mi comida favorita

“It’s worth the drive for those tamales.”

My thoughts exactly, dictated by another member of Team Taco on the thirty-minute drive back from Georgetown. We drove out to meet my parents at Taqueria Becerra (they told me when they would arrive in Lexington, a four hour drive for them, at two hours away the day of their travel).

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We met in the church parking lot downtown, right outside of the taqueria. Mom got out of the car to greet me first. “Well, they certainly have an interesting color scheme. Have you been here before?”

I love my family.

There were only three tables taken at dinner time on this Thursday night, and all three were sitting latinos. A nice young lady wearing a Crank and Boom t-shirt addressed us smiling from behind the counter: “Sit wherever you like! I’ll be right there.”

My parents looked at me expectantly. “So,” my dad said. “What do we get here?”


I settled on two tacos (chorizo and carne asada, my two favorites) and a tamale. After downing two baskets of chips and salsa and catching up with the family, our food started to trickle out. It was all displayed simply. My parents almost took a bite as I said “Wait–we’re missing something.” They were puzzled. Everything we ordered was there. Just as they started to try to protest, our server came back with a plate of limes and another of cilantro and onion (the taco trinity). In typical Hudson tradition, everyone’s plates rotated: my mother’s gordita was too cheesy for me (and I still don’t really know how to eat them); my dad got pork rind tacos that he loved and that I simply did not. It’s redeeming quality lay in the tortilla (these are made by our server’s mother every morning. I prefer these to the tortillas from Ramirez, even. They’re so good.)

The winner, decided by all, was the tamale. I opened up the corn husk, the steam revealing an orange mass riddled with flecks of spices and pulled pork. It was equal parts spicy and savory, but not overpowering. I did the math in my head: if I babysat for one hour, I could afford ten tamales from the taqueria here in Georgetown. I was transported. More than any other place, more than any other food, I loved this nearly-empty Georgetown dig tamale.

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A quick note to parents out there: If your child has been diagnosed with OCD, please give them the correct ETA and duration of stay before you arrive–if not, at least buy them tamales and tacos.

My family left happy (for four people, it only cost about $20), and decided as we parted ways that they should next time bring their friends. That’s the cool thing about all the places Taco Literacty takes you: when you go, you go not only once, but again in the future, multiplied by all the people who came, too.

J-stor? More like Bae-stor.

Online research databases: you know the timeless romance. Although “J-stor and chill” may never really catch on, taco research ain’t half bad. Overwhelmingly what I’m finding is the intersection of migration, life, and food and how this manifests itself in different facets of economic and political culture of the United States. Here are just some of the title pages of my directed research so far. Click on the photos and, if you have access, check them out online.

Good (food) work being done in the world today, eh?

Sensory Vocabulary

Sensory Vocabulary

Super useful–wish I had this (or the thought to search for it) before I started writing.

Taco Literacy

sensory vocabulary image.jpg Sensory vocabulary with a couple dialectics.

This image gives some synonyms for thinking about your descriptions. Credit goes to Profe Lance Langdon at U California Irvine for sharing this image. Profe Lance had Taco Literacy in mind when he saw this one.

Texture and appearance is cool. What would taste and texture look like? What about taste and appearance? Also, what about sounds?

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Four More Quote Cannons

“Missionaries were equally intent on culinary change for evangelical purposes. Wheat was the only grain that could be used for the Eucharist according to medieval Church doctrine, while wine signified the blood of Christ, and olive oil was essential to sacraments and celebrations.” (Pilcher 29)

I had to revisit this quote, seen in the last post of quotes from Planet Taco. This quote was followed by an explanation that wine was hard to develop in the New World, and therefore it and oils (essential for sacraments) had to be imported. This makes me wonder about the influence on the Church of the food environment of the New World, and how both seemed to grow to accommodate each other. Was it always dependent upon an unequal trade-domination paradigm, or have things changed?

