Is this a good representation of authentic Mexican culture?
Earlier this year I was able to visit Epcot, and the first country spectators see is Mexico. This is a picture of “El Castillo,” which is said to have been created in the image of the famous El Castillo in Yucatan. This means that the temple is of Mayan origin, as that tribe dominated the Yucatan peninsula as well as Belize and Guatemala. Walking inside, you can see all the different kinds of art, as well as a market where you can get a plethora of souvenirs related to Mexico.
What makes this authentic, though? For all we know, it could have been made by a bunch of white guys who wanted to represent Mexico. After some research, I found that Disney hired Mexican-American artist, Eddie Martinez, to oversee the making of the Tres Caballeros ride, as well as other decorations! So it looks like Disney did a good job in the formation of expressing Mexico in an authentic way!
Recently, I went to Disney World with my friends, and it did not disappoint. Same goes with the food! Although there was one precarious dish that piqued my interest. One of the appetizers at the Rainforest Cafe was called the “Chimi-cha-cha.”
Right off the bat, I took what I could conjure from this dish and thought about it. The “Chimi” part obviously had to do with the chimichanga and the “cha-cha” part I believe had to do with the cha cha dance. Upon research I couldn’t find anything on Disney’s website about the origin of this dish so I had to trust my gut instinct and go with my original assumptions! The mashup of the chimichanga, which is a favorite in the Tex-Mex community with the cha cha, which is a popular Spanish and Latin American dance that’s popularity swept through Mexico, is a one-two punch of culture as much as flavor.
Living close to the south shore of Long Island has its perks when it comes to decadent seafood. But sometimes, you have to shake it up a little. Take a trip down Long Beach road, you’ll find a plethora of eating establishments as far as the eye can see. You got your fast food chains, you got your delis, and you got your mom and pop shops littered along the road. Take a turn onto Oceanside Road and you will find even more food joints to choose from. Out of all these food places finding a Mexican spot isn’t that difficult. The hard part however is finding an authentic place that excites the taste buds better than any fast food joint can.
Let’s take a look at the popular Mexican places you will find in Oceanside or East Rockaway. There’s Moe’s Southwest Grill, Chipotle, and… Taco Bell, of course. So if you need your quick fix a fast Mexican food, I guess that’s the place you’re going eat at. There are better places though, and if you simply just do a quick Google search of Mexican places in the area, you will find some small places that pack a big punch.
One of these places is Habanero Mexican Grill, on Atlantic Avenue in East Rockaway
This was a place that I had not heard about before until I was in East Rockaway with my friend Pete. After working out at a nearby gym I noticed that this food joint was a minute walk away. We decided to try it out and it did not disappoint. I assume that this place is fairly new, as it does not come up on google street view. Plus, I have been hanging out with Pete in this area for several years, and this year was the first time I noticed this food place.
This joint is not big in size, and it is jammed between a few other small stores. If you are on that side walk, it is not that hard to miss though.
A welcoming sign displayed over a wholesome brick foundation calls you in to taste the wonders that lie within this establishment.
And there are wonders, like discovering sacred text that is the menu overhead.
When I was ordering, I was in the mood for a quesadilla, but I knew that I could not pass up the opportunity to try their soft tacos for my first visit. In hindsight, that was a great decision because those tacos send my taste buds on a journey, giving me a fantastic first impression on this restaurant. Next time I will definitely order the quesadilla. But now it’s time to address the tacos.
The tacos I ordered had a bunch of yummy ingredients within two soft corn tortilla shells. This ingredients consisted of fresh steak, pico de gallo, sour cream, lettuce, white rice, shredded cheese, and guacamole.
That wasn’t all. This meal also came with a side of chips slathered in pinto bean paste with a side of salsa verde.
The combination of flavors in these tacos were almost too powerful. I just couldn’t get enough of it, so much so, that the only appropriate beverage to accompany this meal is water, as any other drink would lessen the effects of the tacos monstrous flavor.
