Five Things You're Doing Wrong With Mexican Food

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Flick user Ryan Leighty

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
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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
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Flickr user PinkMoose

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
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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.

2. Always Ordering Tacos and Burritos
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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
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One of the devil's many forms...

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!

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My Voice Nation Help
127 comments
Enrique Siliezar
Enrique Siliezar

Opera en la ezquina de mundo es un cortometraje documental, sobre el desarrollo de la musica Opera en Tijuana. Opera In the Corner of the World, is a Short Doc about the development of a musical movement in Tijuana. http://youtu.be/Y626Sc_yn10

Jorge Garcia
Jorge Garcia

5 de mayo is so fuckin wrong, I don't know a single person who celebrates it anywhere in Mexico

lonhall
lonhall

I make my own tortillas. I like them "southern" style (think Chiapas). Thick and small. Almost a corn cake.

lonhall
lonhall

vis-a-vis tequila, it was in Jalisco that I lived my last time in Mexico. Not my favorite state. but I did get cured of drinking hard hooch in that time, where it was far cheaper than beer. Got too drunk too fast. Now I only do wine and beer.

lonhall
lonhall

brought back a nopal when I moved back to USA after living over 2 years in Mexico as an illegal alien. Grew into a large nopal in my front yard and I would make ensalada de nopalitos from it.

lonhall
lonhall

I love making fresh salsa. Best flavor possible. (BTW, Tapatío is what they call themselves. In other states they are called Jalisquillos.) 


Robert O'Connor
Robert O'Connor

On a semi-related note, it drives my wife INSANE when I eat a taco with a fork.

SickSnail
SickSnail

The only thing I'm doing wrong with Mexican food is not putting it into a sack and beating Gustavo to death with it.

vegandawg23
vegandawg23 topcommenter

Anyone know where one might obtain sotol, pulque, coconut beers, and wine made from cornstalks?

PuroNopales
PuroNopales

Que menso.  Mexicans eat a chingo of nopales.  It was a staple of my diet as a kid and still is.  My family is from the South which might explain your minunderstanding.

real.tijuana
real.tijuana

When Tavito first warned Gringolandia off of Maseca, it might have seemed like Carlos Salinas de Gortari was "disgraced", but he is really only hated. He is nonetheless responsible for three of the four presidents who came after him. The current one (who makes George W. Bush look like a genius) just pardoned CSG;'s brother from a life sentence.

Feel free to continue boycotting Maseca. But you should also avoid powdered concrete because Cemex has bought up most of that, and those fluffy bread-like products sold in plastic bags because Bimbo bought up those. Chicken and eggs? Well, those people who murdered all those children in the Guardería ABC in 2009 now own a good deal of the USA's aviculture, so avoid those as well.

Tavito would tell you this himself but his corporate masters would fire his OCbeaner ass faster than you could say ¡Viva México!

LaTortuguita77
LaTortuguita77

I appreciate this article, however, I have a couple of questions: (1) why do you not mention anything about the fact that burritos are actually a US creation? And (2) why do you resort to adding foul language in the article? A point can be clearly made without having to resort to such language. Don't get me wrong, I've been known to spout out some explotives, but not in writing. I find it lacking decorum and shows an absence of advanced vocabulary; especially for a writer.

Wolverina401
Wolverina401

Damn, I must be married to a fake Mexican! :)  1. We use hot sauce much more often than salsa because we don't have time to make it. Though when we get down to business, we make a mean xni pek.   2.  He can't stand nopales.  In fact, I don't think my mother-in-law has ever made me a dish with them.  3.  We usually order tacos out since that's the one food that is made better outside the home than in one's own kitchen. 

Tracy D
Tracy D

I clicked on this in hopes of learning something my Mama Rosas did not teach me. All I learned is that you have a foul mouth. Can you try some useful info next time. Oh never mind I don't intend to click again.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

Some things go better with hot sauce.  In fact, I don't know of just about any gringos that actually use hot sauce more than salsa.

