortilla press. It's a maze or some massa maze
and just give it a whirl. It's it's they're a

little tricky, but once you get the hang of it,
it uh. It really just takes things to a stratosphere
that I previously did not know. I can imagine I'd
never really even considered doing that, but I'm going to now. Yeah,
get maybe I'll buy you a tortilla press. Would you accept?
I you have to now you've just offered on the
on the podcast. I will hold you to that. Good.

I'll send you mind and I'll get into it. Be
like there's like old crusty dough on this one. Actually
I worn't in I don't know if there's anything to that,
but if it's like cast iron, that may yeah like seasoned.
Sure cool, thanks man? Sure. So um, we've got mixed
to moll ization, which makes the stuff in the corn

that was already there like iron and vitamin B three
way more bioavailable. Right. Yes, it actually sucks calcium into
the corn, so it adds a lot of calcium. It
fortifies it with calcium. Just this process of soaking the
corn in wood, ash and water before you turn it
into massa and then it also kills off mico toxins

which can mess you up pretty good fungal toxins that
can be present on corn. And when you put all
this together, especially if you added together with some beans,
you have what's called the complete protein. Huh, that's right,
And that means you can indulge in those tacos and
feel good about it. A complete protein is when you
have the nine essential amino acids and basically equal amounts.

And here's the little trick to tacos though, that make
it special. You can have beans and you're not a
complete protein. You can have corn and not a complete protein.
But if you put those things together, you do have
a complete protein because beans have all those essential amino
acids but one it's called matthionine, and corn does have that.

So it's it's almost like it was meant to be. Yeah, corns, like,
I'll help you out with some methionine, no problem, Yeah, man,
brief red beans. I know there's something about food that
when you know that they form some sort of like
natural pattern just makes them even more satisfying and wholesome. Yeah,

or when things come together to make a greater whole, Yeah, exactly,
should we take a break. Yeah, let's take a break
and we'll get back to the We'll get to contact
between the Spanish and the Mesoamericans. I want to learn

about how to take a perfect but on a fractals
gone that hun the Lizzie Border murders, that they kind
of all runs on the plane. Everything we should know.
Word up, Jerry, Okay, So, um, we've got the invention
of the tortilla. That doesn't mean that tacos were invented yet. Um.

One of the reasons why tacos you can't say tacos
were invented is because um, meso Americans used tortillas for
just about everything. I think the Spanish said that Montezuma Um,
the emperor of the Aztecs, who was running the show
when the Spaniards showed up in fifteen nineteen, um that
he would eat He would basically use his tortillas as

a as a spoon, much much the same way. Have
you ever eaten eat the open food? Yeah, I mean
I do this with tortillas, but sure you know, so
those I can't remember the name of the bread, but
they use that bread for like everything. It's just it's
just generally a utensil as much as it is a food.
And apparently that that the Aztecs used to do that
with tortillas, and I would guess Meso Americans as a whole.

So Dave points out quite rightly that you can't really
say what they were eating were tacos, even though they
might have even been putting stuff in these tortillas. And
the way that you couldn't say that, you know, whatever
you were eating was a sandwich because there was a
loaf of bread on the table or a basket of
rolls on the table. Uh, in the exact same way
that that makes sense. Yeah, I remember when I went

when I lived in Yuma twenty five years ago and
I went to Algadonis right over the border for the
first time, and I saw the local Mexican population with
these big plates like stewed meat, and they had the
tortillas and I was like, Oh, they're going to assemble
that to a taco, but no, no, they ripped it
up and they would just use it to grab the
meat and put it in their mouth. And I thought

that's when the lights kind of went off. And you know,
I still love the traditional taco too, but I also
love to just put the stuff on my plate and
use it as a spoon or a grabber. Sure, it's
like uh oh, I can't remember what it's called. But
there's a kind of sushi. It's almost like deconstructed sushi
where they don't bother to turn it into a roll.

It's just a bed of rice and then they put
all this stuff you would put in the sushi just
on top of the rice, so it's technically not sushi,
even though all of the elements are there. Yeah. And
I do the same thing with Indian food with the
garlic non yes, which again is another one of my
favorite cuisines. To like Indian food. Oh my god, I

just I love like all food. Human is always saying she,
she's like it. It doesn't really matter whenever you talk
about how great a food is, because you think all
food is good. And it's true, Like I love just
about all food. There's really not a food that I'm like,
I don't like that wholesale you know, I know, one
of my favorite obbies is eating foods seems so good.

