At Marlen Taqueria & Pupuseria in Garland, The Most Popular Soup Comes With Cow's Feet.

Welcome to Wild Things, where we dive into the kitchens of some of Dallas' most daring chefs to find out what wild, interesting ingredients these food artists are playing with. Whether it's a taboo ingredient or just a food item you wouldn't think you'd find at a certain establishment, it's about time someone highlighted the unconventional and unexpected. Here, we invite you to open your mind — and your mouth — to the wild things in Dallas.

Marlen Taqueria & Pupuseria.
1901 South Jupiter Road.
Garland.

Daring Chef: Marlen Del Carmen Turcios.

Marlen Del Carmen Turcios has dedicated most of her life to the food business. In her native country of El Salvador, she made a living by cooking and selling prepared foods from her home. When she finally had the chance to make her way to the U.S. eight years ago, she found work at a small Guatemalan bakery, where she met her husband.

Now, the 42-year-old is running her own family-owned and operated restaurant and bakery in Garland. Her namsake, eight-month-old establishment opens before dawn and offers authentic Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine until 7 p.m. most nights. The restaurant has a laid-back, inviting vibe; patrons order at the counter, enjoy their meal in the dining area and recite their order at the register to pay before they leave. And it's busiest in the morning, most likely due to its high-traffic location.

Marlen Taqueria & Pupuseria is located down the street from Lakewood Brewing Co., in an industrial district of Garland. As a result, the majority of the people who work near the eatery start their daily shifts by 5:30 a.m. And because most of her guests have early work hours, Turcios and her family must leave their home by 3 a.m. in order to prepare for the restaurant's early morning rush.

Turcios believes her hard work is paying off, too. Business is good, she says. Costumers come from all across North Texas to eat at her restaurant. And, on weekends, she prepares special soups for guests. In the following interview, Turcios discusses her sopa de pata de vaca and the wild ingredient it includes — a treat that takes about 12 hours to cook.

(Note: The following interview was conducted entirely in Spanish. All responses have been translated into English.)

What is the wildest ingredient in your kitchen?
Cow's feet. The sopa de pata includes: cow's feet; beef stomach, or tripe; guisquil, which is what we call chayote; zucchini; corn; yuca; cabbage and plantains. This soup is prepared overnight. I start cooking the feet between 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. the night before. I pre-cook the feet so, when I get in the next morning, I can just add the vegetables and bring the soup to a boil. I start with the corn, and then I add the rest of the vegetables. After that, I add the spices to give it seasoning. I finish it off with salt and pepper, and then it's ready.

What does it taste like?
Well, I think cow's feet are unique. I don't think it tastes like anything else. It's very different. Cow's feet are cooked for a long time, so they're tender. Even though it's very tender, if you bite into [the meat], it's solid. It's not falling off the bone. It's so tender and well-cooked, but it won't fall or disintegrate.

The soup has a different flavor than [more traditional caldo de res or menudo] because of the spices it includes. It has cumin, relajo [a Salvadoran spice mix], a little bit of achiote and salt and beef bouillon. The cow's feet also gives it a special flavor — something I can't describe.

Why did you decide to feature this wild ingredient?
Because we have a lot of Salvadoran diners. It's a traditional soup in El Salvador. You'll find sopa de pata anywhere you go [in El Salvador]. I wanted to offer something from my land.

Salvadoran people always get this soup, but I've had a couple of white guests eat it, too. They say it's very good! [Laughs]

What makes having this item in your kitchen special?
Well, you can go somewhere else and try it, and it won't be the same. People come from all over [to eat here]. They come from Rockwall, Irving, Grand Prairie. On the weekends, around 1 p.m., the restaurant is full of people ordering sopa de pata. I like to think I prepare it well. It's very good. It's authentic.

Fresh, frozen cow's feet. Turcios purchases cow's feet every Friday and Saturday from a local restaurant supplier.

Frozen beef stomach, or tripe, next to cow's feet.

Cooked cow foot and tripe.

Turcios adds vegetables to the soup in the stock pot.

Zucchini, yuca and guisquil are dropped into the soup.

Plantains are added to the sopa de pata. Plantains add a starchy sweetness to the soup; it's a method commonly used in tropical regions.

Turcios adds her house-made sazon to the soup. Spices and tomatoes are thrown into a blender and made into a flavorful sauce.

Turcios adds a healthy amount of salt to the soup. The stock pot next to the sopa de pata holds a caldo de res she's also working on this morning.

Boiling sopa de pata.

Turcios spoons sopa de pata into a bowl. After the soup is ready, she transfers the popular item into a serving station. Caldo de res (left) and menudo (bottom right) are also pictured.

A close-up of the hearty soup with guisquil at the forefront. Guisquil is a fruit, commonly known as chayote or pear squash.

Turcios and her daughter, Roxana, prepare the soup for a guest. Turcios runs the business with the help of her husband, two daughters and a family friend.

Marlen Taqueria & Pupuseria head chef Marlen Del Carmen Turcios with sopa de pata, $6.99. The dish comes with a side of Salvadoran-style rice, plus fresh Salvadoran-style tortillas, cilantro, onions and limes.

Marlen Taqueria & Pupuseria's special sopa de pata.

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