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TLO Restaurant Review: Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Alliance Indian Taco Sale

3:34 AM EST on January 24, 2017

It’s kind of funny (but mostly sad) that it takes foraging hipsters opening pop-ups in the froideur parts of the Metro, often charging comically high prices, to get the hoi polloi to want to even try “Indigenous” food.

Here’s the truth, son: if you ain’t down at the Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Alliance every second (or, in this month’s case, third) Saturday of the month, you are truly missing out on some beautifully real (and beautifully realized) Choctaw comfort foods, the type of dishes that are made and enjoyed by real Indigenous people whenever the opportunity arises. It’s an entire feast for under a sawbuck that’ll leave even the most translucent of palefaces proclaiming “It’s a good day to dine!”

Located at 5320 S. Youngs Blvd., the Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Alliance is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “promote the maintenance of the culture.”  And, in a city where it’s hard to get good Native food at a good price that doesn’t taste like it’s coming off a State Fair assembly line, the Choctaws are seriously doing the work of Chihowa once a month with their Indian taco sale.

As the line starts to stretch out the doors, that unmistakable scent of frybread taunts and teases, making the relatively short line feel like a mile or more longer as your mouth waters and hands shake, eager to taste the doughy goodness those Native ladies in the back kitchen are hard at work perfecting, making sure every Indian taco is better than the last.

Now a simple Indian taco with beans is $6.00, while one with beef is $8.00. And while that is typically enough for most people and the sheer selling point at many an Indian taco sale, what makes this outing so special is the welcomed addition of such wholly traditional Choctaw fare as tanchi labona and grape dumplings, the true pièces de résistance of this meal, both of which are only $2.00 a bowl, an absolute steal if you ask me. They could totally charge so much more from a food truck in Midtown. So, so, sooooo much more…

Let’s go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: the Indian taco, of course, is absolutely phenomenal. Handmade with both love and pride, each piece of expertly golden frybread was thick and flocculent, like the world’s most delicious down comforter, fully slathered in spicy beef and beans, topped with the requisite cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. For breakfast, lunch, dinner or fourth meal, you simply can’t beat a homemade Indian taco and the Alliance’s are absolutely top-notch and alone totally worth the trip on a Saturday afternoon.

A tantalizing mixture of corn hominy and pork backbone, tanchi labona was originally concocted way back in the day using acorns and bear meat and, as awesome as that sounds, you still can’t beat a bowl of this mostly modern-day incarnation if you tried. With a distinct flavor very reminiscent of freshly-made grits, the flavor of the pork—especially the fattiness of it—really turns this into something all its own, unique and addictive.

But what I truly love about tanchi labona is the utter versatility of it; with a slight twist it can be transmogrified into everything from a dessert—many people pour sugar or honey in theirs—to a Tex-Mex breakfast side dish that goes spectacularly with huevos rancheros, a handful of jalapenos or a couple of dollops of picante stirred in for good measure, the chunkier, the better. I’m sure my ancestors would have approved.

But what really steals the show is the one-two punch of these unheralded grape dumplings. Traditionally a Choctaw wedding food and made with wild blackberries, the grape dumplings presented here are an absolute taste sensation, one that I’m surprised hasn’t gone on to become some sort of a national dessert; small balls of dough soaked and simmered in fresh stewed grapes, served steaming hot, it is so phenomenally good, like an experimental fruit stew or a cobbler without a cause, with those tart purple grapes making the perfect foil for the dumplings, sopping up every blessed nutrient as if it were a mystical, magical gravy.

In addition to the Indian Taco sale, the Alliance also holds an “Indie Market” at the same time, featuring everything from authentic jewelry actually made by hand, by Natives, to jars of special tea blessed by God that I’m actually kicking myself for not trying a Mason or two of.

After a high-caliber meal like that, however, what I was really looking for was a Native American cookbook, because I really want to learn to make these recipes to make at home. And even though I didn’t find one, luckily, on my way out I found a free “healthy living” handout that actually featured these recipes and more! Who knows…maybe I’ll do a special TLO pop-up in my house and invite a few lucky readers over. And, even better, I promise not to charge $50 a head, even though I probably definitely should. ¡Cómpralo Ya!

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For information on the next Indian Taco sale, as well as other future events,  follow the Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Alliance here.

Special thanks to Dustin Harjo for photos.

Hachi hullo li!  Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.

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