Sunday, June 12, 2016

More Random Notes. 50th Issue.

Fiftieth Issue

This is my fiftieth daily issue, I'm proud to say. So with a celebratory spirit, I'm doing just another random notes blog, though the part on Mexican food is a little less random and a little bit longer. Still nothing here is meant to be taken seriously.

This means that I'll publish this week's Game of Thrones blog tomorrow (Monday), which will shift the poetry blog to Tuesday, and a planned video to Wednesday. It makes more sense to publish the GoT blog on Monday anyway because I don't see the show until Sunday night, and it takes several hours beyond that to put something together. So though I made this shift to accomodate this "anniversary issue," I'll stick with it for at least episodes 8, 9, and 10.

Can we come over?

Seen recently in the comments section of a video from a popular American expatriate YouTuber [modified slightly to preserve privacy]:
Hello X! We are a couple from Y and we are coming to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand for the summer ! We have been watching your videos and reading your travel guides. We really like you and your style. We were wondering if you were free during the months of July-August we are going to be where you are and it would truly be an honor to meet with you and your wife and if you could show us around.
He might even lend you money if you ask nicely...

Tit for Tat?

Merve Buyuksarac.

Former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, has been convicted of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a satirical poem that she posted to her Instagram account back in 2014. Buyuksarac was tried and convicted this past May (2016), and at the end of the month she was given a 14-month suspended sentence, which means that if she somehow reoffends during the period, she will have to go to jail.

I had been wondering what one does to someone convicted of insulting. Do they get insulted back? Turkey must have a delicate constitution.

Buyuksarac said that she posted the poem because she found it funny, not because she wanted to insult the president. The apparently thin-skinned Erdogan has used a little-known law that bars insulting the president nearly two thousand times since he became president in 2014.
Oh come to America Miss Buyuksarac,
We will introduce you to John Cusack.
Although this is America where creeps stalk,
You'll make heaps of cash strolling the catwalk.
You can insult and laugh and get insulted back—
but no insults will break any bone,
and you'll live in the most luxurious home.
You can insult the Donald, Silly Hillary and Barak.
And I promise you that I'll always have your back!
By the way, if you haven't heard, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's mother wears Turkish Army boots.

I'll have the Enchiladas with Beaver Sauce, please...

There's an interesting video quiz about the names of Mexican foods. The original release made a few funny mistakes, though some of them have been fixed, which takes some of the wind out of my proverbial sails. But this has put me in the mood for a few quick words about Mexican food in both the US and in Mexico.

Mexican food is so varied because it is actually an amalgamation of several regional cuisines scattered about Mexico. What we in the US call Mexican food is typically the food of northern Mexico, and even in the US, Mexican food is regional: we eat Tex-Mex in Texas; New Mexicans have that delicious green chili sauce all over their Mexican food—and on hamburgers; and, as in all things, Californians cook their own New Age way; etc. In the US there are also restaurants who pride themselves on delivering authentic versions of a specific Mexican regional cuisine.

On top of that, the concept of Mexican food—static for many years—has suddenly gone into flux with practically every place creating its own versions of old standards. For example, the ubiquitous and unchanging taco comprised a crunchy fried corn tortilla with the fold fixed by the frying, followed by a scoop of ground meat seasoned with standard taco seasoning, followed by a salad layer of shredded iceberg lettuce, followed by a layer of finely shredded cheese (in some places this was American cheese, which isn't really cheese at all), then topped to taste by the eater with a preferred hot sauce. You can still get these at Taco Bell but not many other places. There are those who swear that there is only one way to get a taco, and it's according to the current fashion (which won't even be around five years from now), but I look at all species of tacos as legitimate, and I love them all.

Between ten and twenty years ago, the taco, a well-defined immutable menu item, suddenly became subject to infinite variations. The unfried flour tortilla, devoid of its own personality and functioning more as a handle by which you can pick the ingredients up rather than as an outer shell that adds flavor in its own right, has replaced the tortilla de maíz frita. Within the folds of that tortilla come any number of Mexican skillet stir-fries. For example, here's the menu at Torchy's Tacos, a fast-growing Texas-based taco chain:

The menu at Torchy's Tacos.

I count five kinds of breakfast tacos, and fourteen kinds of tacos for lunch or dinner. On top of all that, the taco of the month (June) happens to be the Tipsy Chick:

Tender grilled chicken with grilled corn and green chilis, fresh baby spinach, a homemade maple bacon and bourbon marmalade, cheddar cheese, and chipotle ranch. Served on a flour tortilla.
All the tacos have names with a sense of humor, and half of them originated as characters in Quentin Tarantino movies. Detailing the whole menu is beyond the scope of this humble blog, but the starring ingredients include grilled jalapeño sausage, scrambled eggs with a fried poblano chili, guajillo seared ahi tuna, fajita (or skirt steak), beef barbacoa and smoked brisket, various forms of chicken including fried and Jamaican jerk, shrimp, blackened salmon, and for vegetarians there are hand-battered fresh avocado and portobello mushroom (My gods! I want one of each!). Each meat (or vegetable) ingredient is complemented by fillings that reflect a gourmand's keenly honed sensibilities. Obviously these aren't your grandfather's tacos. I've eaten at Torchy's several times and have always been pleased. By the way, if you show up on their patio with a dog, they offer to bring a water bowl for your creature.