Uh So the taco though, back then, like you said,
they were using these tortillas spoons and such like that,
and it was about the late eighteen hundreds that sort
of the Mexican taco that we're familiar with finally kind
of comes on the scene. So the word tacos kind

of up for debate, isn't it. Yeah, I mean, taco
was a word in Spain, you know, hundreds of years ago,
but it didn't mean the food. It was meant a
lot of different things. But one of the things that
meant that's going to come into play with the food
was it was like a plug or attack stuffed into
the barrel of a musket to keep that ball settled.

It also was like a shot of wine, or a
hammer or a billiard queue you could call a taco,
But at the time, none of those words had anything
to do with the food. No, so the word taco
predates the food taco. That seems to be the clear,
the clear aspect of this, the clear upshot, as I
would say, Um, yes, there's also a there's also a

rival to the Spanish word taco t a c e o,
and that's a not huaddle word taco there with an
L in there, basically t l a h c o,
and it apparently means middle or half and from everything
I've seen that is an incorrect etymology for the word

taco as we understand it today, that it is just
total coincidence. Right. But you might see some people claiming
that correct, yes, but they are wrong. From what I
can tell, that's right. So to get from the muskeet
plug to the food. Uh. In Pilter's books, he makes
a a guess that I surmised that other people have
also made that sounds pretty good to me. With his

story and Hidalgo, it was a silver mining town, uh
Rial del Monte specifically, and what the guys and the
mind would do is they would work in the uh
they're sometimes daughters and wives wuld bring them their lunch,
which was something a lot like a taco, like beans
or that stewed meat or maybe some avocado and wrapped

in a tortilla. They would put it in a towel
line basket where they get all nice and steamy and
bring it down there for lunch. So, while they're working
in the mine, they're blasting holes in the rock, which
they do by carving out a hole and then stuffing
in an explosive, which they call the taco. So it
might seem like a tinuous connection, but in Mexico City

in the early twenty century, there was a taco called
tacos steam and arrow, a minor's taco, and some other
variations a taco state canasta, Tacos from a basket, or
tacos sudatos, sweaty, or steam tacos, and that kind of
draws the line, I think pretty clearly. Yeah, And all
three of those were basically different names for the same
preparation where when you fry them and then you stacked

them all together, you would cover them with like a
little um, a little like napkin or something like that,
um in the basket to allow them to to steam
themselves to finish, right. And to me, that's where the
word taco comes from, not from the food wrapped in
the tortilla, but from that kind of food wrapped up

in that cloth napkin in the same way that they
were wrapping explosive in cloth and stuffing it in there.
That to me is the is the correlation rather than
the food, the fact that was in a basket wrapped
up in fabric, Yeah, and food wrapped up in the tortilla. Sure,
I mean, I get it. It's it's they're both possible.

I'm just putting my own hypoch is out there. Now, Okay, everybody,
You're like, it's not the tortilla, it's the napkin. That's honestly,
it makes sense to me when we're talking about explosive
plugs wrapped in fabric. You know what I mean about
an explosive delicious food. Well, that's the thing. And I
totally understand that they could have been, like, there's a
comb in one hand and a food bomb in the

other hand, So I get it. I'm like, uh, taco
and print talking about a taco as food, I believe
for the first time was in a novel called Los
Bandidos the Rio Frio The Bandits of Cold River, And
there's a line in that book where they're talking about
a celebration in Mexico City and they say cheeto, which

is fried goat with tortillas, and the children skipping with
tacos of tortillas and avocado in their hand. Sounds great.
What an idyllic little bucolic seeing that is. I wish
I was there. Yeah, anywhere there's fried go being served,
I wish I was there. I'm not done with the goat,
but sure I'm with it. Um So Um, so it

seems to be okay, we've got taco as a food.
It's appearing in print by at the at the latest,
which means that if you're if you write something down,
this is basically true across history. It is we've seen
an episode after episode. If you write something down and
you don't explain it, that means to people coming a

hundred or so years later looking back at this, that
that that means that this has been around and everybody
already knows what this is. I'm just refer into something
that everybody's familiar with. It's not a new invention. So
somewhere between the time that people were creating these taco
plugs in the silver mines in the middle of the
nineteenth century, maybe late nineteenth century, in eighteen tacos became

