The Austin Chronicle

The Flavors of Summer

Memories of Tastes

By Pableaux Johnson, July 13, 2001, Food

Farewell Fix

One day left in Austin, and I wake up from fitful sleep craving only one thing: flatbread. A few blocks down the road, I know I can score a fix at any of a million mom-and-pop taquerias. It's still pretty early in the morning, so I can choose from my regular order (one chorizo and egg, one bean and cheese, three tortillas) or go for a heaping plate of steaming migas. Because I'm scheduled to pick up the moving van at about noon, that means an early enchilada lunch or maybe a couple of drive-through fajitas and tiny shot-sized cups of pico de gallo to hammer on the drive home. After packing, there should be time for a late dinner on the Eastside and one more platter of multicolored, manteca-laced "puddle food," and a margarita much bigger than my head.

I keep telling myself that I don't really have a problem (No. Really.) and that in a few short days, I'll be living a life of total Tex-Mex deprivation. One state east and a million worlds away, where Mexican means "sombrero" and silicone-based microwave burritos are described as "not that bad." In less than 48 hours, I'll be living beyond the borders of the Tortilla Zone.

Now granted, the move in question is to New Orleans, so it's not like I'm being transferred to Wichita or Dubuque or even Austin, Minnesota (home of Hormel's infamous Spam fabrication facilities). After a visit with the trusty U-Haul folk, I'll be eastbound and down for a life of transcendent po' boys, butter-rich Creole cuisine, and flop-from-the-nets fresh seafood. In the Crescent City, I'll have access to Monday red beans and hot chicory coffee on tap, but according to well-placed sources, I'll also have a tough time feeding my jones for South Texas staples like frosty/powerful tequila drinks and homemade tortillas.

That's why, for the entire month of June, I lived a blissful tortilla-centric existence where I inhaled some member of the taco family at every meal. For 30 straight days, I celebrated my impending relocation with another plate of enchiladas, a second foil-wrapped bundle of soft tacos, or a crispy picadillo chalupa. With a vaguely pathetic mix of delight and desperation, I'd spoon on a few splashes of picante and dig in -- yet another farewell meal in an ongoing series.

Somewhere around the third week, the bender took a nasty turn as spells of blackout eating set in. According to dining companions, I'd calmly order three dozen tortillas to go with a midday chile relleno ("Corn or flour?" "Both, thanks.") then wander back into the kitchen and salute the tortilla flippers at their griddle stations. Friends would find me east of the interstate on Sixth Street, pacing past the factory tortillerias in the summer sun. At four in the morning, I'd fire up my kitchen stove and consume a half-dozen supermarket tortillas by blue burner light.

Maybe it was the late-night binges that caused the sleeping fits, or maybe it was the knowledge that unless God smiled and sent Louisiana a few good Tex-Mex emigrant families, it'd be a long time before I'd enjoy this soft, starchy staple. The moving van can wait -- right now, while I'm in the Zone, I need just one more bag of morning tacos.

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