A ONE-NIGHT STAND IN MEX­ICO

What’s your most de­li­cious tryst of late? Ditch the in­ti­mate fine-din­ing sur­face of white sheets, mood light­ing and soft mu­sic and have a ren­dezvouz in­stead in the busy streets of the taco cap­i­tal of the world.

Preview (Philippines) - - Chapter Seven Dish - BY ABBA NAPA

The radishes, limes and salsa laid out on plas­tic plates or to be scooped out from in­side stain­lesssteel bowls looked de­sir­ably ap­pe­tiz­ing and re­mark­ably fresh, de­spite the string of harsh white lights il­lu­mi­nat­ing them. They were beg­ging to be la­dled over the warm and crispyedged hand­fuls of suadero (braised and seared beef from be­tween the belly and the leg) that were be­ing gin­gerly held in place by two soft corn tor­tillas that I was hold­ing in my hand. Af­ter a week in Mex­ico City, sit­ting down to much lauded and spec­ta­cled din­ners at the Quin­tonils and Pu­jols of this world, stand­ing on a street-side wolf­ing down ta­cos of tripa (tripe) cooked in chorizo-laden fat and melt-in-your­mouth molle­jas (sweet­breads) was at once both a calm­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing fi­nal act. Right then and there, Los Cocuyos be­came the of­fal-lov­ing late-night taco stand of my dreams. To be hon­est, it was my last night in the city and I was crushed that I had not yet stum­bled upon the rev­e­la­tory one-off taco bite that would blow my mind. I needed one that could firmly estab­lish a sense of or­der in my fla­vor mem­ory bank for where ta­cos could now re­side vis-à-vis ev­ery­thing else I’d en­coun­tered in my life. I had tried count­less ver­sions over the course of the week. I had gone to ev­ery rec­om­men­da­tion from ev­ery Mex­i­can friend of a friend and concierge that I could. Some were good, some were very good, and some were down­right un­event­ful. But noth­ing had made me sing. From the get-go, Los Cocuyos’ vis­ual cues get it right. There are no seats and you stand on the street-side jostling for an or­der. The flu­o­res­cent white lights mean busi­ness and seem to project that the pro­pri­etors don’t care to hide be­hind flat­ter­ing façades be­cause they have big enough co­jones not to need to. Then there is the overused hunk of a chop­ping block and the gi­ant caul­dron hold­ing ev­ery part of the cow and pig you have ever heard of, and also those that you hadn’t. I glance at the menu, tacked to the side of the tiny shop’s façade, and am over­come with a sense of op­ti­mism. And though I get nary a smile from Ca­marino and Rigob­erto as I make my first or­der, I re­al­ize as it plops down on my plate that they do care about you. And that they have thought this through be­cause this taco was the per­fect size. Rev­e­la­tory in its fleet­ing­ness, it is gone in three bites to be re­placed by swabs of nap­kins to wipe down your tomatillo-salsa-rid­dled fin­gers and the lust-driven de­sire to or­der your sec­ond. They have made it just the right size so that, should you wish, you can try them all. And that I did, from the lengua to the lon­ga­niza, the cabeza (pig’s head) to the sesos (cow brains), to the campechano, which does have it all (ev­ery­thing on the menu, that is). And af­ter that in­au­gu­ral round, I went back to have sec­onds of my fa­vorite ones—the tripa, the suadero, the molle­jas, with salsa, with ver­duras (vegeta­bles), without, just lime, plain—try­ing to dis­cover which bite moved me the most. At the end of the day, or night, rather, your per­fect bite will be dif­fer­ent from mine. Taco eat­ing is a very per­sonal thing in that way and half the fun is in the dis­cov­ery. With my plates stacked higher than most, I give up my spot to make way for other street-side eaters ready to eat th­ese ta­cos their way. And wav­ing good­bye, I fi­nally get that smile. Calle de Bolí­var 54-56, Cuauhté­moc, Cen­tro Histórico, Mex­ico City; tel. no. 52 5518 4231

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