The flavor of a taco, of a bologna sandwich, of ice cream—the possibilities of name-brand Mexican food are endless.
The question is: which name should you pick?
The answer, says one of the authors of a new book about Mexican food and the culture behind it, is that there are no simple answers.
“In terms of flavor, the flavor of any cuisine is determined by the ingredients that go into it,” says Roberto Sánchez-Sáncheza, who directs the Center for Latin American Studies at Columbia University.
“If you’re using chicken or pork, it’s going to be different than if you’re eating a steak or a chicken sandwich.”
But the ingredients behind a name matter.
“The key to any cuisine—from tacos to burritos to burrito bowls—is how it’s prepared,” says Sángyas-Sanchez, who co-authored the book with his collaborator, Pedro López-Sáez.
It’s really important that we take these concepts and apply them to our food, to the culture and the way we eat.” “
So, if you think about the word tacos, it can mean anything from tacos that are crispy, to tortillas that are chewy, to beef tortillas.
It’s really important that we take these concepts and apply them to our food, to the culture and the way we eat.”
As a result, the research team, led by Sángez-Amaro, has found that names have a range of meanings.
“There are some that are descriptive,” he says, like Taco de la Vida, a Spanish dish of beans and rice topped with grilled onions and salsa.
“Others are more descriptive like El Diney, El Dina, El Diablito, El Fajita, El Amor.”
It’s an attempt to find a sense that’s appropriate to each dish, while still honoring its origins.
“When I think about my favorite taco, I usually think about it being a little bit more spicy, more fiery,” he admits.
“Sometimes it’s a little more delicate, it has more flavors and textures, and it’s really, really good.”
He also loves to add a little crunch to his tacos.
“My son is a vegetarian, and he likes to add that little extra crunch to the tacos.”
In fact, Sángões-Sàez says, he uses a recipe called Chihuahua Taco, which uses ground beef, shredded pork, avocado, guacamole, cilantro, and lime juice.
“I use that to get that bit of crunch in,” he explains.
“Because I’m not a big fan of the spicy, it just doesn’t taste good.”
“We use a lot of names that reflect what’s going on in the region,” Sánjueza says.
“We want people to think of the food as more than just the ingredients.” For Sánlóz-Alarcon, a writer and cookbook author, that means putting some Latin American flavor in each dish.
“Latin America is very rich in cultures, languages, history, and cuisine,” he notes.
“A lot of people don’t have access to those, so they’re very happy to have a little little taste of the culture.”
For example, the food at El Diner is named after the city in which it was born.
“It’s not the best food in the world,” he said.
“But if you ask my son to try it, he loves it.
The cheese is amazing, the beef is very tender.
It has lots of flavors, it really has that Mexican flavor.”
To make the taco, Sáez-Sanches-Sanjueva takes a recipe from his favorite restaurant in Mexico City and mixes together beef, pork, and avocado in a pan until it’s just right.
He then adds cilantro and lime, which he then adds to the mixture.
The result is a taco that tastes like a combination of meat and lime and cheese.
“As a Mexican, I like it more because it’s more of the spice of the meats,” he added.
“That’s what I like.”