Wednesday, October 10, 2007

You call that a taco?

I had no idea that Taco Bell had the sheer gall to operate stores in Mexico.
Some of the names have been changed to protect the sacred: the hard-shelled items sold as "tacos" in the U.S. have been renamed "tacostadas." This made-up word is a play on "tostada," which for Mexicans is a hard, fried disk of cornmeal that is always served flat, with toppings.

But while Mexicans eagerly buy many American brands, the taco holds a place of honour in the national cuisine. Mexicans eat them everywhere, anytime of day, buying them from basket-toting street vendors in the morning or slathering them in salsa at brightly lit taquerias to wrap up a night on the town.

Taco Bell has taken pains to say that it's not trying to masquerade as a Mexican tradition.

"One look alone is enough to tell that Taco Bell is not a 'taqueria'," the company said in a half-page newspaper ad. "It is a new fast-food alternative that does not pretend to be Mexican food."

It's still a mixed message for Mexicans like Marco Fragoso, a 39-year-old office worker sitting down for lunch at a traditional taqueria in Mexico City, because the U.S. chain uses traditional Mexican names for its burritos, gorditas, and chalupas.

"They're not tacos," Fragoso said. "They're folded tostadas. They're very ugly."

Am I the only one who thinks this is like opening Olive Garden in Milan, or Long John Silver's in London? Don't get me wrong; I actually like Taco Bell's food. (I'm a sucker for the steak baja gordita.) And in some parts of the US, I guess it's what passes for Mexican food. But to call it that in Mexico requires a uniquely Gringo kind of arrogance.

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