Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tex Shmex

Being a Big Enchilada, I am a huge snob when it comes to Mexican food. I truly resent when people think Tex Mex is Mexican food, 'cause it ain't. The humongous blobs known as So Cal burritos are not Mexican food either. Nachos are not Mexican food. They are Americanized travesties of Mexican food. I'm not saying they are not good, like a bag of Cheetos can be good, but it's like comparing a Rembrandt (Mexican food) with a Leroy Neiman (Nachos). It's like comparing a Bach tocatta, with Hannah Montana. You get the point.
So I'm glad that the NY Times sees fit to disabuse people of the notion, I wish it was once and for all, but such perceptions are truly hard to fight:

“Tex-Mex isn’t Mexican food,” said Mr. Walsh. “It is an American regional cuisine. So why do we have to apologize to Mexico for it?”

Mr. Walsh said the late food writer Waverley Root got it right when he described Tex-Mex as “native foreign food.”

“It is native, for it does not exist elsewhere; it was born on this soil,” Root wrote in “Eating in America: A History”(William Morrow & Co., 1976), with Richard de Rochemont. “But it is foreign in that its inspiration came from an alien cuisine.”

After the book was published, of course, Tex-Mex moved into the mainstream, and that was where the trouble started. Between microwaved burritos in convenience stores and nacho platters served with two-for-one margaritas in casual chains across the land, Tex-Mex got itself a bad reputation.
And quite rightly, because those things are perversions of actual food. No need to apologize as long as people know that what they are eating is Tex Mex and not Mexican food. The problem is people don't know the difference. Things have gotten much better in NY, I bet thanks to the surge of Mexican workers in the kitchens of every restaurant in town, but it used to drive me crazy, and still does in some places, that people thought that if it was Mexican, it had to have a ton of cumin in it. Or that everything has to be drowned in sour cream, which is disgusting. Mexicans, we use crema, which is much closer to creme fraiche, and in much sparer quantities. And what's with the shredded lettuce on everything? Chips and salsa? Bullshit American custom. We used to eat our tortilla chips, totopos, with scoops of refried beans. Don't get me started on the margaritas. The worst part is, you go to Mexico now and damned if you don't find these things imported right back in certain places. Cultural imperialism stops at nothing.
It stands to reason that the author of this paean to Tex Mex can't even spell the name of his beer right, but that is something we Mexicans are used to. It's NegrA Modelo, not Negro Modelo, for cryin' out loud. And there is a picture of sopa de lima, which last I heard is still an authentic soup, not from Texas but from the state of Yucatán. Bill Buford, on his fascinating article on chocolate on the New Yorker this week, butchers the word Moctezuma, the chocolate-drinking Aztec emperor, and then has it translated to English, so y'all can get it.

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