“Scholars have only begun to investigate the connections between household labor and the fate of empires.” (28)

This quote, although short, stands in front of what I’m coming to discover is a serious issue in the world of academia and intellectual society: the invalid trivialization of food, food workers, and the acquisition of ingredients. It makes sense when put into the perspective that without food, we wouldn’t be alive to have an empire to begin with; furthermore, when analyzing the inequality and identities assigned in relation to specific foods, it becomes increasingly important for liberation theorists and political historians.

“…American plants took root wherever they would grow and […] their superior productivity spurred early modern populate growth around the world.” (36)

American plants (namely corn and chiles) spread like wildfire, but what was interesting about this spread was that even in other nations, these foods were considered to be for the impoverished populations of the world. On a positive note, as the quote indicates, this led to a boom in the growth of and capacity for a greater world population that, in turn, led to more productive economies and scientific/humanitarian developments.

“Chocolate’s popularity among the European aristocracy provides a curious counterpoint to the experience of corn and chiles, illustrating how a Mesoamerican food could gain status for its exoticism. The favored drink of the Indian nobles, it was savored by Cortes and his band of conquistadors in the palace of Moctezuma. Merchants and priests also acquired a taste for chocolate while living in the colognes, and by the end of the sixteenth century, they had carried it home to Spain. Soon it was taken up by the court in Madrid, and from there it spread through the noble houses of Europe. As it traveled, the bitter drink of the Aztecs was transformed through the addition of sugar, spices, and other flavorings. Italians may have been the first to make chocolate ice cream, and less memorably, they experimented with grating it on polenta instead of cheese. Chocolate’s exotic origins and distant sources added to the appeal for European consumers. Unlike chiles and corn, the tropical cacao tree was not easily transplanted to Europe, and it became an important article of transatlantic trade. Spaniards relied at first on supplies from Tabasco and Soconusco, at the southern tip of the old Aztec Empire, but growing demand prompted the establishment of plantations in Venezuela and Ecuador. The most valuable cacao was grown in Soconusco and Caracas, while the more abundant product of Guayaquil was considered the ‘chocolate of the poor’.” (40)

The dichotomy illustrated in the two polarized receptions of American foods (that of chocolate vs that of corn and chiles) and the manipulation of their use and significance to the classes to me is paralleled to our modern understandings of Latino culture. Either we see it as dirty, poor, and the “other,” or we see it as exotic, erotic, and good entertainment. This is a sad indication of development, but I also wonder if it could not also be positive. Is it okay, as it was with hot chocolate, to add a little American sugar and spice to Mexican culture?


 

Works Cited:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M.. Planet Taco. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

 

Quote Cannons: Planet Taco

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I went pretty crazy on the quotes from the beginning of the book. To be honest, they took me away. For the rest of Planet Taco, I took a chill pill, and decided that as I continued to read, my blog posts at least could utilize and unpack some of those quotes that I drew out from the front end.


 

“However nutritionally sound, the recipe for tortillas required enormous physical labor from women. Arguably, they worked as hard grinding corn on the metate as did the men they fed who constructed the physical monuments of Teotihuacan, the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.” (Pilcher 27)

This quote was significant to me for several reasons. Primarily, it placed the development of the tortilla within a comparative time period I had not initially considered. For some reason, I had assumed the construction of the monuments and the construction of the tortilla were far removed, when in reality, both probably fed into each other. It was also interesting to read about the important role of women in the development of society and the progress of families. Girl power was very, very real, and in fact, was necessary.

“Missionaries were equally intent on culinary change for evangelical purposes. Wheat was the only grain that could be used for the Eucharist according to medieval Church doctrine, while wine signified the blood of Christ, and olive oil was essential to sacraments and celebrations.” (29)

I had also not initially considered the religious implications of food, and how dominance and colonialism was not constrained simply to to political or economic life, but also in religious practices. In this way, food becomes both a doctrine and a judgement received, but this time, in the more serious realm of eternity, not just in relation to the city center.

“Definitions of race therefore depended as much on culture as on physical appearance, and the baker’s guild of Mexico City reinforced this artificial hierarchy by producing breads appropriate for every rank and income.” (30)

Specific grains themselves were reflections of identity enforced by existing regulations of the time. This makes me wonder just how many types of breads there were, and if it was possible to change your perceived place in society by changing your diet. It seems to me that after enough mixing of race, many peoples of varying ethnic content would look feasibly similar enough for confusion. Did a similar thing happen with baked goods? Were the lines ever blurred in favor of oppressed peoples?


