KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
How many tacos is too many tacos? That is a question that our next guest can answer. He is the food critic for The San Antonio Express-News, and he says he will eat a taco every day in 2017 and write about the experience. And this is not the first time he has done something so insane. He is with us now from member station KSTX in San Antonio. Welcome to you, Mike Sutter.
MIKE SUTTER: Well, thank you so much. I have to go back and correct a little bit of a misperception because it won't just be eating one taco a day. When I go to a taqueria, I'm going to work the menu a little bit harder than that. When I did this series in Austin in 2015, I ate 1,600 tacos, and we just call that, in this business, research.
MCEVERS: I guess my main question is not whether or not you can do this - right? - 'cause you've done it before, but why?
SUTTER: Why eat tacos? I don't know if I should be offended by that question.
MCEVERS: I think it's important to explore the question. Like, you know...
SUTTER: Yeah, we'll go - I mean, if we want to take it from a health perspective, then we'll look at the year that I did this before. I lost 10 pounds.
SUTTER: And I know that sounds completely counterintuitive, but a good reason to eat tacos every day is it's pure protein. It's wrapped in a light layer of carbohydrates. It's farm fresh. I mean, we talk about the farm-to-table movement, but taquerias have been doing that since time immemorial.
MCEVERS: I'm sold. Like, that's enough. You didn't even have to sell all that stuff to make me think this is a good idea.
MCEVERS: Ok. So, like, what tacos are you planning to eat today?
SUTTER: I'm going to be eating barbecue in a little bit, and then I'm going to eat at two taquerias on the same road after that.
MCEVERS: What kinds of tacos are we talking about?
SUTTER: Well, breakfast tacos are generally available all day, but I'm not just going to stick with that, although one of my favorites is just a basic potato and egg taco and a good flour tortilla. Had that yesterday at a taqueria that you that you might have called fast food. And if fast food were like that, it wouldn't have such a bad name. This is a taco that for a $1.47 was stuffed as full as a trucker's billfold.
SUTTER: And it was these wonderful, dirty potatoes and freshly scrambled eggs. And you've really just had to wrap it with both hands to get it up into your mouth.
MCEVERS: Are there enough taquerias in San Antonio to give you enough material for an entire year?
SUTTER: Well, and there's a broader discussion to be had about that because tacos were part of the fabric of life here long before popular food culture and media discovered tacos.
SUTTER: Taquerias aren't measured by months or by years. They're measured by decades.
SUTTER: And they've been in those buildings. There's history in the bricks. And the hard part in San Antonio is going to be narrowing the list to 365.
SUTTER: In this great wagon wheel that is the interstate system around San Antonio, you could pick a spoke and do an entire month without leaving that spoke.
MCEVERS: What, for you, makes a good taco? Like, what puts it up there in the category of, you know, top 10?
SUTTER: Well, I think first the tortilla's the make-or-break point. You know, if you're not starting with handmade flour, or corn you're already doing it wrong. But having said that, I'm not a dilettante. We're talking about a commodity that costs around $2. I mean, are we given a hard time to the guy that's charging you $15 for a hamburger and not baking his own buns?
MCEVERS: (Laughter) Right.
SUTTER: The second thing that I look for in a taco is what I call faithfulness to the form. If you're going to do a breakfast taco, cook the eggs to order. Let's not just dip them out from a steam pan. If you're going to do a bean and cheese, let's have it in the right ratio so it melts together. I mean, it's all fine and good if you like fried chicken and queso and lettuce and ranch dressing and bacon jam.
SUTTER: But folding all that stuff into a tortilla doesn't make it a taco. It makes it an excellent snack wrap. Let's not call it a taco, and I think everybody's going to get along a little bit better.
MCEVERS: You're a white dude, right?
SUTTER: Yeah, I've been told.
MCEVERS: You know, you're in a pretty Latino city writing about tacos.
MCEVERS: Is that an issue? Is that a thing?
SUTTER: I think that's a completely legitimate thing to say, and I've heard that said to me. And it was rough in the beginning. I wasn't getting treated poorly by the people selling tacos. They're in business to be in business.
SUTTER: I was getting a little bit of pushback from the customers. And I started figuring out how to order in Spanish. The most important thing I learned to say in Spanish was (speaking Spanish). And just right up front...
MCEVERS: Sorry, my Spanish is not good (laughter).
SUTTER: My Spanish is terrible. And then they meet me halfway, and we do the order half in English, half in Spanish. And I don't think I have to be born in the blood to appreciate the form. I think if you approach it with respect, it doesn't matter what your background is.
MCEVERS: Mike Sutter is food critic for The San Antonio Express-News, talking about his 365 Days of Taco project. Thank you very much.
SUTTER: You're welcome, and follow along with us at expressnews.com/tacos.
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