Many other places are just as hip with their tacos, but the new style calls for a great deal of experimentation with seasonings and taste combinations (like I see in the Tipsy Chick), and this is a refined art not easily practiced by a novice. I admit it could be a matter of my own eccentric taste buds not resonating with the offerings of, say, El Chilito, but combining flavors is a delicate art. El Chilito has great reviews, so it might just be me, or perhaps I haven't tried the right taco yet. We also have a new place called Taco Deli, and they were OK, except I eat like a man of leisure—as everyone should—and management worried that my slowness might interfere with their turnover that day, so I rushed off feeling guilty about occupying space, never to return again. My memory is otherwise devoid of the experience. Taco Deli strikes me as being a kissing cousin of the corporate coffee shop with the corporate art out front in the movie Fight Club.

The old school Mexican restaurants are dying out—though a certain few are just too hip to die, but instead have become rather like the Cotton Clubs (or Boys Towns?) of restaurants, with white college students slumming on the far Eastside, savoring cabrito, and swilling margaritas at El Azteca. In the old school restaurants, if I ordered one of the large combination plates with names like El Supremo, El Señor, and El Saltillo—this takes me back to a Donna Reed period when ladies were presumed not to eat so much as their men—I got a taco and maybe a scoop of guacamole on a small salad plate before my entrée plate. In my extreme carnivorous days, I thought it was cool that the salad plate was a Trojan Horse that smuggled some meat onto the table. The entrée plate arrived so hot that the waiter used a pot holder to lay it ceremoniously before me with the warning, "Hot plate!" And if I was thirsty, this was when I ordered another Negra Modelo.

Now, about that video that I mentioned at the beginning of this section. It's a fun little quiz to see how much you know about Mexican food words. One of the questions posed is this:
The rich, delicious Mexican sauce made with chocolate is called
  • a) Beaver
  • b) Mole
  • c) chinchilla
  • d) Armadillo
Then it reveals the correct answer to be (a) Beaver. The error is funny because—I blush to write this—it seems to make a sexual allusion. Now they have a little tag that pops up to correct their error, but it's still funny. The right answer is mole (pronounced moe-lay), and the sauce's fame rests upon the nominal amount of chocolate it contains, though the sauce is much more defined by the many types of pulverized mild dried chilis that lace the sauce. Though the chocolate is in there, you probably won't be able to taste it. And by the way, it's not melted milk chocolate; it's more like a trace of cocoa powder.

Here's another question on the quiz:
What kind of beans are traditionally used to make frijoles?
  • a) Black beans
  • b) Haricot beans
  • c) cannellini beans
  • d) Pinto beans (right, but the picture afterwords doesn't show pinto beans)
Frijoles are not a dish made from beans; frijoles mean beans, pure and simple. Grammatically, what they're asking here is, What kind of beans are used to make beans? They should have worded it more as, What are the most popular sort of beans in Mexico? If you order frijoles in Cuba, you're more likely to get black beans. And in still other places, yet more varieties of beans. Now, it is true that in northern Mexico, you're likely to get pinto beans when you ask for frijoles. Uncooked, pinto beans look like this:
Pinto beans. Public domain.
Those spots are an important part of the definition because the pinto in pinto beans is Spanish for spotted, as in a piebald animal. The beans that the video shows are solid red. They are red beans, I suppose, which are similar to pinto beans but they are not pintos frijoles because they are not spotted.

The quiz also asks the Spanish word for eggs and give the answer as huevos, which is correct technically. Unfortunately, the word huevos has become so saturated by its slang connotation (balls) that it's no longer used in polite company. Mexicans laugh for weeks over the gringo who walks into the store to ask for, um, huevos. Instead, people refer to eggs as blanquillos, which originally meant just the whites of the eggs, but it now has been extended to mean the whole thing.

There are a couple of opportunities the video missed: tuna in Mexico is the delicious fruit of the prickly pear cactus, and atún is the Spanish word for tuna.

The prize question: what is the real meaning of a chimichanga? The word pops up in the long version of the old Mexican folk song La Bamba, which had been around long before Ritchie Valens recorded it in 1958 and made it a hit in the US. It was even older when Los Lobos did their fabulous update in 1987. The lyrics vary because every artist that has sang it—not just Los Lobos and Ritchie Valens but probably every wedding and quinceañera band for the past century—has evolved their own version. It's an oral tradition, and the song got longer and bawdier as the nights grew later and the parties grew drunker. Valens sange sweet, innocent lyrics:
Para bailar la bamba
Se necesita una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia pa' mi pa' ti
[To dance the bamba
It takes a little big of grace
A bit of grace for me and for you]
The longer, bawdier versions aren't on the internet any longer. But further on the female character evolves into a beautiful woman wearing a short skirt. Just what a deep-fried burrito symbolizes in a story about a graceful woman in a short skirt in a song sung to a drunken wedding party is left as an exercise for the reader's imagination. Yet I think it's a joke on white people that this is served as food....