Ta Bom Brazilian Food Truck
Los Angeles County, California
To many of the non-Portuguese speaking Angelenos who see Ta Bom coming, the name emblazoned on the front gets alliterated to “The Bomb”. Ilse Marques and her twin daughters Jackie and Julie aren’t about to go Rosetta Stone on their ass since it brings customers to their chunk of pavement, and because… well, they are the bomb. It would be erroneous on my part to call Ta Bomb a “gourmet food truck”, as there’s nothing uppity about their traditional Brazilian street food. “Ta Bom” (“It’s Good” in Portuguese) is not just a catchy name, it’s truth in advertising – this is real, hearty food of the people. A transplant from São Paulo, Marques found herself unemployed with time to consider a change of occupation. She had always wanted to cook Brazilian food, and so almost exactly a year after her life-changing experience, her truck was launched. Everything is fresh and made from scratch, and they will talk about the preparation with pride – they clearly love what they do. It’s a foregone conclusion that I wanted to try the more unusual items on the truck, and so I asked what someone walking up to a stand on the streets of Brazil would want.
The first item on their menu is the grilled top sirloin steak taco. To me it sounded like a tribute offering to the taco truck gods that begat the food truck craze, but hardly indicative of Brazilian cuisine; oddly enough, the steady stream of patrons who came to the window while I discussed traditional food mostly ordered the taco. Not that I’m knocking it – in fact, I watched as one of the cooks was cutting fresh, red sirloin by hand, and the folks that ordered them raved about them. Jackie told me that the most popular item with a Brazilian pedigree is the coxinha, a tear-dropped shaped croquette made with shredded chicken entombed with cream cheese in a breadcrumb crust. When this tear of joy hits the hot oil, the cream cheese melts into the chicken and results in a hot cone of Brazilian heaven; all I knew was that I had to have one. The pastels (crisp pastry folded over a variety of meats, cheese or bananas) are popular, but I was intrigued by the cachorro quente (the Brazilian-style hot dog). While I waited for my food I faked disappointment in not seeing the most popular beverage in Brazil – Guarana Antarctica – but apparently if I had dug into the ice chest I would have found them in plentiful supply.
I had a pretty good idea what to expect with the coxinha, but the hot dog floored me. Anyone who has had to listen to me babble for hours knows that hot dogs are my comfort food of choice, but no one could have predicted my slack-jawed amazement in this work of art. They start with a high quality beef sausage, which is butterflied and slapped on the grill. The bread (which was more roll than bun) was also grilled on both sides. The doggy is then put to bed on the roll and then topped with grilled corn, a condiment trilogy (mustard, mayo and ketchup) and potato sticks (yes, those crispy shoestring potato snacks we used to buy in a can as kids). The combination of the savory sausage, the sweet corn, the crunch of the potatoes and the toasty roll made me want to retire from eating so I would always remember this as the last thing I ate. I came to my senses, realizing that I still had to finish the coxinha, which was like a rich, cheesy knish and was both tasty and filling. Jackie offered me one of the tacos so that I could see what initially brings people to the truck, and although the meat was tender and flavorful with just the right amount of cilantro, onions and salsa verde, it seemed like an obligatory food truck staple teaser, leaving me to feel sorry for those just ordering the tacos and missing the best fare.
My woeful tale of gluttony isn’t over – Jackie told me that no Brazilian meal would be complete without a homemade brigadeiro, a fudgy truffle-like candy made on the stove from condensed milk, butter and cocoa, then rolled in a ball of chocolate sprinkles. I was informed that in order to make a good brigadeiro, it requires stirring for almost half an hour. I’m not much of a chocoholic, but it was sweet without being overbearing (reminiscent of soft, melty fudge); I chased the treat with the Guarana Antarctica (which I found similar to a mild Mountain Dew) and thanked the Marques family for keeping tradition alive and bringing it to the masses. I’ve often thought about visiting Brazil, but for now I’m content with letting it come to me.