Thursday, January 27, 2011

Food Memories: "Taco in a Bag"

No, this is not my taco in a bag, but I'm sure it was somebody's.
It's times like this that I wish I'd had this food blog up and running while I was still busy living other places besides my native Northern California, because I will tell you something. I've had some of the oddest food experiences while I was living in parts of this country that were so different from what I was used to. Not negative, necessarily, but interesting from a comparison standpoint.

Yes, I'd love to be able to look back on some of those experiences and read my thoughts at the time and I am sad that I don't have any entries here from that time period. Even so, I have this awesome tool at my disposal called a memory. The internet can also be of service when it comes to finding visual aids to help you as readers understand what the hell I'm talking about as well, so I thought... hey. Why don't I just go ahead and write about some of my food memories from time to time? Better late than never and this is my blog where I can do whatever I want. I'm sure one day, I'll be so old that I don't remember these things quite as vividly, so I will be happy to have those things to look back on.

Today I was reminded of an invention called a "taco in a bag" (or a walking taco, as some people call it) thanks to someone else's post in a LiveJournal community I belong to. See, I was actually really surprised to see this mentioned anywhere, because while I was aware that the "taco in a bag" existed because of a chance encounter I'd had with one before, I was actually unaware that it was a "thing" that was easily identified by people who live in certain regions of the country. I figured there was no way it could be, because I myself was so completely flustered by the concept that one time I actually laid eyes on it. I just didn't realize I was having an episode of culture shock at the time.

I still remember how it went down. I was at the Montana State Fair during the brief period of my life when I lived in Great Falls. We were walking around in the sun. We got hungry. We immediately started looking around for something tasty to eat and spotted a taco booth selling something called "taco in a bag". Now, naturally I was curious about what this might be, because I'd never heard of such a thing. Of course we ordered one, because... why the hell not?

I seriously don't know what I was expecting the mysterious taco in a bag to actually be, but I suppose I was thinking of something along the lines of maybe... a paper bag with nachos or a taco salad inside? Possibly a normal taco in some kind of handy, bag-like wrapper. No clue. All I know is I was not prepared to see the chick who made it for us actually slit open a snack-sized bag of nacho cheese Doritos, start spooning taco fillings into it, and hand it to us with a plastic fork after we gave her something like five bucks for the privilege of trying this mysterious concoction. Seriously, I would love to see a photograph of how my face looked at that exact moment in time. It was probably pretty funny.

Now... here's the thing about that taco in a bag. It was actually pretty good in a guilty pleasure, trashy eats kind of way. It's definitely the kind of thing I would consider myself a genius for thinking of if I were really hungry late at night and felt too lazy to actually make myself a proper taco or quesadilla. However, this really isn't the kind of thing I can see being served as actual food anywhere, even at a fair where guilty pleasure type foods are what it's all about. I mean... seriously. It was actually a bag of Doritos like I was used to getting with an inexpensive sandwich somewhere and a spoonful or two of taco filling. I'm sure I'm going to come off as one hell of a food snob saying this, but come on. That's ghetto!

More taco in a bag for your viewing pleasure.
I think at the time I really did think it was just a Montana thing. At this point in time, I'd lived there long enough to know that there are a lot of people there -- not everyone, by any means, but a lot --who consider fast food to be actual food that's suitable for eating on a regular basis. There are even more whose idea of gourmet cooking is literally a bag of cheap noodles mixed with ground beef, a couple of sticks of melted butter, and whatever flavor of Campbell's condensed soup suited their fancy at the time. That said, I wasn't exactly surprised to see a taco in a bag being sold at the fair for almost five dollars and revered like it was ambrosia or something.

I couldn't find much information on where exactly the whole thing started, but of this much I'm certain. It wasn't just a one-of-a-kind encounter of the sort never to be repeated. Apparently people in a number of regions are all about the taco in the bag, especially at places like fairs. The person who made the LiveJournal post I mentioned above said this was something kids were even served on a regular basis as a school lunch where she's from. I'm not even going to get into how I feel about this being served to young, growing bodies in lieu of something actually nutritious, because that's a whole other type of post, but you probably get the picture.

If taco in a bag exists in Northern California, I have personally never stumbled across it myself, even at the fair or similar venues. However, revisiting the whole concept of it kind of made me aware of just how different various parts of the country really are when it comes to many things. Here in America, we speak one language, have one president, and all of that good stuff. However, from region to region, Americans might as well be from different countries for the similarities we actually share when it comes to much of how we think, eat and live.

Like I was saying about the type of stuff that was eaten in Montana on a regular basis -- a ton of beef, butter, high-calorie foods, deep-fried items, and pre-cooked things out of cans. It's pretty much the exact antithesis of what I grew up thinking a person ought to eat in Northern California. We eat a lot of veggies here. We're all about the low-cal meals and cutting back on our cholesterol to the greatest extent possible. We may not all eat fresh all the time, but many Californians will probably at least say that that's what they believe in to the greatest extent possible. Of course, you know I was all too happy to order the occasional bacon cheeseburger with fries myself, but I always did so to the tune of disgusted looks and cries of "how can you eat that" from all of my friends, so you can probably imagine that that's not really the socially acceptable norm. We also are collectively really into shit like jogging, vegetarianism, animal rights, recycling and near hippie-level acceptance of diversity, just like you see in the movies.

It wasn't just the food in Montana that was a mystery to me either. The way of life there was like night and day compared to what I was really used to as well. I'm not going to get into all the specifics, since I don't want to go off on too big of a tangent, but people had completely different definitions of concepts like achievement, family, commitment, religion, "correct" political leanings, and so forth as well. Again, not saying that was wrong, per se, but it was very different to the point where it was actually baffling on a personal level.

I'm sure the confusion -- especially about food preferences -- probably went both ways though. Yeah, I may have been shocked at taco in a bag, the fact that "vegetarian" was practically a dirty word, or the widespread use of actual lard being used to make French fries, but I'm sure your typical Montanan probably looks at my sushi, vegetable pizza with whole wheat crust, or clam chowder in a bread bowl and thinks the exact same thing.

It's just interesting to think about what different experiences we can have living different places and what a wonderful barometer things like favorite local foods really make. I'll have to think more about this and revisit the idea at some point -- or several -- in the future.
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