Saturday, February 19, 2011
You know Mexico has arrived in the world when you go to a cocktail party in Manhattan and among the shrimp skewers and other fancy finger foods there is a waiter passing around a tray of mini churros.
You can also find Mexican churros now on several subway stations. In 1992, when I moved to this fair city the panorama of Mexican food was abysmal, consisting of nachos, burritos the size of Sherman tanks and frozen margaritas. Now, ersatz taquerías open every week, there are tequila and mezcal bars and the beautiful people munch on Mexican corn on the cob sprinkled with chili (it's yellow corn, and thus not the real thing, alas). I ascribe this miracle to the influx of Mexican kitchen staff and the recognition that real, authentic Mexican food is astounding, and so much more sophisticated and tastier than the offensive glop people mistake for Mexican food. I still am extraordinarily picky when it comes to eating Mexican food in New York. I basically recommend one place, and that is Hecho en Dumbo, where I mostly stick to the appetizers (their carnitas are pretty good too). Their tamarindo margarita is killer.
There are still many places that either try to customize the flavors and sizes to the American palate (the horror), or misunderstand ingredients and use silly shortcuts and disgusting combinations. Most of the time, my biggest beef is that nobody understands the proportions of Mexican food: they supersize what's supposed to be small and they shrink what's supposed to be generous. Also, the day they understand the concept of the taco, and learn how to keep a tortilla warm, the day they become generous with juicy limes and accompanying salsas, ah, that'll be the day.
Still, imagine my surprise a couple of days ago when I found an antojitos truck on Bleecker St! The truck advertises sopes, tlacoyos, tortas, tacos (barbacoa, carnitas, bistec, chuleta, pollo). They even have a phone number for deliveries. It sounds too good to be true, so I'm actually afraid to try it. Even though I've learned never to expect greatness, my heart always sinks when I have a subpar Mexican food experience.
After almost 20 years in New York, Mexican food has improved greatly, even if in some places they still screw up a simple michelada and can't serve a shot of tequila correctly, although they have the nerve to charge almost 20 bucks for it.
So whenever I run into my countrymen singing norteño songs, hawking churros, or selling mangoes with salsa Valentina on the street, I'm so very happy. Progress has been made. But we will not rest until we can find cacahuates japoneses in every corner deli.