a thing. They were invented somewhere in there. Yeah, and
I mean it was in an actual Mexican dictionary defined
as taco as the food in Mexico City as its birthplace. Yeah,
it seems like Mexico City was ground zero for this place,
and that they believed that. By the turn of the
twentieth century, Um, Mexico City was starting to become a

bustling metropolis again, do tell So apparently by nineteen ten,
Mexico City had become like a huge, huge town of
a people, of a population about half a million people,
which is pretty significant, right. This is nine hundred and
ten when this happens. If you went back to fifteen,

about fifteen hundred, say, about four hundred years earlier, but
right before contact with the Europeans, um the same city,
Tenochtit Lawn, which Mexico City was built on, but the
Aztecs city that was there before had about four hundred
thousand people, just under half a million, and that nuts. Yeah,

I mean you would think that by they would have
over a million, right, But they wouldn't. And one reason
why is because the population took a nose dive both
between conquest of the Spanish and the violence that broke
out from that, but also even worse from the smallpox
that the Spanish brought with them, which wiped out forty
of the population of ten act Lawn in one year

the year after contact of the city died from smallpox.
So it took it took that long to rebound by
all the way up to it it got. It finally
surpassed its pre contact population. So nineteen ten, things are
cooking literally in Mexico City and a lot of people

from you know, more rural Mexico had moved there to
get work, to work in the factories, and they were
living in uh, you know, small tenements basically, and they
didn't have these big, full kitchens usually to work with.
So this is where the street taco or the tacareas
really started to pop up, where you would go outside
for dinner and you would go down to the street
and find these delicious mouth watering tacarias. Uh. And they were,

you know, they were bringing in influences from every corner
of Mexico, because you know, Mexico is a huge country,
just like you know the United States has in every
country has like regional food specialties, same as true in Mexico.
And all of these different flavors were coming into central
Mexico City and exploding onto the food scene there. Yes,

I mean the very in various cuisines that are brought
by different people's Is not this not the least reason
why multiculturalism is a great thing. You know, agreed, in
Mexico City is a melting pot at the beginning of
the twentieth century. I mean, all these people were bringing it,
and not just from Mexico or every part of Mexico. Um,

but there was some influences like outside of Mexico to
like tacos l pasteur, right, the one you mentioned earlier
that you've got kind of a deconstructed version of today. Yeah,
with that pineapple flavor, and that one I think has
a pretty interesting story which I never knew it was. Uh.
It originated in Lebanon in uh and specifically in the

Mexican state of Pueblo. We had these uh or they
I say, we feel like I'm living in Mexico right now.
After those tacos you had, I can imagine why. I
had these Lebanon or Lebanese immigrants settling there in the
early twentieth century, and they started selling their eros and
they had those lambs on the vertical spit uh like
they still have the day, and they were cutting off

strips of it, putting it on a pede uh uh
sometimes a flower tortilla. And in Pueblo there were and
still are known as tacos uh arabis, which is Arab
like Arab tacos, and the Mexicans there said, hey, they're
really onto something here with this vertical spit, but let's
throw a dobo pork butt up there instead, and then

throw a little grilled pineapple on there as well, and
they you have what we recognize as tacos l pastor,
which means shepherd's tacos, which is a reference to the
Bedouin roots of the Lebanese immigrants who came over. Great story,
It is a great story. And actually, Chuck, that reminds
me of another story I was talking about. I was
boasting about how I love all food. There's actually, um,

one of the few things I've ever sent back in
my life was that a Lebanese restaurant in Toledo called
the Bay Root may still be there and um, a
little on the nose, but sure. And my family was
was feeling pretty adventurous and ordered a bunch of stuff
off the menu. And one of the things we ordered,
it didn't really sink in what we were ordering, but
they brought out a bunt, a full size bunt cakes

bunt pants worth of raw ground meat covered in raw egg.
Oh my gosh, and it was just on this big
plate and it was like dig in and we were
just like we can't where we can't. We can't and
I still to the steak feel bad about wasting that meat.
Do you know what it was like? What that dishes?
I don't remember what it's called. Someone to let us know.

