Sunday, March 7, 2010
Tacos al Vapor
February is going out like the wounded dead and March is coming in like a sugar high. For the past month, Carter, Oscar and I have been playing hot potato with a variety of debilitating illnesses. We have been tin soldiers, one falling sick right after the other in a sniffley, germy domino effect. Today might actually be the first day that we are all healthy at the same time in over a month… but then again, the day is not over….…
A week ago, I was up all night making a deal with our toilet. I would hand over the contents of my stomach, my stomach lining and all of my digestive juices and acids and the porcelain boss would let me live. Needless to say, I did not eat for another thirty-six hours, completely wrecked by the experience, my entire body quaking at the mere suggestion of food.
But alas, spring is in the air and the regenerative spirit is alive. After a month of chicken broth and bland white food, what is my first meal out of the gates? Street tacos. Yep. I know, I almost can’t say it out loud. Bowing to my growling belly, begging to be filled with something substantial, and taste buds clamoring for flavor, I walked 50 yards to the closest taco truck and ordered four tacos al vapor. Before moving to Mexico, I had never heard of tacos al vapor, (or steamed tacos) much less many of the other Mexican delicacies I now crave on a daily basis.
Tacos al vapor are a homemade corn tortilla dipped in grease, then filled with an endless selection of flavorful fillings such as roasted poblano chilies and cheese, chunky mashed potatoes and refried beans, or various saucy shredded meats. Once folded into little half moons, they are tucked into a large metal steaming pot, packed in and steamed until they are very limp and as flat as a pancake. The flavors all meld together. Biting into one is like curling up on the couch with a big bowl of your mom's shepard's pie; it is Mexican comfort food.
My research shows that tacos al vapor are strictly street food. They are never found on a menu in a sit-down restaurant. Not even a sit-down TACO restaurant, unless that sit-down taco restaurant drives-up, peddles-up or motors-up. Every morning, the owner sets up a few squat chairs and rickety metal card tables with the Coca-Cola logo scrawled across the dented top on the sidewalk, then packs it all up at the end of the day, only to repeat the process the next morning. Do you see the difference?
Maria Elena is the dedicated chef behind the stand closest to my house. (There are two within two blocks, which would lead me to conclude that there are as many tacos al vapor trucks in Guadalajara as there are blocks—it is a sprawling 70 square mile area. That is a lot of blocks!) Maria Elena gets up at 4am every morning and tenaciously makes over 200 tacos. Her family’s food business has occupied the same parking spot for over ten years.
It occurred to me while inhaling my fourth taco, that some people might think taking it easy for a few days before hitting the sinkless, refrigerationless restaurant on wheels, might be a smart way to go for someone with a newly purged stomach. It was then that I realized, with my street food craving abated, soy Mexicana!