Last Tuesday, Taco Cabana gave away free sopapillas. "Free what?!" asked a man at the next table, when the manager offered to bring him an order. No wonder Taco Cabana was giving them away; how can you sell something if customers don't know what it is?
I wouldn't have a clue, either, except I once lived blocks away from Old Town Albuquerque, where sopapillas were born, and have been served for more than 200 years. I've eaten scores of them, so I know what they're supposed to taste like, too.
Sopapillas are colloquially known as "soapy pillows," or in bad Spanish translation, "little pillows," because that's what they look like. They are little puffed rectangles, the size of your hand, made of flour, milk, baking powder or yeast, and shortening.
Sopapillas are deep-fried in oil, and come out billowy and chewy, with an empty center that can be stuffed with taco-like fillings, or served with honey for an after-dinner treat. They are reminiscent of beignets, except beignets include egg and sugar in the dough.
Normally the only thing I order at Taco Cabana are beef tacos--fair enough, considering the name--but I was curious to see if TC could pull off sopapillas. The free order consisted of four puffy triangles, which, if assembled together, would be the same size as the traditional rectangle. Two of the triangles were pliable and chewy, and tasted just the way a sopapilla should. The other two were slightly over-fried and fell more into the category of a crisp, but were delicious nonetheless.
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They also had a slight dusting of cinnamon, which is a legitimate but rare option for authentic sopapillas. However, the order included a dulce de leche sauce, which tastes similar to the filling of a Bavarian crème donut, but is less sweet and more the consistency of lotion. The sauce was perfect for the little triangles, and I prefer it to the tradition of eating sopapillas with honey.
The big question: Will I actually buy them, at $2.49 for an order of eight, including sauce and honey? Yes, every time I go there for tacos, with that impressive salsa bar.