I sure, and yeah, I think it was. I don't
think it was like an invention of of that restaurant's
owners or the cook, the chef. I should say, um,
but I haven't seen it very frequently since then, but
it was. We just were like, no, we're not gonna
do that one. Well, I mean, hats off to your
family in the nineteen eighties and Toledo for going to

a Lebanese restaurant. We didn't. We didn't. We had Chinese
food and that was about as crazy as we got. Oh,
we got fancy. Not only did we go to the
Bay Route once in a while, we also sometimes went
to in Japanese steakhouse, which is Abachi Stay Cows, so
we got real ethnics sometimes. Yeah, that stuff was we
couldn't afford that. I'm not like you were rich or anything,
but uh, we had a lot at home, so we

didn't even go out that much. So when we did,
it was pretty conservative, but it wasn't until my twenties,
till I left home and got into college that I
really started exploring foods of the world. Yeah, well, good
for you for doing that. Some people never do, you know,
especially if they were raised without being exposed to it.
So it's good that you did well. So great about multiculturalism, food,

beautiful babies. Yeah, beautiful babies for sure. Plenty of stuff
different points of view, but really food. Sure. So you
want to take another break and then get back to
tacos continuing on because we finally reached the point where
we're like, Okay, tacos now exists, but they're pretty much
being slung out of food carts in Mexico City right

now at the beginning of the twenties century. Yeah, we're
going to take a trip to Los Angeles, Los Angeles
right after this. I want to learn about a terrosortic collegel,
how to take a prograt move with all about fractal

get kiscon that's a hun, the Lizzie Border murders, and
they kind of all runs on the plane every day.
That's so we should know. No word up, Jerry, all right,
smoggy kind of already overcrowded, gross Los Angeles in the
nineteen forties and fifties. Uh was a very segregated place. Uh.

There were plenty of Mexican residents. There were plenty of
uh Black Americans, there were plenty of Asian residents. There
were plenty of people. It was a melting pot. But
they tended to um. There was a white flight that happened,
and they tended to live apart. By the nineteen forties.
It's sort of the suburbs in the valley Orange County
maybe is where a lot of white people fled to.

And not entirely, but uh, if you wanted to live
inside Los Angeles, like maybe East Los Angeles, you may
have been for Mexico originally. Yeah, like cheech Marin Yeah,
born in East l A. Yeah, that's right, man. What
a great song that was so um in in its
Jeffrey Pilcher, Senior Pilcher, Um he thought to look around

at the UM. I think he got his hands on
some phone books from Los Angeles in the forties and
fifties and started looking up taco joints. Because remember, at
the behest of one day, Ruse who would become a
stuff you should know legendary writer Um Jeffrey Pilchers on
this quest now to figure out how we got to
the Americanized version of tacos. So he's tracing it from

Mexico City up to California, as one would do, and
he did that by by looking at them at the
phone book. And what he found is that outside of
East l A, you could find plenty of restaurants that
were taco joints. But in East l A there were
only two restaurants in the phone book that had the
name taco in them, which would suggest Chuck that that

that they didn't eat tacos in like in authentic Mexican
Mexican American neighborhoods, But that's not necessarily the case. Yeah,
I think what has been surmised, and I fully agree,
is that there were plenty of places in East l
A serving tacos, they just didn't feel the need to
advertise it as a taco place to make it. Uh

it was. It was sort of if you were a
white American or a black American in the nineteen forties
and fifties in l A. Uh, Mexican food might have
seen exotic and maybe a little dangerous to try, like
dangerous for your stomach. That is right, right, So Tacos
was a safe cell essentially, is what has been speculated,

Like to put taco on a sign, people are like, oh, well,
I've heard of tacos. I can try this place out right,
And so um Peltry came up with some some pretty
great names that he found in the in the predominantly white,
predominantly black um neighborhoods in l A that had taco
in the name. Um. Apparently, the first one in Los

