Taco Wednesday: Panucho
Here's the drill: You walk into La Flor de Yucatán, you order a pound or two of cochinita pibil to go, and it is a hot day, so you also pick up a sweating bottle of orange Fanta. The cochinita pibil, a meltingly soft, clove-scented dish of pork roasted in banana leaves that is the famous dish not only of this bakery but of the Yucatán itself, may take a few minutes to prepare, but you know it will be worth it: with a handful of red-stained onions, which the takeout counter provides with each order, you are going to have the best dinner on your block.
Perhaps you are slightly bored with your perusal of the cake catalog, and you're thinking of a snack to hold you over. You could get tiny tacos made with the cochinita pibil, although you're going to be having pretty much the same thing when you get home, or one of the crisp pastries filled with meat from the bakery case. But you are instead going to have a panucho, a snack that pretty much takes the place of the taco around Mérida.
A panucho is a corn tortilla split, filled with a thin layer of pureed black beans, and fried until the texture reaches a point halfway between leathery and crisp, then topped with lettuce, a little tomato, a scattering of those red onions, and matchsticks of roast poultry. The panucho will be dry until the man at the cash register suggests a quick dose of pale, hellfire-hot habanero chile sauce from a squirt bottle he pulls from behind the counter. Then the panucho will no longer be dry, but it will be time to buy another bottle of Fanta, and fast. Pleasure and pain; pain and pleasure, and only a few blocks from USC.
1800 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles, (213) 748-6090, laflordeyucatan.net.
-- Jonathan Gold
Photo: Jonathan Gold / Los Angeles Times