So, most Mexican households only kind of eat nopales every once in a while, but that's something everyone else is ignoring too much?  It's really not that prevalent overall..

And, Tequila *is* Mexico's national spirit.  Your argument is kind of like saying, "Sure, bourbon was invented in the United States, but they also make moonshine, mead, and dandelion wine, so why all the talk about the best one?!"

Mistalee
Mistalee

Can I add a sixth? Get over the frijoles refritos, loaded with lard, glopped up with cheese, on every frigging plate, generally ho-hum at best. Like the hard taco, an acquiescence to gringos who think that's what Mexican food is. It's no different than if a diner would serve instant mashed potatoes on every plate, every night, because that's "American" food. There are plenty of better go-withs for a Mexican meal. And plenty of things to do with beans, for that matter. Try black bean frijoles refritos, done right, freshly made, and topped with a little crema instead of the half-congealed greasy cheese glop. Or frijoles de olla. Or posole. Or any of the great, fresh, vibrant ensaladas found in Mexican cuisine.

And a seventh? So called "Spanish rice," generally mushy and uninspired, cooked to death in a steamer tray, a co-conspirator sitting next to the frijoles refritos and plotting to make every plate in a "Mexican" restaurant taste like the same assortment of dreck. Spanish rice can be OK if done well, but it rarely is. Why not some arroz verde instead? In fact, why rice at all? You don't need rice, and beans, and tortillas at a meal. They're all carbs. You want to be a gordo?

And an eighth? The little shredded pile of shitty, not always washed shredded iceberg lettuce with tomato cubes that seems to be the mandatory garnish. Yes, it almost looks like salad. Don't put it in your mouth, it ain't salad. There are plenty of more interesting ways to garnish a plate. Try a jicama and pepper slaw. Or just about anything except the the iceberg-tomato disgrace.

John
John

In regards to nopales, everyone should try the "Tasajo con Nopalitos" at El Fortin in either Stanton or Fullerton.  They serve it with rice and black beans and there is usually enough to take home and I believe for under $7.00. 

Jwendkos2
Jwendkos2

First of all Mexican food has to be cooked with lard to taste authentic. Not  a popular viewpoint , I know. But I survived Sinaloa y los camarones Al mojo de Ajo!   Mazatlan mijitos!  

Coolcatalby
Coolcatalby

Love this! I'm a very a Americanized Mexican but hardly ever order a taco or a burrito at a Mexican restaurant (taboo in my family those things are big no no's)... But wow I will never buy another Guerrero product EVER and will push everyone I know to do the same... As an enterprenuer I would be so upset at consumers for not do their research... Though I cannot critisize because I have never thought to see what guerrero was all about... But for now on I will only depend on smaller business tortillas! They always taste better than that nasty 1/2 carboard/ 1/2 pasty SHIT!

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

Fun piece Gustavo!!

Number 5Hot sauce is mostly for mariscos in Mexico, salsa and chiles for everything else.

Number 4Nopales are more popular in certain regions, certainly more so in central Mexico, and in some regional cuisines you don't see it at all.

Number 3Mexico's national spirit is Buchanan's 12 yr. blended Scotch, and Chivas blended Scotch. You see that more than just about anything. But Sotol and Bacanora are on the rise; there are more producers than ever. Pulque is also making a comeback;popular with young people in DF. Tequila is more popular in Jalisco, but the spirit of the moment in DF is mezcal. In Mexico City it's easy to find great mezcal bars and pulquerias right now.

Tequila is mostly available as a mixer with industrial brands like Jimador, and Herradura reposado(the cheap bottle with the white label). Tequila selections are better in bars in the US, outside of Jalisco. The other beverages you write about are more regional .

Mexicans don't drink margaritas unless their fresas on vacation in Ensenada or Playa del Carmen. The paloma is the closest to a national cocktail in Mexico, perhaps next to Buchanan's 12 yr with Topo Chico.

