More Than Food

I am the daughter of immigrants.

My mother moved here, from Mexico, when she was 14 years old. All of her children were born here but we were all exposed to a bit of her life from back home. The easiest way to do this: food.

The exposure was limited. Like many immigrants, my biological father (who was born in Colombia) didn’t want us to be molded by any other influence besides the stereotypical Americana life of the United States.

He failed.

Our home was strict but he couldn’t control what happened outside our walls: meals and music I indulged in at the homes of my fellow Chicanas, carne asadas and foreign tongue while at my Tia’s house, sleepovers with my prima.

I longed to learn about the home my mother left as a child.

This education continued when I married my husband. Having been born in Mexico, he came to this country when he was six years old. His family is still very much immersed in the culture because it is who they are.

I learned about migas, quesadillas, huaraches, pambazos, and the list goes on. The food has always been served with a side of memories and a heaping portion of love.

Finding out there was more out there than just tacos (but c’mon, they’re not just tacos), I allowed myself to be led on an adventure. With my husband, and his/my family, we went on dinner dates to hole in the walls and trucks and tables set up on the side of the street…we even lined up down a residential block to eat food in a stranger’s backyard. This was the norm for the family I married into but it was a whole new world to me.

As I began to familiarize myself with bits of the motherland my own mother left and as I began to discover more about myself, I found myself becoming less complacent with things I never thought twice about before: churros being sold at fast food restaurants, “Mexican” dishes served at chain restaurants whose focus are American dishes, margaritas at your local bar. These things are pre-packaged, easy to put together, and lack flavor and love. It’s a quick and cheap way to try to Americanize the items that many people grew up on. You don’t want our people, just our food. Got it.

I made the decision not to order food that I associated with my family if it was on the menu of an establishment whose focus wasn’t our culture or the heart behind the original dishes.

It looked like I’d be sticking to pop up food spots and hole in the walls.

Except, there’s more out there.

It appears we’re in the middle of a new wave of Mexican cuisine. People are taking the food of their fathers and putting a spin on it.

There’s Mercado Taqueria in Studio City, whose food is described as “grounded in the finest Mexican tradition, fused with current sensibility.” On the menu, you’ll find guacamole, tacos, ceviche, just to name a few. They sound familiar but with twists that include aiolis and vegan options.

Not too far in Burbank you can get tacos at Guisados. Their inspiration comes straight from the heart: “We created a simple menu, one which reminded us of home and how mom spent her afternoons. It’s that same feeling that we try to put into every bite—because simply put, it’s just how we ate.” Options include, but are not limited to, tinga, frijoles, and bistek. The tortillas are made by hand. If you cannot decide on what taco to get, that’s ok, they offer a sample platter that contains six tacos which can be eaten in a couple of bites (depending on who’s doing the biting). They have homemade horchata which alone is delicious but when coupled with the cold brew they offer is next level yummy.

Just a short drive away you can find yourself indulging at Horchata Rio Luna in San Fernando. Here you can buy churros, made fresh, and different kinds of horchata. Taking a step further, they offer the classic drinks mixed with coffee. With opening of this fine cafe, they “fused traditional Mexican flavors with American favorites.” It doesn’t disappoint from the Horchata frappe to the mazapan frappe, they have the familiar tastes covered.

Why is it ok, to me, to partake in these delicious fusions while avoiding them at other businesses? Because each of these establishments, and I’ve only named a few, are owned by people of color who have tasted and experienced the original flavors of home and have made them their own.

When I visited Horchateria Rio Luna for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I had a moment of struggle: Was it ok to pay for a drink that was a bit pricier than my local taqueria in a place that looked shiny and new?

Yes. It’s ok. It should be encouraged.

Loving one doesn’t mean you love the other any less. Just like my limited exposure to my culture, as a child, doesn’t make me any less Mexican.

There’s space for both types of places and space for all types of people.

Welcome to the new wave of Latinx culture.

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