20 April 2010

Rant: Mexican't

This is a bitch & moan post with a cause. Read on for the goods.

Last night we ripped on the state of casual American food in Paris, and suggested how easy it is to make far superior burgers and pancakes than what you can find in the slew of "American Diner" themed hovels throughout the town.

Tamales with chicken and chili filling, masa-crusted razor clams,
fresh guacamole... At nuestra casa.
Unfortunately, this situation extends to all sorts of ethnic food in France. Despite being a beautifully multicultural place, what few plausible ethnic restaurants you can find are often "dumbed down" for the local palate. This makes sense in a reputedly risk-averse society, but at the same time makes no sense in the country that coined the term "vive la différence."

Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of Mexican cuisine, the majority of which is represented by ground beef (!) burritos and insipid fajitas and so-called tacos in factory-made flour tortillas. What the fuck is going on here?  I'll tell you what: The virulent disease known as Tex-Mex, which much like anything from Texas is as irritating and unwanted as a case of syphilis. Only harder to get rid of.  The Tex-Mex trend in Paris has insured that even the most well-meaning of real, Mexican-run restaurants has to sell slushy margaritas and faux burritos to stay in business.

Despite the hardship it presents, the only decent Mexican food in town comes at our own hands. Unlike the aforementioned burgers and pancakes, though, it's not particularly easy. Some of it, like a proper molé sauce, is downright labor-intensive.  But if a guera and a chino gordo (I'm not Chinese, but that's what they call me south of the border) can find the ingredients and take the time to make the real deal, why can't the restaurateurs?

As I write this, I'm eating leftover tamales that Alannah made last night, and even nuked in a plastic tupperware container it's better than anything you can get at the local Indiana Café or Mexi&Co. Yes, the corn husks and masa are hard to source, but they exist.

Admittedly, the razor clams you see above aren't part of the authentic Mexican oeuvre. (Machas, as they're called in Spanish, seem to be limited to Chilean cuisine.) But even the most well-regarded Latin-inspired restaurants here won't dare depart from the established formula and dust some mariscos with masa crocante. They fail to educate or challenge their clientele, and instead bow to their expectations.

Even the faux Mexican isn't creative. In about three seconds, Alannah whipped up an accompanying dessert for last night's dinner. Sliced fresh mangos with a dipping sauce of chocolate, cream, and spices. While not authentically Latin, it at least played within the flavors of the cuisine, while offering something besides the bastardized mediocrity Parisian diners are accustomed to.

Mango y chocolate... Simple but effective.
The flavors were so fantastic, that we're going to develop a cocktail based on this improvised dessert to serve with Mexican food next time we entertain. Screw your slushy margarita.

The Good Cause Part
Luckily, there is one publicly accessible place where the status quo is being challenged.  At La Rotisserie de Sainte-Marthe in the 10th arrondissement, they have a mission: To prevent the gentrification of their part of the quartier, and to preserve the rich ethnic identity of the many small immigrant groups within.  By day they're a restaurant serving 5-euro meals to the locals. By night, they allow member non-profit organizations to take the restaurant over and share full meals (price cap: 10 euros) with the community.

Once a month, the arts collective Sonidero Tochtli hosts a Mexican dinner. This thursday will feature tacos de barbacoa, nopales (cactus) salad and a convivial community atmosphere unmatched by any other restaurant in town. (The €1.50 beer/wine might have something to do with it.)

It's not fancy. It's elbow-to-elbow seating. But the food is fantastic, and it's all done for good reason. We'll see you there.

1 comment:

  1. good to here there are other people who share my opinion on the utter lack of 'real ethnic food in Paris. I have been here for 15 years and still have not found a proper curry in a restaurant . And when i go out I have to beg the cook to make anything on the menu " spicy'