 

Works Cited:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M.. Planet Taco. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Taco Trip: the Table

One of the best parts of the Taco Trip was getting to know some of my super-interesting classmates. Our conversation went from bananas, to plagues, to Jairo’s insanity, to sophistry, to puns, to secret agent tacos, to, naturally even more puns. The thoughtfulness and laughter at our table reminded me of the power of food to bring people (even the weirdest ones) together.

I’ve put some fast-facts together about the members of our table for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the members of the notorious Taco Crew. Look through the slideshow to learn about the people who rock the tacos!

Birria on the Taco Trip

On Saturday, the Taco Crew (not to be confused with Team Taco, mis amigos) went to try birria together on a field trip to defeat all field trips. Looking back, I don’t imagine the day as drearily as I know it was. In reality, it was raining, cold, and grey as far as the eye could see. I approached a suspicious looking white van with a Mexican man in the passenger seat who beckoned out a cracked window, “Hey, over here; get in the van.”

In literally any other circumstance, this would be a situation in which I immediately turned the other way. Luckily, that white van was university property, that man was one of my favorite professors, and this trip was planned a long, long time ago in a classroom not far away from where I slid into my seatbelt that morning alongside some fellow classmates. We waited for the rest of the class to show up, and once everyone was accounted for, we embarked for our destination: Birrieria Jalisco.

We walked into the oblong room as an anamorphic blob, as awkward as humanly possible. “It’s okay, guys,” profe insisted, “you can be rude here. It’s alright.” We relaxed a bit. Taking our seats, we pored over the menus. I knew what I would get long before we arrived: Birria.

The Food

Before the main course came, our waitress laid three salsas on our table with a basket of chips. As she laid down the salsas, she ordered their spiciness: light green: mild; the middle: spicy; the red salsa: fire.

The light tomatillo salsa (salsa verde) was sweet, spicy, but not in a lasting way. This salsa smelled like the stereotypical “Mexican Sauce” from my childhood. It was mild enough to be able to eat it without taking a water break. The darker red salsa was too spicy for such liberal usage. It even smelled spicy. It was also, in my opinion, the least salty of the three. The heat of this salsa went immediately to the throat. The medium, which seemed almost like a mixture between a salsa roja and a salsa verde, was immediately sweet, then slowly spicy as time wore on the tastebuds.

After a while of chips and conversation, the moment we’d all been waiting for arrived: the main course. A deep well of birria was placed in front of me. “You okay?” Kristi asked.

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A closer look at the birria.

“I’m so good. I’m just… ugh. I’m so happy.” Soup is probably my favorite food group.[1] It reminds me of home, of the every-other-weekend making of a big stew for the family. A hot broth and good meat are good for the soul–It’s simply and undisputed fact.

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Thick tortillas for the transport of goat to mouth.

The soup was savory. The meat chunks were huge, and required a bit of tearing apart for spooning. I found four bones in the bowl.[2] I was impressed. The goat was tender, and the lime was a great addition to the stew. The tortillas were thicker here than I was used to, but they came in handy for eating the rest of the meat. My experience with this birria was, overall, extremely positive. It was the cure we all needed for the rainy, cold day before midterms.


[1] The food groups, you know: veggies, proteins, grains, soup…

[2] This is a great thing in my book. I remember sneaking the bones from stews and roasts for sharing with my grandfather, who taught me how to take as much flavor out of them as you could. After long enough of chewing on a good bone, it can become hard to tell if the marrow yours or not anymore. It takes the hunger out of you. It’s calming. Bones are good.

