Is a gyoza-wrap fried shell taco actually a taco? That’s the question I asked myself as I sat at the counter of Takumi Taco, a Japanese-inspired Mexican food stall in New York’s Chelsea Market. The “taco” in this instance was a chilled slap of big-eye tuna sashimi brambled with jicama, avocado, cucumber and more. It laid askew in a basket on Takumi’s counter. The food’s fresh frigidity fluttered across the sides of mouth juxtaposed by the crunch of the golden, ridged shell surprised and perplexed. A sashimi taco?
I took a smaller bite, this time focusing on the other elements. Everything someone would want in an interest-holding lunch before returning to the predictability of the workday was present: the push of jicama, the avocado, breezy cucumbers and radish coins to cleanse the palate along the way. A dusting of sesame seeds for added bite (and the potential for filling space between gaps in one’s teeth. Remarkable? Yes. But, a taco?
The rest of my order without question qualified as tacos. There was the top candidate for my favorite taco: a Sapporo-braised short-rib taco with taut, rich beef, tangy Japanese mustard, prickly yet mellow yuzu-avocado salsa, Napa cabbage & black sesame seeds on corn. The parcel was as intense as the J-Mex taco stand’s counter lighting.
The veggie taco, like most attempts at placating vegetarians, was a melee of hip greens and vegetables countered with Asian elements: corn, Brussels sprouts, edamame, kale, shishito peppers. And don’t forget the vinaigrette—Takumi’s goes all in with miso.
But what about that gyoza shell taco? Inspired as it is, does spicy tuna at this nearly 5-year-old taco operation deserve space next to Los Tacos No. 1’s tacos de adobada (also served in Chelsea Market)? After all the faithful rendition of the trompo taco is really just Tijuana’s take on Mexico City’s tacos al pastor. About the only thing distinguishing al pastor from adobada is the name of each in their specific region. Los Tacos No. 1’s sister restaurant, the tucked away Los Mariscos, dishes out coastal Baja’s seafood options, including a shrimp taco blanketed in several layers of creamy, back-biting sauces.
That brings us to the two-fold definition of the taco. Physically, a taco is a tortilla (a corn or flour-based flatbread), a filling and a salsa. Otherwise, a taco represents and reflects its time and place. They develop and diversify according to ingredient availability and culinary traditions. Tacos are hyperlocal. In New York, everything is local. Cuisines wedge in between cuisines. They snuggle. They adapt. And they morph well-enough that an already nuanced food requires deeper consideration. To answer the question: Yes, the gyoza shell tuna taco is a taco.
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