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24 Catt. 4: In re Urban Bumpkin BBQ

2013 October 30

Opinion of CHIEF JUSTICE JEREMY, in chambers.

When I first saw Urban Bumpkin’s menu, I was worried. I saw the truck described its cuisine as “fusion.” This Cart has many times described its distrust of fusion, which is too often code for confusion. (Picture Rachael Ray’s marsala masala, a cute idea that has no business existing.) Urban Bumpkin’s menu spans the globe: an “urban Native American taco” with “[t]raditional Native Alaskan fried bread,” a smoked barbecue sandwich, borsch (“Authentic Taste of Russia!”) and Russian shwarma, and Southeast Asian flavors. I could strain to link Alaska and Russia – after all, the Russians claimed Alaska as a colony from 1733 to 1867, and, if you live in Alaska, you can see Russia from your house. But Vietnamese flavors?  Southeastern American barbecue? As I say, I was worried. But then I learned the truck was a barbecue truck, the creation of a gentleman born in Alaska of Vietnamese roots, with a lady of Eastern European extraction who takes your order. And suddenly it all made sense: this was natural fusion, the collision of a lifetime of experiences, not some gastronomic Frankenstein’s monster.

My eye landed first on the “urban Native American taco,” described as a “[t]raditional Native Alaskan fried bread filled with smoked meat, chili garlic coleslaw, fresh pico de gallo and smoked mayo.” My choices were “sweet chili garlic chicken” or “smoked pulled pork.” I opted for the latter.

2013-09-18 13.16.08

Urban Bumpkin

The traditional Native Alaskan fried bread was actually a form of frybread, a staple not just of Native Alaskans but of Native Americans more broadly. I’ve had frybread many times: at a ramada at twilight on the dirt plaza outside the cloud-white Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham reservation south of Tucson, among the pueblos of Northern New Mexico, as a small child at the Mattaponi pow wow in rural Virginia, and, more locally, in the terrific cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian. It may be served plain. It is sometimes served sweet, with honey and powdered sugar. At other times, it is made into an Indian or Navajo taco, topped with beans and chili and cheese and onions and tomatoes and lettuce. Whatever its form, “a good piece of fry bread turns any meal into a feast.”

Urban Bumpkin’s “Urban Native American taco” was of the last variety — the Navajo taco – and turned out to be a rather delicious, if not entirely traditional, preparation of the dish. The smoked pulled pork was wonderfully flavorful – smoky, as advertised, tender, with a deep flavor, and clearly cooked for many hours. The coleslaw and cilantro were bright. The pico de gallo wasn’t altogether bad but tasted too strongly of lime for the concoction.

Urban Native American Taco

Urban Native American Taco

All in all, I quite enjoyed the Urban Bumpkin. Though the flavors were not flavors I recognized from Indian tacos past, the dish was cohesive and, aside from an overdose of lime juice, well-balanced. It was clearly fusion, but fusion done fairly well, in that ingredients from disparate sources were chosen because they paired well, not as part of any gimmick. The dish is quite substantial, to boot, and, at $8.18 is priced reasonably (no matter how odd the price itself).

But was it street food? Yes and no. We have decided many times before that a taco is “street food,” because it is the kind of food that can be cooked in front of you and is meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up. See, e.g., In re El Chilango, 12 Catt. 2 (2012); In re La Tingeria, 18 Catt. 3 (2013); In re Kimchi BBQ Taco, 13 Catt. 2 (2012); In re Sol Mexican Grill, 9 Catt. 4 (2012). In concept, the Urban Native American Taco is similar to other tacos, but, given its sheer bulk, I was unable to eat it without a fork and a knife. This alone could disqualify the dish from the realm of “street food.” Nevertheless, because it is a traditional form of street food (see the memory of San Xavier del Bac above), I would find that it is “street food” and thus entitled to the presumption of affirmance. See In re Hot People Food, 6 Catt. 4 (2012); In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt 2 (2012). I affirm.

AFFIRMED. It is so ordered.

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