Monday, March 22, 2010

Los Taquitos de Puebla's Chorizo Tacos

When I was growing up in Thailand, my mom had to struggle to get us packaged American food. Though I was rather unfamiliar, having left the US shortly after my birth, my brother had all the unhealthy hankerings of an American kid. Because of its scarcity, our encounters with such items became a welcome treat, and my mom found herself making more trips to the incredibly overpriced supermarket for expatriates on Sukhumvit.

The items she trekked into the city for were as basic as bread and milk (neither of which were an integral part of the Thai diet at the time), and as novel as canned peaches, apple juice, and Oreos. In her quest to inspire an appetite in her two skinny, gangly sons, she brought home something she had loved in the US: Tacos. We treated that family pack of Old El Paso taco fixings like a regular trip to Pizza Hut (in Thailand, Pizza Hut is an actual restaurant and not simply a purveyor of circular garbage like it is in the US). Of course, the good folks at Old El Paso led us to believe that hard shell tacos were authentically Mexican. It wasn't until I came to the US, and even then not until I ventured past Taco Bell, that I discovered what a real Mexican taco was like...and I was disappointed.

Something about the authentic soft shell taco didn't give me the same satisfaction as the build-your-own hard shell experience my mom had created for us. As I experienced more and more authentic Mexican food, I found that it used some of the same spices found in Thai cuisine (cilantro, hot peppers, etc) but in far less appealing series of homogeneous preparations. Never did the suggestion of Mexican food meet an exuberantly positive reaction from my taste.

When I discovered the wonders of Philly's Italian Market years later, I found that there was a growing presence (albeit not a welcome one in the perspective of the entrenched Italians) of Mexican establishments. It was the first time I'd seen a Mexican diaspora with a concentration of restaurants, and I damned my previous notions regarding the cuisine and started anew.

La Lupe was my early favorite, although inconsistency in food quality (particularly the sometimes perfectly mushy and sometimes impossibly dry plantains), increasingly shitty service and price increases on the menu led me to abandon this standby for Veracruzana just up the street. Gradually, I found myself tiring once again of the various forms of tortilla-meat-beans.

It was a small squad of unusually boisterous attorneys that urged me to venture into the wonders of Mexican pork at a newer joint on 9th street called Pueblas, or 'Black Awning Joint' for ease of reference. My old friends (and likely my future legal council) Tony, Niev, and Jon noted that my blog was lacking in the true Mexican dish of chorizo tacos. On a beautiful day in South Philadelphia, I set out to fill the void.

I walked into an empty Pueblas and ordered from a menu filled with animal parts. I ordered the chorizo tacos with a side order of scallions. Waiting in the tiny orange table area, I perused the photography on the walls, pictures from Mexico and of Mexicans in Philadelphia, dressed in indigenous garb, celebrating, parading, cooking in kitchens, sitting on stoops, gathering, laughing, and before I got to the end of the series, my food was ready. To my order, I added two little glass bottles of Coke (unfortunately the American variety sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and not sugar). With the spoils of my journey in hand, I scampered home.

The tacos were very basic, the diced and cooked chorizo laid out on top of three overlapping taco tortillas with a single fried scallion to top it off. My side order revealed a dozen more of these green onions. I squeezed the limes provided over everything and began. The first bite revealed a texture not unlike ground beef, but far chewier and more pleasing. The slightly rubbery portions of the chopped sausage mingled with a purely meaty texture to completely eclipse the tortilla, which was simply a vessel for the filling. The combination between the inherent saltiness of the sausage, the added peppery hotness and the tartness of lime completely zapped any potentially off-putting pork flavors. Once again, dry sausage made it happen. Chorizo beat the crap out of most beef tacos I've had (although I'm still partial to beef tongue tacos).

As I ate, I periodically bit into a scallion. It's preparation left it crunchy in all its layers, making it one of the most pleasing cooked vegetables I've had the pleasure of biting into. My teeth cutting through each layer as I bit down and the explosion of sour-salty flavor that followed is a sensation that could, on its own, bring me back to Pueblas on a regular basis.

I was finally satisfied to have tried some real Mexican, and this category of food has risen out of obscurity in my mind. I'm excited about the prospect of all the great Latin American traditions of pork. I'll have to trek out to the Barrio soon.

1 comment:

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