How Mexican food captured the American imagination (and stomach)

Photo by BrownGuacamole (Ernesto Andrade) via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I just finished reading Gustavo Arellano‘s latest book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Arellano, author of the weekly syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican!, takes readers on an enjoyable romp through the last couple centuries of Mexican-American food. As Michael Meyer describes in his review for the Columbia Journalism Review,

[the book] is part culinary history, part travelogue, and part extended essay on the various accidents and ironies of colonialism that caused Mexican food to, as the book’s subtitle puts it, “conquer” America. It’s a fun read worthy of the burrito-loving masses—and a thoughtful examination of America’s simultaneous hunger for and fear of the influence of other cultures.

Praise for the book from Meyer and Jim Sherman at the Houston Chronicle is tempered a bit in L.V. Anderson’s take at Slate: I found myself agreeing with Anderson’s main critique—Arellano’s book is wider than it is deep, in both substance and analysis—but also with Anderson’s final conclusion, i.e., “the book still has a lot to offer.”

Gustavo Arellano. Photo by John Lamb via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For more, check out the reviews linked above and this piece from NPR, in which Carolina Miranda and Arellano follow the “California taco trail” from Cielito Lindo in Los Angeles to Milta Cafe in San Bernardino (across the street from what would become the original Taco Bell) to Alebrije’s Grill Taco Truck in Santa Ana.

Then catch this episode of public radio’s On Point (audio available below) that features Arellano on the occasion of Taco USA’s publication this spring. Head to the On Point episode page for a sneak peak at the book’s introduction, too.

Finally, head to this short piece by Arellano (from Saveur’s recent Mexico issue) on the burritos of his parents’ Mexican home and a primer on the history of the burrito’s transformation north of the border:

Whereas their Americanized children had grown up on burritos, the ones in Ahumada were the first my folks actually enjoyed. The burrito to them was as alien as a Korean taco; being from Zacatecas, where corn tortillas are the norm, they hadn’t even tasted the flour variety until migrating to California in the 1960s. The American obsession with the food bewildered them—the ones we ate in the States were as Mexican as Doritos. But in Villa Ahumada, my parents were happy to feed on burritos because, well, that’s what everybody ate. To them, Ahumada was the place where America became Mexico, and Mexico became America; the burrito was the food that embodied that in-between place.

I recommend the essay as a nice preview of what you can expect from the full-length Taco USA. Happy reading/listening/eating!

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