Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eat the Menu: Tacodeli, Day 11

This is part of an ongoing series about my quest to try all of the yumminess at local restaurant Tacodeli. See my eat the menu tag for the other parts of the series.

Today I experienced something strange. Tacodeli looked pretty much like it always looks, if perhaps a bit busier than it had been thus far. But something wasn't quite right. I ordered the Shrimp Taco and Puerco Borracho (as suggested by two friends), and sat down to wait.

The Shrimp Taco, "Savory grilled Texas Gulf shrimp served Frontera Fundido style," wasn't bad. Nothing to write home about, but not bad. I give it 0.6 moles.

The Puerco Borracho, "Slow-roasted, succulent pork braised in tequila and sherry and seasoned with fresh basil and pasilla peppers," was different, though. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? From the moment it came, something was off to me about it. It just didn't look appealing. And then I tasted it, and it didn't taste appealing, either. It tasted like salt and anger. It didn't like being in my mouth. I was able to smother it in doña sauce and make it taste pretty adequate, so I'm giving it 0.2 moles, but honestly that's partly just in case something is worse. I wouldn't recommend it at all.

But two of my friends did recommend it. Being the geek I am, that triggered me to do some quick online research, and eventually to begin devising an experiment which we will soon conduct to get to the bottom of this. Let's start with the online bits.

First, someone my wonderfully intelligent sister, Libby, who also creates beautiful cards and is raising two of my three beautiful and intelligent nieces/nephews, suggested that women have more taste buds than men, so maybe part of the problem was that I just wasn't tasting it as fully as the female friend who suggested it (this was before I had seen the other comment seconding it, from a male friend, so let's ignore that for now). On average, it turns out that statement is true; the average woman has more tastebuds than the average man. But that's average; it only happens because more women than men fall into the "I have lots of taste buds" category. Most of us humans have very roughly equal numbers of taste buds. Moreover, though, it seemed to be quite the opposite; I thought this thing had a strong, unpleasant taste, and my friend thought it was awesome.

Then I remembered an extra clue: Jessica likes to put salt on just about everything, and has acknowledged this before; I, on the other hand, almost never salt things. It seemed like she had less of a salt sense than I do. So I went looking to see if it's possible that she just has fewer salt taste buds than I do. It turns out, no, there's no such things. Taste buds taste everything. I had a vague feeling that the taste map thing we learned in school was maybe an over-simplification, but it turns out it's complete BS. So no, she doesn't have fewer salt taste buds than I do. So that leaves a few possibilities:

  • She has fewer taste buds than I do in total (well, technically, a lower density of taste buds, but whatever).
  • Her sense of salt taste specifically is somehow weaker than mine. For example, perhaps the sodium pumps in her cells have a mutation that makes them work... umm, better or worse, whichever would result in her tasting salt less.
  • We just perceive it differently. She likes the taste of salt more than I do, for example.
  • Mine happened to be saltier than hers. Oops.
So that leads us to the experiment we're designing. The general consensus (such that there is) is that there are five tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory (umami). Those all have things that would be easy to dilute and sample (a little bit of salt water; some sugar water; maybe some coffee or cocoa powder in water; lemon juice; MSG). So, I don't have the full design yet, but basically we can test how dilute of a concentration each of us can taste. We need to figure out proper "I think I taste it" controls, though, so any suggestions would be welcome. And, to be clear, this will absolutely happen; this is the sort of thing my friends and I do.

So anyhoo. Isn't taste weird? I'm just glad this thing tasted super salty to me, because most of flavor is really smell, and that's way more complicated.

Anyhoo, here's a summary for today:
  • Shrimp Taco: 0.6 moles
  • Puerco Borracho: 0.2 moles
  • Science: 1 hellamole
Tomorrow I may get a Scallop Taco again, but I may go with two new things. Does anyone have a recommendation that isn't super salty?


Anonymous said...

The Happy Taco has a mild flavor, particularly if you order it sans the typical onion and cilantro garnish. Try the freakin vegan. It's not officially on the menu, but I think the staff knows what it is. Refried black beans, avocado, and pico de gallo. It sounds too simple, but those black beans are something special. The beef Picacillo ( not to be confused with the bison) is one of my favorites when I want something comforting. The flavors are amazing...see if you can guess what seasons the beef!

Jon Harmon said...

I still refuse to get a Freakin Vegan when I have so many things ON the menu left.

I don't think I demand mild flavor, per se. I love mole, and that is a very bold flavor. And good god do I love cilantro (whoever you are, you should try my guacamole some time; I make it with as much cilantro as people will let me put in it). But apparently I might be salt-sensitive. Maybe. I mean, I never salt things, and people do that, so that probably indicates that I'm salt sensitive, right?

Nate Harrison said...

More data points for you:
-Jessica and I can agree that salt is pretty much the greatest thing in the world. You can probably ask anyone that eats out with me regularly to corroborate: I am a pickle fiend. I would probably put pickles in my top 2 foods of all time depending on whether something particularly tasty was right in front of me (otherwise they are usually number one). Do you remember those home-made pickles we had at Jason's house that one time? So awesome. Also, puerco borracho tastes like burnt succulent pig bits and boozy borracho (and salt), which is about the happiest amalgam I can think of.
-Sonia also gives puerco borracho high marks.
-Alternatively, I (personally) give mole as a category pretty low marks. I can see why people would eat it, I guess, but it doesn't do much for me. (Sonia is a huge fan who has been known to order a side of the sauce at restaurants to put on an unrelated dish).
-If you want a to talk Great Tex-Mex Divides, ask around for people's opinion of the black roasted salsa at Polvo's. You'll get half of the people who say it's the only thing worth eating and the other half (the correct half, as it happens :) that say it's awful compared to the red salsa. The red salsa could perhaps be described as saltier and citrusier (in my opinion).
-Can you call your experiment some variation on "The Great Homeopathic Taste Test"? I want someone to insist they can taste something that is only present in parts per trillion.

Libby Hickson said...

"someone" suggested about the taste buds? Geesh, I can't even get a proper mention out of you? LOL

Jon Harmon said...

Libby: Is that better? :)

Nate: Hmm, I'd forgotten that the "awesome" pickles were way too salty, while the "ok" pickles were awesome. Hmm. But the thing is, I also love pickles, so I really don't think it's a preference thing. But I could be wrong.

Yeah, the experiment has a fatal flaw that I'm racking my brain to overcome. How can we not just make this about what people think they taste? I'm going to have to go looking, I'm sure someone has done something like this and came up with a clever protocol...

Libby Hickson said...


Charles said...

Ran across this site thanks to tacodeli's website and I get a kick out of what you did. But it's a shame you didn't like the Puerco Borracho as it is one of my favorites. I find that adding rajas (peppers and onions) to it tempers the saltiness and makes it delicious.

Jon Harmon said...

I'm definitely going to have to give it another try some day, Charles. Thanks for the comments!