Otaco — An Otaku for Tacos
I am ashamed.
I am ashamed that in spite of the intricacy and diversity Mexican cuisine has to offer, I have fallen in love with the most basic dish — tacos, a dish so mainstream that there exist restaurant chains based on it. Infamous for satisfying late night cravings and its accompanying laxative properties, Taco Bell has tainted the legacy of tacos. Though I am slandering an already tarnished name, Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupas are to die for. Unfortunately, my guilty pleasure is equivalent to having Crab Rangoon* as your favorite Chinese dish or that Wyoming be your favorite U.S. state. We may be entitled to our opinion, but at what cost?
In this essay/review/opinion piece, whatever you fancy calling this, because frankly this is all just word-vomit**, I will do a deep dive on the first scandalous affair between tacos and myself, followed by our deep affection for each other.
Act I: The Origin Story
Once upon a time (around 2013) in a land far, far away (New York City), there lived a young naive boy named Kaung. He was but a young lad in his late teenage years living in a deluded utopia. (‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino plays in the background.) It was only recently when he had moved in with his family in a costly yet dingy dwelling. Little did anyone else know, Kaung was harboring a deep dark secret — a secret he himself did not yet fully understand.
He had faced this darkness for years (and definitely will for years to come) but he was still having difficulty fathoming its immense powers. The voices called for Kaung; perhaps it was his destiny to slay the monster. Months went by in his newly established lifestyle, and he still couldn’t get a better grasp on the situation. In the meantime, the mysterious energy grew more powerful every breathing moment.
One fateful day, filled with the magical powers of New Year’s resolutions, Kaung decided to set out on a journey to overcome this torment once and for all. Hoping to find others in a similar situation, he began his quest by cautiously talking to others about his peculiar circumstance. As luck would have it, Kaung didn’t have to travel far — the mystery was a well-known phenomenon. Though recognized, the society was hesitant to bring up its name. Potions and spells existed to drive the creature away, but they were only temporary. It had been observed that a handful of scholars from all over the world were working hard, day and night, to find ways to abolish this beast once and for all.
Using the information he’d gathered from conversations with folks from various regions, Kaung slowly pieced together the name of the mysterious beast he was destined to slay — depression.
“I’ve solved half the puzzle, now to defeat it is only 50% more”, said Kaung, a naive little boy. Even with his naivete, he knew that defeating depression was no small feat. So, he sought for a squadron to bring down the monster.
Unlike him, most of the society had mostly given up on any prospects of defeating depression… except one.
Kaung had met a friend during his initial investigation. He was an older fellow, full of life, beaming with energy. He donned a deep-red plush bathrobe with brown leather sandals wherever he went. Upon hearing about Kaung’s quest, he expressed his interest to join the group. Unfortunately for Kaung, he was the only person that did. Not being able to find anyone else that’ll accompany him, Kaung decided to go on the journey with just the two of them. And so, Kaung and his friend, binge eating, set out to battle depression.
Weeks went by.
Kaung and his two-men squad was no closer to fighting depression, and they were getting worn down from the journey. Any resemblance of hope was lost. Kaung and binge eating found themselves a shelter in a nearby village (Queens, NY). It was here that Kaung’s life changed forever. They decided to roam the village streets just before the sun sets.
binge eating: I’m getting quite hungry, what shall we eat?
Kaung: Idk man, just choose something. I can barely stand on my feet.
binge eating: But I can’t decide. There are too many choices.
Kaung: The sun is setting, we don’t have time for a full blown crisis.
Kaung reached in his bag.
Kaung: Here, have some of my dried orange peel.
binge eating: That’s not enough, I need an actual meal.
Kaung: Fine, how about we try something we’ve never had.
binge eating: What if it turns out to be really bad?
Both Kaung and binge eating started to get visibly annoyed.
binge eating: Okay, fine. As long as the food will make me drool.
Kaung: How about that place? It looks pretty darn cool.
binge eating: You’ve never had Mexican food, you psycho?
Kaung: Nope. I guess today is as good a day as any to try a taco.
Chapter II: An Undying Love for Tacos
You’ve had a long day at work. Your boss moved up the deadline of the project you’ve been putting off. So, you decided to procrastinate even more by going to the bathroom on company time, but you end up having to use the stall sandwiched between 2 occupied seats. As you sat on the toilet, you dreaded getting off of work because you live by yourself at home and you have no friends.
Life has been beating you up. All you want to do is to make it stop — to just pause everything and relax for a bit. But you can’t, because screw you. So, the next best thing? You cope by stuffing your face with food.***
You recall that there’s a mom and pop taco eatery down the road, and that they’re open until 9 p.m. You know that the warmth in their smiles as they seat you to a table is sweet enough to make you forget about your responsibilities. Just the mere thought of the savory slow-grilled pork marinated in chilies, spices, and sweet yet tangy pineapple juice makes your heart whole.
You start to crave for tacos as your thought continues — the smoky marinated pork is accompanied deliciously by the aroma and acidity of freshly diced White onions, counteracting the richness of the dish. A pinch of chopped cilantro on top of a dash of squeezed lime brings out the freshness you ever so desire in life. Last but not the least, two thick layers of warm and gentle corn tortillas hug and protect the ensemble, reassuring you that everything will eventually be okay.
You imagine admiring the art that are tacos before diving in. You long for the first bite after not having had any food all day, so you remind yourself what it’s like to have one.
You imagine taking the first bite of the Taco Dinner you ordered. As you take the bite, the double-layered tortillas cushion your overindulgence. As you work through the tortillas slowly, your impatience for the treasure that is al pastor takes over. Hoping to breach the protective shell faster, you chomp down. A sudden spicy burst from diced onions made you hesitate for a split second, only to be comforted by the crunch of the cilantro. Slowly but surely, you’ve made your way to the protein. Ah, how you’ve missed the crispiness of burnt ends. Crispy yet oh so tender. Oh, what a life!
You lose yourself in that train of thought as you drive home, nearly missing a stop sign. You contemplate if you should spend the money.
The day has been pretty shit, you thought. “Everybody is talking about self-care, I guess I should take care of myself every now and then, right?”, you convince yourself, ignoring the fact that you’ve ordered takeout for the 3rd time this week because everyday seems to be a self-care day. You brush off that thought as you turn into the parking lot of the restaurant.
Ever since stumbling upon what I think is one of the best food inventions of all time, I have never stopped loving them. Be it a light snack, an appetizer, or a full meal, tacos are always there when I need them most. They have been with me through thick and thin — accompanied me during high points in my life, and soothed me when I hit the lowest. They’ve been there for me when I needed time for myself and shared memories with people in my life that I hold dear to my heart. I may not be religious but I shall always listen to the teachings of al pastor.
* As someone who’s from Rangoon (now called Yangon), I’ve never had Crab Rangoon until I set foot in the US. Cheese is a very uncommon ingredient in Myanmar. I’m more invested into the hatred of Crab Rangoon than I should be, but at the same time, they are pretty darn tasty.
** Poor choice of words, I know.
*** On a serious note, coping via eating (i.e. Emotional Eating) is an unhealthy coping mechanism. Please consult a medical professional.