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How Mexican food conquered America

Children eat portions of a 50-metre-long
Children eat portions of a 50-metre-long "Taco" at Garibaldi square in Mexico City, on September 22, 2011 in the framework of the 2nd Taco Festival, in an attempt to break a record of the most long "Taco" of the world.

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Do you remember when most Americans had never heard of a taco or a burrito? It’s hard to believe, but until fairly recently, the American culinary landscape didn’t include Mexican food.

Today, Taco Bell is one of the largest franchise restaurants in the world and salsa outsells ketchup. How did that happen in just a couple of generations?

Gustavo Arellano, author and OC Weekly editor, offers a comprehensive history of the rise of Mexican food in America with his new book “Taco USA.” Arellano said he's amazed by how vastly Mexican food differs across the United States, and his book focuses on the evolution of the cuisine.

"The mixing not just within Mexico, of the Spanish and Indian, and also, to a lesser extent, the Chinese and Arab traditions, but once you're up here in the United States, you have all sorts of amalgamations of Mexican food," he explained. "You do have the great regional traditions that some people will deride as inauthentic, but I say no, it's very much part of the Mexican family."

Arellano's talking about Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, bacon-wrapped hot dogs and Doritos, to name a few. In Denver for example, residents love a dish called the "Mexican Hamburger." It's a burrito of beans and chicharrones with a hamburger patty inside, smothered with orange chili.

"They think 'Oh, everyone knows what a Mexican Hamburger is.' None of us outside of Denver know what a Mexican Hamburger is," he said. "It's just wonderful to see Mexican food evolve one way or another way depending on who the customer is and what their tastes are."

"Taco USA" also explores a variety of other topics, including the story of how Chipotle Mexican Grill brought the San Francisco style burrito to the rest of the nation and how the Aztecs made a momentous contribution to world cuisine.

Arellano covers the latest street food trends, highly influenced by Mexican cuisine and examines the all important questions, like what’s “gringo” food, and what constitutes “authentic” Mexican fare. Important personalities from the food world who helped popularize Mexican dishes like Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy are also profiled.

How has Mexican food completely transformed with way Americans eat? Why do Americans love Mexican food so much?


Gustavo Arellano, author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America” (Scribner) Arellano is the editor of the OC Weekly and his column ¡Ask a Mexican! has a circulation of more than two million in thirty-eight markets.