EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published Feb. 26, 2016. We're bringing it back in honor of #NationalTacoDay.
Q: What do you get when you mix bacon, egg, cheese, tortillas and cultural appropriation?
A: A food fight that's brewing over Austin's breakfast taco scene.
Eater Austin, a food website that's a subsidiary of Vox Media, recently published a story about the history of breakfast tacos that contained some fightin' words proclaiming Austin the "home of the crucial breakfast taco."
The Twitterverse went wild, claiming that the Austin-centric story whitewashed the dish's history by diminishing its roots in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. Austin responded, telling San Antonio to stop whining.
A San Antonio chef challenged Austin to a breakfast-taco throwdown while an Austin columnist preached peace. Someone even made a change.org petition calling for authorities to exile the writer, Matthew Sedacca, from the state for "taco negligence." That petition has over 1,600 signees as of Friday afternoon.
"Texans are a sensitive lot," said José R. Ralat, a Dallas-based taco writer and food editor at Cowboys & Indians magazine. "They take things personally and are protective of what is theirs. Austin especially."
Only 35 percent of Austinites are Hispanic or Latino, compared with 42 percent in Dallas and 63 percent in San Antonio. The mostly-white hipster culture that dominates the city's stereotypical façade has given Austin a reputation for blind appropriation. It's no secret that the city is deeply segregated with urban gentrification pushing out minorities.
Under that lens, it's easy to see why non-Austin taco fans could be offended by a mostly white city claiming itself as the symbolic home of a dish with deep Mexican roots. According to Gustavo Arellano, author of of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, all that cultural conflict came bubbling up when Austin Eater claimed the breakfast taco.
"It's glamorizing a working man's meal," Arellano said. "San Antonio has always been a Mexican city compared to Austin's lily-white image. That's the underlying tension in this breakfast taco debate."
Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly in California and wrote a response column to Sedacca's story last week. He writes that even the phrase "breakfast taco," which the Eater story claimed as uniquely Austin, was first coined by The Arizona Republic in 1975 describing a dish from — wait for it — San Antonio.
"Breakfast tacos were already a known commodity long before Austin officially decided to go breakfast-taco crazy," Arellano writes. "Sorry, kids, but being Columbused by hipsters in New York and L.A. don't count as discovery, especially when schoolchildren in San Bernadino were already having breakfast tacos in their trays back in the 1970s."
Burritos suffered the same, whitewashed fate, Arellano said. The Mission burrito was developed in Hispanic neighborhoods of San Francisco before yuppies — the grandparents of today's hipsters — decided to adopt it. Quicker than you could say "Chipotle," its popularity took off nationwide.
The cause for this microinvalidation is easy enough to see: out-of-state white folks love Austin, and there are breakfast tacos in Austin. So if someone from Brooklyn comes to the South by Southwest music festival and eats an organic, pork-belly breakfast taco in Austin, they'll assume it's an Austin original.
He says it's like a joke he tells about Tex-Mex food generally: The Rio Grande Valley invented it, San Antonio popularized it and Austin takes credit for it.
"It's Plato's man in the cave. If all you know is Austin, that's what you'll remember," Arellano said. "That Austin's been an evangelist for breakfast tacos should be commended."
So where is the true home of the breakfast taco? It's hard to say, since there are so many regional differences statewide, Ralat said. He does, however, make the case for Dallas as the taco capital of Texas.
Ralat said because Dallas has money and jobs, it's more attractive to Mexican immigrants than Austin. That means a greater diversity in styles of taquerias.
Ralat lives in Oak Cliff, and said within a few minutes drive from his home he can hit taquerias that serve Oaxacan, Sonoran, Monterrey-style, Tex-Mex, Mexico City and more.
"You can't say that about Austin," Ralat said. "You can say that about Houston. It's the other city you can argue has an equally diverse taco scene."
The variety in Dallas is just a sampling of statewide styles, Ralat said, which is part of why it's so problematic to claim one city as the home of the breakfast taco.
"I think Texas is big enough. We have regional styles of barbecue, we have at least four styles of [flour] tortilla," Ralat said. "There's so much diversity and so much history and so much regionality. A taco is a reflection of its time and its place."