Tacopedia – A sumptuous history of the taco

See sample pages from this book at Wink.


by Deborah Holtz, Juan Carlos Mena and René Redzepi

Phaidon Press

2015, 318 pages, 7.8 x 10 x 1.1 inches (flexibound)

$20 Buy a copy on Amazon

Whenever I've been away from NYC for a while, the first thing I always want to do when I get back is to have a taco (or three). My mouth starts watering as soon as I see the skyline. Southwesterners and Mexicans will laugh at this and feel sad for me but a good North East taco is the best option I have. So when I discovered Tacopedia through an NPR review, I immediately put it on my wishlist.

The book offers a sumptuous history of the taco, beginning circa 1000-500 BC when a legendary hero first created “nixtamal,” a malleable dough made by soaking dried corn in water and a bit of quicklime. Once rolled out and roasted, nixtamal becomes a tortilla, an “edible spoon” that can hold a near infinite variety of fillings and salsas.

After the background chapters, the book is divided into 8-10 page sections on popular and specialized tacos, including: grilled, barbacoa (lamb roasted underground in agave leaves, served with broth), basket (morning tacos par-cooked in the container they’re delivered in), and – for the adventurous – insect (!) tacos. Each entry includes the region of Mexico where the variety originated and describes how it has evolved over the years. It then recommends a handful of restaurants – many of them, tiny stands that have been operating for generations – where you can find the best examples of these delicacies. I showed the book to friends who regularly travel to Mexico City and they verified many of the choices. It also provides recipes so you can create reasonable facsimiles of these tacos using common kitchen equipment and ingredients.

The book is beautifully illustrated with hand-drawn infographics, cartoons and proverbs about tacos, plus street scenes of Mexicans from all walks of life indulging. Tacopedia (originally published in Spanish in 2013, then translated and released in the US in 2015) would make an excellent companion reference on a foodie trip to Mexico, which I hope to take one day.

The first photo (above) was taken at Cinco de Mayo, my neighborhood taco place.

– William Smith of Hangfire Books

June 3, 2016