Five Things You're Doing Wrong With Mexican Food
We love Mexican food 'round here, and not just because I'm doing a book on the history of Mexican food in the United States. It's the native cuisine of Southern California, something many Americans have seamlessly assimilated into their day-to-day lives--and an easy subject to spark useless arguments. "Authentic" versus "inauthentic," añejo versus reposado, Tex-Mex versus alta cocina, Taco Bell versus Del Taco BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Mexican food is so varied that it's really futile to try and criticize someone for not eating it according to one's personal tastes--to be postmodern about it, there is no right or wrong way to eat Mexican food. However, the following five critiques are valid in that they speak to a particular essence involving Mexican food that unites all of its fans: simple, fundamental truths that any sinners must immediately rectify. Enjoy!
5. Using Hot Sauce More Often than Salsa
There is nothing intrinsically wrong about hot sauce--all Mexicans stock a bottle of Tapatío, Cholula, Valentina's, El Yucateco, Huichol, or any combination of those and more (even Tabasco!) in their refrigerators. But Mexican households also always have fresh salsa on hand, because salsa is many times better than hot sauce--fresher, healthier, with more flavor and infinitely more varieties. Hot sauce in the Mexican household is used only if no salsa is available, or with soups--and even in the latter part, we prefer to put in whole chiles instead of hot sauces. Hot sauce? For lazy folks.
4. Ignoring Nopales
Mexicans don't eat cactus as much as you'd think, but there's a reason one part of our ancestry has revered the plant for millennia, or why it's on our flag: it's bueno, nourishing, nutritious, a poor man's beef. Fuck the haters who whine about sliminess, about unnecessary thorns--they're not eating it right. You really can't understand the Mexican soul unless you appreciate nopales--maybe that's what's lacking in our immigration debate?
3. Buying the Myth that Tequila is Mexico's National Alcoholic Spirit
Tequila is the one alcoholic spirit all Americans associate with Mexico, and one many Mexicans feel is as much a part of Mexico as the Virgin of Guadalupe--but that's a pinche lie. The only reason tequila became so popular is because of its origins in the state of Jalisco, which also contributed mariachi (another nationalist lie) to the world's understanding of Mexico. I'll obviously study the matter a bit further in my book, but the short answer to tequila's overriding popularity is that the Mexican government during the 1930s pushed Jaliscan culture above all others in forming a national Mexican identity to export worldwide because they felt it was the most European.
Don't get me wrong: I love tequila as much as any pendejo, but the PRI's propaganda ensured Mexico's other indigenous alcohols like sotol, pulque, coconut beers, and wine made from cornstalks were forever relegated to the domains of the poor and wabby, which means many of them are endangered, if not already extinct. Buy into that cult, and you're no better than the people who patronize Taco Bell at the expense of mom-and-pop taquerías.
Follow what the boy says...
Speaking of tacos, there are few things more infuriating to me as a food critic than hearing someone blasting a Mexican restaurant because the eater didn't go farther than ordering a taco and burrito...at a mariscos place. Or a Oaxacan dive. Las Brisas de Apatzingan, which specializes in the food of Michoacán. You see this all the time on Yelp, where crazy Yelp kids complain that there were no hard-shelled tacos...at a place that specializes in barbacoa (the most egregious example I can think of is Taquería Don Victor). Word of advice, kids: unless the words "tacos" or "burritos" are in the name of the restaurant or painted on their windows, STAY AWAY FROM TACOS AND BURRITOS. They're only on the menu to ensure survival in the United States, to ensure clueless pendejos like you will spend cash and they can survive. Tacos and burritos for many Mexicans are for Mexican restaurateurs what Corona is to local bars: necessary, but ridiculed, and never particularly good.
1. Buying Your Tortillas From the GRUMA Tortilla Cartel
I don't care if you'll forever favor Taco Bell over regional Mexican food, if you only bother with Mexican cuisine on Drinko de Cinco, if your idea of "authentic" food is Acapulco's--all is forgiven as long as you forsake any tortilla products made by GRUMA, the world's largest tortilla manufacturer and one that's seeking to destroy tortillas as we know them. GRUMA's main product is MASECA, dried masa that can easily be reconstituted with water. It's driven thousands of tortilla makers in Mexico out of business in the past decade, replacing the nixtamalization method honed over thousands of years with industrial slop that creates barely edible tortillas. Wonder why Mission and Guerrero brand tortillas are akin to cardboard? It's because they're GRUMA products, along with 35 percent of the tortillas sold in the United States and more than 80 percent of the masa harina, masa harina that many smaller tortilla makers use to make the tortillas you buy from supermarkets.
GRUMA didn't get to this position because of a superior product--it happened because the founders were chummy with disgraced Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari during the early 1990s, and with other politicians beforehand. Horrible product, horrible use of crony capitalism--PLEASE stay away from all GRUMA products, that bunch of pendejos. Instead, patronize your local tortilleria--go to our Tortilla Tuesday columns for some of the best!
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.