The Taco Trip

Just the idea of spending the majority of the day eating sounded appealing. To actually go on a class trip doing just that was quite amazing. The first stop was at Bella Puebla in Corona. I had a chicken taco there, starting off with a basic type of protein. It was a decent taco to have first thing in the morning. The chicken was a tad dry but I fixed that by eating it with the guacamole on the side; although that was meant for the chips. The second restaurant was Sinaloense. I could already feel myself getting full from the first taco, which wasn’t a good indication of how the rest of the trip would go. I can’t say I’ve ever been known for making anywhere near my money’s worth at an all-you-can-eat. The Machaca taco was something of a breakfast taco with eggs, beef, and tomatoes. The texture was more forgiving on my teeth which helped me finish it all. The most memorable parts of it was its softness and eggyness.

I hadn’t expected us to visit a shop of sorbets. There were many flavors that seemed normal such as lime, strawberry, and mango. But there were also other, more unique flavors such as mango with spice, and tamarind. I ended up choosing strawberry and lime which turned about to be a wicked duo of sweet and tart all while being highly refreshing. Listening to the stories of the chefs behind the food and their history was curious. Moving to the United States from Mexico is no easy task but they still managed to find their way and make a mark in their community.

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The last taco place had been in Manhattan, TSQ Taqueria, and though I expected the tacos to be much more expensive than the ones we had in Queens, they were around the same price; about three dollars per taco. Out of the three tacos I’d eaten, the last one turned out to be the best. It was a fish taco with a jicama salad in a spicy sriracha-mayonnaise dressing. I’m not sure how much credence could be given to my tastes since this wouldn’t be the first time I liked something because there was a lot of mayonnaise on it. A few months ago, we had a discussion in class of the differences between authentic Japanese sushi and American sushi. While Japanese sushi focuses on the amount of vinegar in the rice and the type of fish served, American sushi is often a lot more savory with its numerous sauces and the sushi roll may get deep fried. I suppose this mindset of appealing to Americans was applied in the tacos in Manhattan as well which at the very least, worked on me.

Homemade Tacos

I’ve been to a couple of taquerias throughout my journey already and what better way to cap off my series of travels than by trying homemade tacos? Luckily my friend Sonia and her family were gracious enough to have me over. Eating tacos within the minute that they are made was a new experience. It probably contributed to why I liked them so much. I believe part of why I liked the tacos here over the past few places I’ve eaten is because the tortilla was still warm and therefore not dry. That is really to no fault of the restaurants, but it is merely a consequence of having food as takeaway. Upon retrospect, I probably should have eaten the tacos right then and there at the restaurant to get a sense of them when their flavors are at their most optimal.

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Evidently, fresh tortillas have the habit of getting dry as quickly as the filling grows cold so it is something to be eaten quickly if one wants to taste it at its full potential. I’ve come to realize that making tacos from scratch is a very tedious task and it is quite amazing to see that they have to be made on a regular basis in restaurants. Sure there are pre-packaged ones sold in all kinds of supermarkets but they’re just not the same. Sonia had told me that her mother didn’t make tacos often due to the hassle of the process but neither of them would every give into store bought since they believe it tasted weird. I’ve never bought the tortillas in the store before but I imagine they would be more suited for wraps rather than tacos or burritos. Maybe one day I’ll buy them and see for myself, but until then, I’ll stick to fresh tortillas.

The Roles of the Customer and the Cook in Restaurants

Eating out is not an unusual pastime. People do it all the time; some more frequently than others. However, it’s not often that customers think about the people behind the food or what it took to get that dish to the table before them. In her article, “The Restaurant Industry Depends on Immigrants. What Happens If We Lose Them?” Victoria Bouloubasis shows the unequal statuses between the cooks and the consumer in the restaurant industry.

“Food may be a tool for economic survival in America, but culinary skills have limited power. We are actively participating in a consumer culture that keeps its blinders on, focusing on American generosity and its semblance of opportunity. We celebrate the wonderful food of immigrants, lick our fingers clean, and ignore reality. The cooks who feed us, who run our vibrant food culture, don’t have the same rights as eaters.”