Number 2The obsession with giant Mexican-Americanized burritos is baffling. I don't see how a grown-up can sit and have a giant burrito for dinner--it's kid food.And the yellow hard shell tacos are ridiculous.The thin, northern burritos de guisado from Chihuahua and Sonora are fantastic, though. They are a part of the taco family. Wish we had those here. Well, there's one place in Huntington Park, but it's just OK. Tacos should be ordered from places that specialize.

Number 1Thanks for this. We must stop this evil tortilla empire. I was in Michoacan this summer ina small pueblo that successfully fought off a move by Maseca to bring in a small tortilleria. The people in that pueblo all make their tortillas from nixtamal ground on a metate, formed into a tortilla by hand, then toasted on a comal. Support our local tortillerias!!

Gracias.     

Newportblue65
Newportblue65

Ahh...Gustavo, just when I thought I could say something good about you ....Well ....you bad mouth my GUERRERO torts!!!! My other choice is MISSION brand...Really bad!..... Other than that it was a very good  article.....

SickSnail
SickSnail

@LaTortuguita77  It's OC Weekly. Lower your standards. That's how they write.

ReynSilver
ReynSilver

Hmmm, I'm not a Mexican food expert, but I have traveled extensively throughout the country. Burritos are part of the food culture in Sonora, so I don't think they were invented in the U.S. They may not be popular food ALL OVER Mexico, but remember that Mexico is a large place and the food culture is different everywhere. For example, there is no such thing as a "taco de carne asada" in Oaxaca. One time I also ordered an "empanada" there and got what I know as a "quesadilla." So, lets be careful when we say things. 

real.tijuana
real.tijuana

@Wolverina401 You didn't marry a fake Mexican. You married a Yucatecan.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Mama Rosa? You're obviously a pocha whose sole connection to her roots is reminiscing about Grandma's food—sad...now, please leave the rest of us wabs alone in having adult conversations.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Concerned: Not true (sales of hot sauce outPACE those of salsa), missed the point (not all Mexicans eat tamales all the time, yet they're prevalent everywhere and deserve more consumption by Americans), and you believed the hype.

Elafamado
Elafamado

My main problem with Guerrero tortillas has always been their poor quality. They have a "stinky feet" smell and they fall apart when you heat them up. The same goes for all the other mainstream brands such as Mission. I guess if you grew up eating them then you can't tell the difference. If you ever had a freshly hand made tortilla made from nothing else but nixtamal and water and cooked on a comal de barro then you will know what I'm talking about. 

Luz Virgen
Luz Virgen

Great comment Bill, very informative. you should be writing your own piece!Gus liked your article, the first one, it caught my attention, however I found some of your replies to be rather rude. keep your cool, dont be a hater and keep it professional, just my humble suggestion. Have a great day!.By the way I do make my own salsa, I brought a molcajete from Tonala, and I grow my own nopales in my back yard in Bell. I am from Jalisco and when I visit, I never find Corona, only Estrella and Modelo (can only)

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

First of all, they're tortillas, not "torts". Torts exist in the legal sphere, not Mexican food. Second, that you buy that cardboard shows you need to travel to SanTana more often...

Tracy D
Tracy D

Ah see you make my point for me. I was taught that intelligent conversation does not need to call people names or use foul language. Too bad your mother did not teach you better. As for my roots, they are English, Scots and French so Grandma's food is quite different from Mama's. She is my, and a lot of the people in our congregation's adopted Mama. But she is from northern Mexico and part Yaqui so her kitchen lessons are quite the delicious change from my Grandma's food. Bad guess all the way round from you.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

Who cares about the sales totals?  It's one of those stupid things:  "BEER TOPS WINE"; "HAMBURGERS BEAT HOT DOGS"; "BLACK PAINT OUTSELLS WHITE".

How did I miss the point,anyway?  I *love* nopales, yet I have a really hard time finding it.  Tequila is the best spirit that comes from Mexico -- yes, there are others, but it's the best.  Deal with it.

Mistalee
Mistalee

Jamaica.

And don't forget, not all horchata is a rice drink!

Roxysunn
Roxysunn

If you are a manufacturer they are torts to me. I earned the right to call them what I want ....since I have been a part of the Tortilla wars.

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