Monday, January 25, 2010

¿Quieres un taco?

I grew up with the daily question, ¿Quieres un taco? (sentinels of the Spanish language, and of English for that matter, cut this pocho a little slack with the grammar and spelling as this is not my day job). Being a husky Chicano kid of the seventies, I cannot recall ever refusing this offer of mom, grandma, my tias, and the mothers of my pocho pals. But what warmed my hands between meals was what is now more popularly known as the burrito. But we (my family and generational friends) did not call them burritos. If my family was to eat tacos of the folded, fried—often flour—tortilla variety we knew the difference by when it was to be served. For example, when I asked mom, “What are we having for dinner?” And she replied, “Vamos a comer tacos.” I knew the difference. Hard-shell tacos were an occasion due to the fact that they were more labor intensive to make. Mom cooked hamburger meat, chopped lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, graded cheese and fried the folded over flour tortillas stuffed with meat. Everyday tacos consisted of a comal-heated tortilla clefed at each end, filled with beans and, for me, some jocoque.

Everyday tacos were also much easier to eat. The taco treat needed to be held with two hands and still crumbled onto your plate where the everyday taco could be put together dos por tres and eaten with one hand on your way out the door to school—walking or driving. A daily routine made much more cumbersome, if not dangerous, with the hard shell version.

In discussing the regional, hybrid, and transformational nature of culture in Southern California with students, I occasionally highlight this taco topic. I mention how field laborers warmed their tacos over a fire during breaks and how construction workers placed them in the hood of their cars wrapped in tinfoil to be kept warm by the engine. I have read Cesar Chavez mentioning similar examples to back me up on this and he, too, calling burritos, tacos. This would be totally impractical with a hard shell taco.

Despite this refutation to the burrito title of the taco, I have come to accept the demise of its double meaning. Not doing so would only make my life more complicated than it already is. I can only cherish the boyhood memory of the ever welcomed, and never ever refused, invitation, “¿Quieres un taco?”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chicano food

(Portrait of Manny in El Tepeyac)

There is a rumor floating around that El Tepeyac Café had been bought out and relocated to Chino. Today, when I asked if this was true, Manuel Rojas, owner of the Boyle Heights restaurant, stated that the story is completely false.

El Tepeyac (aka: Manny’s) is on Evergreen Avenue in East Los Angeles. In addition to the Manny special (a large plate-size burrito that if you could eat in one sitting used to earn you a free meal; an achievement of this writer in 1991 at the near cost of his digestive wellbeing), a signature dish is the Hollenbeck burrito monikered after the barrio’s LAPD division station. According to a 1986 LA Times report by George Ramos, the burrito’s name developed from the years of Eastside cops patronizing the establishment on their breaks.

For good food (and lots of it), a friendly atmosphere, and interesting Eastside stories from Manny go to El Tepeyac. BTW: When meeting up with San Ferndando Valley friends for breakfast, my favorite plate is the huevos rancheros.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Chicano Tortillas

My household recently braved the making of homemade tortillas. This brought back memories of growing up blissfully eating grandma’s and my nina’s warm, aromatic, chewy, flour tortillas with butter and freshly fried beans. BTW: I was a husky (read fat) kid weighing 175lbs. in the 3rd grade. Even though my grandma taught her daughter (my nina) to make tortillas, they had a uniqueness all their own—kind of like beans. They used the same ingredients but they tasted different—equally delightful but different. Each used a metal pipe cured by the rolling out of thousands of tortillas. In trying to roll out a few this week end with a pocho wooden rolling pin, they came out close to being symmetrically round in shape. In the past, the more I tried to shape a semi-thin, circular tortilla like grandma’s the more it came out looking the like the contiguous United States.

When I was attending Moorpark College, I regularly stopped by my grandparents’ house to have lunch with freshly made tortillas. The comal heated their small kitchen and the toasted flour gave their home an embracing aroma. Although my grandma and grandpa are now deceased, their humble home still exist off a dirt road paralleling Walnut Canyon Road in Moorpark, against a hill blanketed with nopales, right by a drainage ditch. After transferring to Fresno State, I would visit them to practice my ever deteriorating capability to speak Spanish on my way back to Fresnal and take with me a stack of tortillas which I stashed away from my roommates. If I felt generous I would share them with my Mission Hills/San Fernando roommate, Dan. I will keep on trying to perfect my tortilla-making abilities as it will re-connect me to my ancestors. Making tortillas, I figure, will be much easier to master than trying to retrieve my capacity to speak a comprehensible Spanish. I hope to pass on this memory to my traviesos.