Angeles that catered to non Mexican um UH customers was
called Taco House, and that opened up in the early forties.
It's a pretty legit name, especially if you're saying, hey,
American people, UM, particularly white people and black people, Taco House.
That seems approachable, right, you're not afraid of that, come

meet here. That makes sense. They didn't even say Taco cosa. No,
that would be well now, that would have blown the
mines back in the early forties. I like any restaurant
with town at the end. So Ernie's Taco Town kind
of speaks to me. Yeah, how about Alice and Bird's places,
Bert's Taco Junction, Yeah, that's good. I wonder if it

was an old drink a boose. Yeah, Alice's Taco Terrorists,
which is fine. Frank's Taco In. That's a good one.
I've never gotten why you would call a restaurant and in,
because typically you sleep at and in, you know. Yeah,
I've never gotten that because we had village in Pizza
and I don't. I never got. I tried to sleep
there and it never worked. I'm so full. Uh. And

then in Watts, which is a predominantly historically at least
black neighborhood, you had Taco Kid and Taco the Town. Yeah,
that's a great one for sure. Taco the Town is
not around anymore. Oh, that's sad. But apparently there is
a Taco the Town in Maine, I believe. Oh man,

Maine tacos. I bet you even Maine has some good
tacos here and there. That would be the least likely state,
I would say, like Maine in Alaska. Right, So, um,
we've got we've gotten to the point where now there's
tacos in Los Angeles, right, they've crept up. People are
starting to create them and uh cater to non Mexican

and non Central American palettes. Um. And a lot of
people say Okay, Well it was actually Glenn Bell, the
guy who founded Taco Bell. Which did you know that
there was a person with the last name of Bell
that founded Taco Bell. I didn't either. It's insane. Like my,
my whole world view has changed, Like Jimmy Hut's pizza chain. Right,

I've got one for you, Chuck. Did you know that
the very first Pizza Hut was in Wichita, Kansas? Really? Yeah?
And the very first KFC guess what city that was in? Oh,
please tell me it's Kentucky somewhere. No, Salt Lake City, Utah. What. Yeah,
it's true. The colonel really was from Kentucky. But the

first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was open in Salt Lake.
I think it's one of those things where it's like,
if you open a thing based on a regional cuisine,
the one place that's not going to do well is
in the actual region that that cuisine comes from. Well,
they don't have Taco Bells in Mexico. No, we'll talk
about that later. We'll talk of we'll talk of that later.

Al Right, So again, Senior Pilcher, I gotta read this book.
It sounds fantastic. Um. He talks about the fact that
if you were a Mexican immigrant and you were building
a restaurant scene in the United States and you wanted
to appeal to the Americans there, then you might wanna
like source ingredients that they You're probably not throwing tripe

their way right out of the barrel, you know, like
you might want to look at the the ingredients that
are readily available um that people like and like ground
beef is one of them. So that ground beef as
a central ingredient to those American tacos was really early on. Dude.
I can't tell you how how late it was in life.

Before I even had a chicken taco. For Pete's sake. Yeah,
I know, I'm with you, it was all ground beef.
It was like, that's all there was, you know. Even
if you went to a Mexican staurant that was not
really a Mexican restaurant like we used to go to
Cheat cheese, ground beef, ground beef and everything, it was
just ground beef. And actually that reminds me Chuck. I
turned up. There's this um Onion article that I remember

from made that much of an impression on me. Taco
bells five ingredients used in completely new way. The article
talks about how you've never had anything like this this one.
The beef is on top of the beans, which is
on top of the cheese. Is funny how they do that? Still, Yeah,

you know, just make these crazy combinations of the same thing, right.
But the opshot of all this is that, um, a
lot of people lay or um credit Glenn Bell with
inventing the americanized taco, and that's not necessarily the case.
It was some of these Mexican American immigrants who were
creating these tacos to cater to American taste, but then

also based, like you were saying, on stuff that was
easily obtained cheap. Because everybody knows restaurant margins are so thin,
it's incomprehensible why anyone opens a restaurant, and if you're
just trying to make money. Um, And when you put
all that together, people were making what you and I
at age ten would have recognized as a taco before

Glenn Bell came along and started making tacos himself. Yeah,
and a lot of people say, well, Glenn Bell at
the very least invented the the technology where you could
fry up these tortilla, these corn tortillas into these perfectly
little shaped taco shells, and he kind of did it.
Seems like it was one of the cases where a
few different people all sort of had the same idea

within a few years of one another, without even stealing
from each other. Because there was a man in nineteen
forty nine in Arizona name Joseph Pampa who filed an
application for a deep friar basket that made these perfect
little taco shells. But a couple of years before them,
there was another restaurant to our name, uh Drovincio Maldonado,

great name, and he actually won the patent out of
New York City in ninety seven. But Glenn Bell also
created his own version, it seems like independently. Yeah. And
the reason why everybody was having this kind of same
idea at the same time is because part of like
the zeitgeist at the time as far as food went,
was the idea that fast food was awesome and creating

