The snack that's a taco from the ice cream truck
A brief history of the Choco Taco
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
An ice cream treat masquerading as a taco, with a thin waffle cone in place of a tortilla and filled with ice cream. Comes in a few variations, but the most common one has vanilla ice cream with chocolate streaks, the whole thing topped with a hard shell of peanut-flecked chocolate.
Find it in
The USA, mostly, but also parts of Europe (see below!).
It’s been hot where I live—like, in the 90s several consecutive days, which is unprecedented—and I’ve had both ice cream (lately) and tacos (always) on my mind, so let’s talk about the Choco Taco. First things first: Can we properly classify it as a taco? I asked Texas Monthly taco editor José R. Ralat, who said:
The original Choco Taco was the brainchild of a manager at the Philadelphia-based Jack & Jill ice cream company named Alan Drazen, who in dreamed it up in 1983. At the time, there were plenty of novelty ice cream products on the market (Good Humor was already selling 85 different ones in 1960) and Drazen thought that Jack & Jill needed its own signature item.
Mexican food was having a moment in the USA (read more about that rise in Gustavo Arellano’s excellent book Taco USA), including chains like Chi-Chi’s, and Drazen pondered how to tap into that trend. It’s not the most enthralling story, honestly (“manager looks at trends, develops product” is hardly a hero’s journey), so, as Eater writer Jason Cohen noted on NPR a few years back, Drazen sometimes “embellishes that story for dramatic effect”:
What they want to hear is that he grew up loving ice cream and loving tacos and always dreamed of mixing it. Or he tells people that he was on a trip to Mexico and got stranded in the desert somewhere and saw it in mirage.
By the late 1980s, the product had taken off. Through the magic of corporate mergers, Unilever soon owned the rights to the original Choco Taco, and in the 1990s, it took the product to Europe, selling it as Winner Taco in Italy, starting in 1998, and in Sweden the following year. But it didn’t last—Unilever discontinued the Winner Taco two years after launching it, and the continent was left adrift (although, incidentally, all of the remaining Chi-Chi’s restaurants are in Europe) … until social media came along.
In 2013, Vice reports, “the first wave of hyper-online people, the ones who speak in memes with a social media accent—came into adulthood, they decided to band together to demand justice from their corporate ice cream overlords.” Through Facebook and Twitter, these ice cream avengers trolled Algida, Unilever’s European distributor, pushing memes and messages.
And then … well, if Alan Drazen’s story didn’t have quite the dramatic arc that he wanted, this part does. [Cue soaring violins.] All that activism, all that grassroots lobbying and meme-sharing by the taco-deprived masses—it worked. The Big Corporation recognized the error of its ways and returned the Winner Taco to its rightful place in the grocery-store freezers around Sweden and Italy.
“La guerra è finita”:
Get it here
Convenience stores and grocery stores around the USA, Italy, and Sweden. Also your local ice cream truck, if you live in a place where there are ice cream trucks and they sell prepackaged products rather than soft-serve, which was a recent discussion on Twitter.
Will you like it?
Eater: “The Legend of the Choco Taco”
NPR: “The Choco Taco: Investigating The Mystery Behind A Classic American Treat”
The Taco Trail: “Choco Tacos”
Vice: “How Young Europeans Trolled Their Beloved Choco Taco Back Into Existence”
This shirt exists. Discuss.