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Spaixican Cuisine???

February 16, 2011

Thanks to Jasmine G. for the cool logo she designed for our fund raiser.

“Hi, welcome to Taco Bell.  May I take your order?”

“Uh, yes…  I think I’ll have the snake burrito and an order of armadillo nachos.  Can I get extra snake in that burrito please?”

What the…  That may sound disgusting, but it’s not that far fetched.  If a few things happened just a little differently back in history, that could be your lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  While we’re not down with the idea of armadillo nachos, we here at Minooka TAP do love to eat.  One of the greatest thing about travel is experiencing a country’s culture, and nothing gets you more in tune with culture than food.  Some of my favorite memories of TAP trips past are the food.

At a market place in the center of Nuremburg, Germany, I stopped at a wooden stall with sausages hanging from the roof and bought a bratwurst that was as long as my forearm.  On an unbelievable pretzel roll, with this spicy mustard that was without a doubt the condiment God would choose for his hot dogs, that lunch rocketed to the top of my “best sandwiches I’ve ever had” list (yes, I actually have a best sandwiches list).  It took my forty-five minutes to eat this thing while we walked across town, but I savored every bite. At the same food stand, one of the boys, and not a small boy – this boy was the center on the 8th grade basketball team – ordered a pretzel the size of his torso that took him half the day to finish

Gyros has long been a favorite of mine, but the stuff you get here in Chicago-land, while awesome, was ruined for me after trying the real thing our first day in Mykonos, Greece.  Then gyros was ruined for me when I tried souvlaki, marinated meat and vegetables charred up on the grill and served piping hot on a toasted pita bread.  Both of these sandwiches were so good that our group had a contest going throughout the week to see who could eat the most gyros and souvlaki while in Greece.  There were boys that would grab a gyros from a stand on the street, eat and walk around, and finish just in time to grab another sandwich from another stand.

Italian food is among the most popular foreign cuisines in the world, but I have to tell you, no matter what you eat for lunch and dinner in Italy, it all pales in comparison to dessert.  Gelato.  What is gelato?  Gelato is like ice cream that came from heaven.  I’d write more here, but there are no words to describe the delight that is gelato.  I just suggest that anyone reading this fly to Italy, hop on a boat to Venice, weave your way through the “streets” and find the north-east corner of St. Mark’s square.  There is a little shop there with strawberry gelato that is so amazing that you’re likely to ask the owner if you can just sit in his freezer and gorge yourself on the stuff.

Food in Ireland wasn’t all that different from food here in the States, however, one thing that stood out there was the Irish stew.  Thick broth with generous hunks of meat and vegetables… and potatoes.  This is Ireland people, they love potatoes so much that one night we had stew with cubes of potatoes in it AND a huge scoop of the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had dropped right in the middle of the bowl.  In Ireland it was not a rare thing to have a meal with potatoes and a side of potatoes, in fact we even had one meal with mashed potatoes, oven roasted potatoes, and fries.  A cold rainy day in Ireland was great, because it meant sitting down in a pub and filling your belly with warm stew.

There’s so much food we’re looking forward to in Spain this year and Japan in 2012.  We can’t wait to explore the edible parts of those two amazing cultures.

That exploration actually starts this month.  On February 26th, El Palenque Mexican Restaurant in Shorewood will be hosting a fantastic Minooka TAP fundraiser.  The restaurant will be giving a percentage of their profits all day long to TAP from any customers that bring in a special flyer.

Now what in the world does Mexican food have to do with our trip to Spain?  Well, we’re glad you asked, because we’ll take any opportunity we can to teach a little bit about culture.  You see, back in the day, native Mexican people, the Aztecs, didn’t eat a ton of stuff that we’d recognize today as Mexican cuisine.  They ate a whole lot of beans and corn, which are still staples in Mexican food today, and there were tons of tropical fruits available to the native Indians as well, but the weird stuff was the proteins.  The native people were nomadic, so they didn’t grow many crops or raise livestock, instead their meat came from hunting deer, raccoon, rabbit, armadillo, wild turkey, pigeon, quail, and even turtles, snakes, and frogs.

In the 16th century, Spain was looking to expand their empire.  If they had known that the Aztecs were serving up frogs and pigeons, they might have gone somewhere with better food, but nonetheless, the Americas were soon invaded by conquistadors like Ponce de Leon, Balboa, Coranado, de Soto, and Pizarro. The most important invader, at least for this conversation, was a man named Hernando Cortes.  Cortes showed up in Mexico, where the king, Montezuma, thought he was the reincarnation of a former god.  With Montezuma in his corner, it wasn’t hard for Cortes to conquer the entire civilization.  Bad for the Aztecs, but good for foodies in our time, because Cortes began a blending of Spanish and Aztec cultures that can still be seen in Mexico to this day – language, art, architecture, and even religion are all after effects of the Spanish conquest.

You better believe that food is no different – when you sit down at the table on February 26th at El Palenque, you’re not likely to find any rabbit or deer on the menu, instead, you’ll find chicken, beef, and pork – all livestock animals brought to Mexico in the 1500s by the Spanish.  Now those conquistadors did a few pretty horrible things like genocide and destroying an entire civilization, but hey – they also brought rice, wheat, oil, wine, garlic, olives, apricots and peaches, cheese and dairy products, and spices like coriander, cilantro, and cumin.  Between rice, cheese, and the meats, you’ll be hard pressed to find a dish on the menu that isn’t a little taste of Spain.

It goes both ways, and we’ll see that the opposite will be true when we arrive in Spain this June.  Spanish cuisine was impacted greatly by Mexican culture too.  Corn, beans, tomatoes,vanilla, chocolate, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peppers are all native to Central and South America and were brought back to Spain by the explorers.  Over time, all of these ingredients have gone from being considered “foreign” foods brought from the New World to standards in Spanish cooking.

The food in both of Mexico and Spain represent the melding of two cultures, so sometimes it’s not easy to tell the two apart.  There are many similarities, but Spanish cooking is a dash of Greek, a smidge of Phoenician, and a sprinkle of Middle Eastern, with a splash of Mexican thrown in, while Mexican food is a serving of Aztec with a heaping helping of Spanish mixed in to the pot.

Here in America we love our Mexican food, but it just wouldn’t be the same without that Spanish influence.  I mean, can you imagine stopping at the Taco Bell drive thru and ordering the number five soft shell turtle taco combo?  Hey, if you think that’s disturbing, you probably shouldn’t even think about the raccoon chalupa.

Use the comments section below to tell us about the strangest ethnic foods you’ve encountered.

Please join us at El Palenque on February 26th.  Bring our flyer and the restaurant will donate 15% of profits to TAP.  Get the flyer by clicking here —–> TacoNight 

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 24, 2011 2:16 pm

    i love tacossssssssss there awsome oh so is the story.

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