A Filling Too Far: When Does a Taco Stop Being a Taco?

Al pastor and barbacoa are standards. But what about mushrooms or grasshoppers?

By Becky FogelApril 14, 2016 11:43 am| ,

What do you usually get in your tacos? Breakfast tacos stuffed with eggs and Migas? Brisket? Barbacoa? What about the al pastor?

But if you want to venture beyond the tried and true taco options, there’s more and more fusion tacos with experimental fillings out there.

Armando Rayo is our resident taco journalist, veteran of the 2016 Taco Wars and coauthor of the forthcoming book, “Tacos of Texas.”

His five magical words: “There’s a taco for everyone.” Whether that’s veggie, carne, fish or … insects?

“Food is a great gateway to different cultures,” Rayo says. “I think food is a way that we can actually try new things. … It’s a fusion of culture that comes together. Put it in a corn or flour tortilla and it’s pretty amazing what you can do. The options are limitless.”

Pork fat doesn’t have to go in every taco, Rayo says. His favorite vegetarian (not vegan) taco is the rajas con hongos. That’s roasted and peeled poblano peppers in a creamy milk-based sauce with sauteed mushrooms, preferably on a corn tortilla. Yum.

Although many Texans see fish tacos as more of a California invention, Rayo says it’s more of a “Are you by the ocean?” invention.

And yes, there are insect tacos. Rayo recently had chapulines – grasshoppers – in a Laredo breakfast taco.

“Tastes like insects,” he says. “It definitely depends on what it’s cooked in or smoked in. Definitely has a crunchy (texture).”

The options for taco fillings are almost inexhaustible, Rayo says. There are Korean beef bulgogi tacos, banh mi tacos, even huitlacoche (blue corn fungus) tacos. But when has it gone too far?

“If you stay true to the roots of what a taco is, and the culture and the history … you really understand where it comes from, then I think yeah, you can have that,” Rayo says. “The flavor profiles come across because you understand where it comes from, where it’s rooted.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.