A Tale of Two Tacos
Aug 21, 2017 03:55PM
By Javier Hernandez
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of America, it was the age of Mexico. It was the epoch of fast food, it was the epoch of eating local. It was the season of Taco Bell, it was the season of Dos de Oros Taco Truck. It was “A Tale of Two Tacos,” it was a story of my heritage in food.
Growing up, I was not very aware of ethnic identity. My paternal grandfather migrated to the United States from Mexico—and my mother is half-Mexican—but I was raised two generations removed in South Omaha without much exposure to my cultural roots.
Ignorant of Mexican cuisine, all I knew was American food culture until my pre-teen years. I had no idea that Taco Bell was not “authentic.” A fateful meal at a food truck in South Omaha offered my first taste of real Mexican food. The experience not only opened my taste buds, it broadened my cultural awareness.
Everyone knows tacos are an important part of Mexican cuisine. But their origins remain shrouded in mystery. Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher of the University of Minnesota has written extensively on the subject.
Pilcher theorized that tacos gained prominence in the 18th century as a convenient meal for workers in the silver mines of Mexico. His book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, explores the taco as a crucible for the legacy of Spanish imperialism, Native identity in food (with corn), and the emergence of post-colonial politics.
Throughout Mexican history, the taco was food for the working class. Over time, with Mexican immigration, working-class migrants brought tacos north of the border. In the United States, they added ingredients, such as cheddar cheese and lettuce. Tex-Mex was born.
Eventually, a man named Glen Bell—who would go on to establish Taco Bell—pre-fried a tortilla in a U-shape shell. Then came the talking chihuahua, the 24-hour drive through, the “Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos,” and the rest.
My grandfather, Jesus Hernandez, was raised on authentic Mexican food. He knows nothing of Taco Bell. I can’t help but find it humorous, considering the importance Taco Bell had in my early understanding of “Mexican” food.
Grandpa was born in Mexico and grew up as a goat herder. He came to America over the Rio Grande on a tractor tire, hauled by Coyotes (not the animal, the human traffickers). My father was born in America, but he still grew up in Mexican culture because both of my grandparents were very much attached to their roots. Finally, I came along. But we never spoke Spanish around the house, and the closest thing I had to authentic Mexican food was Taco Bell.
I was about 11 years old when I tasted my first “real” taco. When my father picked me up from school—he wasn't much for cooking—he decided to take me to some place I had never been before. We drove to the Dos de Oros in South Omaha. The name translates to “two [pieces] of gold.”
The truck was unassuming, a generic white van with a menu displayed on the exterior. I had my doubts, as I had never before eaten anything from the parking lot of an automotive parts store.
My father assured me that it would be OK. He explained it was a taco truck. Then, he asked me how many tacos I wanted. My initial reaction was bewilderment: “Tacos not from Taco Bell? This is absurd!” I thought.
So, my father just went ahead and ordered three “tacos de carne asada.” After roughly 10 minutes, I received a Styrofoam takeout box. A tasty scent emitted from within. Still not expecting much, I opened the box, only to be thoroughly surprised to see pieces of steak in the tacos.
I had thought tacos only included ground beef. After one bite, I realized the error of my ways. The taco truck’s fare was by far superior to Taco Bell (with a similar wait time for the food). The cilantro, onion, and other herbs were freshly cut; the corn tortilla was soft and warm; and the steak was real—grilled and juicy—not lukewarm meat granules squirted into edible envelopes, which I was accustomed to enjoying.
Comparing tacos from fast-food chains to local food trucks offered an insight into cultural context. In much of Mexico, historically, people had no choice but to use the fresh ingredients around them. The result was a much better quality end product. From impoverished circumstances, food becomes infinitely more valuable. In America, we are always rushed as we strive for greater efficiency. As a result, we don’t always care about what goes in our foods; we only worry if it tastes “good” (or good enough). Taco Bell fits our needs despite lacking in authenticity or true deliciousness that I found at Dos de Oros.Dos de Oros Food Truck 3310 S. 24th St. Food: 4 out of 5 stars Service: 3 out of 5 stars Ambiance: 1 out of 5 stars Price: $ Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.