Friday, September 19, 2014

The State of Mexican Food

Over the weekend, a recent arrival to Utah asked all BBQ guests in attendance “Where can I find real, authentic Mexican food in Salt Lake City?” In a flurry came suggestions from mom-and-pop locations to slick joints that dot the entire valley. I merely asked, “Where are you from?” “Colorado!” “So you’re looking for Colorado-Mex then?” “No, just authentic Mexican!”

Umm, authentic? Traveling Mexico teaches us that much like France or Italy all food is regional. So there can be no one authentic expression of a nation’s food, ever. No matter how hard we try to make a cliché out of a stereotype, you’ll not eat authentic. Yes it’s true that spaghetti, Quiche Lorraine and spring rolls are good starting points. But eating a cliché is not going to get you closer to what a cuisine is all about. Four thousand years of Chinese culinary history represented by day-glow Sweet & Sour Chicken is a disappointment. The Greeks, who taught the Mediterranean how to cook, really do offer much more than a Gyro (yeero). And Japan’s kitchen is undoubtedly more than a California Roll, etc.

Ponder Tex-Mex border fusion, then New Mexico’s mix of Spain, Mexico and indigenous sensibilities and then quickly skip to light, calorie conscience Cali-Mex. From the United States of Mexico to the USA, every plate is transformed into what the customer is willing to buy and happily consume. The story of a local Mexican restaurateur comes to mind who sold two Carnitas plates to-go. In the parking lot, the customers opened the containers and came storming back to complain about disgusting lumps of fat which turned out to be beautifully cooked plantain to pair with pork. One culture to the next, all foods must be translated or at least explained. Perhaps the above fiasco is an example of being all too authentic?


Continuing with the inquiry I asked, “What’s your favorite Mexican food?” “A Smothered Burrito! In Durango they do them the best!” “Man, have I got a restaurant for you! La Frontera is the bomb and they've several locations!” My brother, Joe Huerta, added his new funky fave is Chunga’s 180 S.900 West. Other’s felt free to share, too; Red Iguana! Tres Hombres on Highland Drive, taco carts downtown! Taco Time! TACO TIME? Came a reaction of genuine surprise.  “Ah, those crispy-fried bean burritos are killer!”

Lesson here is that if you enjoy it, it’s well worth sitting down and enjoying it to the fullest. No matter the version or from what state in the U.S. or Mexico it hails. One point of caution; Best to carry your own hot sauce cuz’ anything that you can squeeze out of a fast-food packet is not salsa! Asi es, amigos mios!



Copyright © Mick Huerta 2014. All Rights Reserved. 
mickhuerta@gmail.com
All Accordin' - Travel, Culture, Food, Wine!

Photo credits -
Achiote paste ingredients: Paul Goyette - http://www.flickr.com/photos/pgoyette/101147378/

"Tortas Oaxaquenas" by nsaum75 / Wikimedia Commons
GrilledChickenZaachila: AlejandroLinaresGarcia

1 comment:

Diane Baker said...

Regional Mexican Food Rocks! I completely agree with this article. I was raised in Arizona, and upon my first visit to Mexico realized that my whole concept of Mexican food was based on a more Arizona style of it. There are so many different kinds of Mexican foods out there, and all of them are worth trying.

Diane Baker @ Alejandra's Restaurant