Fast food and fast casual Mexican Restaurants such as Taco Bell, supported by their multimillion dollar advertising, marketing and social media campaigns, shape the reality of what Mexican cuisine is for many of us. And, its real power comes from the fact that even for most of us eating at one of these establishments is our FIRST access to Mexican food. You never get a second chance to make that first impression and your first bite of Mexican food literally defines what Mexican food is for so many of us. The same follows for all other ethnic restaurants.
Hell, it follows for every food tradition – almost all have been bastardized by the modern industrial food system for profit and they have lost so much through the process. The nourishing qualities of traditional foods have been replaced with unhealthy and downright dangerous fast food versions.
The flavors, textures, aromas, and other organoleptic qualities of traditional food are lost. And, the cultural significance of traditional foods prepared with authentic ingredients using time honored practices is replaced with convenience.
The paradox is that modern fast food versions of cultural cuisine are so influential that make genuine versions seem strange!
The standard tacos for so many of us is some variety of the following: mass produced meat, overly seasoned to mask the poor quality (that is, when it is actually meat), shredded cheddar cheese, and tomato salsa from a can served on a mass produced corn tortilla made from maseca and containing dozens of ingredients.
In this context a serving of simple shredded meat, quesillo, and topped with radishes, diced onions and cilantro served on hearty, nixtamalized, stone ground tortilla seems overly simple, strange, and perceived to be lacking in something. They are completely different foods in every possible way! The flavors, textures, aromas, cultural meaning and nourishing qualities of the latter all far outweigh the industrial version.
One is simply junk food and the other is a nourishing meal.
Not the Response we expected
We witnessed this last year when we offered our taco kits.
Our goal was to provide nourishing tacos made using the same traditional techniques that we learned in Mexico to render the ingredients as healthy as they can possibly be for our customers in a convenient way that just required reheating and final assembly at home.
- We imported heirloom maize from Oaxaca that we nixtamalized overnight, stone ground, hand pressed and cooked to maximize the safety and nutrient bioavailability in each and every tortilla.
- We used a traditional cheesemaking approach to transform local milk into authentic quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese).
- We fermented the salsa, soaked our beans and cooked them with lard, slow cooked local meat, and provided the same toppings you would find in Mexico.
- The only non-authentic component to our taco kits was the crema, or fermented cream that, while commonplace in Mexican cooking, is not typically added to tacos. We just love the flavor of fermented cream, it is incredibly nourishing so we included it!
Although they were met with good response and we had a regular customer base for them, we often received comments from customers that what we were offering didn’t taste or look or feel like the tacos they were used to.
And, they shouldn’t! They are a completely different food.
They are a ton of work to do right so, as we grew over the past year we temporarily stopped doing them so we could shift our attention to other needs at the MSAK. But, we truly believe that a taco can be incredibly nourishing if made correctly so we decided to offer it again.
Putting it into Practice at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen
Last week, we relaunched Thursday taco night, but this time with a twist. We are offering them hot, ready to eat! You can either stay and eat at the MSAK or, take them home and simply assemble them. We are also offering quesadillas (plain, beef, chicken or pork) and will be adding my favorite, memelas shortly! And, yes, of course we are still offering our Kombucha margaritas made with organic tequila, house made kombucha, freshly squeezed lime and orange juice and a hint of maple syrup.
One of our goals is to make familiar food as nourishing as it can possibly be.
And, what we are finding is that sometimes that means re-defining familiar foods. It is a learning process for all of us, but we promise if you come at food with a truly open mind you will open yourself up to a lifetime of nourishing flavors, aromas, and experiences you never imagined possible. And, of course, better health!
A real tortilla
The authentic tortilla made from nixtamalized maize and stone ground to create a dough known as masa is the heart of authentic Mexican cuisine. As it should be!
Creating masa this way is the only way in which to maximize the nutrient availability in maize for our human bodies. But, the modern, mass produced tortilla is emblematic of what the industrial food system has done to all traditional food – traded authentic, meaningful, nourishing food for mass produced unhealthy versions completely lacking in nourishment, flavor, and meaning.
That is why Taco Bell’s slogan, Live Mas (which translates into live more) is exactly the wrong way to think about food.
We would be much better off if, at least when it came to tacos, to Live Mas(a)!
A quick shout out here to our MSAK team member, Jason Routzahn, who first came up with the idea for live mas(a).