Posts tagged ‘tacos’

August 25th, 2011

The day I became a fan of tacos

Growing up in Japan, when I heard the word ‘taco’, I knew a good meal was coming.  No, it’s not what you’re thinking, because sadly, there’s no good Mexican place in Tokyo.  When a Japanese diner hears the Japanese word ‘taco’, he or she knows they’re not going to be served a Mexican classic, but instead, about to enjoy…octopus, tako.   Most Japanese people wouldn’t know what a Mexican taco even looks like.  I, however, was different. Thanks to a fancy grocery store that sold imported luxury items, I was familiar with the western version, having once seen a festive yellow box with some mysteriously shaped item inside.  In the dark recesses of my mind, I wondered what this taco thing was all about.  Can you imagine my excitement when I finally got my hands around a real taco?  It was my turn, as now I was invited to this party of ground beef, shredded lettuce, and salsa.
Wouldn’t a place with the word ‘taco’ in its name, be the perfect restaurant to sample this Mexican delight?  One of my college friends believed that theory and convinced me that my ‘introduction’ to tacos, be at Taco Bell.  Unfortunately, the excitement transformed into annoyance upon my first bite.  The sensation to hit my lips was salty, and the first chew led to crumble.  I guess it happens to all rookie taco eaters at least once in their lifetimes — taco shell shatter.  After one bite, my mighty taco had turned into a messy taco salad.  The experience was so disappointing, that it derailed any curiosity I might have had about Mexican food for years to come. Until…

…about 10 years ago, I was sent on assignment to Los Angeles to study the culture of…low riders.  Looking back, maybe they just wanted me killed?  Anyway, I was happy that finally, my anthropology degree would pay off!   During our lunch break, one of the coordinators took me to a Mexican place for lunch; an unassuming little taco stand in some industrial area of East Los Angeles that was equipped with metal bars that separated customers from cashier.  In addition to that comforting scene, I noticed that all the menus were in Spanish.  Feeling awkward, I was about to ask him if we could change our lunch plan.  Surely there must be a sushi place somewhere nearby, right?  Well, somehow we found the only block in Los Angeles without one.  At that point, I would’ve settled for even a Yoshinoya, but all I could see around me were car repair shops and factories.  ‘Ok’, I though, I would just have to dig in my heels and try to enjoy the experience.

Finally, the food came.  I was shocked.  I ordered tacos but there were no shatter-prone yellow shells.  Instead, I found flour tortillas wrapped around delicious smelling grilled meat.  I was then led to the topping bar, where before my eyes, lay salsas the color of the rainbow, alongside cilantro and onion.  This time, my first bite was a colorful explosion of flavors with a spicy kick.  And more important, thanks to the soft tortilla…no crumble!  This experience left me a couple of questions.  Why there’re two pieces of tortillas come as one taco?   How will I find my way back to this taco stand my own?

June 13th, 2011

Mexican food

They are big, fatty, and one dimensionally flavored.  These are the ingredients to pretty much every Mexican dish:  Meat, cheese, beans, rice, salsa, sauce, and tortilla & tortilla chips.  Sure each item has them in different combinations, but still not much variety.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the cuisine until about 6 months ago.  What changed?   Probably a combination of mother-in-law’s fabulous salsa, Dora’s enchiladas and compromises.

Let’s talk about compromises.  Upon getting married, my worldy palate (read: variety) became limited  to the “humorously picky” description my husband gives to his food preferences. Born and raised in Los Angeles, it is almost impossible to find that one Mexican dish or corner place that isn’t amazing (for him). Being easy, cheap and quick (the food, not my husband) it has become kind of fun trying to try them all.  My latest obsession, finding the best tamale in town.  While the search continues, here is a great find.

Hugo’s Tacos has healthier versions of Mexican foods and a cool half price burrito night on Wednesdays (after 7PM–Its added entertainment to watch patrons whisper the secret word to the cashier as if they’re James Bond, trying to save the world, instead of some hipster just saving a couple of bucks on a burrito from a word they read on their Twitter feed).  There are many choices, from salsas, to proteins (Including tofu–it’s L.A.) to style: tacos, burrito, bowl, etc.  So I risk the curious looks by choosing NOT to add sour cream, cheese, and beans to my dish and avoiding a huge tortilla.  It may not be healthy, but it’s the illusion of being healthy!

Since both Japanese and Mexican diets depend on rice and beans, I’ve always wondered why Mexican food is not popular in Japan.  There are many, many KFCs, but no Taco Bells in Japan.  I don’t think my parents (both in mid 60s) in Tokyo have ever eaten Mexican food.