While holding the taco, nothing spilled out of my hand. Even while taking a bite out of it, mostly everything stayed intact. That’s how you know it’s a good taco, when it doesn’t fall apart. Much like life itself, when everything is sturdy, life is good.
Of course they have tinfoil just Incase, but I think it’s more of a visual thing.
Thanks to the Aztecs, who introduced corn as a food source, we can have corn tortillas, chips, and anything your heart desires in terms of corn today.
With all these ingredients, I feel that it’s necessary to uncover a few translations of some of them, as well as one term pertaining to the restaurant as a whole.
The first term we have is habanero. When we think of the word habanero the first thing we imagine is probably about the chili or pepper. This is true but there is a deeper meaning that originates from this word. Upon research I found that the word habanero is a term used for a person who is from or resides in Havana. However this peppered did not originate from Cuba. The chili originally came from the Amazon and it spread from there to many places including Mexico. Today the pepper is grown usually on the Yucatán peninsula, but it is also in other hot areas like Belize or Costa Rica, and even areas of the United States. It is also grown in Panama, and it goes by the name ‘Ali chombo.’
The next term is pico de gallo, which roughly translates to the “beak of the rooster.” Nothing in this ingredient looks like it comes from a rooster or has a beak, so why is it called this? The reason is because people would normally eat this food using the tips of your fingers to pick up diced tomatoes and onions which imitated the mechanics of a rooster’s beak picking up food. This is one of the most interesting facts that I learned about this food.
Next we have guacamole. Most people, if not everybody, love guacamole. There’s a reason that Chipotle guacamole costs extra. This food consists of mashed up avocados (aguacates), tomatoes, and onions. Contrary to popular belief, guacamole does not translate to the Nahuatl term for “testicle sauce,” though people may be sad at this fact. It basically means “ground avocado” where ‘guac’ refers to the Aztec word for guacamole- ahuacatl. And ‘mole’ refers to a concoction of ingredients together.
Next is something that most tacos cannot live without- arroz. If you know basic Spanish, then you know that this word translates to rice. This food originally comes from and was grown in China. After years of colonization and conquest from Britain and Spain. The food was introduced to the Native tribes of the Americas and has been a staple of their culture as well. Today, rice is used in food dishes around the world, and it will always be an important part of Mexican cuisine.
Finally, frijoles. This is another basic Spanish term just like arroz, and both ingredients go well together. The word frijoles translates to beans, and there are many types of beans that you can find in Mexican cuisine. The beans that I want to write about are pinto beans, as they were part of my side dish at the Habanero restaurant. Pinto beans originate in Mexico and can take a few months to grow completely. Before they are harvested, you can view them in pods that have a pink and green hue to them. When these beans are served, they are soft and light brown- perfect for mashing up and serving on corn chips.
I hope the history and translations behind these ingredients and the name of the restaurant is enough to persuade you to try and review this place yourself, or at least go to authentic food joints similar to this!
Tamarind! This tropical African fruit has a very distinct flavor. Some say it’s sweet, others say sour. I say it’s a bit of both. The texture reminds be of raisins, but much chewier. The hard shell that surrounds the fruit has a bit of powder on it, almost resembling pollen. There’s also a noticeable stem that surrounds the fruit and branches out. While the taste is strong, the smell is very weak, almost like wood or a type of nut. I was lucky enough to try this food for the first time today, hopefully you can try it too!
I was in the mood for some good eats tonight. Luckily, Monty’s came thru with this delicious seafood paella! The mix of chorizo and shrimp adds a spiral of spice and sea while the rice mellows out the food perfectly. While this dish originates from Spain, it is widely popular in Mexico as well! If you live on campus, make sure to stop by and try it out!
My name is Pat Loftus. I am a junior English major at St. John’s University in Queens NY. This blog is for my Taco Literacy class led by Professor Steven Alvarez. Here you will find posts appreciating authentic Mexican food through the culture of the food. This will lead to further discussion of culture as a whole.