Tostadas and tacos are two iconic Mexican dishes that are beloved all over the world. But what exactly is the difference between a tostada and a taco? In this comprehensive guide, we will examine everything you need to know about these delicious tortilla-based foods.
Some key questions we will answer include:
- What are the main ingredients in tostadas and tacos?
- How are tostadas and tacos prepared differently?
- What are the shapes and forms of tostadas versus tacos?
- How do you eat a tostada versus a taco?
- What types of fillings go into each dish?
- How did tostadas and tacos originate and evolve?
- Where can you find authentic tostadas and tacos?
By the end of this article, you’ll be a tostada and taco expert ready to appreciate the nuances of these iconic Latin American dishes!
Defining Tostadas and Tacos
First, let’s start with a baseline definition of what exactly tostadas and tacos are:
Tostadas – A tostada is a Mexican appetizer or entree consisting of a flat, crisp fried or toasted tortilla topped with various ingredients like meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and more. The distinguishing feature of a tostada is the hard, crunchy texture of the toasted or fried tortilla base.
Tacos – A taco is a traditional Mexican dish with a folded tortilla that encloses a variety of fillings. The soft tortilla can be made from corn or wheat flour. Tacos are typically filled with proteins like beef, chicken, pork or fish along with onions, cilantro, salsas, and other toppings. The folded tortilla allows you to eat a taco easily with your hands.
The biggest difference between tostadas and tacos lies in the form and preparation of the tortilla base:
- A tostada tortilla is flat, crunchy and rigid due to being toasted or fried until crisp.
- A taco tortilla is soft and pliable so it can be folded or rolled around the filling.
Tostada shells are often deep fried in oil just like tortilla chips to give them their signature crunch. The toasted surface also provides an excellent textural contrast with the creamy or moist fillings layered on top.
Taco tortillas maintain a soft, bendable consistency so they can be folded or rolled into the iconic curved taco shape. The tortilla provides a sturdy edible base or vessel to hold the taco fillings and toppings together.
In addition to the different tortilla textures, tostadas and tacos each have their own preparation method:
- Tostadas – The crispy tostada shell is layered flat and then topped with ingredients spread over the surface. Refried beans, meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, crema, and guacamole are examples of popular tostada toppings.
- Tacos – With tacos, the ingredients are placed inside the soft rolled or folded tortilla. Meat or veggies are cooked in advance and then assembled into the tortilla along with other fillings and toppings as desired.
The open-faced nature of the tostada means no folding is required. You simply top the crispy shell as you would a pizza crust or flatbread. With tacos, the art of folding the tortilla around the fillings is part of their construction.
Shapes and Forms
Shape is another obvious distinction between tostadas and tacos:
- Tostadas are characteristically flat, wide and open.
- Tacos are narrower with curved, overlapped sides made by the folded tortilla.
When served upright, a tostada takes the form of a flat circular or oval disc. The rigid texture means the tostada maintains its flat shape despite being piled high with toppings.
The crescent-like form of a taco comes from folding the tortilla around the fillings inside. The size and exact shape can vary from small “street” style tacos to larger tacos. Corn tortillas lend themselves especially well to folding tacos due to their pliability.
Eating Tostadas Versus Tacos
The different structures of tostadas and tacos also impact how you eat them:
- Tostadas – Due to the flat, open face, tostadas are eaten with a fork right off the plate or crisp shell. You stab bites including a portion of the tortilla base and the toppings.
- Tacos – Tacos are meant to be picked up and eaten by hand. The folded tortilla and compact size with overlapped sides allow you to easily pick up tacos to take bites while holding it.
Tostadas require a plate and fork to consume since the toppings would fall off without the plate support. The edible crisp shell also makes spearing bites with a fork easy.
The closed and contained nature of the taco makes it highly portable and hand-friendly. This hand-held quality helps make tacos a convenient and fun food for celebrations, parties, and festivals.
Fillings and Toppings
Both tostadas and tacos can be filled with a variety of ingredients from meat to veggies. However, there are some classics for each dish:
- Tostadas – Refried beans, chicken or beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and Mexican crema are popular tostada toppers.
