Gusto y sabor  

It's Confirmed: Gustavo Arellano Loves Mexican Food

The "Ask a Mexican" columnist set to launch his new book "Taco USA" at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, April 10

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: March 30, 2012

It's Confirmed: Gustavo Arellano Loves Mexican Food

Nationally syndicated columnist. Bestselling author of ?íAsk a Mexican!. Managing editor of the OC Weekly.

That's a lot of work for one guy. Must make him hungry.

For Mexican food!

Gustavo Arellano, un buen amigo de, presents an entertaining and tasty trip through the history and culture of Mexican food in this country in his new book, "Taco USA." It's a lively and well-researched volume, taking readers on a culinary expedition to the origins of many of the familiar foods we crave.

He'll be giving a lecture on his book and sign copies at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes (near Olvera Street), 501 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, (213) 542-6200, April 10 at 7 p.m. Lecture, free; books, barato.

Gustavo took a few moments from work (or eating) to answer a few preguntas about his book and other food-related matters.

Question: What Mexican food did you grow up with at home?

Answer: What my Zacatecana mom grew up with: enchiladas[/] with homemade [i]enchilada sauce, chile rellenos stuffed with Mexican cheese, always served with a sopa de papas. Gorditas de queso, tacos dorados de papas, tortas de chorizo. Frijoles de olla and arroz, of course. Weekends brought on menudo and pozole; weddings meant birria de rez and asado de boda, this awesome Jerez-style mole. And these were the regular yummies for a week. Come Christmas and Lent, that meant tamales and capirotada, of course.

Q: How good a cook was your mom?

A: There's a reason I've always had a panza despite being skinny, and it's not because of Taco Bell!

Q: When did you start discovering Mexican food other than what you ate at home? What was it? How did it make you feel?

A: We always ate at King Taco when we visited our cousins in Montebello and at loncheras, but that was familiar food to me. The first Mexican dish I ever had that I had never heard of was aguachile, that awesome Sinoalan take on ceviche. I first thought, 'Why I hadn't heard of this dish -- you know, because I'm Mexican?' Then I tasted it and got angry that this dish had never been part of my life. It made me realize that the idea of 'Mexican' food is so ingrained in some people to their detriment, so we should all try as much Mexican food as possible!

Q: How many rosaries did you have to recite to get your gig as a food critic?

A: HA! None at all. I started writing food reviews because it was a paycheck. I had no food background whatsoever other than a ravenous appetite, and look at me now. I think that's what makes the best food writers -- look at Javier Cabral and Bill Esparza, awesome Mexi food writers who had other jobs before writing about food (Bill was a musician, Javier was a high school student). Anyone can be a food critic, but to be a good one? You need to be open to any and all dish.

Q: What was the best part about doing the research for the book (besides traveling, eating the food and meeting people).

A: The research. Going into archives and unearthing long-lost stories that either never made it into the history books or appeared distorted. This is like the ultimate Chicano Studies thesis -- literally writing ourselves into history, a history that for so long kept the contributions of many Mexicans out of there.

Q: Is there any Mexican food you never tire of?

A: Um, all of it? About the only Mexican food I don't really care for is aguacate -- don't stone me! It's a textural thing -- I don't like bananas, either. But my half-Mexi chica's guacamole is teaching me to like aguacate -- and I don't mean it like THAT.

Q: Is there any Mexican food you wouldn't want to eat again?

A: It's all wonderful in its own way, but the dishes I don't eat as often as others? Sesos -- I like carne asada and al pastor too much. Moronga -- I like blood sausage, but it's simply too rich for me, just like chicharrones (maybe I suffer from gout)? Oh, and all of Taco Bell's menu -- their Doritos Loco taco is SO disappointing...

Q: You list the taco acorazado in the O.C. as one of your top fives. What would you include in a top 5 L.A./O.C. - only meals list?

A: Yikes! I'll be honest: I don't eat too much in LA because I'm always looking for restaurants. But Cielito Lindo in Olvera Street has to be on the list, not just because of their history but because those taquitos remain amazing after all these years (and they're from Zacatecas!) Guelaguetza[/i] is the same -- historic, with awesome Oaxacan cuisine. Rivera by John Sedlar is an amazing restaurant, and John is such an awesome ambassador for Latin cuisine. Is there still that lonchera off Whittier in Eastlos that sells two tacos for a buck and free horchata (cuando era chavo, it was four tacos for a buck). But the best burrito on Earth is the chile relleno one at Lucy's Drive-In, on Pico and La Brea, washed down with Orange Bang! the true drink of all Mexicans in Southern California

Q: Do you cook? What's your best meal?

A: All I know how to cook are quesadillas. Oh, and I just learned how to make the perfect scrambled egg.

Q: If someone treats to a meal, do you pay the tip?

A: People only treat me to meals during my birthday -- the rest of the time, I pay!

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