Enlightened chefs insist that if we are to eat animals, we must respect them. This calls for a humane life and death, as well as making use of everything they sacrificed. Pondering that philosophy, I waited in line at Taqueria Vallarta studying the new brightly-colored, backlit menu, where lengua (tongue) is one of many meat choices. As I waited at a small table by the window, I was apprehensive. The tongue, after all, was designed to withstand bites.
Waiting to eat something I've never before tried brought forth an unattractive memory. After eating blood sausage as a teenager at a pique-nique on a beach in Normandy, my intestines were so immediately insulted that I sprinted to the nearest WC.
Maybe the tongue would be different; finely diced and disguised like carne asada. Or perhaps I should have ordered a burrito so it would be totally out of sight.
The taco arrived on two small corn tortillas, topped with steaming, spicy tomatillo-cilantro salsa. It initially felt more like an anatomy class than lunch. The thin meat looked like slices of tongue, with rounded edges and a surface textured with tiny bumps. The plastic fork easily pierced a piece. It was seasoned and extremely soft, rather like well-cooked pork.
The taco half gone, I was still negotiating with my gag reflex, which has been conditioned over a lifetime to believe that offal is not edible unless ground finely in sausage. Each bite required additional self-reassurance. But the taco was flavorful, the salsa was spicy, the meat soft. What more could I ask for?
Taqueria Vallarta, 608 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 457-8226. Open daily 9 a.m. to midnight.
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