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5 Origins of Tradition Mexican Dishes (We Didn’t Know!)

traditional mexican cuisine

Mexican food is wide and varied, but it’s always colorful and full of flavor. Although ubiquitous, Mexican cuisine is still under-represented. Why is it we know so little about something we love so much!

That changes today because we’ll tell you the origin of some of the most popular (and not so much) Mexican dishes. The more you know about things, the more you enjoy them, so let’s get started! 

Here are the origins of Mexican food you wouldn’t have imagined. Get that spicy salsa ready, and let’s dig in. 

The Mystery Behind Burritos


Burritos are one of the most famous Mexican American snacks. Interestingly enough, they’re seldom found in Mexico. Burrito means little donkey, although most modern burritos are anything but small.  

According to researchers, burritos were created in the 1930s in California thanks to the huge Mexican migrations of the early 21st century. They probably sold them in improvised food stands. Burritos appeared in print in 1934 and are now a Mexican American staple hard to ignore.

Chili con Carne; Mexican or American?

Chili con Carne

The tomato-based stew of ground meat and hot sauce has an interesting, yet cloudy story. Even though Aztecs grew, ate and loved hot chili peppers, and had tomatoes available, they didn’t have chili’s third key ingredient: beef.

The Spanish conquerors brought the first cows and bulls to the new continent in 1525, but being relatively rare and expensive, it didn’t mix with Mexican food immediately. 

Mexicans firmly deny creating the controversial dish, so where did chili con carne come from?

The dish became popular after they served it to the American army during the Mexican-American war of 1846. Back then, chili con carne was a not so tasty, as it only comprised chili powder mixed with meat. As far as we know, the birthplace of the spicy dish is San Antonio, Texas. 

Nachos, A Snack Fit for Fine Ladies


The history of nachos is perhaps one of the most amusing stories in the world of food. The year was 1940, the place, the frontier city of Piedras Negras, the man: Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya.

According to the original account by Mr. Anaya, published in 1954, four American ladies visited the Victory Club restaurant and, tired of the same old snacks, asked Nacho for something new to eat with their drinks. The man rushed to the kitchen and threw together the first items he saw, tortilla chips and cheese. Not satisfied, he placed the dish in the oven and topped the softened dish with jalapeños for color. 

Not knowing how the women would react, Nacho delivered the plate and sneaked back into the kitchen only to be called back to be congratulated for the splendorous dish. Nacho’s special was born.  

The Hard Shell Taco, Controversial Origins?

Hard Shell Taco

We can’t argue that the hard shell taco changed the way the country saw Mexican food forever. With pre-made taco shells came Mexican fast food. But who came up with the idea? It depends on who you ask.

Glen Bell was born in 1923 and is better known for his most significant accomplishment, California’s Taco Bell. 

Although Taco Bell is the most famous Mexican American restaurant on earth, it wasn’t Mr. Bells’ first time at the rodeo; he had operated taco restaurants for a decade. Mr. Bell is widely credited as the creator of the hard shell taco, but there’s a contradictory history.

Joe Valdez Caballero was born in 1908 and worked in Mexican restaurants all his life, mainly in the famous El Chico restaurant in Dallas. The Cuellar brothers owned the place, but they hired Caballero to run it. 

Amongst many other things, his peers credit Caballero for adding sour cream to enchiladas for the first time, and for creating the hard shell taco. 

Both restaurateurs have passed away, so we’ll never know who came up with the crunchy but brittle shells we all hate to love. 

Pastor Tacos, the King of Tacos

Pastor Tacos

Pastor tacos are the rulers of the taco realm, and it’s easy to see why — it’s the most popular street food in Mexico City, the fourth most populated city in the world.

The orange-tinged tacos are unique — marinated pork meat is skewered in a shawarma-style vertical broiler and cooked slowly as the taquero spins the massive piece of layered meat to charred perfection, but why are pastor-style tacos so different from all others?

A group of Lebanese emigrants arrived in Mexico’s capital city in the 1920s and brought with them their vertical roasting traditions. 

Not being able to source their staple flatbread, they started using tortillas. They replaced their usual lamb for the cheaper pork too, and the rest is history — a taco with an Arab origin, now we’ve seen it all!

Are you hungry yet?

We hope these stories inspire you to grab a bite, and if it’s Mexican, even better!

The more you learn about food the more you fall in love with it so, enjoy! You’ve got yourself a few stories to tell your friends over a gigantic bowl of nachos.

Chef Deno

Follow my journey as I explore food culture around the world - easily from the comfort of your own home. Proud of your food scene? I travel often and we can plan to meet up so you can share the food culture in your town.

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