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Food Porn Friday: Taco time

Not exactly authentic Louisiana cuisine.

Not exactly authentic Louisiana cuisine.

I've said it before, and I'll say again: To live in New Orleans -- and especially to grow up here -- is to have access to an embarrassment of culinary riches that seems spectacularly unfair to those poor souls who don't have the good sense to be New Orleanians. Saying that "we care about food here" is a cringe-worthy understatement. Our food is who we are. Our recipes define us, and are more often than not lovingly passed down through the generations, like a well-worn roux spoon or cast-iron pot.  To even try to list all of the dishes that make our city and region special would be a considerably daunting proposition, like Bubba rattling off shrimp preparations in "Forrest Gump" for days on end. Always liked that Bubba.

That said, there were certain favorites that found themselves on my family's table more often than not during my youth here, and still to this day. Red beans on Monday, of course, and dark-roux gumbo with chicken and andouille. We always loved that buttery BBQ shrimp, even though no one seemed to know where the name came from, as the dish has essentially nothing to do with barbecue. Jambalaya was always a stand-by, and if my brothers, my father and I were truly lucky, Mom would spend a couple of days making her famous crawfish etouffee, a thing of profound delight (and NEVER with those horrible, frozen Chinese crawfish, of course).

So, given all of these and more, you might think that my father, the ultimate lucky dog for having a wife who cooks so splendidly six nights a week -- Sunday was always for ordering pizza -- would have a hard time choosing which of these south Louisiana classics was his favorite. But you know what?  Given the opportunity to decide what was going to be on the dinner table that night, he chose none of them. Even that storied etoufee didn't hold a candle to his very favorite dish, a simple classic that has about as much to do with the cuisine of south Louisiana as an alligator in a fur factory:

Tacos.

That's right, the man was born in the Crescent City and has lived here for the better part of his life, and when asked what his favorite meal is, he goes not with the red beans or the gumbo, grillades and grits, trout amandine or even fried chicken, but tacos. And we're not talking about authentic Mexican tacos, either, the kind you're likely to find in Oaxaca, Puebla or Mexico City, with soft corn tortillas and simple but lovingly prepared fillings like carne asada or slowly simmered carnitas. No, the man wants the Tex-Mex tacos made with mass-market ground beef, crunchy GMO corn shells, and the seasoning packet that comes in the pre-packaged taco kit at the grocery store. Some shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, and "Mexican cheese blend" (the kind that has wood fibers in it to keep it from caking), and the man becomes instantly happier than a hog in slop.

It's amazing. I always knew my dad's love of Taco Night, but never realized the depth of that love until recently, when he just boldly came out and said it. "This is my favorite food in the world," were his exact words. He very well could have said, "Oh, by the way, I'm clandestine black-ops specialist for the NSA. I thought you should know that," and I'd probably be about as surprised and flummoxed.

Still, the man is a talented and respected physician, an excellent father, a good friend, and a hell of a guy. So I've decided not to give him too hard a time about his allegiance to the grocery store taco. That, and because -- believe it or not -- I love those damned crunchy tacos every now and again, too.

And for you? Any skeletons in your food closet waiting to be discovered?


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.