Those who choose to dine at a restaurant hold a certain luxury that those working within the restaurant does not have. It illustrates that the patrons have enough money to afford themselves a seat and their bill at the end of the meal contributes to the money the workers receive for their service. In juxtaposing the two groups, it becomes obvious which side is in a more advantageous position. What could be done to perhaps bridge the wide gap between eater and creator is for consumers to become more cognizant of the process in making the food and the knowledge that is necessary to carry out such a task. In such a situation, a bit of empathy can go a long way. Instead of drawing a line between who is an immigrant and who is not, it is better to acknowledge everyone as the person they are without their statuses speaking for them.

Work Cited:

Bouloubasis, Victoria.  “The Restaurant Industry Depends on Immigrants. What Happens If We Lose Them?” Indy Week, Indy Week, 22 Mar. 2017.

Tortillas: A Cultural History

There had been a discussion in class of how Mexican people nowadays consider themselves independent of indigenous people and how indigenous culture reflects more of the past than it does the present. Though there is still a population of individuals embracing their indigeneity and living by their unique values, they can often be looked down upon or taken advantage of due to living in poverty. In Tortillas: A Cultural History, author Paula E. Morton illustrates how the Spanish had conquered Tenochtitlán and how life under their rule impacted the Aztec people.

 “Stone by stone, plot by plot, the Spaniards dismantled the heart of the Aztec world, Tenochtitlán, and on top of the ruins built the capital of New Spain, Mexico City. Within three years Spanish bakers baked wheat bread in brick ovens and swine roamed the street… For the diminished Aztec population, most of whom died or fled, their prized city was no longer home, forced by the foreigners to adapt to new food, religion, politics and economics based around an alien language.” (39-40)

It makes sense why many people leave the culture of the Aztecs behind as a thing of the past even though they themselves harbor indigenous blood. In the short time span of three years, the Spanish was able to dominate the Aztec people and demand for a change in their tradition and lifestyle. The Europeans, with a large range of domesticated animals and livestock and their technology, represent a type of societal progression that once enacted is impossible to go back on. Suddenly, living as an Aztec would seemed to be going backwards. Presently, indigenous people still live in poverty though they have successfully fought for rights to maintain their language and culture. Holding onto these steadfast way of life, they prove that their values hadn’t died off but are still very much alive today.

 

Work Cited:

Morton, Paula E. Tortillas: a Cultural History. University of New Mexico Press, 2014.

A Mexican Food Mukbang in Japan

The trend of Mukbangs originated in Korea and essentially what it is, is usually a single person filming themselves as they eat a large portion of food. In the process, they may conduct in small talk or full conversations if they are streaming live. This type of video has emerged for numerous reasons. For one thing, it provides company to people who often dine alone. Another reason why Mukbangs are so popular is because viewers often express how they feel fulfilled, living vicariously through the host as they eat all sorts of desirable meals. A bit of information on the Youtuber, Yuka Kinoshita is a Japanese content creator who devotes her channel (which is simply her name) solely to Mukbangs. Often the amount of food she consumes in one sitting varies from 3,000 to 12,000 calories. Consequently, this may equate up to ten pounds of food. Her ability to eat a great deal of food at once has been credited to the fact that her stomach could expand to about many times greater than the average human stomach.

In this particular video, it depicts how Mexican food is viewed in Japan and their take on it. The dish is called a ‘Mexican wrap;’ consisting of what many usually believe to constitute a Mexican dish. There appears to be a large tortilla and inside are pieces of chicken, avocado, salad, a house sauce with anchovies, and mozzarella cheese. This gives off the impression of a burrito but is called a wrap, though this is probably due to the fact that the filling is mostly comprised of cold ingredients barring the chicken. Even in Japan, their Mexican restaurants provide sombrero hats. It is interesting to think about how this genre of entertainment often incorporates multiple cultures at once. People of different nationalities consume foods of different cultures all while creating content that was originally made as entertainment for a Korean audience.

