Thursday, November 27, 2008
Turkey Day Torta de la Barda
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for a couple of reasons. For one thing it is our least commercialized holiday so it’s easy to celebrate without spending a lot of money or tying oneself in a knot with gift buying and decorating, etc. I also like it because I always find I have a lot to be thankful for and usually haven’t paused long enough during the year to express or acknowledge it. I used to take a lot of pleasure in the preparation of the meal but in recent years I’ve come to dread it. Last year I made no plans and wound up going out. This year, I went to the grocery store the day before and bought on impulse; I wound up with a pork tenderloin, acorn squash and some other goodies that I thought would make an interesting meal and half-heartedly searched for some recipes, trying to convince myself that once I got into it, putting it all together would be fun.
But a neighbor came home late last night and, presumably drunk, fell asleep in his truck with the radio on. It wasn’t blaring, just barely loud enough to stir me from my sleep around 3am and make me get up to investigate. I didn’t get back to sleep until after 6 and by the time I awoke again, it was almost eleven; I was hungry and it was too late to get started on a big meal. Whew!, that was close.
I had no reservations anywhere but no problem. I’d found last year that, at least for Thanksgiving, there are lots of ethic eateries on my side of town, run probably by immigrants who are not acclimated to American culture very much, open for business as usual. This proved to be the case. Some of the places I like were not only open but doing a booming business. Autentico Comida Michoacana, a restaurant and rosticeria on Bissonnet across from Bayland Park had a big orange banner proclaiming that on Thanksgiving they would be serving Pavo Relleno and Pollo Relleno. Stuffed turkey in the style of Michoacan? I wondered what that might be like. I’ve wanted to try this restaurant for some time but never gotten around to it (it seems to close very early, like 6pm); the parking lot was full, however, and I really wasn’t in the mood for a big meal.
A few blocks later I spotted a taco truck I didn’t recall ever seeing before doing a good business, Taqueria Tampico Hermosa at Bissonnet and Hillcroft, and I decided to give it a try. On the side of the truck a sign proclaimed Especialidad en Tortas de la Barda. What is a torta de la Barda I enquired when I got to the window. The senora understood just enough English to answer by placing one finger in the air and asking ‘One to-go?’ I said ‘Si.’ What the heck, Thanksgiving is as good as any day to explore new foods.
I watched as a bolillo was placed on a griddle to be warmed, squished down repeatedly with the palm of the hand and turned. Slices of deli ham and American cheese came out of the fridge, some things were heated on the griddle - I couldn’t tell what they were - some things out of other containers, probably lettuce, maybe onions, tomatoes. I couldn’t see much of the assembly but when it was presented at the window in a sack, it was obvious it was a quite hefty sandwich. I also got some pickled vegetables, a fiery salsa verde and a section of lime. I also ordered some frijoles charros and paid my $5.50 and was happily on my way.
The Torta de la Barda dates to 1950 so I’ve learned online and has become an iconic version of the torta in Tampico and Ciudad Madera, in southern Tamaulipas state. The English Wikipedia has no mention of it but the Spanish version does and that article and others I found on Google translate the name as Cake of the Wall, a silly translation of torta, and explain the origin and contents of this specialty. I had looked under the hood of mine and saw there was chicharron and something that looked like a kind of head cheese, what I took to be chorizo or some other loose sausage and possibly some chopped bistec, along with slices of tomato and crumbled queso. I thought I smelled grilled onion but couldn’t find it in there. The sandwich was a tasty, wonderful mess. I didn’t use any of the salsa or lime juice - it was messy enough as it was.
Though the roll had been warmed it was not toasted but remained soft and squishy to some extent, probably a good thing since the sandwich was quite bulky and had to be squished down to eat.
This site has a much better picture than mine while this one has perhaps the most intriguing if somewhat culturally insensitive discussion on the ingredients, including the cheese pork (both mechanically translated from Spanish).
The frijoles charros proved to be a slight misnomer; they should have been called frijoles charros con weenies, or however ‘beanie weenies’ should translate into Spanish. They were actually quite good but surprisingly, along with the ham, there was chopped up frankfurter in the pot.
All in all, quite satisfactory. And there was no pile of dirty pots and pans to clean up, no glut of leftovers to deal with.
I hope everyone else had a joyous and satisfying Turkey Day too.
There is another Tampican place I’ve noted recently, Tacos el Jaibo I think is the name, a taco truck on Bellaire across and down from Pollo Campero. Like Jarro Café on N. Gessner, this one sits in front of a restaurant of the same name. Both the truck and the restaurant advertise ‘Ricos Tortas de la Barda.’ I intend to check this out, too, since Jaibo can mean crab or crayfish. I've learned it is also a nickname for the people of Tampico.