“Children go where they find sincerity and authenticity.” – Eric Cantona
Good thing I’m not trying to lure kids into my candy van, because sincerity and authenticity aren’t my game. I don’t understand what it means for a food to be “authentic” anymore. Who is the asshole telling me that General Tso’s chicken isn’t authentically Chinese, but chicken tikka masala is authentically Indian? Especially since tikka masala was invented by a Pakistani dude in England 50 years ago. Where do we draw our lines on distinguishing cultural bastardizations from authentic pieces of history?
Ever notice how Vietnam is the only Southeast Asian country to make leavened bread a substantial part of their diet? And that their word for coffee is “ca phe”, pronounced eerily similar to the French word “cafe”? Thanks to the age of Imperialism, French culture is so balls-deep in the Vietnamese palate that you can find escargot and filet mignon at most “authentic” Vietnamese restaurants. I’m not the most well versed in history, but I’m like 90% sure that the Vietnamese weren’t eating baguettes before the French subjugated the fuck out of them.
The same cultural staple even shows up continents away. Because of the British, “chapati” is more popular in Kenya than it is in its native India. Some British dude – either Winston Churchill or Gordon Ramsey – came on a boat to India, stabbed his flag in the ground, tasted the bread, was like, “holy shit this is good”, hopped on a boat to East Africa to exploit some additional dark-skinned folk, said, “try the bread”, and Kenya was like, “despite enslaving our people, this bread is phenomenal”, and the rest was history.
My point is – authenticity is a fleeting and fickle mistress. And a whore.
The first Vietnamese dude to make a baguette out of rice flour probably got called a corporate sell out, or ‘cháy vé của công ty’ in Vietnamese (thanks Google translate). The first chapati cooked in Kenya probably got the same reaction that Taco Bell’s Cantina Bowl got, minus the disappointed stoners at 1 a.m. Even though the age of Imperialism is over, it’s been replaced by a sense of corporate manifest destiny – capitalist culture has been mouth-fucking the rest of the non-KFC-having world for decades.
In India, it used to be traditional for a wife to prepare a multicourse lunch for her husband while he’s away at work. With record numbers of women in the workplace and dual income households, that shit is no longer feasible (thanks Obama). The answer? In February 2011 Taco Bell opened their flagship store in Bangalor, India. Items like their “Fajita ‘n Paneer Kathitto” represent the standard to which all foods will be held in the near future.
So, my question is, how long is it going to take for that delicious cultural anachronism to be canonized as authentic? How long until the Crunchwrap Supreme becomes known for what it truly is – the most culturally authentic American dish ever made. It has everything! It’s two fucking layers of 88% meat and processed cheese goodness, and it’s shaped like a hexagon! That’s cool as shit! When people condemn restaurants for not being “authentic” they need to take a step back. For one, the most culturally authentic thing we could do as Americans is deny our own culture. We are raised to believe that nothing is sacred, everything is open to innovation, and if you can make a dollar, you should make a dollar. Taco Bell is the leader in mass-profiting culturally-bastardizing culinary innovation, and for those reasons, I salute them.
To bridge the gap between Taco Bell and “authentic” (whatever that means) Mexican food, I threw in some real Mexican ingredients bought from the ethnic food aisle at Ralph’s. Enjoy. It’s an homage to a culture rich in history, and a restaurant rich in trans-fats.
Es un hexágono de delicias, le doy a usted –
El Crunchwrap Suprema con Salsa de Tomatillo y Aguacate
(Live Mas motherfuckers)
Tecate Braised Brisket with Chili de Arbol
2 lbs beef brisket
4 chilies de arbol
6 dried California chilies
2 medium/small tomatoes
1 medium brown onion
1 24oz can Tecate
2 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp Mexican oregano
Salt and Pepper
1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then sear your brisket by heating 2tbsp vegetable oil on medium/high in a pan that can handle high temps – I use a cast iron dutch oven for the whole process. Liberally salt and pepper your brisket and brown for approximately 4 minutes on each side until a nice crust forms.
2) Take the brisket out and set in a medium sized casserole dish or other braising pan. While the original pan is still hot, pour in about a cup of Tecate to deglaze the fatty savory bits at the bottom. This adds a great savory element to your braising liquid. Pour the contents of the pan into your braise, along with the rest of the Tecate.
3) Roughly dice your tomatoes and onions and throw them into the braise, along with the chilies de arbol, california chilies, oregano, and cumin. The brisket should be roughly half submerged in liquid, if it isn’t adjust your liquid level accordingly – add water if there’s too little, it’s going to reduce considerably, so don’t worry too much about diluting the delicious Tecate flavor.
4) Cover your braising pan with foil, or whatever else, and throw it into the 350 degree oven for several hours, the longer it goes the better it tastes. (I put the roast in at 9 at night, went out drinking, came back and took it out at 2 am, so 5 hours worked.)
5) Take the roast out and Wolverine it with some forks to shred it. Puree the braising liquid, and add up to a cup of water if too much liquid evaporated. Taste and add salt if need be. Put the liquid and shredded brisket into a sauce pot and simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving to let the flavors intensify.
Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa
10 medium sized tomatillos
1 pasilla chili
1 large jalapeno
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime juiced and zested
1 large avocado
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
1) Roughly chop your tomatillos and sautee in 2 tbsp olive oil for 10 minutes, or until tender.
3) Coat the pasilla and jalapeno in olive oil and season with salt. Roast them in a 400 degree oven, and throw them into a food processor along with the cooked tomatillos, 1/2 cup of water, and salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.
3) Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator until at most at room temperature. Then throw in your avocado, lime juice, lime zest, and cilantro and puree until smooth.
4) Adjust salt, pepper, water, and lime juice levels to your liking. The salsa should be just spicy enough to let the avocado balance against the heat.
2 cans Juanita’s nacho cheese
1 head shredded savoy cabbage
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced onions,
1 cup chopped cilantro
8 large burrito sized tortillas
8 flat tostada shells
Sour cream for serving
1) heat a large sautee pan on medium heat and add 1 tsp vegetable oil for approximately 2 minutes. Throw in a burrito sized tortilla and heat for maybe 30 seconds, just to make it pliable.
2) Lay the tortilla flat and add your shredded brisket and about 2 Tbsp nacho cheese on top.
3) Place a tostada shell atop the meat and cheese and slather it in sour cream. Then add an appropriate amount of cabbage, tomato, onion, and cilantro.
4) Folding a crunchwrap is deceptively easy, you kinda just make a hexagon any way possible. If you can’t do it, you weren’t meant to make it.
5) Throw that into a heated pan fold-side down to seal in all the flavor. Griddle the tortilla on both sides and serve cut in half with the tomatillo avocado salsa for dipping.
6) Pairs nicely with a tall boy of Tecate and watching Mexican League soccer belligerently drunk. Orale Cruz Azul!