Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tweat Up Taco Wars, 18th May

Hurrah, and indeed Huzzah! I finally made it to a Tweat Up food competition, and, even though I have no frame of reference, I'm going to just go ahead and say it was the best one. This is mainly down to the fact that it was a battle of the tacos, and I love love love Mexican food (as established in my Breddos Tacos post). 

I don't even know where to begin in writing about this day. It was epic. It was tasty. It was surprisingly filling. I had in mind that we might actually go out for dinner when all this was over, and was secretly pleased that Dogtown Hot Dogs were on hand to fill any hole left by the tiny tacos. But ten of those little guys soon fills all the space in your stomach. Halfway through and I was suggesting we 'take a break' and have just a drink instead of going for yet another taco in order to give me a chance to digest. Once the ten were done, I didn't eat anything else the rest of the day!

We got there at about 1 (it was held at the current Street Feast venue) and we were among the early starters. There was someone at every taco station, but no big queues. And, even though queues did develop over the day, especially at some of the more hyped/popular taco warriors' stations, they never got out of hand, or too tiresome to stand in. Many people (including us) developed the tactic of getting a taco from a stall with less of a queue to eat in the queue for the next one. The height of efficiency.

So, we got our scorecards and figured out how it worked. Our first taste was more or less chosen at random - number 7 - L.A. Sueno with their duck heart and pork taco topped with blueberries (which I didn't eat - down with berries!). It was an excellent beginning and turned out to be the taco that won Stephen's 'heart' (I totally did not mean for that wordplay to happen). The duck heart made the taco taste a little like pate and Stephen attested that the blueberries made all the difference. I liked it, but for me the best was yet to come.

I won't go into detail about all ten of them. To be honest, they were all tasty but a fair few of them were tasty without standing out above the crowd. I enjoyed eating them, but thinking back now, a lot of them blur into each other. I only disliked one, which was, sadly, the last one I had. That was the one from Santana Grill - although I liked the salsa verde and guacamole very much, the meat tasted a little bitter and I didn't enjoy it.

The tacos that still stand out burning like stars in my mind were:

BanhMi11's. This was the third taco we ate and became my front runner for a while. Stephen thought it tasted too Vietnamesey, but that was exactly what I thought was so good about it. The pork had an amazing flavour, I loved the crispy shallots and it seemed a perfect idea to take banh mi flavours and mexican them up a little by popping them in a tortilla and adding a dollop of guacamole. I thought the fusion worked, but I soon found other tacos that I liked more.

Breddos Tacos: Now, these guys really made an effort for this competition. They'd clearly put a lot of thought into how they could take the simple taco and ratchet it up a notch or five. For me, they actually went a little step too far, or I could easily have voted this my number one. I loved the addition of a pipette of hot sauce, which reminded me of a piquant bloody mary. They added candied chillies to the dish which were truly outstanding. I want to sprinkle them on every taco I have in the future. Seriously guys, please do them at your Taco Shack! But then they kinda spoiled it with popping candy. I don't really like the sensation of popping candy, and in this case also felt it distracted from all the other good stuff going on  (which included 10 hour short rib marinated in umami broth!). For innovation alone though, these guys were my winners.

Kimchinary: Another taco that really went the distance when it came to being inventive was the taco from Kimchinary. They, also, maybe went a little too far - it was supposed to be a taco, not a whole gourmet meal in a tortilla. Theirs was a combination of ox cheek and cod's cheek which did, in fact, go really well together, and the black sesame seeds with (of course) the kimchi was quite an inspired idea. But the whole thing didn't really say taco to me in the way others had so I ended up going with someone else for the win.

Luardos: This was the perfect example of how to take the essence of a taco but to do it so well, with just the right amount of creativity as to make it really special. It was a simple prawn taco. A juicy prawn taco. With an amazingly fresh tasting mango salsa. Some shredded sesame cabbage. And that was kind of it - no bells or whistles as such. They went that little bit further than, say, Benito's Hat (whose tacos were fine, just not different enough from their everyday offerings) but it was still, in effect, a taco. But a taco that really made you take notice when you ate it. This is who I picked as a winner.

And it turns out lots of people agreed with me as they won, with 25% of the vote. Breddos came second with 20% and there was a joint third between Buen Provecho (another whose taco simplicity belied its tastiness) and Stephen's faves L.A. Sueno.

So the food was an obvious highlight, but the day itself was just grand. It felt so much more like a festival than many other 'food festivals' that claim that title. There was a mariachi band there for pretty much the whole day, which immediately added a festive feel to the thing. They wandered around the whole area making sure no one missed out on the mood music. The video barely does them justice.

You got two drinks (as well as the ten tacos) in your entry price and of course free drinks always help create a buzz. It also helps when your first taco of the day is handing out complimentary shots of tequila infused with coconut, chocolate and raisins. I don't even like coconut and raisins but this drink was delicious. You didn't want to 'shoot' this - it was a drink to sip and savour.

There were some queues, yes, but nothing to make you irritable and in fact, it provided the perfect chance to get chatting with your fellow voters. I really enjoyed discussing who was everyone's favourite so far and comparing the various merits and failings of each taco or finding out where everyone stood in the controversial 'pineapple with meat' debate. Or telling someone they were in for a treat as they went to queue for a taco you'd already had. 

The guy from Hot Breath was on hand to provide some extra entertainment with his Tape Measure game. That guy just cracks me up. He comes up with some of the crappest sounding things and makes them brilliant. All it is, is seeing who can pull a tape measure out the longest without it collapsing but everyone loved it! Stephen was briefly in second place but his length was soon overtaken. Gutted as there were some pretty decent prizes on offer - tickets to Ginstock and a bottle of tequila!

Another highlight was the Rotary Bar Mescal Margarita Mixing Machine. A little cement-mixer was loaded with ice, a LOT of tequila, some mescal and some juices and churned to make margaritas. Which were then sloshed into people's cups for free! I got some and it was fantastic. My first try of mescal and you could really taste the smokiness it lent to the drink. My first taste of mescal but certainly not my last.

We had a couple of other drinks but I didn't get around to getting a festival-sized cocktail (to my shame) and we stayed long enough to witness the winner being crowned but then, I must confess, with all that food and booze in my belly, I went home for a nap!

Such, such a good day. Were they all like this? 

So, if you went, who were your winners and losers of the great Taco War of '13?

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Please feel free to add your views, or maybe suggest somewhere I should put on my list!