World traveler, writer and chef Anthony Bourdain took to his blog in an effort to uncover the underlying currents that make up the often complex, yet never ending love affair between the U.S. and Mexico.
As a whole, Americans make no secret about their love for Mexican food and drink, happily consuming enormous quantities of burritos, enchiladas, nachos, tacos, tortas and tamales each year, along with huge amounts of tequila, mescal and beer. We also love the people of Mexico, relying on them to ensure our vacation experiences are top-notch, and also to keep the service industry rolling and prepare much of the food we consume at home in the U.S.
“We [also] love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design and Mexican films,” writes Bourdain.
The famed travel writer and respected culinary master goes on to expand upon the fact that America’s service industry – particularly its restaurants – could not continue to exist without the expertise of Mexican workers, claiming that in two decades of working as a chef and employer he relied on them to work in virtually every position imaginable, from prep cook to line chef to leader. But Bourdain’s real love for Mexico stems from his experiences traveling around the country itself, exploring the countless opportunities for adventure, from its culinary world to its ancient ruins and idyllic beaches.
“Look at it,” he writes. “[Mexico] has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture. Mexico wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. It’s archaeological sites – the remnants of great empires, unrivaled anywhere.”
But of course, Bourdain’s true passion when it comes to Mexico is its cuisine, which dates back farther than most known civilizations and is much more than what most Americans will find in their local Mexican restaurants, which have become wildly popular and can now be found in big cities and small towns from New York to L.A.
“As much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is,” writes Bourdain. “It is NOT melted cheese over a tortilla chip. It is not simple, or easy. It is in fact, old – older even than the great cuisines of Europe.”
In fact, he describes the food of Mexico as “deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated,” pointing out that real mole sauce can take several days to make and requires a delicate balance of fresh ingredients that are painstakingly prepared by hand. Bourdain urges us to pay closer attention to the subtleties of the food created throughout this great nation, including the dishes that are prepared by old school masters, and the new ideas that are being dreamed up daily by cooks from the new generation, which are quickly taking traditional Mexican food to new heights.
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“It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet,” he writes. “The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult and nuanced sauces in gastronomy.”
After more than 30 years of cooking professionally, Bourdain says that almost every time he entered a new kitchen it was a Mexican worker who took care of him and helped him gain his footing and learn his way around; a reality that has given him a particular sense of gratitude and attachment to the nation from which these newfound friends and coworkers originally came.
“In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over,” reveals Bourdain. “We’ll gather round a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious tasting salsas – drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.”