Friday, August 03, 2012

for whom the taco bell tolls

I am in the land of Taco Bell.  And I mean that as a compliment.

When we were young, my mother would take my brother and me to every new Mexican restaurant in Portland.

She loved Mexican food.  Still does.  And Darrel and I learned from her that Mexican food was great cuisine.

Now, those of you who are convinced that I am about to label what is served at Taco Bell as Mexican food, you can calm down.  You may have guessed -- all of that was mere foreplay to one of my tales.

About ten years ago, I was standing in line at a Taco Bell in Salem.  I was the sixth person in line.  The five young men in front of me were Mexican.

I am a fan of visual disparity.  But this was irony writ large.  And I could not let the moment go unremarked.

So, I asked the young man in front of me: "I'm just curious.  What is it you like about Taco Bell?"

His response could have been written by O. Henry: "I love American food."

He was correct.  Taco Bell may make a nodding reference to south-of-the-border cuisine, but it is certainly not Mexican food.  A fact that was underscored by our second tale.

My brother helped me drive to Mexico in early 2009.  He then stayed for a month while I got settled into my new life.

We frequented a restaurant that served a traditional offering of tacos.  (Because there was a sign in front of the place advertising "ricos tacos,"  Darrel insisted on calling it "Rico's Tacos."  Where he gets that sense of humor, I have no idea.)

I will confess I was a bit surprised at how the tacos were served on that first visit.  The plate arrived with grilled meat topping three small (little more than dollar-sized) tortillas.  The rest of the toppings were in a lazy susan.  It struck me as a very good way to serve tacos.  Build your own.

About a month after Darrel flew back to Oregon, I stopped by the same restaurant for supper.  I had just sat down when a Canadian woman I had met earlier in town showed up with her husband and two young children.

This was their first visit to Melaque.  In fact, their first visit to Mexico.  And it was evident things were not going well.  All four of them looked as if they were in round 4 of family feud.

I greeted them as they sat down, and got a perfunctory nod for my efforts.  The waitress, who did not speak English, came over and explained the meats available on the tacos.  The lack of a printed menu irritated the woman, but they managed to order by agreeing that they all wanted pollo.

While they were waiting, I could tell something was wrong.  She finally said, to her family: "Where are the tortilla chips?  They should have brought us tortilla chips by now.  And salsa."

And then much louder to the waitress standing by the kitchen: "Where are our tortilla chips?"

The waitress looked a bit perplexed.  But she smiled, pick up a lazy susan of condiments, and brought it to the table.

The woman responded: "Well, at least she brought us salsa."

That surprised me because the tray contained little compartments of onion, cilantro, beans, tomato, limes, and some very spicy habanero-based salsa.  But not much that most tourists would classify as "salsa."

The woman was just about to ask for chips again, when the taco plates arrived.  I thought she would be pleased.  I was wrong.

Her children just stared at their plates.  She scowled, looked up at the waitress, and demanded: "What is this?"

The waitress understood, and responded: "Tacos."

"No.  These are not tacos.  That's it."

She gathered her brood with a "We're out of here."

As they walked out of the front of the restaurant she fired off a parting shot: "Haven't you people ever heard of Taco Bell?"

Well, I have.  "Rico's Tacos" are better.  Well, at least, they are better real tacos.

In the 1970s my favorite Taco Bell menu item was a Bell Burger.  A hamburger bun with taco meat filling.  Apparently, the Bell Burger died before the arrival of disco.

And that is just as well.  The current "think outside the bun" slogan would not bode well for it.

Even though, as we have learned, Taco Bell serves American food.


Felipe Zapata said...

Surely, Steve, you are writing fiction here. No Canucks or Gringos could be that dense. If you're telling the truth, I will be cringing for a week. Perhaps longer.

DonCuevas said...

I believe every word of it. Start cringing. I am.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

min said...

Another wonderful tale,
Thanks Steve,
I had my first real Tacos in Mexico city about 12years ago.

Bring me a great old memory.

"I love American food."

I love it!

How about that woman?
What a shame.

John Calypso said...

The ugly American reality - I believe it ;-0

John Calypso said...

The ugly American reality - I believe it. ;-0

jennifer rose said...

A good and well-traveled, well except for Mexico, friend was visiting Morelia last winter. We are served the tortilla chips with a very meager portion of salsa, which should have been a signal as to its potency, and he dips a chip lavishly into the salsa, as if it were some kind of sour cream dip, completely coating the chip. And chomps down on it. He learned quickly that's not how chips are dipped in this country. 

loulou bateau said...

My reaction was the same as Felipe's. 

Tancho said...

