Last night, I left my apartment at about 11 PM to get some food in Mexico City.
At this hour, obviously most places are going to be closed.
In the moment, I was feeling like having some pastes, which are meat filled pastries that you can see here.
However, the paste place was closed due to the hour obviously.
At this hour, it’s usually one of few choices to buy street food from: French fries, tacos, tortas, gringas or tamales.
Personally, I don’t like tamales very much.
The very first time I ever tried one was during my first trip to Mexico like 8 years ago more or less.
It tasted like shit and I almost threw up after the first bite.
Something about the texture of it was nasty to me.
Still, tamales seemed a little bit better when I travelled to Guatemala afterwards and my host family gave me some during those few months then.
However, I’m just not a big fan of tamales still.
Definitely not the first food I’d go for.
Then you have gringas.
Now, in my 4 years so far living in Mexico, I’ve only tried gringas a few time.
Honestly, I don’t get the appeal.
I’m definitely not a gringa expert but, from my outsider perspective, they basically seem like tacos.
For example, there’s a taco place nearby that also serves gringas at this hour.
When they make you tacos, it’s a small soft tortilla with some meat thrown on top with onion thrown on top.
Well, the tortilla is still soft but slightly bigger.
The meat is thrown on top of it with some cheese and then another soft tortilla is put on top of it over the food.
So it’s a taco with cheese and an extra tortilla covering the meat?
I don’t get it.
Looks the same to me except the size is bigger, has cheese (though you can include cheese with the tacos) and it has an extra tortilla to cover the meat.
Basically, to an outsider, it seems like the same thing to me.
But, as I said, I’m obviously not an expert on gringas because I just don’t eat them much but that’s how the street food guy near me prepares it.
Nor do I, even after 4 years in Mexico so far, claim to be an expert on all things Mexican food.
Only that, from a foreigner perspective, the difference between the gringa and the taco isn’t very clear.
But, beyond that, appears quite representative of a larger trend in “the common Mexican foods” that you see.
The “common Mexican foods” being those typical food items like the quesadilla to the enchilada that you see at any typical Mexican restaurant in or outside Mexico.
Because, to be fair, you do have regional varieties of food in each state that do have a bit of their own uniqueness.
But when it comes to the “most common Mexican foods,” I find that, while they are always tasty, they often lack uniqueness among each other.
Let me explain from an outsider perspective.
As I said, a torta was an available food option that night.
Which, similar to the gringa, I don’t get the extra name for it.
It’s basically a sandwich but I’m sure someone will disagree heavily with me on that.
“No, no, Matt, it’s not a sandwich….the bread is different!”
Or whatever the silly argument is to clarify the distinction.
The idea is the same – two pieces of bread with a bunch of stuff thrown in between.
Here’s a video of what a torta is.
Not to be confused though with how some other Latin countries seemingly use the word torta to describe a sweet cake.
That’s a side but, before coming to live in Mexico, I found the use of the word “torta” here initially confusing because I already associated it with something else.
Anyhow, a torta is a sandwich.
But not everyone agrees!
I used to go on a dates with a Mexican chick named Daniela and we had minor disagreements about things.
First about the color of her hair regarding if it was actually brown or black.
Another being “what is a torta?”
To her, a torta is not a sandwich!
It is distinct due to the type of bread that is used and how it can have some Mexican style ingredients like something spicy.
However, as a non-Mexican, I never found the bread on a torta to be any different.
And, though I never eat sandwiches with anything spicy, I’m pretty confident that there was sandwich shops that are and do serve their food with spicy shit.
Like salsa for example.
I’m pretty confident we could find that.
In the end, I just don’t see how the ingredients used to make a torta – which ever type you prefer as I prefer la Argentina or Hawiana – to be different from a sandwich.
Like you can see in this photo I took of one I had recently here.
And beyond her disagreement about how the torta is so different…
Let’s move onto other examples in which I have found the “distinctions” in the food to be not so distinct.
Empanada or Paste?
So, as I said, the paste is a meat filled pastry.
We already saw a video of it way above.
Here’s a video of an empanada and another one of a paste here.
Don’t they look the same?
To me, they do!
Of course, to be fair, the empanada can be made differently depending on the country.
In Colombia, they do have a slightly different look to them in which the pastry itself is made of some different stuff.
And that’s the argument that an ex-girlfriend of mine from Mexico named Brenda would use when we discussed this.
She is from the Mexican state of Hidalgo where pastes are from.
When I first tried a paste, it was like my experience with the tamale.
It tasted like shit to my surprise because, when I saw it at the bus station in the Hidalgo capital of Pachuca, I literally thought it was an empanada.
Thankfully, over time, I had better pastes and I like them quite a bit.
