Posts Tagged ‘street food


making new foods familiar

Wednesday‘s NYT article on Korean tacos made me think of Richard Wilk’s Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists, which discusses, in depth and in the context of Belizean cuisine, six ways in which cuisines interact and exchange elements. One of those six is, of course, wrapping or stuffing: “physically enclosing something new or foreign within a familiar wrapper, or vice versa.”

White bread or hamburger buns can civilize otherwise low-status local foods, “making them acceptable to middle class and foreign tastes.” In Belize, the result is something similar to the Mexican torta compuesta; Belizeans are even able to civilize gibnut* (a jungle rodent) by using a bun to dress it up as a hamburger. Local, low-status food + foreign, high-status form = sudden acceptability.

Wilk also notes that local wrappings can make foreign foods local. In Belize, “canned tomato paste and Campbell’s vegetable soup” make their way into tamales wrapped in locally familiar banana leaves. In Mexico, he says, corn tortillas play the role of banana leaves “in wrapping all kinds of ingredients; the name of the dish and the mode of preparation as tacos or enchiladas or gorditas remains familiar, even if the stuffing is alien or strange.”

And now, restaurateur John Ban tells us, corn tortillas are a familiar enough wrapper in the United States that they can turn Korean barbeque into recognizably American food.

Note that this essential Americanness did not skip the humble Tex-Mex flour tortilla for the newer-to-these-shores but more “authentic” corn version; think of every wrap joint you’ve ever been to. Though perhaps that’s a case of the fillings, which undoubtedly cater to a particularly bland American taste, civilizing the wrapper. And giving “wrap” makers the latitude to take out the lard and replace it with spinach. Or flax seeds. Or whatever.

Maybe the very American health consciousness of the wrap is a way of mitigating any remaining suspicions that its form–essentially a street food–might arouse that the wrapper “conceals suspicious or even dangerous ingredients.”

* Gibnut is technically Cuniculus paca. WIkipedia reports that it is known as “paca” throughout most of its range, which extends from central Mexico to northern Argentina. The article proceeds to give the other names by which it is known in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru–leaving us to wonder where it is actually called “paca.”

The most interesting names for today’s discussion are its Latin name (cuniculus being part of the scientific name for rabbit) and those from Panama (conejo pintado, or “painted rabbit”) and the Venezuela-Guyana-Trinidad axis (lapa-labba-lappe, all variations on the French lapin, meaning “rabbit”). Civilizing foreign ingredients through language.

For those familiar with the campo cuisine of Guatemala, we are of course talking about tepezcuintle here. It’s not bad: white meat, pleasantly gamy, though a little stringy.



Maker Foode

J-P, Glenn, and I went to Maker Faire in San Mateo yesterday. Highlights included the bike area, with Cyclecide’s pedal-powered carnival rides, Oakland’s own scraper bikes, and a tandem unicycle; the darkened building with singing Tesla coils, a neon land shark, and MonkeyLectric’s programmable Lite Brites for your bicycle wheels; and TechShop’s building, which made us eager for their San Francisco opening this summer.

And then there was the food. Fair food has gotten a lot better since I was a kid.

My Pica Pica “maize’wich,” a fresh-corn pancake filled with black beans, plantains, cheddar, and Tapatío:

Gerard’s Paella:

Featuring a paellera with its own license plate:

And TechShop’s lasers expand the options for cascarones:

There was also a lemonade stand that blew my mind. Besides lemonade and limeade, it offered fresh watermelon juice and hibiscus tea. Taken together, the menu screamed “aguas frescas” to me, but the menu was all in English. Crazy.

More Maker Faire photos and videos here.


My latest Tex-Mex heros

Our household has had a lot of out-of-town guests lately, which means that we’ve been making a lot of trips to Burma Superstar. That means a lot of chili lamb, okra tofu curry, coconut rice, and Burmese salads. Mmm-mmm.

The long wait for a table at Burma Superstar also means a lot of trips to Green Apple Books, just down the street. On Monday night, I leafed through a copy of The Border Cookbook by Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison. I’m a very indecisive book buyer (there’s always the library), but I was so pleased by the love and respect this almost 500-page monster shows for border cuisine that I lugged it all around the store with me and finally decided to buy it.

“The combination plate is purely Texan in origin … but the critics ignore both its Mexican roots and its abiding appeal. … [Chili gravy] transformed the taste of [antojitos] and, when it was done well, added a layer of lusty intensity.”

This cookbook offers a lot more than recipes for antojitos (Mexican snacks and street foods like tacos, tamales, and gorditas), but it recognizes and respects their centrality to border cuisine. “They are not the essence of Mexican food anywhere, but they are a proper part of the soul in the Hispanic borderlands.”

With that, along with what appears to be a very solid collection of recipes, they join Robb Walsh and Marilyn Tausend on my short list of food writers who appreciate Tex-Mex and the border’s other hybrid cuisines on their own merits.

Tausend’s book Cocina de la familia explores how Mexican Americans cook in our own kitchens, and what influences affect the recipes they use. I think she would love the way Joumana of Taste of Beirut is mixing Lebanese and Mexican ideas in her cooking. Check out her Lebanese Nachos and Chiles Rellenos with Roasted Green Wheat. (Thanks to Notions Capital‘s occasional round-up of Blogs with Bite for the tip.)

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