Planet Taco Quotations: The Pool

 

“The desire of chefs and tourists to feel connected to a “deep Mexico” is understandable in an era when industrial fast food is commonplace.” (Pilcher 21)

“Like today’s culinary nationalists, Creole patriots of the colonial era imagined themselves to be the heirs to Aztec emperors, but their attitudes toward indigenous foods were very different.” (22)

“Taken together, these diverse influences produced more fluid social and political boundaries than modern nationalist ideologies often acknowledge.” (23)

“Crossed back with neighboring stands of teosinte, to propagate the mutation, maize flourished under human protection, and to this day, it cannot reproduce in the wild.” (25)

“However nutritionally sound, the recipe for tortillas required enormous physical labor from women. Arguably, they worked as hard grinding corn on the metate as did the men they fed who constructed the physical monuments of Teotihuacan, the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.” (27)

“The rich variety reflected not only imperial power but also the omnivorous appetites of a people without cattle, sheep, hogs, or chickens.” (27)

“Scholars have only begun to investigate the connections between household labor and the fate of empires.” (28)

“Missionaries were equally intent on culinary change for evangelical purposes. Wheat was the only grain that could be used for the Eucharist according to medieval Church doctrine, while wine signified the blood of Christ, and olive oil was essential to sacraments and celebrations.” (29)

“Definitions of race therefore depended as much on culture as on physical appearance, and the baker’s guild of Mexico City reinforced this artificial hierarchy by pro ducting breads appropriate for every rank and income.” (30)

“…American plants took root wherever they would grow and […] their superior productivity spurred early modern populate growth around the world.” (36)

“Chocolate’s popularity among the European aristocracy provides a curious counterpoint to the experience of corn and chiles, illustrating how a Mesoamerican food could gain status for its exoticism. The favored drink of the Indian nobles, it was savored by Cortes and his band of conquistadors in the palace of Moctezuma. Merchants and priests also acquired a taste for chocolate while living in the colognes, and by the end of the sixteenth century, they had carried it home to Spain. Soon it was taken up by the court in Madrid, and from there it spread through the noble houses of Europe. As it traveled, the bitter drink of the Aztecs was transformed through the addition of sugar, spices, and other flavorings. Italians may have been the first to make chocolate ice cream, and less memorably, they experimented with grating it on polenta instead of cheese. Chocolate’s exotic origins and distant sources added to the appeal for European consumers. Unlike chiles and corn, the tropical cacao tree was not easily transplanted to Europe, and it became an important article of transatlantic trade. Spaniards relied at first on supplies from Tabasco and Soconusco, at the southern tip of the old Aztec Empire, but growing demand prompted the establishment of plantations in Venezuela and Ecuador. The most valuable cacao was grown in Soconusco and Caracas, while the more abundant product of Guayaquil was considered the ‘chocolate of the poor’.” (40)

“Through a curious independent invention, Southeast Asian and Native American cooks happened on the same flavor combination of chiles and cilantro, as the two plants crossed paths during the Columbian exchange.” (42)

“Fortunately, pellagra did not become a widespread problem outside of the Mediterranean basic because growers supplemented maize with hunting, gathering, and other crops.” (43)

“One final mark of culinary influence can be found in ‘flavor principles,’ the basic mixtures of ingredients that immediately evoke the taste and smell of a culture.” (44)

“The introduction of nixtamal by Catholic priests in the Pacific, like the treatment of chinos in the Americas, illustrates the conflation of Native Americans and Asians within the category of “indio” by the Spanish colonial mentality.” (44)

“Certainly there was no authentic Mexican food in pre-Hispanic times.” (44)

“…Ambivalence about the indigenous culinary heritage continued to frustrate efforts to define a Mexican national cuisine throughout the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, corn and chiles spread widely around the world, but they were often associated with poverty, illness, and immorality.” (44-45)


 

Works Cited:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M.. Planet Taco. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Kentucky Taco

Eyes still closed, I found myself taking a breath.[1] My blank, newly-awake mind simply began to function, and with my eyes open I saw the light beaming into my room, breathed it in, and felt my limbs stretch again.

Food, I thought to myself, brushing my teeth, skeptically glaring at the spots on my face. Food, food, food, food

I slipped into a pair of pants and my sneakers, and, grabbing my keys, headed to the college-morning-person’s heaven: the farmer’s market.

