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When is a Mexican restaurant not a Mexican restaurant?

b
bonmann Mar 7, 2007 02:19 PM

As I look at the boards I notice that some posters will talk about the lack of authenticity in a resturant without actually talking about the quality of the food at that resturant. I was wondering if the classification a restaurant gives itself effects the way you feel about its food?

I have a sister that loves her local Mexican restaurant. I have been to this restaurant and it is not Mexican food and it is not Tex-Mex food either. It is some sort of Midwestern fake Tex-Mex (not a very good explanation, I know).

Here is the thing, she likes the taste of the food. She doesn't like Mexican food and doesn't particularly like Tex-Mex food either. In fact, she has been to Mexico and does not particularly want to go back because she doesn't like the food. However, She does like the flavor combinations that this restaurant provides.

So my question is, is this a bad Mexican restaurant or is it just a restaurant that has good food but has mislabeled itself? If you go into a Mexican restaurant and the food is not authentic can you get around your expectations and evaluate the food on its own merits or does it always disappoint you because it is not what it presents itself to be?

  1. j
    julesrules Mar 15, 2007 08:06 AM

    A Mexican restaurant is not a Mexican restaurant when it is in a small touristy town in the Czech republic with nary a Mexican in sight. And it still tasted good because we were so sick of Czech food. It wouldn't be a restaurant I'd go to twice (or even once in any other circumstance) but it served its purpose as does the one your sister likes, kudos to you if you can enjoy it with her.

    1. b
      bonmann Mar 14, 2007 04:04 PM

      Thank you all for your responses. I don't hate this restaurant and the food is not inedible but I always have to adjust my expectations when I enter there. Its just nice to know that others agree with me.

      1. applehome Mar 10, 2007 12:54 PM

        Great photos - love your gallery.

        1 Reply
        1. re: applehome
          Anonimo Mar 10, 2007 01:01 PM

          Gracias, Applehome. I had to edit that post at least 5 times to "optimize" it, particularly to get the photo of the smoking ollas of pozole to be the first to load.

        2. Anonimo Mar 10, 2007 12:38 PM

          Just about all the Mexican food around here (Pátzcuaro, Michoacán) is authentic, but not all of it is good. Better restaurants with good chefs take basic and traditional Mexican home cooking and refine it and sometimes elevate it. Whether that's good depends on what pleases you.
          Last Thursday, we attended the closing cermeonies for the local ladies' sewing club. A red chile beef stew (variously called "barbacoa", "birria", and "churipo"—but fit none of my preconceived concepts of those guisados)
          (Earlier photo here:
          http://tinyurl.com/2pnw5y ) was served afterwards, accompanied by well-cooked broken rice. Now, there is no doubt that it was REAL Mexican home style cooking. We enjoyed eating among friends a rather simple dish of somewhat tough and bony cuts in chile sauce. I don't think it would have passed muster in a restaurant, though. (Aside: I brought two pans of Buttermilk Cornbread to the comida, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and I hope that I'm not chastised and expelled from the ranks of True Mexican Foodies for that "sin"! *smiles*

          Yesterday we attended a huge Pozole Party near Tzintzúntzan. Beacuse yesterday was a Friday during Lent, the principal pozoles (most of the 50 ollas de barro) were pozole de habas y maíz. It was good in an earthy, simple sort of way, and I have no doubt as to its authenticity, but there are no restaurants that I can think of that would serve such a humble dish. We also had pozole verde and pozole rojo, prepared by our non-Catholic American friend (a former chef), and they were both good, yet they would have to be "cleaned up" if they were to be served in a restaurant to paying guests.
          http://tinyurl.com/2pnw5y
          "Cada chango a su mecate."

          1. c
            cheryl_h Mar 9, 2007 12:17 PM

            I'm a complete neophyte when it comes to Mexican food, but I'd say a Mexican restaurant is not Mexican when it lists menu items that are unrecognizable compared to the real thing. I lived in the Midwest where ethnic foods were a joke. The Mexican place served some strange bean dish on everything and called them refritos. I never ate them because they tasted awful. Then I made them myself and to my surprise they were very tasty. The dishes served by so-called ethnic restaurants may be delicious to its regulars, but I wish they would label them correctly - Aunt Mabel's Tamales, or My Mother's Mole - which might avoid disappointment.

