If it smells bad, don’t eat it.
Things usually taste like they smell, and if the smell does not please, then neither will the taste. This is my general rule of thumb for all kinds of foods, especially Mexican, where I consider myself a bit of an expert. Speaking of that, have you noticed that we have more and more Mexican restaurants popping up in our fair city? And each claims to have “authentic” Mexican food. We now have different types of Mexican food we can choose.
The first choice to make is whether you want Tex-Mex or actual, authentic Mexican. They are similar, but only slightly. Tex-Mex usually consists of enchiladas, tacos or tamales with pinto beans and orange rice on the side served as a “plate lunch.”
As you probably already know, Tex-Mex was invented by American restaurants. They also invented the taco salad, vegetarian enchiladas, whole wheat tortillas and gluten-free chips. Plus, they put a dollop of sour cream on almost everything. While we mostly think of this food as “Mexican” it is hard to find in Mexico.
Generally speaking, if the waiter warns you that the plate is very hot, that means it’s been in the microwave oven and is not “authentic.” And if they serve sour cream with anything, it is probably American. This is a good place to take your Aunt Connie from Indiana if she wants Mexican food.
If you elect Mexican, as in “from Mexico,” then this is a whole other category. People in Mexico like to eat caldo, which is soup with chunks of beef as big as a fist. It also contains big clumps of carrots, onion, celery and corn on the cob. If it is truly Mexican, they will serve a dish of orange rice on the side. Mexicans like to pour rice into their soup.
If you visit a restaurant that has caldo with rice on the side, then it is probably made by people born and raised in Mexico who speak little English and love to cook. There are several such restaurants in our fair city today. At lunchtime, you will see construction workers, landscapers and other laborers frequent these good places in their dirty work clothes.
Another choice in “Mexican” food is called taquerias. Taqueria means a place where they sell tacos, but it can also mean a big bunch of tacos: Both definitions apply. A taco is comparable to a sandwich; it can contain anything inside, but it is usually wrapped by a tortilla. Taquerias mostly sell tacos wrapped in aluminum foil. They are very Mexican.
There are, then, many types of Mexican food: From Tex-Mex to taqueria to enchiladas to caldo, they are all considered “Mexican,” yet they are each unique and the same; they are delicious.
Finally, it is important to remember that there are about 18 countries in Latin America, and each has its own style of cooking, so Mexican food is different from Guatemalan, which is different from Peruvian or Argentinian. And then you have American-style Tex-Mex, which is what most of us know and most of us prefer — especially me.