Whenever I lecture about the history of Mexican food in the United States, I always bring up the point that Americans love the cuisine so much that they have long subjected themselves to devouring its worst manifestations. I ain't talking Tex-Mex or Javier's, but rather the disturbing trend of dishes that demand freshness…yet were put in a can.
We're not talking isolated incidents, or food prepared for our soldiers or survivalists; we're talking about industries that, at various points in our nation's history, were multi-million dollar endeavors. Some of them are still around, and are even used by Mexican families in a pinch; others, on the other hand sound so preposterous that audience members refuse to believe that people ever ate, say, tortillas from a can, or tamales. Then an elder member of the audience sheepishly raises their hand and admits to doing the deed…and the audience erupts in embarrassed giggles.
Most Baylessistas will consider all of these items heresies, and they have a point to a certain extent. I, on the other hand, understand why they existed: Americans wanted Mexican food so bad, they subjected themselves to its canned form. And we'll always need these items because when the zombie apocalypse comes, we'll still need our Mexican food.
5. Menudo in a Can
I'm putting this one on the bottom of the list, because every Mexican family has cheated at least once and used a can, mostly likely Juanita's, the pride of Wilmington. And the end results aren't TOO bad, since menudo's excess of fat serves as a perfect natural preservative. That doesn't make it right, though, and nothing can replicate the hours that tripe needs to be cooked in order to get it at its unctuous best.
4. Mole in a Can
Far more offensive from Juanita's is mole in a can. Mole is a rich, complex stew that takes hours to make and years to perfect. How can you reduce it to canned form? Easy: overcompensate with chocolate and spice, make it thick as hell, and claim it's casero–house-style. Sorry, Juanita's, but not abuelita would ever pass off this mole as her own.
3. Pulque in a Can
I've already trashed this monstrosity here, so go take a look!
2. Tamales in a Can
Tamales in a can was a multimillion-dollar industry for decades, and you can still find them for sale wherever old gabachos live or the Midwest (which, come to think of it, is where a lot of old gabachos live). Their weird-for-Mexicans form–looking more like a lipstick, with a masa sheath and a beef tip–is exactly how the first tamales that invaded Americans back in the 1890s looked like, so all fans of Mexican food should try them at least once. Besides, tamales in a can are endangered due to the fact you can now easily buy actual tamales nearly everywhere in the United States. I give them a generation before they become extinct like…
1. Tortillas in a Can
This is the one foodstuff no one of my generation believes ever existed–but oh, did they. They were invented by George Ashley of El Paso, who made fresh tortillas but wanted to satiate the desires of Texans who lived in other countries but wanted even a simulacra of Mexican food–hence, tortillas in a can. You could find them on store shelves in the East Coast as late as the early 1990s, but are no longer made by anyone save a Montebello survivalist ompany that never picks up their phone. Pick up the phone, guys!