The Food Almanac: Friday, October 4, 2013

Staff Writer
It's Taco Day!
Jody Horton

Tacos in the United States have changed a lot in the last decade.

Today's Flavor
Today is Pan-American Taco Day. Tacos in the United States have changed a lot in the last decade. Here we were, thinking that a hard-fried corn tortilla filled with ground beef, lettuce, and tomatoes was a taco. Maybe it is in some bordertowns, but that item is so odd to most Mexicans that when a Taco Bell opened in Mexico City, Mexicans who had been to America were disappointed not to find the crispy tortillas filled with the salad that we call a taco here.

A more typical Mexican taco is made with a soft flour tortilla filled with grilled meat, peppers, and onions. We have been able to get those ever since Taqueria Corona opened. And even before that, really, although the items was usually listed on menus as "tacos al carbon." In the aftermath of the hurricane, so many Mexicans and Central Americans came to New Orleans to work on construction projects (and other things) that the phenomenon of taco trucks sprang up. Some of these were allegedly good. Owing to some bizarre lack of luck, I have never found an active taco truck at any time or place, even when following reports given me the day before. As time has gone on, many of the taco truck operators have opened permanent taquerias around town. While these have added a new dimension to the dining scene, I would not say that the phenomenon has blossomed fully yet.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Burrito Creek is ten miles northeast of San Luis Obispo, California. It flows down the mountains of the Santa Lucia Wilderness, beginning at a spring at 1900 feet and descending three miles northeast to join Rinconada Creek on a flat, dry plain at 1200 feet. The water winds up in the Pacific by way of the Salinas River. There's an interesting place to eat three miles away from the mouth of Burrito Creek. The Rinconada Dairy raises sheep and makes cheeses of high quality with ewe's milk. You can spend a few days there, gathering your own eggs for breakfast and the like.

Today's Non-Flavor
Today is National Vodka Day. Vodka is defined by law as a colorless, odorless spirit with a high alcohol percentage. If it must be odorless and colorless, where is the quality criterion? It doesn't really exist, of course, and it proves just how effective advertising can be. When mixed with other ingredients, one vodka is just like any other. (I know I will get some flack for saying that, but blind tastings tell the tale.) My feeling about vodka is about the same as that of my friend Paul LaBruyere, who once said, "I'd as soon pour it down the drain and hit myself over the head with the bottle as drink it."

Annals Of Food Writing
Today in 1933--in the middle of the Depression--a new men's magazine called Esquire published its first issue. It was the Maxim of its day, and if you were caught reading it you were thought of as a roue. By the time I got to it, in the late 1960s, it had become one of the best magazines on the newsstands. Its articles about food have always been far better than in other general magazines. I particularly recall a 1972 article about the ultimate Christmas feast. It inspired me to do one of my own. The long version of that story is in my book Hungry Town.

Food In Medicine
Today in 2004, Richard Axel and Linda Buck won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. They made major discoveries concerning the sense of smell, the most intriguing of which is that three percent of the genes in humans are responsible for our ability to distinguish and remember at least 10,000 different smells. My favorite aroma: that of a well-aged old Bordeaux red wine.

Edible Dictionary
chalupa, n.--The word refers to small boats in Mexico, used in much the same way that gondolas are used in Venice, Italy. The edible chalupa is a tortilla made into a boat shape by pressing the masa dough over a small form or dish, then frying it. It's then filled with ground beef or pork, chicken, cheese, green onions, chile peppers, and tomatoes. It is somewhat like a crisp taco, but in a different form. The cuplike shape of a chalupa allows for ingredients with a more liquid consistency than could be enclosed in a taco.

The Saints 
Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment, animals, birds, and all other things natural. He is the namesake of San Francisco. And a famous New Orleans dish bears his name: crabmeat St. Francis, created by legendary chef Warren Leruth, who was a devotee of the saint.

Food Namesakes
Today is the birthday, in 1941, of New Orleans author Anne Rice. She was christened Howard Allen O'Brien. . . Actress and modelRachael Leigh Cook was born today in 1979. Her picture appeared on boxes of Milk-Bones. . . Texas Rangers pitcher Dennis Cook stepped onto the Big Mound today in 1962. . . Actor Eddie Applegate was born in 1935. . . Francesco Crispi, Italian premier in the late 1800s, was born today in 1818. . R.W. "Johnny" Apple, New York Times writer on politics and (occasionally) food, died today in 2006. He liked New Orleans and visited here often, mainly to eat--his favorite pastime.

Words To Eat By
"The local groceries are all out of broccoli, Loccoli."--Roy Blount, Jr., humorist and writer, born today in 1941.

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Words To Drink By
"The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind."--H.L. Mencken.