Tuesday, January 11, 2005

California Delight #8: Mexi-Cal Cuisine

This delight comes with some specific conditions, most notably: the eats have to be good. There's nothing less appetizing than lame Mexi-Cal: tofu that can be identified doesn't belong in even pseudo-Mexican dishes, and the Californian propensity to fetishize chicken breasts (which, I suppose, might be symbolically appropriate) can really detract from the larger, more delightful menu at hand. Worthy Mexi-Cal chefs don't bring Hollywood to Mexico: they make the dinner table a multi-cultural, ecumenical, hyper-sensual experience.

Practitioners and consumers of Tex-Mex sneer at Mexi-Cal, calling it "yuppie food." These epithets aren't altogether objectionable: as someone who also enjoys Tex-Mex (it has a laudable blue collar, do-it-yourself approach to food: if it doesn't taste right, reach for the hot sauce), I'll admit you've got to have more in your wallet (or in your credit rating) if you're going to really dig in to Mexi-Cal.

Mexi-Cal foodies, when they aren't fastidiously vegetarian, don't mind experimenting with fish - any fish: shelled, smoked, pickled, pan-fried, whatever. The vegetarian variations will (obviously) eschew all contact with lard, so you won't get the genuine "re-fried beans" you might have developed an unhealthy fondness for. But Mexi-Cal connoisseurs know the difference between cilantro and Mexican oregano, and they use their knowledge to good effect. Consequently Mexi-Cal food is robust; it doesn't need extra heat, but won't suffer from it, either.

There are several ways to get the Mexi-Cal experience: on the street, or at home. One affordable SJ MC restaurant I've raved about before is Aqui. Those who want to give the home-cooking effort a try could do worse than start with Southwest Turkey Chili. Or you can check out the ultimate Mexi-Cal reference: California Rancho Cooking, by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan.

Cilantro mandatory.

California Delight #7

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