Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

Gustavo Arellano is the author of the nationally syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! (and a 2008 book by the same title). Fans will recognize his voice in Taco USA: wise and knowledgeable, but always conversational and informal, even rambling--and very, very funny. Arellano capably handles the history of Mexican people and their cuisine, but Taco USA is less about Mexican food in Mexico than about its interpretations in the United States.

Several waves of Mexican food that have swept the U.S. (beginning with tamales and chile con carne or "chili"), and Arellano treats these as historical trends, tying them to larger themes in U.S. food history. We are reminded that Mexico is the source for global food staples such as corn, tomatoes and chocolate as well as the chile itself. Arellano refutes an emphasis on "authentic" Mexican cuisine in favor of the various permutations (Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, southwestern, even Midwestern Mexican) that we know and love today. These are not bastardizations, he argues, but legitimate culinary heritages unto themselves, related to the Mexican tradition but not beholden to any of its rules. He is obviously passionate about his subject, which takes him from Taco Bell to Mission-style burritos to Rick Bayless.

Even the experienced border-dweller or Mexican food aficionado is likely to learn a lot, and giggle while doing so. What more can one ask of nonfiction? Just beware a growing desire to run out and get a burrito. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at Pages of Julia

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