Back in the eighties tacos made a sudden appearance in my home. Not good tacos mind you, but tacos all the same. I hated them.
My mother was always keen to try something new, so she’d pull these hard, bland corn shells out of a box and stuff them with spaghetti mince, salad, grated cheese and sour cream. The problem was the taco shell. It was hard and flavourless, thick and cardboard tasting. It made me gag. So even though tacos kept evolving in Australia, becoming more and more authentic, I was scarred from my youth.
Taco Bill was the first Mexican restaurant to open in Australia in 1967, by a Californian named Bill Chillcote. The first was opened on the Gold Coast in Queensland before I was born, but even though they established many more restaurants, I had never heard of them as a child. I was too in love with the Sunday roast and spaghetti bolognaise. Eventually my palate developed a taste for nachos and enchiladas, but that took time. I could not lose the image of the cardboard shells I grew up with, so tacos were off the menu indefinitely.
In my thirties and forties I started eating tacos again. The shells had become lighter and tastier, and guacamole was a thing; a very good thing. I found a new appreciation for Mexican food and it eventually became one of my favourite style of foods, albeit Australian Mexican. Little did I know that a farewell dinner at El Camino Cantina Tex Mex was about to change my life.
El Camino Cantina had an all you can eat tacos special for $10, the catch being that you had to order a $20 frozen margarita, and everyone at the table had to have the same deal. No problem— the huge strawberry margarita was delicious and I ordered a plate of cheeseburger tacos. I wasn’t expecting much. What happened next was the stuff of movies— a huge platter of soft shell tacos filled with minced beef, a bit of salsa, and drizzled with a blue cheese sauce. I expected the shells to be chewy and tough, but they melted in my mouth. I ate about six of those things, possibly more. I ate too fast to count, and thus began my love of tacos.
In North Carolina Jim took me to his favourite Mexican restaurant; Chile Verde. The menu was enormous. I was keen to try the tacos but Jim kept pointing out a range of different things that are delicious so I decided to just order a variety and try them all. Can I tell you that Australian Mexican and American Mexican food are really different! Great different. Everything I tried was utterly delicious. The tacos came with beans and rice but my plan was to give that a miss as my experience with Mexican beans and rice is that they are dry and flavourless. Wrong again— utterly delicious. So much flavour and not slightly dry. The complementary basket of tortilla chips were hot and crisp and I ordered an extra serve of queso, sour cream, and salsa. The waiter looked confused and informed me that my meal came with queso and sour cream, but I always know best. Not. In Australia, when you order a condiment or dipping sauce, you’re lucky to get a tablespoon on the side. Normally you have to order two or three serves as you just don’t get enough. The queso came in a soup bowl as did the sour cream, and I poured it and dipped it liberally over everything. I was eating it with a spoon straight from the bowl and I still couldn’t finish it. The tacos were good, with hot, fluffy shells, and Jim’s Chile Verde had so much flavour it was amazing. I ate till I was stuffed, and I couldn’t finish it all. Despite everything I ordered (Jim ordered one thing and I ordered the rest) the meal was under $25 USD. I couldn’t believe it. The beans and rice were undoubtedly the best I’ve had, and I can’t wait to go back there and just get those— well, with a serve of tortilla chips, queso and sour cream of course!
I had made the mistake of assuming that food is the same all around the world. As though the Chinese food here is the same in China, or Europe, or Africa. It’s simply not true.These foods are adapted to suit the local palate, so each country will have their own variation. I now am obsessed with American Mexican food. It is entirely different from what I’m used to and I can understand why Taco Tuesdays are a thing. In fact Taco Everyday should be a thing.