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Sep 6, 2009 12:59 PM

Mexcian food defined [Moved from LA Board]

This post is for so many who try to define Mexican food and cant.
That is because no one can. You cant define Mexican food just like you cant define American food. New England boiled dinner? Kansas city BBQ? New Orleans jambalaya?

But I can tell you how I was raised and what we ate and then I'll tell you what I would like to call it.

I was raised in East Los Angles in the 1950s.
We ate pot beans more often than bean paste (often called refried) and use real lard for all frying.
We roasted peppers on the gas range.
We never had a flour tortilla but we had burritos (little burro) made with a corn tortilla.
If you put stuff in a small corn tortilla and just brought the ends together it was a taco.
If you use a bigger corn tortilla and wrap it up burrito fashion you have a burrito.
Still no flour tortillas.
We never smothered things in cheese and even when we went out to dinner on Brooklyn ave there was no such thing as a combination plate.
Nobody stuck a good dish under a broiler just to melt the cheese.
We had many kinds of homemade soups and lots or rice dishes.
Cheese enchiladas almost exclusively.
Enchilada sauces were not good with meats so just cheese
Meat was eaten in small portions or in stews and chicken was cooked most often with pork right behind it.
Carnitas is still my favorite.
We made our own tamales sometimes but could buy them on the corner any time we wanted them.
Same thing goes for corn tortillas.
A bottle of hot sauce or two were always on the table.
We used a lot of chilies and grew our own right along with the tomatoes and carrots.
There was always a bowl of fresh salsa on the table and each person used it as they liked... sort of like the way salt and pepper shakers are used.
Seafood was on the table often... shrimp and small perch and bass and the like and muscles which we took off the pier pilings in San Pedro.
We made and ate ceviche quite often.

But anyway, as you can see the cuisine is pretty basic but it was good.

I call this Sonoron Mexican food because I guess 90% of the East LA Mexcian population were from Sonora (or baja) or their parents were.

I don't know what to call the Anglo Mexican dishes you get in most restaurants today.When one advertises "Sonoran style" I know the menu will be mostly anglo designed dishes.

But I do know what I grew up with I can find it the small restaurants in Mexican neighborhoods.

That's all I wanted to say.

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  1. your post is beautiful-- poetic, really.
    thank you for taking the time to tell us.
    a foodie, speaking straight from the heart. . .

    1. Hi Camper, thank you for the beautiful post.
      It brings back memories for me. My first husband grew up in Whittier, in the 50's. His dad was Irish and was his mom was Mexican but born in Arizona, she told me about her childhood, which was a rough life. ( her mom ran a boarding house, and would hit her if she didn't make the tortillas perfectly round, and other horrific things )
      Her extended family was in the Rowland Heights area, and ran a little restaurant called La Casuela .I picked up a lot of cooking basics from her, but the family politics were not very good, I think she had to try hard to "Americanize" her food, and herself. There were some little touches she always added to things, radish and jalapenos to the potato salad, etc.
      She would always have jars of homemade salsa in the fridge. It was not chunky, but almost pureed, fresh tomatoes,chilies,onions, cilantro, and salt. She would make amazing enchiladas, cheese, and always have some frozen and ready if we dropped by.
      She would scramble left over enchiladas with eggs, and then serve with fried potatoes and refried beans.
      I think she was a perfect example of how cuisine evolves, I think of her food as California style. She would not have wanted to make her own tortillas, or grow her own chilies, that would have been going back too far for her!! Now I want to do those things, and have to learn how without her.