Thursday, July 27, 2006

Texas by the turn signal light: Day 8

I’ll huff and puffy your taco down
Question: Do you know what a puffy taco is, and have you ever eaten one?
For most of you, the answer is “no and I haven’t.”
If you live in San Antonio, Texas, you know exactly what I am addressing and have consumed more than your fair share of puffy tacos.
I’ve blogged, and written in the past, about the difference in regional cuisines, such as barbecue possessing different meanings in Texas than it does in the Midwest; and how the actual taste and preparation also differs from state to state (Carolina vs. Tennessee vs. Texas).
But, truth be told, food, even by the same name, is very much different within the confines of the Lone Star State. Barbecue served in Dallas is not even close to what is cooked in Central Texas (Lockhart, Llano, Taylor, Luling). None of it quite compares to that served as a South Texas church on a Sunday after some of the elders have been cooking it (by the six-pack) for hours upon hours. Nothing matches a pot of pinto beans done properly for any FFA banquet or homemade pies contributed by the women’s auxiliary.
When you relocate, you sort of miss that stuff.
There is no place in North Texas that serves a decent breakfast taco, not even the formerly reliable Taco Cabana (which has fallen on hard taste times). Don’t bother to look; they do NOT exist. In South Texas, most tacquerias or small town restaurants always employ a female cook with magical hands that shape the perfect amount of masa and bakes the tortilla JUST right. Add some egg and slightly spicy chorizo and you are one step closer to heaven. A basket of three breakfast tacos makes for a perfect companion when discussing the weather or the high school football game the night before with breakfast mates
They even do things quite differently in South Texas. People in South Texas use food as gifts. A dozen tamales at Christmas mean you care about someone. A barbecue plate lunch delivered to the home or office states that same sentiment (especially if it was properly cooked leg quarter).
In San Antonio, they will try anything on a restaurant menu. Although it is long gone, the old Maverick Café offered Chinese and Mexican dishes on the same plate. Tacos and chow mein. Cheese enchiladas and sweet and sour pork. You name it; it was dished out together. Ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony.
By the way, when eating in a Mexican restaurant, here’s good rule of thumb: the fajitas must sizzle for at least another 3-4 minute sat your table to prove their freshness. That’s how it is done at a top-flight establishment like El Mirador on St. Mary’s Street near downtown San Antonio.
Alas, a “for lease” sign hangs forlornly on the front marquee of the Maverick – as is the case with many center city businesses in the Alamo City (inside Loop 410). Massive business expansion away from the inner circle of old city population, mostly northward in almost every Texas urban area, has meant a shift, not an increase, in the number of storefronts.
The population has shifted in that direction and has left the old ways behind. Unfortunately, nothing, short of the occasional unisex hair stylist, used car lot or karate school, has filled the void. When the Fed chairman, or other politicians who know little past the end of their own noses, speaks about robust economic recovery, perhaps a drive within many of these inner-cities would be … informative.
For the record, a puffy taco (frying the tortilla until it poofs out and then adding contents) is indigenous to the Alamo City. You’d be laughed out of the Rio Grande Valley or Coastal Bend if you ordered such a thing.
In Dallas, a puffy taco would immediate be sent to the Cooper Institute for weight loss or enrolled in pilates class.
The tradition of the puffy taco, and San Antonio’s love affair with it, reaches its Class AA minor league baseball team, the Missions. There is a mascot, named Henry the Puffy Taco, originally to promote a team sponsor, Henry’s Puffy Tacos (so it isn’t the most mentally taxing name, but what the hell).
The mascot still exists after more than 20 years although the company isn’t a visible sponsor of the Missions anymore. And for 20 years, the same shining moment for the puffy taco takes place in the sixth inning of each home game.
The taco stands on second base while a 5-year-old contestant eagerly awaits on first base. The object is for the child to race, and chase down, the puffy taco. In 20 years, the taco has never won and is always the subject of a tackle – just short of home plate – that would make Bill Parcells proud.
The child stands over the fallen taco, hands raised in victory and the crowd cheers the young boy or girl. It also laughs at the poor puffy taco, while knowing it is no way to treat a mascot … or a puffy taco.
Which could ONLY happen in San Antonio.

1 comment:

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