Last night my mother made tacos and began waxing nostalgic about the "taco nights" of her youth. I couldn't blame her: my own thoughts had been drawn in a similar direction. There's something about taco dinners that sets them apart from ordinary meals--what is it, though?
When I began considering the question, I asked myself what other kinds of meals had a similar kind of valence within my memory. My answer was artichokes and crepes (on different occasions, not as an ensemble!). Artichokes always stood out for the way we lingered over the table, peeling them slowly until we finally came to devour the heart, while crepe suppers were a relay race from stove to table as long as the batter held out, with a host of different toppings making their way onto the gauzy pancakes.
What do all these meals have in common? They extend the pleasure of dining. You can't simply poke them in your gullet and race off. In the case of the tacos, someone has to be at the stove frying the corn tortillas in shifts, and then everyone participates by adding their favorite tacos. These dinners are both leisurely and interactive. They bring people together in the way that a good meal should, but without being enormously labor-intensive or at all fancy. Sometimes it's easy to get hung up on what we eat, but in the end, it's really all about how we eat.