Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Seems there’s a new National Day that is loaded daily, online. This past August, I learned about National Dog Day and posted pics of myself and Leila, Tyler and Jean’s German Shepherd, as we all hiked the San Juan Loop Trail, in California’s
Cleveland National Forest.
So today, Sunday, October 4th is National Taco Day. All Day.
I’m game. What better reason to mount a taco crawl across Orange County to some of my favorite spots, ordering with strategic savor, the specialties that each one offers!
Rivera’s Fresh Tacos, Cochinita, deep in flavor and achiote red, sans the Pibil part (term that means “pit” from traditional Yucatan covered pit cooking). Tio Flaco’s Tacos, smoky, wood-grilled Asada and Al Pastor. Sobrasado’s, crispy and succulent, Carnitas from the flat top (formally Alerto’s – Fountain Valley location only). And if you would like to get an idea of what fish tacos were like before the beer batter takeovers of the mid-80’s, make your own grilled fish tacos from any one of Taco Adobe’s line up of Pescado plates.
But Clyde, this is a National Day, touting one of America’s favorites. Why not let a serendipitous hair get into the works of your OC itinerary? Yeah … jump onto the freeways, south, to North San Diego County.
Hmmmm … I mention my eldest son and his wife, again, the ones with Leila. They happen to be camping down in North SD County – Dixon Lake. Lucky! San Juan family tradition dictates–if you're down there–it's the Barrel Place–no excuses. Does Tyler know it’s National Taco Day today? You, the reader wonder, what’s a Barrel Place?
I can visualize it now. I pull into the city of Escondido, onto highway 78’s business route through town and there it is. El Indio de Tijuana! You can’t miss it.
With fond reminiscence, I park in front of the rewarding jewel our hungry scout troop frequented after every backpack trek in the Anza Borrego Desert. We affectionately call it the “Barrel Place,” and from the order/take out window of this bright orange and yellow, yup, undeniably barrel-shaped building, it serves up the iconic California burrito. Supposedly, San Diego County was its birthplace and it was quite the craze among my young scouts from Orange County.
A burrito stuffed with krinkle cut fries?
Don’t get me wrong, I love fries (even flavorful, soggy krinkle cuts – key word, flavorful). But, to come to the Barrel Place, after the deprivations of backpacking beckon for a more exotic recourse, a CA burrito would not be on the top of my list. Lengua, Tripas and Carnitas tacos would be the ticket to satiate my hunger. Okay, maybe an Asada burrito for the road home. The Barrel Place is real honest, cash only. If you’re coming off a long drive, make that important pit stop at one of the gas stations across the way first.
Back in Fullerton, I don’t have anybody to share either adventure with, nobody to raise a Tamarindo or a Horchata to. I message my other son, Bryce and his wife Lacey, up in WA, to see if they’re going to their favorite spot, Nemos. Tobie and Poofy are their pets’ names. I’ve got Buddy, my Maine Coon.
“What? You’re making tacos at home?”
Well … there’s a great idea! Okay Clyde, check the frig. Looks like you’ve got enough fixin’s for a quick, light lunch. Dinner? What needs to be defrosted and/or what staples need to be prepped? Got it.
Lunch first. I do this one regularly. Papas and Faux Nopalés – Mulitas style. Pre-boiled potato, diced, sautéed golden and crispy, layered inside flour tortillas with my sautéed stand-in for Nopales – cumin, garlic-laced Baby Sun Rose (aptenia cordifolia). It’s an edible succulent, by utility, a ground cover for your front or back yard brick-trimmed plots. I grow some in a container, from which I harvest frequently.
Pan-grilling the tacos with a moderate, not generous amount, of melty Colby-Jack, makes for these tacos to be in the Mulitas style. Okay, you can be generous with the cheese. I’ve got dinner tacos to think about. Taco lunch is fini! The counterpoints of temperature and texture are accented this time with a cilantro, caper and pickled banana pepper Chimicurri style condiment that I recently made for hush puppies (more about hush puppies, later).
Fast forward. Returning to the kitchen with great anticipation. It’s time to explore a new venture for today’s Taco dinner! Something I’ve had my sights on for some time.
One of Mexico City’s most delectable street taco is Suadero. Made with a cut of beef, similar to American brisket – which is taken higher on the breast, while the Suadero cut is from an area lower and closer to the stomach. In the famously coined, “Sombrero,” a large, straight-sided, sauté pan with a raised dome in the center, a wonderful confluence of flavors occur. Marinated or lightly seasoned, the Suadero meat is combined with either Longanisa sausage or chorizo, or both, and slowly fried, basically done in a pork fat confit, all nestled down in the lower level of the pan’s circumference.
The Sombrero, is ingenious, a perfect street taco kitchen in itself, with the Taquero, cooking and serving, right in front of you. First dipped in the flavorful confit oil, corn tortillas are cooked, then snatched hot off the raised dome to be dressed with glorious, fall-apart meat and sausage, pulled straight from the Sombrero and/or chopped on a wood block. Traditionally, these luscious, dripping, gems are finished with a habanero salsa.
