Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The ultimate (Mexican) sacrilegy: eating at Chipotle
Tijuana dudes do it all the time, you know. "Have you ever eaten at Taco Bell, güey?" my dearest brother in-blood Neto asked me the last time he visited us in Austin, last October. Needless to say I (hypocritically) rolled my eyes as suggesting the question was an offense: "I'm a Mexican dude, dude. Mexican dudes, I mean Real Mexican Dudes, Don't Do Taco Bell." He didn't mind--maybe because he's so used to my rolling my eyes--and went on to review that the Tostada Carnitas Fiesta Plate or the Ultimate Taco Pupusa Chicken Chimichanga Meal--I missed that part--were really súper curadas. I just managed to shrug and say: "¿Quieres más humus?" 'cause we were having lunch and, as y'all know, Real Chilango Dudes Do Ethnic Food All The Time.
The truth is, I have never eaten at Taco Bell, but I've done Chipotle. More. Than. Once. And the carnitas tacos they serve (prepared mostly by Real Mexican Paisanos, maybe that's why) are really good--if my father'd still live and read this, he would go back and die again, me cae.
Nothing compares though, of course, to the great tacos al pastor from Taquería Chapala (heads up: there are, actually, two different links in there: the first one takes you to a review from the Austin American-Statesman and the latter to one from a blog called Taco Journalism) located on East Austin out of César Chavez st. But, the real, ultimate neta is, there's no taco like the one you eat in Mexico Lindo y Qué Rica Salsita De Molcajete Con Sus Totopos Bien Doraditos and everything else. The whole authentic enchilada, pues.
But when you live out here in Planet Si Muero Lejos de Ti, you need to find alternative ways to get your taco fix from time to time. As the cliché goes, you can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can't take the taco out of the boy's longing mouth.
Over the last six plus years, I've lived in Madrid and Austin. I can tell there are some awesome Mexican restaurants in la tierra del cocidito. Among my favorites are La Taquería del Alamillo and Entre Suspiro y Suspiro, a nouvelle cuisine-driven sophisticated and refined restaurante which I actually consider one of world's best Mexican restaurants. And a must-go destination if you visit Madrid, even if you come from Mexico.
Above all, Mexican restaurants in Madrid--not All Of Them, of course; there are some hideous ones too--feature authentic Mexican food. The reason is most of them are owned or run by Real Mexican Dudes or have brought over directito from Mexico some really good cocineros and cocineras who make their kitchens glow--with various outcomes, though. There's a place on Castellana that features a señora making hand-made tortillas on a high platform in the middle of the place in some sort of Anthony-Bourdain-meets-La Cage-aux-Folles artificially exotic and embarrassing way of entertaining los comensales. It's like a grotesque way of reminding us all that, in Mexico, lots of people still feel entitled to ask whatever they want their maids to do for a handful of pinches pesos.
Social implications aside, when you go eat those places, you can feel like home, whereas in Austin, or in Texas to that extent, you can feel at home in a vast majority of Mexican restaurants only if you're a Texan or were born in the Valley-San Antonio strip to a Mexican background. What all Texans call Mexican Food is, actually, Tex-Mex. And don't get me wrong, texanos. Some of these plates are tasteful and delicious--but, please, stop playing with that Play-Doh-looking queso amarillo.
The point is, whenever abroad, the need for going back home in the form of craving a food feast is constant and inevitable. But not just that. I think our relationship with our mother cuisine evolves with us down the migration path. But it might be a hassle, too. I admit what I miss the most about Mexico is the food. That is also what I miss the most about Spain.
Overcoming culinary nostalgia might be a good sign of adaptation to a new place. Having the ability to enjoy Mexican-like-but-not-authentic Mexican food in Texas or Scandinavia, or any other food available in The New Land maybe, definitely, a triumph of the willingness to adjust over the impulsiveness to undoing the path.
What about you, Mexicanos y Mexicanas out there? Longing so badly for your Mom's caldito de pollo, la tía Flor's albondigas? How heavy is this cultural burden to carry out when you're trying to make your way in a new, unexpected, manteca-de-cerdo-free environment?
My mouth's just watering at the possibility of hearing from your delicious accounts.