            My real gripe is with the truly awful American-Chinese restaurants which serve universal brown glop on everything, something I've never seen or been served in any Chinese home including my own. But lots of people love it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cheryl_h
              applehome Mar 10, 2007 12:43 PM

              "a Mexican restaurant is not Mexican when it lists menu items that are unrecognizable compared to the real thing"

              Compared to exactly which real thing, where? The concept of labeling foods as "Aunt Mabel's" or whatever is just silly - all food is unique to whatever extent the chef makes it so. A gumbo is not a cassoulet - there are fundamental and well accepted things that make an item what it is, but there are so many variations within "Gumbo", or anything else, that demanding distinctive names on everything isn't always going to be possible. - or meaningful, (just what does Aunt Mabel's mean to you?) Is it a Tamale if it's a large roll wrapped in banana leaves and served in slices, instead of a small dumpling in a corn husk? It certainly is in many parts of Mexico.

              American Chinese food with brown glop is over a century old. It's what evolved from the wave of Chinese immigrants that came over for the Gold Rush - and then stayed and learned to serve what they remembered of their food to Gringos. It's as established a form of cuisine as anything else - many forms of traditional sushi aren't much older than that. So what's inauthentic? The fact that it's not served in a Chinese person's home? Which Chinese person, from where, and when did they immigrate, and into what community? If you want Sichuan, why go to a brown glop place - isn't it up to you to understand enough to know where to go for what type of food?

              Go back through the many, many posts on authenticity here and you find a common thread. It really comes down to the diner's own knowledge. Walking into a restaurant that serves tamales, the first question would be - what kind of a place is this? Is it tex-mex, cal-mex, maybe run by a family from one of the many distinct regions in Mexico? Based on the menu, what can I expect the tamale to be? If I couldn't figure it out, I'd ask. The only thing I'd be angry about is if it were the exactly same thing I could get in a thousand other places - even then, it could be a shining example of a standard recipe - but truth be told, I'd much rather be surprised with some new incredible dish I had never had before. And if I didn't ask, and simply ordered something that I ended up not liking, I would think about whether the food was not prepared well, or if the cuisine, the style of the food - whatever its origin - was simply not to my liking. In any case, it would be a learning experience. (I'm not coming back here... I don't like crickets in my taco's... Brown glop on dan-dan noodles makes no sense... Next time I'll ask them not to gringo-fy my menudo...)

              Will Owen's thread above is on the nose. The audience - the people that are going to buy the food and support the restaurant - are going to make more of a difference than anything else. A knowledgable audience will mean a good variety of different foods - each authentic to it's own roots. The most authentic xxx restaurant in the world isn't going to last in a place where there is no-one that can understand or support xxx food. And everything becomes authentic, sooner or later...

            2. q
              Quesera Mar 8, 2007 04:26 PM

              When everything is indigestible to a normal stomach. All mexican isnt overloaded with cheese and beans, and in fact a lot of it is fresh fish, and the flavors make it distinctly mexican. I have a bad stomach, and never ate what I thought was "mexican" before coming to LA because I couldn't...with the exception of fajitas...but now that I'm here and see a greater diversity of foods and flavors, I can eat a lot more of it.

              I'd also say when the restaurant is called "The Spanish Kitchen," but it's one I frequent a lot so I won't trash it...

              3 Replies
              1. re: Quesera
                cristina Mar 8, 2007 05:24 PM

                Quesera...I hate to break this news, but fajitas are as Tex-Mex as it gets. They aren't Mexican. Yes, you'll find fajitas on lots of menus in South of the Border Mexican restaurants, but they're offered as a nod to the tourist trade.

                1. re: cristina
                  susancinsf Mar 8, 2007 11:03 PM

                  I don't think she ever said that fajitas were NOT Tex Mex. All she said was that she could digest them, and that she thought they were 'Mexican' before she came to LA and got a broader reference.

                  1. re: susancinsf
                    q
                    Quesera Mar 9, 2007 10:45 AM

                    Thank you! I was also living in Philadelphia and going to school in central NY, so I wasnt exposed to authentic mexican until I moved to CA. So that WAS my impression of mexican.

