When I was in college, I usually visited my aunt and uncle in Houston for Thanksgiving. There was such a lovely ritual about it all-the cornbread stuffing took between 3-5 days to make somehow, and was guided by my uncle’s handily sentimental sense of smell. I don’t actually think you were supposed to look at it, really. Smelling was the key. And it always worked. My aunt would hand me a stack of napkins and a book on how to fold them decoratively. I would buckle down and try for the advanced 3-D “Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria Landing," but usually wind up with some kind of lopsided fan-thingy, and just stick a leaf in there somewhere.
I loved these Thanksgivings, not just because they let college student me sleep until noon, eat all their Toaster Streudels, and use the neato can crusher in the garage. The parade played during the day, the phone rang constantly with mutual family we could all scream at through the dark miracle of speakerphone, and the night usually ended with a movie. Like me, they too understand that the special features are where it’s at. One year, we watched The Godfather-a serious commitment which I believe is just over 3 hours. We then watched the entire special features package, which comes in at an economical 37 hours. It was awesome. We would stumble out into the light after 3 days as though from captivity, all 5-o-clock shadow and crazy eyes. Citizen Kane, same thing. I believe that was the year of what came to be known as the “English Patient” turkey, roasted under cheesecloth, unidentifiable in a line-up, and as complex as the slippery character for which it was named.
OK, so back to reality. Picture it: Los Angeles, weekend after Thanksgiving. I had gotten back into town late, and had spent the holiday with people I completely adore, who just happen to lean vegetarian. So I was all hopped up on quinoa and swiss chard when word came down that the Takosher truck was parked on my way home. (And by “word came down,” I mean that I obsessively cross-referenced Roadstoves and Twitter) for something meaty and mobile. I needed a fix. Bad. A Brisket Taco would do the trick.
It was raining. and the mean streets of Century City had the slick black sheen of pleather. An odd reference, I agree. In order for the Takosher’s famous “Brisketaco” to work, it had to hit both nails on the head. You can’t make a cheeky compound name out of two lackluster components. Just can’t be done. TAKOSHER is the first certified Glatt kosher taco truck in Los Angeles, and I was counting on them for a serious protein experience.
The Takosher truck, which advertises itself as the home of “The Chosen Taco,” sat innocently beneath a streetlight on this L.A. Confidential night, hard to miss because of it’s cornflower blue color. It sat there glowing like a mirage or something from a memory, as I raced up to the window. (I’ve convinced myself that these trucks are always 2 seconds from driving off, leaving me empty handed-so it seems I am always “racing” up to them unnecessarily, only to have the proprietor slowly and kindly take an order from the crazy running girl.)
I ordered the original “Brisketaco,” braised beef with chili sauce, sauerkraut, and raisins, as well as the “Latketaco,” latkes made from 3 kinds of potatoes with apple jalapeno chutney-in a taco. Oh. My. God. I stood on the sidewalk, adopted the necessary lean, took a first bite at a perfect right angle, and alternated hits of each kind as though it were a dual assassination. Latkes on a taco? Starch upon starch? YES. Believe me when I say: YESSSSSSS. And the chutney means you had some fruit too, so don’t feel too bad. Brisket on a taco? Natch. Braising is an act of love, and this taco is in serious black-and-white movie love with you. Not heavy, just messily juicy and spicy in the most well-rounded way. Raisins? They can bring down an oatmeal cookie in a heartbeat. They are the unwelcome stowaways in cinnamon toast. They are freaking DELICIOUS in this taco.
Let’s be honest here. Thanksgiving isn’t about family. It’s not about the first to settle the continent (pilgrims, Indians, the Walton family). It’s not about a parade, or the injury-causing stampede at a Target the next morning at 3 AM. (Seriously, what the hell.) It is about food. The stuff you’ve always made. The stuff you’re trying for the first time. The stuff you eat 5 times over 3 days.
It’s just that family makes it all better tasting, the settlers provide a convenient excuse to put marshmallows on yams, and the carbs make you more likely to make it through the bizarre crack of dawn shopping tradition. If you’re going to engage in this kind of culinary warfare, you want to do it with the people you love, it’s really the only way.
And then do it on a street corner with a kosher taco in each hand, and the joy of the season in your heart.