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South of the border

Do you have to be a Mexican to cook authentic Mexican food?

I have recently been recovering from a big health scare which provided me, for the first time ever , or certainly that I can remember with a fair amount of downtime on my hands.

It was during this time that I cemented the two big passions in my life, food and travel. Stuck in the house partially due to Covid lockdown and partially unable to do too much physically Netflix and Amazon prime became my friends.

It was also during this time that I ‘discovered’ the food writer and broadcaster Anthony Bourdain, admittedly I came late to the party, I fell in love with his programs and once I exhausted these I have moved onto Everybody loves Raymond creator , Phil Rosential’s show.

These programs are great on two levels, firstly when they travel to places I have traveled it’s good to see if they visit the same places. However the best shows are where they visit places I have yet to see, I especially loved the shows from Tokyo, a bucket list destination for me and also Mexico and The Caribbean, these being where my favourite food types come from.

Now here’s a thing, I thought I knew mexican and Caribbean food until I saw these shows , it soon became apparent that what we have over here is not always truly authentic, indeed in the case of Mexican food it seems what we class as Mexican food is more Tex mex than proper Mexican.

So my obsession with these programs has whetted my appetite for authentic Mexican food, not limp burretos and nachos but taco al pastor, mole and tamales, stuff you find everywhere in Mexico but won’t see in a british Mexican restaurant. I even joked with Tegan wouldn’t it be good to open a authentic Mexican restaurant.

Except apparently that would not be acceptable, there has been a backlash in the media about food appropriation recently which to be honest I sort of get but at the same time really don’t get.

One thing my travels have taught me (and Tony and Phil have reaffirmed) is that food brings people together. The most memorable moments on my travels have come from eating great food with great friends and family , pizza in Naples, coffee in Rome, tapas in Seville, lamb chops in Marrakesh and the greatest of all pastel de Natas in Lisbon.

Food Unites yet depressingly there seems to be an agenda now that cuts across this. I would live to be able to sample and cook authentic Mexican food, to make my own natas, a proper Margarita pizza in a pizza oven so why the backlash.

Does it really matter that it’s not a Chinese person cooking my Chinese food, indeed my local chippy is run by a polish family and very nice chips they do too.

I understand cultural sensitivities but food always has been one big melting pot with cultures blending and enhancing flavour. Take the weird british/Indian/ Bangladesh concoction that is the Chicken Tikka Masala.

I can’t help thinking that this is a complaint too far, that actually we add value by sharing, experiencing and cooking food from different continents and cultures.

And yes I still harbour that dream of opening an authentic mexican /Caribbean restaurant , I got the name, south of the border.

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