              2. cristina Mar 8, 2007 03:18 PM

                In the interest of establishing credentials, let me say that (a) I have lived in Mexico [currently in Guadalajara] for 26 years; (b) I have eaten in 28 of Mexico’s 31 states (plus the Distrito Federal); (c) I speak Spanish at the native-speaker level; (d) I am a Mexican citizen and culinary adventures tour guide; (e) I have been a student of the many Mexican cuisines (note the plural) during my entire experience in Mexico; and (f) most of this thread reminds me of that old story of six blind men and an elephant. “Oh,” says the first, running his hands up and down the elephant’s leg, “an elephant is exactly like a tree.” “Aha,” says the second, stroking the elephant’s trunk, “the elephant is precisely like a hose.” And so forth. If you haven’t experienced what most posters persist in calling ‘authentic Mexican’, then there’s no way to compare any restaurant in the States or Canada with anything that is prepared or served in Mexico. You’re simply spinning your wheels.

                The first question is that of authenticity. It’s my considered opinion that there is no such thing. But wait, before you start hopping up and down to refute that, consider that ‘authentic’ is what you were raised to appreciate. Your mother’s pot roast is authentic, but so is my mother’s. Your aunt’s egg salad is the real deal—but so is my aunt’s, and they’re not the least bit similar.

                The descriptor I’ve come to use for many dishes is *traditional*. Even that adjective can be argued, but it serves to describe the *traditional* dish of—oh, say carne de puerco en chile verde—as served in the North of Mexico, in the Central Highlands, or in the South. There may be some similarities among these dishes, but each is traditional and each is authentic. I think that in order to understand the cuisines of Mexico, we have to give up arguing about authenticity and concentrate on the reality of certain dishes.

                Traditional Mexican cooking is not a hit-or-miss let’s make something for dinner proposition based on ‘let’s see what we have on hand’. Traditional Mexican cooking is as complicated and precise as traditional French cooking, with just as many hide-bound conventions as French cuisine. You can’t just throw some chiles and a glob of chocolate into a sauce and call it mole. You can’t simply call something Mexican salsa when it’s not. There are specific recipes to follow, specific results to expect and to attain. Yes, some liberties are taken, particularly in the new *alta cocina* (haute cuisine) and fusion restaurants—but even those liberties are based on specific traditional recipes.

                Several of you have brought up the question of what ingredients are available in Mexico and whether or not those ingredients are up to snuff when compared with what’s available in the States. Surprise, surprise…most ingredients here in Mexico are much better than what you find up there. Chefs who come to visit Mexico’s produce markets are inevitably astonished that what is grown for the ordinary market is fresher, more flavorful, more attractive, and much less costly than what’s available in the States. It’s the same with most meats: pork and chicken (and by the way, what makes those chickens yellow is marigold petals in their feed, not a diet of pure corn) are head and shoulders above what you find in North of the Border meat markets. Fish and seafood are fresh-from-the-sea fresh and distributed within just a few hours of any of Mexico’s coasts.

                Nevertheless, Mexican restaurants in the States and Canada can make do with the inferior ingredients found outside Mexico. In fact, some downright delicious traditional Mexican meals can be had in some of your North of the Border restaurants. They’re hard to find, though, because in the States, most of what has come to be known as Mexican cooking is actually Tex-Mex cooking. There’s nothing wrong with Tex-Mex cooking, nothing at all. It’s just not Mexican cooking; Tex-Mex is good food from a particular region of the United States. Some of it is adapted from Mexican cooking, some is the invention of early Texas settlers, some is a riff on an earlier style from that region.

                The best of Mexico’s cuisines is not found in restaurants. It comes straight from somebody’s Mama’s kitchen: home cooking. Clearly not all Mexicans are good cooks, just as not all Chinese are good cooks, not all Italians are good cooks, etc. But the most traditional, the most (if you will) authentic Mexican meals are home prepared.

                That reality is what made Diana Kennedy who she is today: she took the time to travel Mexico, searching for the best of the best of the traditional preparations. For the most part, she didn’t find them in fancy restaurants, homey comedores (small commercial dining rooms) or fondas (tiny working-class restaurants). She took the time to educate her palate, understand the ingredients, taste what was offered to her, and learn, learn, learn from home cooks before she started putting her recipes, techniques, and stories on paper.

                You can’t possibly understand the cuisines of Mexico unless you have truly experienced them in situ. No matter which restaurant you’re testing—from Chipotle to the lowliest table at a North of the Border street stand—you will have NO basis for comparison with what’s authentic, traditional, or Mama’s kitchen until you’ve stacked them all against one another. Until that time, you can argue till the cows come home and you’re still just another blind guy patting the beast’s side and exclaiming how the elephant is mighty like a wall.

