Gustavo Arellano, the scribe behind the syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! (and also editor-in-chief of New Times' sister paper, OC Weekly), is on a quest to find out just how Mexican food got to be el norte's most American one. He's explored the Aztecs' contribution to world cuisine, the latest street food trends, and profiled cooking personalities who helped make it so popular like Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless. He's even tackled words like "authentic" and "gringo."
And then he wrote a book about it.
Arellano's new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is on shelves now, and the author is making a stop at Changing Hands Bookstore at 4 p.m., Saturday, April 21, to talk about it. Here's ten nuggets of wisdom Arellano's learned from his historical deep dive into Mexican food.
- The first frozen margarita machine was invented by Dallas native Mariano Martinez in 1971 and has been deemed so culturally important that it's preserved in the Smithsonian.
- Chipotle Mexican Grill brought the San Francisco burrito to a national level and is a leader in the sustainable food movement.
- NASA took tortillas so seriously that they tinkered with the recipe to keep them fresh for up to six months.
- The first widespread audience of the burrito in the U.S. was braceros, migrant workers who legally entered America from the 1940's through the 1960's.
- One of the first pioneers of prepackaged Mexican dinners and recipe booklets was William Gebhardt, a German immigrant.
- Taco Bell's headquarters, in Irvine California, no longer sells tacos in their cafeteria.
- Most Mexican families in the United States now buy their tortillas the same way as Americans -- from a grocery store.
- As early as the 1930s, Mexican chroniclers called Tex-Mex cuisine inauthentic and a gabacho conspiracy created to dilute Americans' perception of Mexican cuisine.
- Salsa now outsells ketchup in the United States.
- The Chili "Queens" of San Antonio, women who popularized the dish in the 1890's, were outlawed in the name of modernity.
- One of Arellano's five greatest Mexican meals in America is the Sonora dog at El Güero Canelo in Tucson.