Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mexican or Fusion?

Last week Nathan and I met up with Kelly to seek post-archival food. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the two of them are sampling Prague’s Mexican offerings, which these days are surprisingly numerous but unsurprisingly unimpressive.
On this occasion we wandered east of Náměstí Republiky into Žižkov or thereabouts in search of a Mexican restaurant Nathan recalled noticing. After some perseverating, we found it and went in.
It certainly looked like a Mexican restaurant, at least the extravagantly decorated kind. Czech Mexican restaurants seem to have gotten the hang of flashy Mexican décor, although as I haven’t personally been to Mexico, I don’t know whether this sort of thing is authentic or merely American pseudo-Mexican kitsch.
The waiter, a burping character who was determined to speak English to us, brought plasticized menus which were just about the size of our table. We were a bit taken aback to get enormous multicolored menus that looked as though they would be more at home at Denny’s, but opened them up to see what our choices were.
To our vast surprise, we were greeted by a series of foods that seemed to relate to every part of the globe except Mexico. Since we were hunting for the Mexican entrees, we didn’t pay close attention to them, but it was hard to ignore them since they must have been 95% of the menu. I recall that there were Thai, or perhaps pseudo-Thai, items. Whether there was also sushi, I couldn’t say. Presumably there was middle-eastern food in there as well. We kept flipping pages and avoiding dishes intended for two people that cost a fortune. At some point I noticed that in small print the word “fusion” appeared near the restaurant’s otherwise Mexican-sounding name. Oh. Usually when I run into “fusion” in food, it is of Asian cuisines, which at least have a few ingredients in common.
We weren’t sure whether to be amused or repelled, or just both. At Peg’s party, I had told them how Mary Roach and I once threw a “Weird Food” party in which everyone had to bring a food (for example, peanut butter) and then sample the foods in hitherto unimagined combinations. It was highly successful, but on the other hand no one expected to make a meal out of any of their experiments. (As Mary is now the author of Stiffs and I write about surrealism and suchlike things, you can see where we might have come up with an idea like the Weird Food party.)
We ordered some nachos and entrees that showed some sign of Mexican-ness. The nachos were indeed pathetic. I don’t know whether anyone in Mexico eats nachos, but in the US, nachos involve plenty of melted cheese and usually a huge mass of other things. At least, that’s what I’m used to. If it doesn’t have a meal’s worth of stuff on top, it doesn’t meet my criteria, although I realize that you can also get skimpy nachos with just cheese and jalapenos. These chips had driblets of melted cheese and were presented with an alleged salsa that appeared to be ketchup with lots of sugar added. We were not impressed.
Our entrees were not, to my mind, very Mexican, but at least they were edible. Kelly’s salsa appeared to be something more akin to a Vietnamese dipping sauce, but he said his meal was not bad. It was alleged to be a flautas plate but appeared more akin to egg rolls. I wasn’t sure whether my “burritos” or those served at the American University cafeteria during my days in Washington were less clear on the concept of burrito-ness. In both cases, the result tasted okay, if not very authentic, but was cut in half and had gooey stuff on the outside instead of inside. Nathan and I agreed that the whole idea of a burrito is that you are supposed to be able to hold it in your hand while you eat, and cutting it in half is just ridiculous.
We weren’t sure who this restaurant was intended for, tourists or adventurous Czechs. Perhaps both. We meant to take some pictures of the décor and exterior for the blog, but forgot. Just think of the largest, gaudiest Mexican restaurant you’ve ever seen and substitute American pop music for the guitars and accordions.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Jesse said...

The presentation of 'Mexican' restaurants has always puzzled me, too. Especially in the Czech Republic. (I had the worst experience of Mexican food in Olomouc, but that was not too surprising all things considered.) But back in the States, take Taco Bell. Those funny little "adobe" style buildings with the round windows, tile or tin roofs; yet inside they have the standard fast-food restaurant setting, clean bathrooms, and spotless tile floors. Having been born near the Mexican border - albeit near a relatively unprosperous area of Mexico - I always found the design strange. None of the design elements are things you don't see in Mexico - tile roofs, adobe buildings, tile floors, bathrooms (though I'm not sure about clean ones) - but in the Taco Bell's particular "fusion" design, it's difficult to believe these are real restaurants and not something that exists in fantasy only. Perhaps Taco Bell is not the best example since they probably identify their food non-committally, but it always seems to get lumped in with other 'Mexican' restaurants. I suspect that most Mexican restaurats in the U.S. are more Tex-Mex than anything else. This, of course, can be appetizing cuisine, but might perpetutate skewed exeriences of regional foods. But then, I was told once that sushi is more popular in American Japanese restaurants than in Japanese ones.

On a related issue, I never recall having many black beans in food in Mexico: refried, yes; pintos, yes. But black beans? They're good, they just never struck me as 'Mexican'.

March 20, 2006 1:40 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Oops, this is where you referred to the beans. Anyway, I agree.

We won't contemplate Taco Hell's architecture just now...

March 20, 2006 11:50 PM  

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