                8 Replies
                1. re: cristina
                  DiningDiva Mar 8, 2007 03:36 PM

                  Thank you. Wonderful post.

                  1. re: cristina
                    Veggo Mar 8, 2007 03:42 PM

                    I continue to be awed by cristina's breadth of knowledge of mexican cooking and culture and her ability to communicate from her heart and her boundless energy in sharing it all in such a graceful style. Note to monitors: please let my off-point compliment stay a while, she has earned it. We have learned soooo much from cristina

                    1. re: cristina
                      susancinsf Mar 8, 2007 10:58 PM

                      "You can’t possibly understand the cuisines of Mexico unless you have truly experienced them in situ."

                      If that were really true, then isn't Diana Kennedy wasting her time trying to take what she learned and put it on paper? What would be the point of buying her books and trying her recipes and learning from her? (or from your very thoughtful posts, for that matter?)

                      I think part of what the OP is trying to gain is a point of reference for those folks who can't spend their lifetimes touring Mexico and trying its many cuisines in situ. To him I say, yes, deliciousness does count, whether you find it in Guadalajara, or in Chicago. And I also think you can indeed have meals in restaurants and homes outside of Mexico that are delicious and resonate of the traditions of the best in Mexican cuisine.

                      1. re: cristina
                        Ed Dibble Mar 9, 2007 12:00 PM

                        Great post (as always). Your point about authenticity reminded me of a recent conversation I had with the chef/mother/owner in a little restaurant in my border town.

                        Me: That's great posole verde.
                        She: Thank you.
                        Me: I read somewhere (didn't say this, but it was at CH) that posole verde is a specialty of Guerrero.
                        She: Maybe, but I just make this cuz my kids want to have a posole without pork.

                        So, is her posole verde authentic?

                        ed

                        1. re: Ed Dibble
                          kare_raisu Mar 9, 2007 02:08 PM

                          Ed,
                          I am really interested in posole verde, would you go into more detail about this version you were served. I recall reading (ch too) that the base was tomatillos, (Maybe verdolagas) and most important pepitas: hence verde.
                          Never any meat?
                          Was this woman from Gr.?

                          1. re: kare_raisu
                            Ed Dibble Mar 10, 2007 09:05 AM

                            Not from Guerrero. Don't think I asked where she was from, but San Luis R.C., Son. is a safe guess around here - but San Luis is full of people from all over the NW regions of Mexico (Sonora, Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa).

                            We did discuss recipes because I mentioned that I could make red posole.

                            Her posole verde starts with onions, garlic, good chicken stock, nixtamal, chopped green chilies, tomatillos, and chicken meat added at the end. It was served with lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onions (if memory serves).

                            Clearly her version is not like that from Guerrero, but represents an inventive Mexican cook's approach to the idea of a green posole with chicken.

                            ed

                          2. re: Ed Dibble
                            kare_raisu Mar 9, 2007 02:13 PM

                            Found it! [via google, not this search function] RST is an incredible resource (and great writer)--check him out on the lthforums as well.

                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/111766

                          3. re: cristina
                            p
                            Panini Guy Mar 9, 2007 05:36 PM

                            Thanks for the correction re: marigolds/yellow. At some point I probably that knew that marigolds were included in the diet, just like i used to know all 22 verb conjugations. Alas, that was 13 years ago.

                            Regarding eating in people's homes - being a very family-oriented culture, it seemed rare that co-workers were invited to someone's home. Drinks, yes. Meals not so much. It was an honor when you do get invited to someone's home. Only happened to me twice in the course of a year. I'm wondering how Diana pulled that off.

                          4. Will Owen Mar 8, 2007 01:04 PM

                            Many years ago Nashville, Tennessee had one "Mexican" restaurant. It was called "La Fiesta of Mexican Food," and it served fried tortillas topped with canned chili and shredded American cheese, or rolled around same, and "Spanish" rice and canned refried beans, and what they grossly mislabeled "hot tamales." In an attempt to remedy this, the singer Marty Robbins brought in a Mexican couple from Texas and set them up in business across from his race-car garage, in a place named Rosa's Cantina, which served authentic Tex-Mex for a few months and then started pushing fried tortillas, canned chili and shredded American cheese...

