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Mexican Food: Popular, But Not Always Authentic

Paul Cuadros, born and reared in Chicago, always has had a love for the food his Peruvian mother has cooked.

By Jasmine Rouse and Caroline Wolfe

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Paul Cuadros, born and reared in Chicago, always has had a love for the food his Peruvian mother has cooked.

Despite moving to the United States, she has kept the tradition pure and strong of cooking Peruvian dishes she has eaten her entire life.

Some common dishes Cuadros would see in his household included beans, rice, fish, potatoes and yucca with spices such as paprika, garlic and chili pepper. Cuadros’ mother never deviated from her true roots regarding food.

“In the home is where we stick to what we know,” he said.

Many Hispanic and Latino families who have immigrated to America have stuck to eating the traditional food from the Hispanic country where they originated.

Due to the lack of specific Latin ingredients in grocery stores, many Latino families would substitute an alternative ingredient found in the U.S. Outside of the home, it was not uncommon for Hispanics to adapt to the “Americanized” food around them.

“If it’s good, I’ll eat about anything,” Paul Cuadros said when talking about the different types of cuisine found in the U.S.

As many people migrate, one would think the authenticity of one’s food and culture would remain the same. That is not true in many cases and not for Hispanic and Latino food.

Most of the food in today’s Hispanic restaurants normally would not be found in a Hispanic home. Whether you go to a restaurant and search for good Mexican, Colombian, Cuban, Peruvian, or Haitian food, you are not seeing the truth of the food.

Susan T. from the blog Orange County Mexican Restaurants wrote, “Fast food joints and Americanized Mexican restaurants are the only exposure many Americans have had to Mexican cuisine.” Many Americans have little knowledge of authentic Mexican food.

For example, Mez Durham, a contemporary Mexican restaurant in Durham, N.C., features smoked brisket tacos on its menu, and its managers have more European-sounding names such as Jeff Robinson and Kassi McIntosh.

Even in restaurants such as Mi Pueblo Mexican Grill, a Winston-Salem based chain founded by Mexican immigrants, the foods are not necessarily traditional. Increasingly, Americans have developed a taste for industrialized spinoffs of Hispanic food

At one point in our nation’s history, Mexican food was unpopular. In Julia Moskin’s article, How The Taco Gained In Translation, she writes about food critic Gustavo Arellano, who decided to research the reasons behind its sudden popularity.

Arellano discovered that as the American fast food boom began in the 1950s, entrepreneurs noticed the early success of Mexican restaurants. Individuals such as Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, began to create products that mimicked the food those early immigrants were bringing to America.

But the American passion for Hispanic food also has brought in more traditional ingredients. Writer Andy Newman said, when Mexican immigrants first came to New York in large numbers, it was hard to find Mexican food, let alone a Mexican restaurant. But as more immigrants poured into the country and more non-Hispanic Americans searched for Mexican cuisine, traditional ingredients such as chorizos and crema (sour cream), are flowing into the country.

According to ABC News, in 2011 there were approximately 38,000 Mexican restaurants scattered across the country and 896 alone in North Carolina. So while Hispanic food may have been twisted, tweaked, and Americanized, at the same time, it is becoming easier to find basic ingredients and recreate the real deal.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Saechang