Squaring the Circle
A taco is an inexpensive tortilla typically made of corn topped with small quantities of pretty much anything you want: tongue or head or slow-cooked secondary cut. It is quick to get your hands on; it requires no cutlery. For both consumer and vendor, it is perfect street food.
A taco is an inexpensive tortilla typically made of corn topped with small quantities of pretty much anything you want: octopus or prawn or beef fillet or chicken breast. It is easy to assemble; it does not necessitate a specialised skillset. It is spicy, salty; it makes people want to drink more. For an operator, it is perfect restaurant food.
A taco is a neat geometric circle; it is constructed vertically, garnished colourfully, presented plurally. For a certain type of person living a certain type of life in 2017, it is perfect Instagram food.
A Breddos taco is small and gorgeous. It comes on expensive ceramic, its browned prime-cut proteins gorgeously accessorised with swoops of crema and salsa and green accents that will really pop on your feed. In the modern style, it arrives when the kitchen, not the customer, is ready; on our visit a tuna tostada sits for a full quarter of an hour before company arrives.
A Breddos taco is not the same as a Breddos side. A Breddos side is much less visually arresting; it is a bowl of variegated tortilla chips (yellow and purple corn) with a thin underseasoned habanero salsa, and a sesame oilslick that you must dredge like a polluted pond for chunks of toasted chile morita. It is a vegetarian queso fundido swimming with a bland pizzaish tomato sauce, which you are encouraged to extract in great, ductile strands with unpleasant sort-of-fried “nixtamalized” potatoes. It is also a non-vegetarian queso fundido, which is the same potatoes, except this time they are shovels with which to exhume chunks of unpleasantly liverish chorizo verde.
A Breddos taco, before it gets to you, reads nosily. It is masa fried chicken with heritage tomato pico de gallo and habanero sauce; it is kung pao pork belly with bird’s eye chile, spring onion, sesame seeds, and “sichuan” (sic). It is carne asada with miso and bone marrow butter, mizuna, and grelot onion crema; when it is moonlighting as a tostada it is grilled mushroom and hispi with larb spices, black garlic, shallots, peanuts, and sesame seeds.
A Breddos taco, when it gets to you, disappears in a couple of bites, which means it is experienced as the Babel of the menu made edible. If it does have miso and bone marrow butter, I do not taste it; if the frying in masa has brought rich new meaning to chicken, I cannot discern it. The overall effect is not unpleasant; it is just that with everything smooshed together flavours and textures meld into one.
A Breddos taco costs between £3.50 and £5; broaden the category to include tostadas and a Breddos taco can be yours for £8.50. If not overpriced, it is certainly priced in a way that is inimical to plenitude, abundance, carefree enjoyment.
A Breddos taco is an in-demand commodity. We are there early (6.30) on a Saturday night; we still have to wait for close to an hour and a half for a table. Everyone eating a Breddos taco is young, in on the joke; I want to share their enthusiasm. I do share the same Instagrams, because I am terrible.
A Breddos taco that it is worth waiting for, that we reorder almost instantly, is the pig’s head cochinita pibil. It is perhaps the most conventional taco on the menu: its flavours are direct, uncomplicated, deep; it reminds me of something. A stall in the bowels of Mérida’s central market, a few scraps of annatto-stained meat on a thin tortilla; a vendor’s raised eyebrow as I ignore his well-meaning cuidado, hombre and spoon over pickled habaneros, my mouth wholly unprepared for the complexity of the spicing, the juiciness of the pork, the unbearable heat of the chilli.
A taco can cost whatever the person making it is willing to charge, and the person buying it is willing to pay. Despite their shared DNA, it is nonsense to compare the five-peso Yucatecan specimen with its £3 Breddos relative; it is both misleading (the overheads are a little different) and wrong (you start in the direction of the unpleasant implication that all ethnic food should be cheap, because it is its role to be lesser across all dimensions). Still, when the cheapest Breddos taco is by some distance the best, it is not hard to start wishing that they had played the economics a little differently, dialled back the expensive tuna and expensive shrimp and expensive aged onglet steak, made more use of more complex, deeper, subprime proteins that would provide some actual body (pun slightly intended) to this wasteful, silly food; food as nonsensical as using fillet steak in a chilli cheeseburger.
A taco is a circle. Whichever way you set out, eventually you’ll end back up at the beginning; at the end of the day, a taco is just a taco.
A Breddos taco is a circle, too – just a taco. But it’s a taco that you have to wait ninety minutes for, that emphasises visual appeal over flavour, that comes laden with shouty virtue-signalling, cultural capital-hacking mission statements that distract rather than enhance. It comes when it wants to, undemocratically leaving people round the same table at an advantage or disadvantage at various points depending on what they ordered; it is priced sharply enough that you leave hungry and reluctant to order another rather than sated and shrugging off your overenthusiasm. It is a fashion accessory, an Instagram like-magnet; it is all glossy production values that you can see but not taste.
A Breddos taco is not a taco at all.