I don’t have a metal Sombrero, any beef brisket, or a load of lard. So, this will be a non-fried, braised version of Suadero made with a chicken thigh, bone-in, a bit of bacon, spices, a splash of tomato sauce, veggie stock, onions and chilis. From my cold, small batch pantry of cooked staples, a cilantro garlic oil. Instead of Spanish Longanisa, or Mexican Chorizo, I’m going to bring in a Filipino Sweet Longanisa (hot, available at your favorite Asian grocer) and for added porky richness, Chicharrones, straight out of the bag, to be included in the slow-braise and later, for garnishing, Campechano style. I do have a habanero salsa, but will instead accent with the fresh pop and crispiness of cabbage and pico-de-gallo.
Having high blood pressure, admittedly, I see this is can be a rich, heavily salted dish. One that I do not foresee making every week. But being a small batch with the lightest of salt to the chicken and relying on the inherent salt in the cured meats to pick up the slack, I should be good. An ingredient in the veggie stock that I make routinely, helps me forego all salt from the get go, and it adds a wonderful umami to this base. Overall, I hope these measures, plus the elimination of excess oils, will keep any “salt bomb” repercussions, as my boys and I call it, from ensuing hours later.
After achieving a good fond from the sauté of the chicken, bacon, longanisa, onions and chilis, I deglaze with the stock, add water to bring it up to braising level and turn it down to a low simmer. Before covering, a generous handful of dry, curly chicharrones goes in to get happy with everybody already in the pool for a good bit, till au point.
Once tender and drained, the meats are roughly chopped, the sauce reserved. Pictured are the finished Suadero tacos, with a side of sauce, for some heavenly dipping. And as I said, the crunchy Chicharrones, dry chicha-crumble, I call it, makes for the Campechano street taco presentation. Along with the cabbage chiffonade, they two play well against the moist, juicy meats. The fresh pico brings a modicum of acid and heat, coloring the presentation.
How do you say it, “It’s da bomb!”
Nice to get a chance to create on the fly once in awhile!
Which reminds me of long Sierra backpacking treks, back in the day, before “ultra light packing and palatable dehydrated meals” came into vogue. As young bucks, it was common for my friends and I to hoist packs laden, for weekend or week long treks, with heavy canned foods, pastas, ramens, beans and rice, trail mixes, bags of seasoned cornmeal, flour, and not to forget, a grand assortment of sweet powdered drink packets.
Whenever we would call camp, immediately I would make everyone dump out their food bags so I could get to work on dinner from what was availed, including dessert, if things were promising, or, at least focus on what was needed for savory accompaniments to, hopefully a successful reeling in of high mountain trout.
What a way to enjoy life, unfettered and innocent in those days! High above the tree line, pristine air, awesome vistas and a good trout dinner. Once, on the Joh Muir Trail, with one very successful haul of trout, our supply of cornmeal exhausted, we also indulged with spicy hush puppies that I made with crushed Fritos as a component to the batter. Fritos are made of cornmeal, a core ingredient in hush puppies. Another trip, I made crepes with flour, both powdered egg substitute and milk, and served them with a compote filling of mulled raisins and dried berries, gleaned from our trail mixes with Kool Aid’s classic, Mountain Berry Punch.
Back to those more recent hush puppies, made with kimchee, jalapeños and this time, Bugles, another old-time corn snack as the main batter ingredient, to good reviews. My son, Tyler quipped that I should go on Chopped!
“Too old and slow,” was my reply and we both laughed.
This National Day, to celebrate Tacos, for me, as basic as that is, has been a totally engaging and creative day to live! Duly interested in this phenomenon of assigning random things to random days, I found a site that listed Taco Day as being dedicated solely to the 4th day of October, while I noticing other days ran by the first, or second, and so forth, weekends of the month. National Taco Day.
And there were 4 other picks from the same October 4th: National Cinnamon Bun Day, National Golf Lover’s Day, National Vodka Day, and National GOE Day (Growth. Overcome. Empower. This looks like an interesting one to check out for later). And if you scroll up or down, diverse, humorous, intriguing and enriching choices abound to tickle your fancy. Listed day by day, month by month, it's a great way to search out other days that can become special to you and yours.
I for one, was pleasantly surprised in just running with the simple notion of a National Day, skirting around the daily, frenetically tiresome, infantile barrages of too, too many touch points streaming on our mobile devices, or desktops. One can suddenly see opened, a wonderful rabbit hole to take. One can be spurned to an interest never entertained before. We can think and live outside the box, unashamed, learn new things, meet people, smile, laugh and enjoy the simpler things of living out just one single day with joy and best of all, with intrinsic intent.
So when Sunday, October 4th, comes round again, raise a taco, or a cinnamon bun, vodka, if that’s you, or play a round of golf for the first time. Whatever day suddenly comes upon you, find a way to enjoy that day, all the day long, with family, friends, and new friends. Whatever, do it with fervor and relish the time spent in gratefulness!
clyde san juan