                            And then the real Mexicans started moving in, going from an insignificant minority to a major presence in about a five-year span, during which the available Mexican food went from real tacos to real menudo to sopes and gorditas to birria de chivo, all of which and more may now be found in rich abundance in Nashville. And I think La Fiesta closed down long ago. But the question was: was that a Mexican restaurant or not? The man I worked for, a fine guy in almost every respect, thought it was, and he loved it dearly. It served the kind of "Mexican food" he grew up with, the kind he EXPECTED, and he did not enjoy culinary surprises. And if all those Mexicans hadn't come to town, that'd still be the only kind of "Mexican food" you could get there.

                            1. Covert Ops Mar 8, 2007 08:05 AM

                              OK, my favorite Mexican restaurant is staffed entirely by Mexicans (I live in Florida, near but not too close to a migrant community). I know that doesn't mean "authentic" because restaurants cater to the taste of their clientele -- and I am not in an area known for sophisticated palates.

                              Can someone please list some examples of "authentic" dishes, as well as some examples of "Tex-Mex" (as I've never eaten Mexican food in Texas) and other categories of Mexican food. (Oaxacan, etc.) I gather enchiladas, chimichangas and the like are Tex-Mex, and that seafood dishes are another category. I hear "tacos al pastor" a lot but don't quite know what that is.

                              My family is from New Mexico, and I was told the test of authenticity was an abundance of pork dishes, as that was the cheapest meat available and normal households in New Mexico (and I assume, by extension, Mexico, though I'm sure there's a difference) couldn't afford chicken and beef all the time (in olden days of course, not now with Wal-Marts, etc.).

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Covert Ops
                                j
                                Jeanne Mar 8, 2007 09:44 AM

                                tacos al pastor are pork tacos - the pork is cooked on a spit - usually vertical, not horizontal. There's a name for the cooking apparatus but I don't remember what it is. Pineapple is usually attached to the top of the meat so that that juices can run down while cooking. The pork is sliced off of the large piece of roasting meat and is served in a tortilla with various sides - different salsas, pineapple, etc.

                                1. re: Jeanne
                                  Covert Ops Mar 8, 2007 11:55 AM

                                  Like lamb meat in a gyro?
                                  http://www.bonte.ca/images/thumbnail/...

                                  BTW, that sounds NUMMY. :-)

                                  1. re: Jeanne
                                    kare_raisu Mar 8, 2007 04:42 PM

                                    the spit is a 'trompe'

                                    1. re: kare_raisu
                                      cristina Mar 8, 2007 05:11 PM

                                      The correct name of the vertical spit for tacos al pastor is 'trompo'.

                                  2. re: Covert Ops
                                    j
                                    jorpak Apr 9, 2007 12:46 AM

                                    Tacos al Pastor are tacos, usually in small corn tortillas, made of thin pork steaks seasoned with adobo (a traditional Mexican seasoning) skewered and overlapped on one another to a sum of about 100 or so steaks as they're placed through a spinning rotisserie called trompo, cooked by a flame as it spins. Usually the "taquero" spins the trompo, slices the hottest burning piece of meat, catches it with the tortilla, adding a small slice of pineapple (which would be sitting on top of the trompo) and some hot red chipotle sauce, onion, cilantro ("con todo" which means with everything on it - or the works.) And don't forget to add some lime on top.
                                    There's another variation, called GRINGAS, which is pastor meat, with cheese, on flour tortillas. Think of a pork meat quesadilla.
                                    Hope this helps.

                                  3. o
                                    odkaty Mar 7, 2007 03:38 PM

                                    A restaurant that labels itself something and delivers something else entirely is bad. But a place which delivers some modicum of the cultural food it is representing in a good fresh appealing tasty way is always a good thing. While that restaurant may not appeal to everyone and every taste it still delivers a good product. When that restaurant delves from the path of what it claims to deliver and you get a rather nasty surprise on your plate (Iranian flavored tex-mex) something not so kosher has happened in the restaurant marketing business.

                                    1. Sam Fujisaka Mar 7, 2007 03:18 PM

                                      It appears that one can get better food in filipino and Colombian restaraunts in the US than in the Philippines and Colombia respectively. What are they? I don't know.

                                      1. y
                                        yen Mar 7, 2007 03:01 PM

                                        A Mexican restaurant is not a Mexican restaurant when it is a Chinese restaurant! :)

                                        Sorry, i couldnt resist. Anyway, to me, you've raised two issues here. One is the whole issue of authenticity. The whole question of what is "real" Mexican?

                                        The other question is about good food, that if mislabelled, will it disappoint?