Source:

Kinoshita, Yuka. “【MUKBANG】 MEXICAN Fast Food Rolls Filled With Plenty OF Vegetables!! 15 Items [8200kcal][Use CC].” YouTube, YouTube, 2 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGHNCrrqUJQ.

The Stigma of Taco Bell

Buzzfeed’s “Mexican People Try Taco Bell For The First Time” depicts Mexican people of various ages trying different items from Taco Bell. Throughout the video, some tacos and burritos were better received than others. The trends I noticed between the older generation and the younger generation eating the food were the different motivations behind their reviews. The older individuals who commented, whether or not they liked the food, seemed more genuine. It was something that I could take at face value. When it came to the input of the younger generation, probably comprised of individuals in their teens or young adulthood, their comments seemed extra harsh. It’s perfectly fine not to like something but from their tone, it sounded like there was an agenda behind their review which made their words more difficult to accept. It seemed as though the younger test tasters not only disliked the food, but disliked it because they felt like they were obligated to dislike it. Taco bell, known to create food as NOT authentic to Mexican cuisine as possible. I think this mindset kept them from admitting that they liked even a shred of lettuce on their plate. There’s often this opinion that because it’s fast food, it shouldn’t be liked on principle; especially if it is inspired off of ethnic cuisines. Scrolling through the comments section of the video, I found the opinion of one Franio Zippy to be quite agreeable, “In all fairness, I don’t think that Taco Bell wanted to be authentic. They just wanted it to taste good to Americans.” And technically speaking, Taco Bell is authentic in its own special way. There’s this knee jerk reaction to snub it because of what it represents, inauthenticity, which I believe is unfair.

While this blog post mainly discusses the Buzzfeed video on Taco Bell, I should mention that this difference of attitudes from the varying generations toward the food is the same on Buzzfeed’s other video on Chinese people trying Panda Express as well. Again, the younger generation would not stop their barrage of attacks on the “Chinese” food presented to them while the older generation had their various likes and dislikes. On both videos other viewers picked up on this difference as well, with some commenters criticizing the young reviewers of being untruthful or hateful for no reason other than feeling as though they shouldn’t like the food. The reviewers were even called spoiled, pretentious, know-it-all, entitled and stuck up. Did they feel as though they had to prove how close they were to their ethnic background by spurning dishes from Taco Bell and Panda Express? I think there was some truth to their words (after all, as with anything else, there’s only so much to like from Taco Bell and Panda Express) but to what extent, I’m not sure. At the end of the day, an opinion is an opinion. There’s no right or wrong opinion, I just wish some of them could have been a little more honest.

Carnitas Po Boy/Torta

In this video, it depicts a restaurant named El Lupillo which is known for its Carnitas Po Boys. Run by a Henry Vanegas, he details the Po-Boy as well as the Torta. Vanegas had stated that while the Mexican clientele were familiar with the torta, the American customers were not and as a way to make the dish more inviting, but not compromising the authenticity, it was given a different name. This video brings up an interesting point of how one must balance authenticity while still appealing to the consumers who are not familiar with Mexican cuisine. With the carnitas torta, it gets renamed as the po-boy, something which is much more common in Louisiana and therefore more recognizable by the patrons as well.

 

The composition of the sandwich seems to take from both Mexican cuisine and Louisiana cuisine. While there is the carnitas and the avocado, one can also see the usual aspects of the po boy which contain the baguette bread, cheese, lettuce, and tomato slices. The biggest indicator of how Americanized the dish is, is the bread. If this were a regular torta, the bread would resemble more of a roll. I would say that while the sandwich seems to take a bit from both sides, it expresses more of the cuisine from Louisiana. El Lupillo has found a way to put its own spin on the po-boy, infusing more Mexican tastes to the protein aspect of it, but every other part appears to be identified as existing within the standard Louisianan po-boy.

Source:

Southern Foodways. “Henry Vanegas – Carnitas Po Boy.” Vimeo, 9 Apr. 2018, vimeo.com/238090888.