food quickly and efficiently was thrilling um. Because prior to this,
if you made tacos, you made the tacos as you know,
as order to order, and you took these uncooked flour
tortillas and then you fried them up and made tacos
that way. And this was like, no, no, I just
imagine if you had the shells already ready, it would

save so much time and knock these Bobby Soccers socks
off right. And if you happen to break the shells,
it's a nacho exactly. That's that's what my teacher says. Uh. So,
Glenn Bell has opened a hot dog in Hamburger stand
in San Bernardino and San Burdue, California, across from the

original McDonald's. If you remember that episode, which is pretty fine,
which started out as a barbecue restaurant, and he was
doing okay, he wasn't doing that great, but he noticed
across the street there was a rex a Mexican restaurant
called I guess it's the Meat La Cafe m I
t l A that had been open since nineteen thirty
seven by the Rodriguez family, and it was it was

not a taco stand. It was like a full, sit down,
full service restaurant, open breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That was
killing it. And he was like, I gotta get me
some of that. Yes, and we've reached the point where um,
I want to point out that Dave rus is a
born food writer, because the reason both of us wanted
tacos so bad in large part because of Dave's really

great descriptive writing. But he talked about how like the
Meat Like Cafe, it wasn't a taco joint, but they
had killer tacos and they had um something called tacos dorados,
which is a fried taco. And he said that at night,
young people would show up at the Meat Like Cafe
craving a quick bite, and the best seller was a
freshly fried bag of tacos Dorado's, golden fried tacos. That

is good food writing. It makes me hungry, imagine that.
And these are essentially Taketo's, right. Yeah. They would take
a corn tortilla, put ground beef in it, roll it up,
put a toothpick in it to hold it together, and
then fry that. And then they would put the cheese
and the lettuce and the tomatoes on the outside. And
I shouldn't say would because Meat Like Cafe is still

there and they still serve um tacos dorados. Yeah, it's taketo.
So I love it. Sometimes I'll get taketos. Sure, yeah,
just stop by the racetrack or something or the quick trip.
Have you have ever seen those? Like they look like
a taketo and a hot dog, like made love or something.
I'm not even sure what it is that sounds hot. Uh. No,

I like taketos in a in a place or flout
this is another name. Uh. I'm a big fan of
the chimmy chonga, which is different. That's like a deep
read burrito, but that's an American invention. Yeah, put anything
in a fryer basket and I'm all over it. Dude,
I'm with you. But also that sauce that's peculiar to
the chimmy chonga is so good man. And plus it's

just fun to say when you order it. Yeah, I
haven't found a great one here in Atlanta near me
because all the places near me are a little more
authentic and they don't have them. Oh yeah, I was
gonna say, like you, um, yeah, there places near me,
but I just don't go there, right but there. But yeah,
if it's authentic, they're probably not gonna have a chimmy chonga.
That's an American American Mexican food or it's an a

Mexican place that's catering to Americans, right exactly. So the
reason that we're bringing up the Meat Like Cafe is
because this is where Glenn Bell learned to fry up
tacos to make tacos. And it's not entirely fair to
say that he stole the idea from the Rodriguez family
who were running the Meat Like Cafe and came up
with the tacos dorados because he Glen Bell, became a

regular customer there, but he was there not just to
enjoy the food, but to kind of like spy on
them and watch the process and figure out how to
do it. And there is a guy named Gustavo Aorlano Ariano.
He wrote Taco Usa Colon How Mexican Food Conquered America,
and he's the guy who seems to be the one
who really turned up the story about how the Meat

Like Cafe was the was the basis of Taco Bell
originally um and that with the when the Rodriguez family
figured out that that um that that Glenn Bell wanted
to learn how to make tacos dorados and was kind
of surreptitiously learning by spying. They invited him into the
kitchen to teach him how to do it. They just

showed him how to do it so exactly. So um,
Glenn Bell went off and he um. Basically he started.
He went from making hamburgers and hot dogs to making
tacos based on the taco dorado's thing. But he was
also combining it with inspiration from the McDonald's brothers across

the street who had gotten into really efficient fast food.
So he was trying to forget how to make tacos
dorados as fast as possible. Yeah, I mean this is
where he comes up with his uh nineteen one frying contraption. Uh.
And we should point out when it was a very
sort of Americanized version of the of the takedo. He

