I was in Phoenix in 2007 when my friend Guy in a UNLV Jacket’s wife was visited by a good friend from her native Botswana. The friend (I cannot remember her name at this point) complained after eating at an airport restaurant that she didn’t like American food. “An airport restaurant isn’t going to give you a good example of American food”, Guy tells her. “We’re going to have to take you out for tacos.”
Tacos. . . American food. At first I laughed but the more I thought about it it made sense. Mexican cuisine has become a significant part of the American foodscape for at least as long as I’ve been alive (yes foodscape is a real part of the English lexicon because I don’t feel like looking up culinary vocabulary.) Not only is Mexican food legitimately part of American culture, it has largely (especially in the case of the Tex-Mex variety) evolved as something distinctly different from the original cuisine of Mexico itself. Tacos are at least as American as apple pie and now, with the advent of a truly multicultural United States, if you want truly exotic cuisine you don’t think Mexican, you think Korean or Indian.
I recently made the acquaintance of a Saudi student who eats at the restaurant where I work every day. At first I thought it was because it’s middle eastern food which would make it kind of like home but then it occurred to me that it might also be because we exclusively use meat that is butchered according to Islamic standards. When I asked her if she only eats at restaurants that serve halal meat she replied in the affirmative. “That means you’ve never eaten Mexican food?” She replied that she had not. That seemed to be incredibly sad. The next time I saw her after she greeted me I said “Sooooo if I made Mexican food with halal meat you would eat it?” She smiled and said yes. I said “I should make Mexican food with halal meat and I’ll bring you some.” Her eyes kind of widened in awe and she said “That is so nice!” Yes that’s me, Mr. Nice Guy.
I might be a cultural ambassador of tacos. I’m thinking shredded beef, Spanish rice, and guacamole.