Sunday, October 18, 2009
Bastardizing the Bastardization
MEXICAN FOOD. As an American, you grow up with it, you crave it, maybe it's even the sole benefactor of your B12 intake for the better part of two decades.
I was admittedly suspicious when my roommate first pointed out The Taco Shop, a "Mexican food" establishment a few blocks from out flat. She was just so excited, and over the last two months, I've seen her get takeaway from there as a kind of special treat for herself. You see, it's her favorite-- and she eats it with a knife and fork. That was pretty much the first inkling I had that something was horribly, horribly wrong. That and the fact a burrito costs about $10 more here than it does Stateside, classifying it as "exotic ethnic food" instead of... well, whatever Mexican takeout is to Americans. Cheap late-night snack after an improv show?
My suspicion was justified. If a Dane hasn't been to the United States (or, I suppose, to Mexico), you can bet your bottom dollar that they have no idea what Mexican food is supposed to taste like.
I had a Sunday night all planned out: the Copenhagen Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is going on, and I was gong to catch an Israeli movie at 9:30 and kill a few hours doing homework in a cafe. Well, the movie was sold out by the time I walked in at 6:45, and every cafe within a ten-block radius is closed on Sunday nights. The few bars that were open are not the kind of places you want to go alone, either.
I consoled myself by deciding I'd get takeaway food for a late dinner-- for the first time since coming to Denmark (eight weeks ago today!). I found myself outside of none other than The Taco Shop, and the IDEA of Mexican food was too hard to resist. "It's probably not as bad as you assume," I said to myself, reminding her just how damn judgmental she can be, even in the absence of evidence. Look, sometimes a girl's got cravings: I was utterly seduced by the promise of "smothered nachos, authentic California style."
My second clue that something was amiss was when, after ordering the "vegetar burrito," the cashier asked me if, for 14 extra kroner, I wanted it with cheese and chips. What the heck else is in a vegetarian burrito if there isn't already cheese? I splurged, still full of disappointment about the sold-out movie, and scurried home to discover what it is Denmark qualifies as Mexican food, California style.
You know, it really wasn't so bad. It was actually almost good, just overpriced and slightly off. The beans were kidney instead of black. The cheese was mozzarella-y instead of cheddar-y. And the burrito itself was simply a tortilla wrapped around beans and rice. The sauce and cheese and lettuce and tomato were on the side. And no sour cream. It was actually a valiant attempt, and it satisfied.
It got me thinking about the way Mexican food in America is often not what Mexican people would recognize as their food (Chipotle comes to mind-- and I do occasionally love Chipotle). I had a friend freshman year at Oberlin who insisted that tacos, burritos, and nachos of any caliber were "Tex-Mex," not authentic, and who am I to dispute that? Just a fourth-generation American, about as Mexican as McDonald's. All I can say is that Chicago, New York, and LA have spoiled me into believing in one delicious, greasy, imperfect incarnation of "Mexican food," and the permutation Denmark offers is reason #1 why I couldn't live here permanently.