Top critical review
33 people found this helpful
on October 1, 2012
What an incredibly disappointing book.
If you know me, you know that I love Mexican food of all kinds. Whether it is cheap burritos in west Texas, high end alta cocina, regional dishes found in small Mexican villages, or moles that I make in my own kitchen, I love Mexican food. I have been known to plan vacations around Mexican cooking, including several cooking classes that my wife and I have taken. I am also very interested in food writing and the cultural history of food. So needless to say, I was excited to read this book.
And there were parts of it that were very interesting. Especially some of the opening chapters about tamales and the early days of Mexican food coming to America, which contained lots of information I havent seen anywhere else. But as the book went on I grew more and more tired of Arellano's high horses and pet peeves. He writes from a very southern california-centric point of view, and some of his generalizations to the rest of the country don't really mesh with my experiences living in Texas and the east coast (one example is that it seemed odd to read about the dissapearance of Tex-Mex at the same time that Chuy's is opening a dozen new locations) and it generally made me distrust many of his claims.
But most disappointing to me was Arellano's use of the word 'authentic'. Throughout the book he throws the word around in various ways without ever really seeming to intellectually engage with what he means by the term or even really giving a definition of it. Instead, he uses the word as a compliment at times while other times criticizing the ways other people use the term (for any of Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless's faults, I at least understand what they mean when they use the word). I admit that in recent years I have become very interested in the idea of what we mean when we talk about authentic ethnic food (see the great Lucky Peach Issue 2 article a few months back on the topic) but the chips on Arellano's shoulder are big enough to be annoyingly inconsistent.
Arellano is a good storyteller for the most part, and I enjoy the 'character' he does in his 'Ask A Mexican' work (because i assume it is a character). But if you are looking for a book that discusses the history of Mexican food in the US with any intellectual consistency and depth, I would recommend looking elsewhere. (In particular, I am looking forward to Jeffrey Pilcher's new book, as his Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity remains the pinnacle of writing about Mexican cusine