I wonder why that family picked Melaque? Seems Cancun or Ixtapa with no sense of what Mexico really is would perhaps suited her better....
Sad if it wasn't so funny.

Steve Cotton said...

Unfortunately, that is just as it happened.  Our little village seems to bring out the worst in some tourists.  

Steve Cotton said...

On the other hand, you might want to cringe when I tell you my brother and I stopped by Taco Bell for lunch in Bend.

Steve Cotton said...

You are welcome.

Steve Cotton said...

Or not-so-American in this case

Steve Cotton said...

Delightful.  And I must admit, I have fallen into similar culinary traps.

Steve Cotton said...

The Canadian woman will be pleased to know that restaurant went out of business a year or so later and has been succeeded by two more.  At the moment, it is closed.

Steve Cotton said...

They had friends from Vancouver Island who recommended Melaque as a place to save money.  The family would have been much happier in an all-inclusive resort.  When I saw them on "taco day," they looked as if they had been held hostage for a week.  The "simple" life is not for everyone.

min said...

 Most fun I ever had in Mexico ,
Just had child, one income,enough money to go cheapest place in Mexico.

P V was cheap back then,

Those are  the time,I miss the most!
and those are the times also gave me great memory.

Staying among the local.

min said...

Are you sure,It's been only 4 years since you been in Mexico?

What a beautiful companion you had!!

Steve Cotton said...

I am now in my fourth year.  But it does seem as if I have been there longer.

Shannon Casey said...

So, there are " Ugly Canadians" as well. Who knew? Usually we're accused of being overly polite. Having been in that restaurant at that moment would not have been a proud Canadian moment for me.

Steve Cotton said...

My experience in Melaque is that no nation has a monopoly on politeness.

Andean said...

The , I wan Taco Bell, jingel is still ringing, great, before you thank me , you are so welcome.

Steve Cotton said...

Well, it could have been It's a Small World.

Mommy with Commuter Husband said...

Since we moved back from Mexico, Husband & Oldest Son refuse to eat Taco Bell. So Youngest Son and I go there when they are not around! It is most definitely not Mexican but it is tasty and cheap.

Croft Randle said...

I was sitting in the Plaza Grande in Patzcuaro a few years ago when an American couple stopped beside me looking very frustrated. I asked if they needed help and she asked, "We are looking for some place to eat. Aren't there any restaurants in this city?"  I was stunned for a moment because we were surrounded by restaurants. I eventually realized she was serious and told her there were many restaurants and pointed to a couple. "No, no" she said. "I mean AMERICAN restaurants like Denny's or Pizza Hut!"

Mommy with Commuter Husband said...

You just wonder how someone like that chooses Patzcuaro to visit ???

Steve Cotton said...

I have heard similar requests in Melaque.  One of my favorite about a local pizza restaurant: "It tastes almost as good as Domino's."

Steve Cotton said...

And I have to confess my brother and I had a great time at the Taco Bell in Bend.

Andean said...

Nice... :o

Chihuahua said...

You're killing me!  Now I'm craving a Burrito Supreme and an Enchirito!

Laurie Matherne said...

I loved Mexican style tacos when I lived in Guadalajara. Honduran tacos are good, but not as good as Mexican style. 

Steve Cotton said...

I did not move to Mexico for its cuisine.  But I do like the tacos.

Steve Cotton said...

I may need to make one more stop before I return to Melaque.

Kim G said...

This was a hysterical post, and the comments equally hysterical.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where it's quite difficult to find authentic Mexican food. Actually, we aren't exactly brimming with the ersatz stuff either.

But lobster we have a -plenty.

barb at lake chapala said...

I worked for many years in the National Parks in the United States.  I observed the equivalent of this behavior many times.  In the Everglades people would whine because there were mosquitoes in their room.  "It's the freakin' Everglades, lady.  Of COURSE there are mosquitoes."  

In Death Valley it was "It's SO hot!" and by people swimming in the pool which they had been told was fed by natural hot spings water, "Can't you cool off the water?  It's SO hot!"  

Late night diners at the restaurants in Zion National Park and the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon would demand a seat by the window and then complain because they couldn't see anything.  "Why don't you people install some lights so we can see something?"  

Some people just really shouldn't be allowed to travel.  The French, in particular, come to mind.  But that's another story.  

Steve Cotton said...

I knew there was a reason I wanted to delay the telling of the tale.

Steve Cotton said...

I often wonder which of my antics have ended up as blog fodder.

Chihuahua said...

I just adore the title of this post.  Yo quiero Taco Bell!

Steve Cotton said...

A little Hemingway-lite served up on a tortilla.

Miz_L said...

definitely the truth - S0, Filipe, start cringing!!!