Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Wrap That Ate L.A.

Yesterday over at The CultureGhost there was quite an exchange about California Cuisine. G.D. Frogsdong extolled the virtues of the California Cuisine a la Chez Panisse and that got me going. I like Mexican food. I consider it the ultimate California Cuisine. New Age it ain't. My folks liked Mexican food and introduced me to it in the late 1940's during my formative years. Of all the lessons they tried to impart to me over the years, that one stuck.

For many years, you couldn't get even a taco, the most basic Mexican dish I know of, outside the American Southwest. Thankfully, this has changed. It is now safe to travel anywhere in the United States with confidence that you can find something you like to eat. Ingredients, spicing, and the names of the dishes may vary from place to place but that just adds to the fun.

I ran across an article in the Los Angeles Times that set my mouth to watering over a dish that many see as a humble, but satisfying, dish: the Burrito. Burritos can range from the little cardboard-tastin' ones from the convenience stores to humongous luscious mothers that will flat intimidate you. In my ongoing mission to promote cultural diversity, and mainly to set your mouth to watering and give you some ideas, here are some excerpts. WARNING: Do not read this when you are hungry if you own small pets and have tortillas handy.

Like pizza, which supposedly comes from Naples, or that all-American phenomenon, the hamburger, invented, so they say, by some fancy-pants in Germany, burritos have transcended their roots, real or supposed. And unlike the chile relleno, the enchilada, or even the soft taco (The 'Big 3' of combination plates - Ed.), which, if made "correctly" should be pretty much the same wherever you go, burritos, regardless of their origin, are not mired in tradition. The burrito as we know it is puro Californiano and, like all things Californian, a product of innovation and reinvention.

A great burrito, as opposed to a merely good one, has a certain gestalt, in which every element adds up to something so delicious it can't exactly be explained, except to say you know it like you know a good PB & J. (Only in California will you find the words burrito and gestalt in the same sentence! PB&J is good, but a good burrito is transcendental. - Ed.)

Here lies the part you want to read: descriptions of the different fillings, like machaca, carnitas, albondigas, pollos mole poblanos, pescas, y camarones and others and variations thereof. You read. I'll meet you farther down the page.
This may sound overly radical even to an Angeleno, but hey — so did the albondigas burrito until, er, 10 minutes ago. In San Diego, the guacamole gateway to the U.S., these are just a part of breezy, laid-back, burrito-eating life. San Diegans have lately moved on from carne asada to Philly Cheesesteak burritos and "California burritos" — carne asada, guacamole, sour cream and, you guessed it, French fries. Maybe they should have dubbed it a steak-frites burrito.

¡Ay, caramba!

Hungry by now? And well you should be. One little hint about choosing a Mexican eating place: Some of the smallest taquerias have some of the best food. These are usually mom-and-pop type joints, and who would you rather have cook or otherwise be in charge of your Mexican lunch than a Mexican mom? Listen to the folks speak for a minute before you order; if you hear any language other than Spanish, split. There are a lot of other brands of immigrants trying to cash in on our love of Mexican food and most of them can't prepare it for sour owl shit. Street stands and the big trucks with the fold-down sides are good too. Chain fast-food places take good ingredients and wreck 'em, although some (Del Taco, El Pollo Loco) are better than others. Sit-down restaurants are good choices, usually.

Enjoy, mis amigos and you will no tienes hambres no mas. Me gusto es.

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