Chalupa Vs. Taco: Mexican Street Food Stand-Off
Both Mexican street antojitos with similar ingredients; you might not know the difference between chalupa and taco foods. Read our street food guide below to discover the secret difference - it's in the shell - and learn how to make your own chalupas at home.
Chalupas, tacos, gorditas, tamales - carb and salsa-filled Mexican street food holds a special place in our heart.
And while we know that a chalupa and taco must be different foods, they contain many of the same ingredients, which can make ordering at a street stand a little confusing.
Read below to discover the differences between a taco and a chalupa. We'll also provide step-by-step instructions to make your own fried chicken chalupas from the comfort of your kitchen.
What is a chalupa?
Let's start with a simple chalupa definition. An authentic chalupa is one of Mexico's most delicious street foods, or antojitos, meaning "little snack." These tiny boat-shaped corn shells are typically made from a classic masa harina dough.
Sometimes, chalupas are thicker, like sopes, or thinner, like tostadas, and topped with salsa cheese and lettuce. Some areas of Mexico add a few more complex toppings, like pork, chorizo, shredded chicken, and refried beans.
What is a taco?
A taco is another antojito, famous all over Mexico and America. Tacos came up from the Mexican silver mines as a dish that resembled the original taco definition, explosive powder wrapped in paper for breaking rock walls.
A proper Mexican street taco has a small, corn tortilla base, which is often doubled - safety first when it comes to broken tacos - and topped with stewed and grilled meats, fresh ingredients, salsa, and cilantro.
What's the difference between taco and chalupa antojitos?
The toppings for both chalupas and tacos are very similar, though many regions don't include proteins on their chalupas and keep the toppings simple - just salsa, cheese, and lettuce.
The most significant difference between tacos and chalupas is the shell. Though you can use a taco holder for both, traditional tacos tend to be soft-shelled with corn tortillas, and Americanized versions may have crunchy folded shells or wheat tortillas in place of corn. Chalupas, on the other hand, are rigid and boat-shaped, not folded.
If you'd like to learn more, check our article on fajita vs taco!
Are chalupas hard or soft?
Chalupa flatbread is both chewy and crunchy but decidedly more crunchy than a taco shell.
Is a chalupa a fried gordita?
A chalupa is more comparable to a fried gordita flatbread than a taco. Gorditas are thick tortillas with a pocket in the middle - chalupas are much the same, but with the deep-fried element adding some extra crunch.
What is a Taco Bell chalupa?
Like the rest of Taco Bell's menu, Taco Bell's chalupa is an Americanized spin on the traditional dish. A chalupa from Taco Bell is fried, but that's where the similarities end. The shell's base is enriched wheat flour with corn oil and a load of other hard to pronounce ingredients.
Feel free to enjoy this fast-food version if you like it and aren't worried about your chalupas calories, but if you have the chance to try an authentic cheesy chalupa at some point, you should take one for a spin! Taco Bell's chalupa can't compare.
How to make chalupas
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 25 mins
Serves: 9 chalupas
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 c. masa harina flour
- ½ c. + 1 tsp vegetable oil, divided
- ⅔ c. water
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 c. salsa
- ½ c. iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 1 med. white onion, peeled and finely diced
- ½ c. fresh cotija cheese, crumbled
- Place your chicken in a large pot, and season it with sea salt and pepper. Try to spread the chicken out as much as possible, but you can overlap the chicken breasts slightly if the pot's base doesn't have enough space.
- Cover the chicken breasts in 1 in. of cool water.
- Bring your pot of chicken to a boil on the stovetop over high heat.
- Once your water begins boiling, reduce the heat and let the pot simmer until the chicken reaches 165°F, roughly 8-16 mins depending on the chicken breasts' size.
- Remove your chicken breasts from the water and let them rest on a heat-safe cutting board until cool enough to handle.
- Take 2 forks and shred your chicken into small, bite-sized pieces.
- In a large-sized mixing bowl, combine masa harina with 1 tsp vegetable oil, salt, and water.
- Stir the masa mixture with a large wooden spoon until it forms a soft dough. Use your hands to knead the dough into a smooth ball, adding more water or oil as needed.
- Shape the masa dough into 2-in balls by hand, then flatten each dough ball into a disc shape with your palm.
- With a large spoon, make a small indent in the center of each flattened dough disc, then shape the masa dough into a small boat.
- Preheat a large cast-iron skillet on your stovetop over medium-high heat, along with the leftover ½ c. vegetable oil.
- When your vegetable oil starts to shimmer and shine, add the dough boats.
- Fry the chalupa bread until golden brown and perfectly crisp, about 1 min.
- Then, take a set of long-handled tongs and flip the homemade chalupa shells. Fry until the second side is golden brown and crispy, too.
- Use your tongs to remove the chalupa shells from the oil carefully, and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Spread a big dollop of salsa into the chalupa's center, then top with pulled chicken, lettuce, onion, and cotija cheese.
Shredded chicken chalupa - FAQ
What is masa harina?
Masa harina is naturally gluten-free cornflour made with nixtamalized corn soaked in lime water to soften it, then ground into a powder. This stuff is the absolute go-to for traditional Mexican tortilla, tamale, pupusa, gordita, and chalupa-making.
Is this recipe gluten-free?
Yes! One of the best parts about using masa harina to make corn tortillas is they're naturally free of any wheat-based products. Unlike a restaurant that may have wheat products cross-contaminate their deep fryer, the oil you use to fry at home is new, and therefore safe.
Anyone with either gluten sensitivity or celiac disease is free and clear to enjoy these chalupas.
Can I make this vegetarian?
Sure! There are plenty of street stands that offer vegetarian chalupas. Make a traditional chalupa with just salsa, cheese, and lettuce, or put a scoop of vegetarian refried beans on your chalupas.
To make a vegan chalupa, omit the cheese or try a dairy-free version instead.
You can use red salsa or salsa verde on your chalupa, but we love pico de gallo on ours. Here's a simple recipe to make fresh salsa at home.
Pico de gallo
- 1 c. white onion, finely chopped
- ¼ c. fresh lime juice
- 1 med. jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 ½ lbs ripe red tomatoes, chopped
- ¾ tsp fine sea salt
- ½ c. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- Combine your chopped onion, jalapeno, lime, and salt in a bowl. Let the salsa ingredients sit for ~ 5 mins, as you chop the tomato and cilantro.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and fresh cilantro to your bowl and stir well.
- Taste, and add any extra salt as needed.
- Let the salsa mixture sit for ~ 15 mins or more in the fridge to develop the flavors thoroughly.
- Keep your fresh pico in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in a sealed container.
- Serve and enjoy!
Final notes & storage tips
Your fried chalupa shells are best fresh, though they'll stay in decent shape in a sealed ziplock bag at room temperature for 2-3 days.
The dough freezes well for up to 3 months - be sure to thaw it well in the fridge before you start frying.
Enjoy your crispy, crunchy shredded chicken chalupas!
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