actually topped his with chili dog sauce from his hot
dog days. I'm not gonna hate on that. I bet
it's delicious, That's all I'm gonna say. Yeah, But he
was looking to open up his first taco restaurant in
fifty one, and he did so, and a consultant was
helping out with the naming, and they said, what about Latapatia,

which is a nickname for a woman from Guadalajara, and
he said, yeah, Latapatia is great, but how just how
about just taco tia. They said, that makes taco ant
That makes no sense. You know, that's fine. Sure, well's
an Anne who loves tacos. It makes sense to me. Yeah,
an aunt rather not a not an insect aunt to
be to be clear. So he had Taco tia um

and then he went on, He's like, I really like
this taco thing. I'm going to start another chain with
a couple of Rams football players. They created El Taco
and that went well for four years and he sold
out his portion of that, and then he finally created
the first Taco Bell in nineteen sixty two and Downey, California.
Right nineteen sixty two, diarrhea is born for Taco Bell.

I love Taco Bell. Like we've talked about it before.
I'd never ever have it, but I had it once
about four or five months ago, for the first time
in a couple of years, and it was so good,
and I had diarrhea. Oh yeah, well that's why you
associate that with that, huh. It was worth it, though.
So the first one, they call it Taco Bell Numero,
you know, the one in Downey, California that he opened

in nineteen sixty two. It is one of the most
adorable buildings you'll ever see in your life. The sign
and is awesome, the front, the the the overhang is awesome.
It's in a mission revival style. Um. And actually Glenn
Bell envisioned it as kind of like a community center,
so like he had fire pits, there was like mariachi
music and dancing. It was way more than it should

have been as just a taco joint. A fast food
taco joined and it took off really quickly. Within five
years he had a hundred stores open. Yeah. And then
you know, they still even in the eighties and seventies
used the similar signage. Like when I saw Taco Bell
numero uno uh and that's what they call it. By

the way, we're not just trying to be cute. UM,
I recognize never I recognized that sign immediately. I was like,
oh yeah, I remember that from when I was a kid,
and they did have sort of and they still sort
of had that mission you know, that sort of stuck
out to the restaurant until the nineties. I ran across
an architectural digest blog and said we would hit one

our apartments to look like nineties Taco bells because there's
a lot of like weird Memphis style mixed in. But um,
it was. I remember when it transitioned from the old No,
not really, it's way more slick. Okay, I haven't really noticed.
There was a there was a big transition. There's actually
been a couple since that one where they went from
the ones where we were kids to the nineties versions.

And it was a sad day. I remember being like,
something's been lost here. I don't like this new stuff.
It looks like Zach Morris took over and redesigned the
whole thing. Uh, well, that's just because the big mural
of screech on the side, alright, screeching a sombrero. Yeah.
Oh yeah, he died, didn't he He did very sad

lung cancer and even though he didn't smoke cheese, that's terrible.
I remember Del Taco to that was the other big one,
uh growing up, and that went out of business eventually,
but Del Taco and Taco Bell were the two biggies.
Taco Bell or Del Taco still around? Is it? Oh? Yeah,
they'll sit down. I had another's de'll talk. Oh, by
my house, Um, not very far away from it, and

it's it's I had not had it until ever, until
maybe two thousand ninety. I think they slim, though I
don't see those much anymore. It seemed to be like
a legit rival the Taco Bell, but Taco Bell squashed
them with the Tortilla Press. Yeah, because just in the
US alone, there's seven thousand Taco Bell locations. That is
a lot, and they're all over the world except Mexico. Yeah,

they tried in and two thousand seven to open up
Taco Bells in Mexico City, and they did and they
just did not go very far, but they there. Um
and thinking two thousand fifteen, there was a campaign to
save Taco Bell Numero Uno because they were going to
demolish it. There was actually a KFC slash Taco Bell
across the street from it, and um that that lot

where Taco Bell Numero Uno was was being redeveloped and
there was a campaign to to save it, and they
moved it in two thousand fifteen. They moved it I
think forty five miles from Downey to Irvine, where Taco
Bell's headquarters is. And yeah, there's uh there's a lot
of stories on this online, but I would recommend you
go to pee Wee Herman's website peewee dot com. Uh,