                                        For me, the entire idea of "authenticity" is a touchy subject. I define it as being true to the taste, preparation, culture, and "spirit" of the food. Mexican dishes prepared in LA, for example, are often better than their counterparts in Mexico. They can have better ingredients, better kitchen conditions, and more importantly, chefs with greater exposure to other cultures. A restaurant like Babita keeps true to "authentic" roots and inspiration, while not producing an identical result.

                                        American Mexican, Tex Mex, or even bastardized Tex Mex, often is "developed" to appeal to the less adventerous, mid-west American taste. Lots of cheese, no strange spices, safe ingredients like beans, rice, shredded lettuce tomatos. To me, this is no longer Mexican, because you are trying to change what a dish is. There's nothing wrong with it (i like Chipotle, Baja Fresh, and Freebirds), but i do recognize it for what it is.

                                        As for good food mislabelled - I know i personally can get around these expectations, but more often than not, i would say this is a tough thing to get around. The failure to meet expectations usually leads to disappointment, even if the meal was fantastic or amazing. If your expectations were just a bit higher, it's only human to be disappointed.

                                        In the end, people will like what they like. Taste is a personal thing. It isnt up to us to judge what other people like - if it works for them, great! Of course, it's my perrogative not to eat with them as well :)

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: yen
                                          p
                                          Panini Guy Mar 7, 2007 06:47 PM

                                          When it's Chipotle???

                                          My own personal rule of thumb is that if the menu has combo plate numbers on it, it's Americanized past the point of recognition to a Mexican.

                                          However, to the poster above, I don't know if one can really say that a Mexican restaurant in LA can make something better than in Mexico because of the kitchen - and especially the ingredients. The ingredients and ingenuity of dealing with the surroundings are what created the inspiration for a recipe in the first place.

                                          To argue that point would be to suggest that Keller or Adria or Aschatz can make a better "authentic" pizza than your current favorite place (which probably isn't all that authentic to begin with as few are). You know a great chef could do a more stylized version, but would it satisfy you in the same way - and for the same price? You know in your heart that's not necessarily true.

                                          But it seems that's what you're suggesting.

                                          Example: Having lived in Mexico, when I went shopping for chicken, they were routinely yellow - much yellower than anything available in any supermarket I've been in. Yellow due to being almost totally corn fed. That creates a different taste. And because there wasn't the same type of institutional chicken processing, there was a different texture to the birds as well, which leads to different types of cooking (not saying it was as hygenic as US chicken, but seems to me it might well have been given the horrors we've witnessed from US chicken processors).

                                          Granted, you had to pull hairs out... but those chickies were flavorful.

                                          Another simpler but nevertheless great example mentioned here often is the Caesar salad. You can't beat a Caesar made with a raw egg tableside at decent restaurants throughout Mexico. But you can't do the raw egg in most places in the U.S. (can you do it anywhere?).

                                          Suggesting there's better Mexican in LA than in Mexico seems a lot like saying you're from Seattle therefore you know all about coffee (although I'll believe you if you worked for Schomer).

                                          As far as exposure to other cultures, that can work for fusion places or for places with no identifiable heritage, but in the context of a regional cuisine, I'd question if that's an asset.

                                          I personally don't want pineapple in my huachinango veracruzana, nor soy sauce in my pork adobo. But I know i can find both. As well as people who swear those recipes are wonderful.

                                          But better or more authentic? Not for me.

                                          1. re: Panini Guy
                                            y
                                            yen Mar 7, 2007 08:33 PM

                                            I've been trying to write a response to your post, but i continue to give up in frustration. It's an essay i want to write to respond, but im too tired to put my ideas down. All i want to say is that i think you've misinterpreted a lot of what i've said, but i respect your opinions. I will try and explain my position in a way that is clearer:

                                            1. I am not some Xenophobe who is a proponent of America is better than Mexico. I was only trying to highlight why the idea of authenticity is such a tricky one. Just because something is made in the States does not make it inherently less authentic than something made in Mexico. There are many situations where all things really are equal when you compare the two - the labour, the ingredients, etc... there isnt any reason why it often can't be better.

                                            2. Nowhere in my post do i even suggest that some celebrity chef could do a better job - im not sure how you came to this conclusion? I'd take someone who grew up in the food culture over someone who didnt any day of the week.