- Tacos – Ground beef, chicken, pork carnitas, or fish are typical taco fillings. Onions, cilantro, salsa, lime, and shredded cheese complement the meats.
Anything from sliced steak to seafood or veggies could fill a tostada or taco shell. Tostadas often lean vegetable-heavy with lots of beans, lettuce, tomato, and creamy toppings. Tacos feature more meats like seasoned ground beef, marinated chicken, or slow-cooked pork.
History and Origins
Tostadas and tacos have distinct origins and evolutions within Mexican cuisine history:
Tostadas likely originated in Mexican home kitchens as a quick, homemade appetizer or snack using leftover tortillas. Frying yesterday’s tortillas added new life by crisping them up to create a sturdy base for toppings.
Crunchy tortilla snacks gained popularity across Mexico. Eventually they earned the name “tostadas” meaning “toasted” based on the signature preparation method of frying or toasting the tortillas.
Traditional tostada shells are made from corn tortillas either fried or toasted. In recent decades, companies have created mass-produced tostada shells using corn or wheat flour to increase availability and convenience.
While tostadas are found all over Mexico today, they remain especially popular as a snack or appetizer in their original central Mexico birthplace.
Tacos originated in Mexico City in the 18th or 19th centuries, though no exact origin is known. They likely evolved as a portable food that could be eaten on the go by urban workers.
The concept of wrapping or rolling food in soft flatbread dates back centuries around the world. But Mexico seems to be where flatbread was specifically adapted into the modern crispy taco and its soft-shelled relatives.
Spanish colonizers brought flour tortillas to Mexico, which then blended with native corn tortillas to create the hybrid wheat and corn taco tortillas enjoyed today.
In the mid 20th century, tacos spread across the U.S. and became popularfar north of the border after fast food chains like Taco Bell took off. They are now one of the most beloved Mexican foods worldwide.
Where to Find Authentic Tostadas and Tacos
For the true flavor of these Mexican classics, you can’t beat eating them in their homeland of Mexico. The good news is tasty authentic tostadas and tacos can be found all over Mexico.
Authentic Mexican Tostadas
Some top spots for excellent traditional tostadas in Mexico include:
- Street food stands – Look for street carts selling fresh crisp tostadas of all varieties in cities across Mexico.
- Restaurants – Higher end Mexican restaurants often have gourmet tostada options using quality local ingredients.
- Home kitchens – Getting invited to a Mexican family’s home for homemade tostadas is the ultimate dining experience.
The state of Puebla is one of the best places to sample authentic Mexican tostadas given the region’s strong culinary traditions.
Authentic Mexican Tacos
For classic tacos in Mexico, you’ll find tasty options across the country. The top places to eat authentic tacos include:
- Street taco stands – These ubiquitous street food stalls serve incredible classic Mexican tacos for extremely low prices.
- Taquerias – Casual taco restaurants specializing in tacos are known as taquerias in Mexico and they offer plenty of variety.
- Markets – Many local Mexican markets or food halls have taco stands selling heaping plates of tacos using fresh ingredients.
Mexico City, as the birthplace of tacos, offers exceptional street tacos and taquerias. But the whole country is full of top-notch tacos reflecting local flavors.
To recap the main things that distinguish tostadas from tacos:
|Crispy, fried or toasted tortilla base||Soft, pliable rolled or folded tortilla|
|Open faced and flat||Closed sides made by folding tortilla over fillings|
|Eaten with a fork off the plate||Eaten by picking up by hand|
|Refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avo, cheese typical toppings||Ground beef, chicken, carnitas, fish typical taco fillings|
Tostadas and tacos are two stellar representatives of Mexico’s delicious culinary heritage. Getting to sample authentic recipes for these dishes in Mexico is a can’t-miss experience for any food lover.
While both feature tortillas as the base, the crisp fried shell of tostadas versus the soft folded tacos creates a remarkably different eating experience. Their unique shapes, textures, fillings, and eating methods set tostadas and tacos apart.
These classic and innovative tortilla preparations will continue evolving while remaining iconic Mexican street foods and comfort meals. Whether you prefer crunchy tostadas or hand-held tacos, you can’t go wrong enjoying the flavors of Mexico.