there's a really really I found the best article was
there because as all kinds of pictures of the restaurant
now wrapped up in the parking lot of the headquarters,
and then there's a video. There's pictures of it going
down the freeway on a truck with uh you know,
the extra wide load with a police escort, and like
there were twenty or thirty cars of like people that

like took the two hour journey, hawking their horns and stuff.
So it's really kind of a fun story. Uh. They
sadly haven't found a place where it's still because I
saw follow up last year. Um, they're still looking for
a permanent home for it though. Yeah, apparently it's still
just like you said, wrapped up in the parking lot,
um in a tarp on the trailers still just kind

off in a corner of the parking lot, which is
a hopefully not the end of the place, I guess.
And big shout out to the conservation group we are
the next because there who headed up that whole plan
to say the building that a lot of people would
say is not historically significant. Sure you should have send
me that pee wee Herman link. I would have liked
to have seen that. I love that. Okay, Oh you
didn't see it. No, I mean I had all the

same stuff. It just had a couple of cool pictures. Gotcha. Um,
you got anything else? I got nothing else? Okay. Well,
if you want to know more about tacos, go eat
some tacos, find some authentic ones to see what you think. Uh.
And since I said see what you think, it's time
for a listener mail. Well before listener mail, I did
promise to shout out my favorite taco places. So can

we do that? Yeah, let's man, and you feel free
as well? Uh? In San Francisco Taco Bar right there
in sort of Lower Hate, I'm sorry, not lower Hate.
Lower Pacific Heights. Uh, Los Angeles, Yuccas and Los Felis
was one of my favorites. Senior fishing, Eagle Rock. And
then there was one called Seven Mayors uh in Silver

Lake that I think closed down but has now opened
up as Plaita, And it was very seafood focused. Mayors
like mayors of a town or Mayor's like horses, like horses.
I think it was El Mades was how you would
really say, it's very pretty. Seven years you wouldn't know
that if if it weren't for multiculturalism, they had really
good uh Sivica, really good seafood. Uh. And then here

in Atlanta, Altasar on Kirkwood, Mescalito's and oak Hurst, any
place on Buford Highway, you're gonna get good authentic Mexican
food in tacos. So those are my shoutouts. Yes, do
you have any No, I don't. I need to get
out to more taco places. Apparently, shout out to the
the food truck whose name I did not get in
between Seattle and Portland at one time. Yes, later, Kenny

Tacos is what it's called. All right? Sorry, listener mail,
listener mail, I'm just gonna call this nice email from
a nice human. Okay, Hey, guys, wanted to share without
your show is helpful and enjoyable to me and how
I used my experience to help a friend. My friends
started new medication and message me expressing insomnia troubles that
came on as a result. I empathize and explain how

I actually use stuff you should know to help me
fall asleep when my mind is running a hundred miles
an hour, put on an older episode with a sleep
timer and let my brain focus on the topic of discussion.
I also find your voices really calming, probably because I'm
so familiar with hearing them almost every day for the
past few years. Of course, I suggested speaking to a
doctor too, but I encourage encouraged her to look into

your podcast, even just for the general curiosity and enjoyment.
Since my husband and I moved overseas for his military obligations,
to find your show even more important in my life
because I feel connected h to the routines and the
life I was used to living before we moved. Thanks
for all the hard work you put into each episode.
Your content and enthusiasm truly bring a joy and brightness

to this world. I'm extremely grateful if you have a
wonderful new year of two, and I look forward to
continuing listening for as long as your w like to
make episodes. That is from Katie very nice. Thanks a lot, Katie.
I remember I've probably said this before a million times.
I used to take not a fence, but I used
to be like what exactly does that mean when people

said that they use this to fall asleep, and then
I was like, no, this is that is a high
honor that you can put people to sleep, you know. Yeah,
you're in bed with somebody and you're soothing them. Yeah,
especially if they have trouble sleeping, like to a clinical
degree and you can help them. That is I mean,
I'm going to have that put on my on my tombstone.
Should see. And now he's sleeping the big sleep. It's

a little Bertie workshop. Um, all right, Well, if you
want to be like Kate Katie, oh sorry Katie. If
you want to be like Katie and send us a
great email like Katie did, you can send it to
us at stuff podcast at iHeart radio dot com. Stuff
you Should Know is a production of I heart Radio.

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