The original Taco Bell design.
Image via Wikipedia

“I’m going to write a blog post about my Mother’s tacos,” I announce to my Mom today.

“What? What’s that you said?” 

“Nothing Mom.  Nothing.”

“No.  I want to know what you said.”

I get up to go and get the laptop because this year at Thanksgiving, I realize I’ve written about running my hometown year after year.  This morning, she says, “I think we will have tacos tonight.” And, my food memory started to percolate.  The tacos of my mother’s.  There is a story.

In the 70’s, there was a Taco Bell across the street from our church.  And in that Taco Bell was a menu.  There were weird things like frijoles, burritos, enchiladas.  And, right next to them were the pronunciations:  (free-ho-les, boo-rhee-toes, en-chee-la-das).  We really didn’t know what Mexican food was.  We grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and while the Hispanic population is now very prolific, we just didn’t know any Mexican people.  There were Jews and Mormons and us.  And, that’s about it.

So, the Mexican food restaurants were few and far between, and we never heard of these meals.  There certainly weren’t things like “Meal D2” that my son yells into the Taco Bell speakers now.  Mexican food was an oddity.

My parents had neighbors Jane and Clarence.  Jane used to fix tacos for her husband in the 60’s, and one night, they fixed them for my mother.  She showed my Mom how to do the taco shells.  The trick, my mother says, is to fold them over in time in the grease.  You must know the exact moment when they will be done, yet not too crispy.  You must have beef, cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce…and a gazillion types of hot sauce.  The weird thing is, as easy as it seems, no one can ever make them like she does.

We even went on a Girl Scout camping trip where my Mom made tacos.  My Dad got an award, that said WOW EIGHT TACOS!  Yeah, the award was shaped like a taco. 

We have rituals about our tacos.  Everything is laid out on the stove in order.  My dad makes one taco.  Eats it.  Rinses and dries his plate before getting another one.  He explains, you must have a clean plate for the next taco.  There are no spoons in the fixings bowls.  You must pick everything up with your fingers.  We don’t have forks.  It’s the way we do it.  My mom has one, then makes a salad out of the rest of the stuff.  They have a beer before the tacos, then wine.  And always, ice water for everyone.

Every Friday for as many years as I can remember, my Mother has made tacos.  Nothing fancy.  No beans.  No salad.  No rice.  No fancy salsas.  Just tacos.  And, as much as the streets and the runs and the schools are all a part of me…these tacos…are the Friday nights of my life.

As I finish with my blog post, I tell my mother “I just wrote a blog post about your tacos.”  She replies:  “Who would want to read about that?”  And in this moment, I realize that the non-special-ness of my mother’s food is what makes it so spectacular.  The regularity.  The comfort. 

The fact that they’re hers.

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4 thoughts on “Soul Tacos.

  1. Fortunately for me I grew up on the East side of L.A. where both Mexicans and Mexican food were very plentiful. And real Mexican – none of that Taco Bell stuff. Don’t know how I would have lived without it!

    Safe travels tomorrow! The weather and roads are supposed to be pretty yucky.

  2. That is exactly how my mom learned to make tacos in the early 70’s at my aunts house in San Diego….We brought them back to Lincoln and boy were we popular. Unfortunately my mom also discovered sugar free gum so no more juicy fruit, half sticks for us…Yes my mom broke a stick in half, I mean who could chew that much gum at one time. She also came back from the world of hippies with the idea of Whole Wheat bread. We never visited that aunt again, the tacos weren’t that good to risk Tofu or something!

    BTW for a treat I sometimes still fry the shell…now I am hungry!

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