                                            3. Better access to ingredients and better sanitary conditions are generalizations - not a rule. These do highlight some of the general differences, and serve to explain why there are differences that may make the food in LA a better fit for me and someone of a "North American" palate. I like LA Mexican, in general, better than many of the meals i've had in Mexico. It fits the statement. But it's not always true. You're right that the original recipe was spawned from the creativity and ingenuity of working with the conditions they had, and the ingredients they had available. That doesnt mean, in my mind, that something that alters these recipes in ways that stay true to their "spirit" is any less authentic.

                                            4. I think other exposure to other cultures is an asset - i think you're taking a fairly limited view to the influences of other cultures in cooking. Im not necessarily talking fusion - specifically, ingredients. It can also refer to technique, timing, style, temperature, heck, environment, and a million other factors that play a role. I am NOT a purist. The way it was done 1000 years ago is not necessarily the only way, or the best way, in my mind. Everything can be improved. I believe that people with an appreciation and exposure to other food cultures develop a more balanced view of food, and are far more open-minded in their approach to optimizing what they deliver.

                                            Regardless, as i tried to reiterate, taste is subjective, and the idea of authenticity is touchy. There is no definitive answer. If you can find meals you enjoy that work for you, great. What's difficult is trying to define what is actually "authentic".

                                            1. re: yen
                                              p
                                              Panini Guy Mar 8, 2007 05:19 AM

                                              Yen,
                                              I'm in Pittsburgh. All we have are combo plate places. It's a nightmare.

                                              I used to do a lot of trade shows in LA and ate out quite a bit. I had good Mexican, but I personally didn't find it better than what I ate in Mexico. Part of that might also relate to the coffee thread, where the "best cup" is not necessarily the "best prepared coffee", but the surroundings experienced when drinking it. So it could be as simple as I prefer hanging out in Mexico to LA ;-)

                                              That said, I've been happy with numerous Mexican restaurant experiences in Chicago. I like Maya in NY and Forest Cafe in Boston, the latter which was run by a CIA graduate and specialized in Veracruzana style foods before changing hands and dumbing down the menu a few years back (still good, but used to be better). So I'll agree there are examples out there that reflect your assertions on points #1, #3 and #4

                                              To the celebrity chef question in point #2, I used Keller, et.al. as a counterpoint to your argument about better ingredients and better kitchens. Who has more access to better ingredients and more toys in their ultra-clean kitchens than the trio I mentioned? I wasn't trying to put words in your mouth, just taking your assertion to a logical extreme. Hope that clears up the context of that remark.

                                              I cringe when I see "authentic" on any menu because invariably it's not. And I get a bit crispy at the "I'm from X, therefore I know all about Y" that's so prevalent on CH - not suggesting that you do it, but plenty from LA/San Diego who apparently couldn't tell a chunk of huitlacoche from grey tile caulk cite themselves as experts on Mexican cuisine.

                                              Thanks for the thoughtful response. Maybe we should both spend more time on eGullet instead of here ;-)

                                              1. re: Panini Guy
                                                y
                                                yen Mar 8, 2007 08:31 AM

                                                I'm from Calgary, Canada, so you think Pittsburgh is a nightmare? We can't even do faux fast-food tex mex right. This city is absolutely begging for a Chipotle, which is a very sad statement of affairs. Authentic doesnt really matter here, we'd settle for edible!

                                                Re: celebrity chef - that's definitely an extreme! About one logical step too many in my books :) With respect to better access to ingredients, I was trying to explain the following: your point about local ingredients in Mexico was bang on - in season, when available, they have some amazing ingredients to work with. However, Mexico is an export country when it comes to food items - they ship a lot of goods out, but don't bring any back in. They work with a limited set of ingredients, a limitation a country like the US does not have because they not only import a lot of fresh, good quality, in season ingredients year round, but they also have the ability to bring in perishable ingredients that otherwise couldnt be exported (like fish from Tsukiji for example) via FedEx or some other just in time delivery service.

                                                Your point about X and Y is a valid one though - my own personal philosophy is im no expert on any cuisine. I enjoy them all, and more importantly, i enjoy learning more about every cuisine. I think all the food cultures in the world have something to teach us, and we should continually push our boundaries to learn to ensure that food continues to grow and evolve over time; growth and evolution NOT referring to the whole idea of food art (i hate foam), genetically modifying ingredients, nor heavy industrial processing of foods to make a "super chicken" that can produce more lbs of breast meat per carcass.Growth and evolution meaning that food, flavours, tastes, and execution continue to change, adapt, and improve over time.

                                                As for the other board, no comment ;)

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