But, to me, they’ll always the Mexican copycat of an empanada.
Brenda’s argument though against that belief was that the type of pastry used is different from that of an empanada.
Which might be true – I definitely don’t know what type of pastry they use for either one.
I can only say this….
First, in my experience, they both taste very similar and with no noticeable difference in taste to me.
Second, there might not be much of a noticeable difference because the concept is literally the same!
In which you make a type of pastry and fill meat inside it (and sometimes other things like potatoes or whatever else).
They are both literally just that but with the minor distinction of having a different type of pastry to use to have the meat inside of.
So, to the outsider, there doesn’t seem to be much of a large difference in either taste or appearance.
Therefore, to me, there’s no significant difference to justify the use of a new name for it.
Tacos Dorados de Pollo vs Flautas
Here are videos of flautas and tacos dorados de pollo.
In my experience in Mexico, anytime I have been served tacos dorados de pollo, I always have to ask for several meals.
Largely because I have never been served tacos dorados de pollo that came in an appropriate size for a real meal.
It reminds me of one time where I was in a café in Santa Maria la Ribera of Mexico City and they gave me some tacos dorados de pollo.
I was actually kinda annoyed at how fucking small the tacos were because they were so small that it made me think “what? Did I order off the kid’s menu?
So I ordered another serving as soon as the plate hit the table.
That’s another topic all together – how, in Latin America, sometimes you have to ask how big the portion sizes are to know if you need to order a second serving.
Especially when it comes to street food.
And I’m not your typical fat American – I’m healthy weight but the portion sizes, at a few places (not most), are a joke.
Granted, the prices are always fairly cheap so it’s no big deal.
Anyway, that’s all a bit of a ramble!
Back to the comparison.
The flauta vs. the taco dorado de pollo.
Now there are some distinctions here…
First, as you can guess, the flauta is usually bigger
Here’s a photo of some flautas I had not too long ago.
They always come in decent portion sizes and an order of 3 will probably be good enough.
For tacos dorados de pollo?
Here’s a photo of some I ordered not too long ago either.
With these, I usually have to order 8 at a time if I want a real meal.
The photos of both are pretty representative of what I always get for either meal regardless of where I order from.
Now outside of the portion size, the other large difference is that the taco dorado de pollo always comes, as you can guess, with chicken only.
The flautas can be served with other things inside like beef or potatoes.
Which, as a side point, I find stupid how no Mexican has not seemingly realized that a “taco dorado de carne de res” would be pretty dope also.
I’m sure someone in Mexico cooks it because it makes logical sense and, according to Google here, you it does exist!
However, after 4 years living in Mexico City, Estado and Pachuca de Soto in which I eat out most days of the week….
I, literally, have never found a place that offers “tacos dorados de” anything that isn’t chicken.
Never has happened.
So maybe Mexicans in Mexico City are too inexperienced to know how to put other types of meat inside it and only those fancy folks in Guadalajara or somewhere else do it.
Anyway, outside of the portion sizes and what the Mexican laws of physics permits you to put inside a “taco dorado,” I find little difference between the two.
Both consist of using some flauta that you harden up and put stuff inside.
Then you throw a bunch of stuff on top like lettuce, cream, etc.
So how are they that different?
Why the different name?
I have no idea.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fajitas.
However, every time I have been served fajitas in either the US or Mexico, they don’t appear too different from a taco.
A taco being that soft tortilla that some random meat inside it and a few other things depending on the place you order from.
In my experience eating fajitas, the main difference seems to be the food – always seen it served with chicken or beef but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone offered a fajita with some other type of meat.
Never seen that though on any menu.
Still, the fajita gets served where you eat some side soft tortillas and all the stuff you put in your tortillas on some hot plate thing.
That stuff being beef or chicken with cheese, maybe green peppers, mushrooms, etc.
It depends on the type of fajita you get.
Now, with the taco, you can get cheese easy enough on your taco in Mexico (though not every place has cheese).
Green peppers and mushrooms?
Never seen a taco offered with either in Mexico.
So that’s the difference or what am I not getting here?
The difference being that you got to prepare your own tacos instead of having them prepared for you…
And, for your diligent effort, they’ll throw some green peppers, mushrooms and whatever else into the mix.
Plus, they’ll charge you a little extra than what the tacos alone (with rice and beans) would’ve costed.
I’m sure, as a non-Mexican, there’s some reason for the extra cost to the restaurant that I’m not getting for why fajitas tend to a more expensive way to make your own taco.
But regardless, to me, though I love fajitas, I do find few differences between them and tacos in Mexico.
Next, we have quesadillas.
Now, in the US, the quesadilla is slightly more obvious in difference to a taco.
Granted, the difference is especially obvious if the taco is hard instead of soft like many US places serve them.
