My taco friends, it is my duty to inform you that we are currently witnessing a major shift that is happening right in front of our eyes, a slippery slope of taco size, an erosion of taco value, an ever-shrinking transformation of the taco, a shift in taco norms and mores. Yes, we are on a doomsday path where tacos will soon be nachos.
Let me first say this: I’ve never eaten a taco I didn’t like. And the simpler the better. Give me some carne asada, cilantro and lime, a bit of pico and lettuce and I will ask for nothing more. But really, any taco will do.
What has me curious these days is the word “street” being used as a modifier, as it makes me wonder what the difference is between a taco and a street taco. My first guess is the street infers “street food,” which in turn implies simpler and perhaps cheaper. My growing fear, however, based on a mountain of evidence – from all the street tacos I’ve eaten, to the tiny street taco tortillas they sell in the supermarket – is that the “street” in street taco simply means “smaller.”
Smaller tacos, you say, so what? Just eat more. I get that mentality and, trust me, I will eat more. To get to the heart of my worry, I tell this story: For my impending marriage celebration, we decided on a caterer – Smoke on Wheels – which does barbecue tacos and sandwiches. The choice was easy: SOW quite simply does the best barbecue around. However, by definition, since they are a food truck and literally sell tacos on the street, what SOW offers is a street taco. But have I been telling my friends that we’ll be having street tacos at my party? No. I’ve been telling them that we’re having tacos. While the tacos at SOW are not smaller or simpler per se than a regular taco, this is how it starts: Street tacos being called just tacos. Do you see where I’m going with this?
It’s like the trendification and co-opting of tapas. In America, I’m pretty sure “tapas” is Spanish for “less food for more.” Or maybe it’s Spanish for “40 percent markup.” Or maybe it’s Spanish for “I paid $12.99 for this?” It seemed for a while that restaurants would half the size of a normal appetizer, throw the word tapas on the menu, and customers would gleefully pay whatever they were asked. I fear the same is happening with tacos and their usually-smaller friends, street tacos.
Here’s how it will happen in the near-future: As street tacos become more and more ubiquitous, people will drop the “street” and begin to refer to them simply as “tacos,” just as I have been doing. And because the less-for-more strategy of the street taco was so successful, taco makers will see how far – and how small – they can go. The tortillas will get smaller and smaller, from 4 inches, to 3 inches, to 2. Before we know it, what we now consider to be a tortilla chip (or its soft version in the future) will by then be known as “tacos.” We’ll wait 15 minutes and pay $12.99 for a six-pack of “tacos.” We now eat nachos by the plateful, but who eats a whole plate of tacos? No one. And that’s the point. It’ll all be so normal. Your friend will call you up and say, “Wanna get some tacos,” and you’ll say, “OK, but I’m only eating four this time!” At the grocery store they’ll begin selling what we now think of as a regular 5-inch soft taco shell and it’ll be the equivalent of a modern-day 14-inch burrito tortilla. People of the 2020s will look at them and say, “Who could possibly eat so much tortilla?!”
Do I fear this soon-to-be reality? Yes. Do I want it? Of course not. What can be done? If you see a smaller-than-normal taco, simply call it a street taco. And if you order a taco with no mention of a “street” and it comes out smaller than normal, quietly leave the restaurant and never come back. If you want to yell “I am nacho fool” on your way out, that’s fine too.