Siler City

Dubbed as a prosperous city full of work by the narrator in the beginning of the video, Siler City appears to offer people the chance to make a living in a plethora of ways. The tone of the video initially sounds quite positives but it is not without its cons. The main motivator of the store owner, the butcher, the baker, and the cook all seem to be coming to Siler City for greater job opportunities. Evidently, there was little in ways of work in Mexico which encouraged the people to leave their homes and families in search of something which can offer a stable income. However, the sacrifices also prove to take a toll on the workers as time seems to wear them down.

Watching this video, the passage of time seems to slow down and the scenes really show the day to day work routine of each individual. It isn’t a quick scene but it lingers and details the steps needed to create the foods. The viewer becomes cognizant of how each employee functions and has been functioning for a number of years. This video is reminiscent of a past video that had been seen by Southern Foodways as well, “Un Buen Carnicero.” Somehow, both videos have a melancholic tone in it. The man named Pepe Hernandez Rios, the butcher of the store, had expressed coming to the town to find work and never leaving the city. He is separated from his family but there are circumstances which seem to prevent him from leaving which leads to this feeling of being trapped with little choices to do anything else but continue working day after day, year after year.

Source:

Southern Foodways, et al. “Siler City: Bienvenido a Trabajar.” Vimeo, 10 Apr. 2018, vimeo.com/236812875.

A Closer Look at Appraising Tacos

The study named ‘Appraising Tacos: Unraveling Value-Imbuing Processes and Narratives of Authenticity’ conducted by Samantha Duncan looks into Mexican foods, most specifically the taco, and examines the relationship between the idea of authenticity and commodity. It is an interesting concept of how authenticity itself is a factor which can be used to increase sales and add value to food. This often leads to the appropriation of food and tacos are no stranger to such treatment. While analyzing a restaurant dubbed ‘Supernova,’ Duncan records the relationship between one’s nationality to their job and how much of an impact each groups of employees have on the food.

“While Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans are involved in the business that creates and commodifies authenticity and in turn produce representations of Mexican-American identity, these back-of-the-house workers are not commonly involved in the creation of such representations … these groups do not create representations that are produced by these restaurants, even if they are involved in the physical fabrication of the food.” (12-13)

While Duncan had illustrated that the majority of individuals that run the front of the house are not Mexican, she did not interview any of the people who worked in the back. This is a curious choice as the study is contingent on the topic of authenticity in Mexican foods and it is obvious that the cooks who are often not seen in the kitchens are the ones who have the most to contribute on that matter. While many of the owners and those who run the front of the house are non-Mexican people, they are the ones who have more power. The information that the owners give would appear sufficient for the study, though it provides a rather superficial perspective on the creation of the food and the history behind it.

 

Source:

Duncan, Samantha. “Appraising Tacos: Unraveling Value-Imbuing Processes and Narratives of Authenticity.” Academia.edu, http://www.academia.edu/13546436/Appraising_tacos_Unraveling_value-imbuing_processes_and_narratives_of_authenticity.

Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother

During the time of the Spanish conquests in South America, Spanish explorers had a certain disdain toward the indigenous people. There was the perpetual view that they were subhuman and were more equal to that of animals which the Spanish used to justify their cruelty and torture. While looking back on these actions, one could easily tell the injustice that had taken place, it is a bit more difficult to discern in more recent times. Roberto Cintli Rodríguez demonstrates this in his book Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas.

“The primary media images to emerge from this era of Mexicans running across the border, including traffic signs that project illegality and illegitimacy of human beings. All this amounts to a metaphoric mapping. What is projected is that all Mexicans and Latinos are illegal and that immigrants are to be equated with animals.” (44-45)

Even today, there are many antagonistic views toward Mexican and Latino people. The main tensions which exist in the U.S. is over the matter of immigration. The idea that people themselves are illegal is damaging and dehumanizing toward people who have traveled to America by illegal means. It becomes easier to dislike or even hate the immigrants without having to go through the process of understanding or empathizing with the obstacles they face. This is why it is important to see each person as an individual with their own life and everyday troubles rather than lumping everyone together into a big population that should merely be dealt with.

 

Source:

Rodríguez Roberto Cintli., and Hernández Verónica Castillo. Our Sacred maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas. The University of Arizona Press, 2014.