Furthermore, quesadillas in the US tend to actually respect the part of the name “ques” in quesadilla.
In which, from my experience, they basically just grab a tortilla and dump a shit ton of cheese inside it.
Similar to one restaurant I worked for that served delicious quesadillas – authentic or not – that literally was just a shit ton of cheese inside the tortilla.
Tasted good regardless of whatever degree of authenticity you can argue for it.
Anyhow, in Mexico, it seems that they don’t respect the “ques” so much in the name of the food.
For example, there’s a very delicious street food place near me that does any type of Mexican food very well.
They also have quesadillas that are delicious but don’t include cheese in them unless you ask.
Instead, it can be a quesadilla of chorizo with potatoes or whatever else they have on the menu.
So how is that difference from a taco?
Chorizo (or any other meat they offer).
I can just as easily order a taco from them that has chorizo and cheese like they could give me a quesadilla with chorizo and cheese.
Except the quesadilla has potatoes…
And we give it a different name?
And, as always, every Mexican will disagree by bringing up very subtle distinctions that most foreigners don’t see as very significant.
Now, excuse me, but I must put some potatoes in my hamburger so I can claim that it is totally different from a hamburger.
“It’s not a hamburger…Look! It’s tremendously different! The uniqueness of my culinary skills!
The guy at the Vatican?
Bad joke bad joke…
Anyhow, I see little difference here also.
Class B Differences
Finally, we have other foods served in Mexico that do have more noticeable differences but not greatly so.
For example, the enchilada.
So we have a tortilla and we put meat inside it…
OK, so far like a taco…
The tortilla will be extra soft!
And we’ll roll it up and throw a bunch of sauce on it.
Which color is your favorite? – red or green?
Still, to my taste buds, it does seem a little bit more different so I’ll respect that.
Then we have the tostada.
Basically a hard tortilla on the bottom with a bunch of stuff (food and whatever else) thrown on top.
So instead of rolling our hard tortilla into a flauta, we’ll have it lay flat.
As you can see here.
Oh, the creativity!
Anyway, the difference is just big enough for me to justify the different name here for it.
The Obvious Differences
First, we have the gordita as you can see here.
The thing they use for holding the food does seem different enough in taste…
I’ve always found it different enough to be deserving of its own name.
Then you got the chilaquiles – chips with meat and sauce basically as you can see here.
Definitely a little bit more unique.
Though, to me, they do look suspiciously too close to what are nachos basically.
Because, equally so, you can just get nachos with meat.
Except maybe replace the red or green sauce with cheese.
Still, I’ll let it slide….
Especially as I don’t often see a place serving nachos in Mexico but you won’t have trouble finding one that does if you are looking for it.
And chilaquiles are, from my experience, easier to find someone serving then nachos.
Then you have the Chile en Nogada as you can see here.
Finally, we have the huarache as you can see in this photo here.
I had it recently.
I find it to be different in taste just enough.
Don’t get too offended if you are Mexican or a foreigner in white shining armour wanting to save the reputation of Mexico’s food.
Without question, despite some of the lack of creativity in the foods mentioned above, it’s still all very tasty.
Everything I mentioned above is worth eating!
Except the tamales?
Eh, I’ll leave those alone – if you like them, fair enough.
Plus, as I said, it’s all from a foreigner’s perspective that might not appreciate as strongly the very thinly sliced differences between “tacos dorados de pollo” and a flauta de pollo.
Or a torta and a sandwich (I’m pretty confident everyone thinks they are the same but, for some reason, I’ve met a few Mexicans who disagree).
Or the paste and the empanada.
So on and so on….
And, even though the seemingly small differences make little difference to me on those specific food items, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t creativity in Mexican food as a whole.
As I pointed out in the last section, you do have a wide variety of foods that are very distinct in their own ways!
As well, you have regional foods in various states of Mexico that bring something unique to the table.
Still, the larger point here is nothing more than to kick out some thoughts I’ve had after 4 years in Mexico in which, to me, the “most common food items” people associate with Mexican food do not seemingly have much difference between them from my perspective alone.
To which, from that point, it almost seems silly to me to claim any real difference between just some of the food items and that they are “separate.”
When, in reality, some of them don’t seem so.
Regardless, as a non-Mexican, those slight differences might not be so important to all of us like myself.
Reminds me anyhow of this scene from Bad Santa when it comes to what a “tostada” is.
I love showing that scene to Mexican chicks after we finish fucking and decide to watch some movie together.
Always got to be a smartass and ask “it’s a tostada, yes?”
They find it funny always – “Nooooo, no es una tostada… QUE?!!? Asi es como preparan las tostadas en EUA?!”
“Si, mi amor! Es una tostada! Tiene salsa!”
And that’s it.
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