Not many things are in season in February. In fact, there’s really only one thing at the farmers markets other than jams: Meat. It was a quick walk, but as I got to the last table, I saw something I simply did not expect.

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Fried Egg Goat Taco from the Farmers Market Menu

“We started selling the taco to promote the goat meat–to put it on the table, you know. People around here, they are hesitant to buy the meat, you know, on a biscuit or on its own or whatever, but for some reason, put it on a taco: everyone tries it,” the recent grad said as she diced some lettuce to put in my order. I had to try it, but it did seem strange—at the same time, I had to admit that I don’t think it could have been any more Lexington than a 20-something gringa selling egg and goat tacos on a chilly morning at the farmers market.

The tortilla was flour, prefab and doughy, but big enough for all the food inside. The egg wasn’t cooked all the way through, and the goat meat was greasy and warm. The farm used its own salsa for the taco: not too sweet, not too spicy, and a great compliment to the meat and egg combo that lightened the heaviness of tortilla-goat-embryo mix. It was glorious, worth every inch of dragging my cold bones outside.

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The taco in question, before it was demolished by a hungry Hudson.

It’s weird sometimes eating by yourself. Team taco-less, I chewed over my Mexington cuisine and my thoughts in solitude. Eating by yourself in a technology driven world is one of awkwardness and temptation. I felt my phone burning a hole in my bag, reaching out to my helpless fingers, whispering feed me, too; feed me, too! as I tried to concentrate on the moment I was present within instead. I felt alone. I was tempted to feel sad. As time progresses, it gets better. I think that, as a society, we need to learn how to dine alone again, how to smile foolishly at ourselves, how to be, unaccompanied, with a taco filled with goat meat and runny yolks dripping into our laps.

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The last bite, and proof that I am, in fact, as wimpy as I appear.

Halfway through, I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish the benevolent beast of a taco. I tried to persevere, but, much to my chagrin, one solitary bite remained at my stomach’s fill. Taco: 1. Hudson: 0. You may have won the battle this cold February morning, but you have not won the war, my friend.


1: I never actually remember my first thought of the morning—I feel like centuries of poets and bards have lied to me in claiming to have first-thoughts of their lovely loving love.

 

On Restaurant Work

A tangental post about my own experiences as a waitress and customer abroad and at home inspired by the advice of Gustavo Arellanos.

“Evelyn, Ms Debbie is back. Can you take table 4, please?” It was less of a question and more understood as take this table or I will commit a real, justified murder in our establishment. “Of course,” I said. Her mouth submitted to her gratitude, making an expression not unlike a sleeping pug, then jolted back up into a not-so-relaxed-Barbie smile as she spun to speed walk back to the front of the restaurant.

In a small town small business, you know your customers. If you come to my restaurant more than a couple times, I may not know your name, but I’ll promise you this: I know you. You are recognized. I probably could guess what you’d order, if you do so with any consistency. To tell you the truth, most of the time, I can almost guess what you’ll order just based upon visual stereotypes. Before anyone gets up in arms about prejudices and whatnot, know that this was rarely intentional: whatever twitches of the pen tempted me to write down chicken caesar wrap – lite – tomato for an indecisive sorority girl were purely instinctual, existing from experiences of Amandas and Brittanys from tables long before. I can’t say that there are “four kinds of customers” or something as reductive, but I know I speak for at least myself when I say that, as a waitress, (I think) I know your type.

Ms Debbie was a member of the group we liked to call TOTC (“too old to care”), a sweeping category that included many like her: snowy white hair, a big tote, blingy/tacky clothing, and a gaze that oozes in my day, we knew better, didn’t slouch, worked harder, AND we did it in a skirt, young lady over her cat eye glasses. Ms Debbie was a critic, was not polite, and gave a quarter as a tip. Despite all these things, I loved the woman madly. Any time she came in (alone, with family, or with friends), I was delegated to the table.

“Excuse me, Miss Marie,” she chirped at me from her table. I used to get embarrassed when people called me that, but now, it rings nostalgic in my ears. Marie is my middle name, and Miss Marie, Sissy Rie, Sister Marie, and Little Rie were the common sweet-things older generations called me in youth. “Evelyn” was reserved for serious matters; Miss Marie, even when uttered by Ms Debbie, gave me hopes of delicious secrets or pleasant stories.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. “Could you please turn down the thermostat exactly one degree? It’s just a bit too warm here for my old bones. You wouldn’t understand. Could you do that for me, sweetie?”

“Of course,” No, but I’ll tell you I will, and you’ll think that I did, just like always. “I’ll get on it right away!”

“Such a dear. Now come back after, and I’ll order for you.”

I secretly loved characters like Ms Debbie. Every time I went back to the kitchen, we’d chatter about her latest requests. We’d bond over giggles, complaints, and requests (both ours and those of our customers). People often forget that there’s a human being behind the black pocketed apron and the clunky, comfy black shoes that wear out every few months. They see the object of the waiter or hostess as only the role they’re playing, as if we’re actors and they’re choosing to suspend their own disbelief. Even I’m guilty of it. When’s the last time you wondered how long your server had been on their feet? Was your hostess wearing an engagement ring? That busboy: think he’s laughing at his own thoughts, or at something your table said that reminded him of his own friends? Did you even consider that he has friends outside of that rag?

Most of the time, the player-audience effect manifests as a kind of hyper-politeness in Americans. Even Ms Debbie fell into this, calling me sweetie and and always saying please. This is a good thing. It makes waitressing smooth, communication clear, and interactions civil.

Sometimes, especially as a young woman, politeness is abandoned for invasive curiosity. “Do you like working here? What do they pay you? So what’s the deal with (insert a coworker’s name here)?” The worst, “So, are you seeing anyone?”, was a weekly occurrence. You don’t know me, I’d think. You know the forced smile, super friendly, dressed nicely, put-together me. I don’t mean to say that the person waiting on your every need, and every other person in their quarter of the restaurant, is being in-genuine. Hate to break it to you, but the person waiting on you is probably not being genuine. It’s part of the job. We deal with bad days, chaos, and Ms Debbies for six-hour Hell shifts that last for eight hours instead. We become people’s computers (press a button on my order pad and your food will appear! Tada!), their sexual objects (if you touch my leg, my butt, or my hips while I walk by, I can guarantee at least two things: 1) Your food will be late and cold, and 2) You’ll get the biggest male server on staff for every other visit), and the reason they’re so hangry (I promise, as soon as it comes out, I’ll get it–just don’t make me ask the frustrated, stressed-out, sleepy chef back there to deliver for the twentieth time).

That being said, working in and around food allows you to meet some of the best people in the world. Work means pain. My knees can now pop on command from days of walking and standing; my shoulders, neck, and forehead throbbed incessantly; I spent what felt like hours massaging my face back into a resting position. It becomes worth it for the joy you bring people. In a small town, people don’t eat out as much as in the city. It’s a half hour drive, no matter where your coming from, to get into town. People go out to eat to celebrate, to reconnect, to enjoy food. This is the best part of being a waitress: being part of a community that literally sells joy and connectedness.

 

Moreover, I will always be thankful for the family that the food industry provides in small businesses. Your coworkers are your greatest allies in the world of people-pleasing, because as the Lord himself knows, you can’t do it alone. When I go to restaurants now, I find myself judging them less on the quality of food and more on the relationships I see in the establishments. In most of the establishments I have visited so far in the scope of Taco Literacy, the ownership and labor is done through real familias. This lends itself to not only a more genuine atmosphere and service (one in which I imagine each person is held far more accountable for their work and actions), but more genuine dining and food. Just as I felt like I was inviting my customers to my table years ago as a server, they now invite me to theirs to experience their language, culture, and comfort. I wonder how they size me up, how they chat about the customers, and about what nicknames they have for each other. I recognize the micro aggression of letting a plate drop onto the table versus the gentle kindness of topping off an already-mostly-filled glass of water when they anticipate how unused to spiciness I might be. It is impossible for me to separate ideas of sleepy hours, sweat, and behind-the-scenes pain stretches from my experiences at the small eateries, knowing that from the other side, appreciation from the customer can make all the difference.