The fact that the IFEC conference was in Texas seemed like a good opportunity to take Sylvia Casares Copeland up on her offer to show me the area around her hometown of Brownsville.
Sylvia and I hit it off when we met back in July.
Her publicist, Dick Dace, was at the IFEC conference, and so this morning we climbed into his Ford Explorer and headed south.
We stopped briefly in San Antonio, so he could show me the Alamo and the Riverwalk, where we had beer and blue corn nachos at Zuni Grill. Then we stopped again in Oakville to eat at Van's Bar-B-Q, where I had pork ribs, chopped beef, sausage, potato salad, peppery pinto beans, peach cobbler and pecan pie (and a Diet Coke).
I was under the apparently false impression that Texans don’t barbecue pork much, and that their barbecued ribs are usually beef. I’m going to have to get out more.
We pulled into the La Quinta on the outskirts of Brownsville just before 7. We checked in, and Sylvia picked us up an hour later to take us to her favorite restaurant, Vermilion, where we ate nachos, shrimp tacos, beef and cheese enchiladas, fish ceviche and steak fajitas. I listened to a bit of gossip about Houston food writers, and we talked about societal ills. We also talked about Tex-Mex food, and the fact that American food snobs disparage it in favor of the food of "interior Mexico."
Why, Sylvia and I both wondered, do people fail to accord Tex-Mex cuisine the respect they will give to food from just a bit farther south.
Indeed, the United States is the birth place to three Mexican cuisines: Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex and Southwestern or New Mexican cuisine (that’s not to say cocina nueva Mexicana, but the cuisine of New Mexico). All three were developed largely by ethnic Mexicans living in the U.S. All three are distinct from one another and from cuisines that evolved in Mexico, and they all have rich and interesting heritages and are delicious (I admit that I like any cuisine if its food is prepared well). Sylvia argues that Tex-Mex is more accessible and has more universal appeal than the food of the Mexican interior. As a Coloradan, I grew up with the red chile/green chile food of New Mexico, and I wasn’t aware of the distinction between it and Tex-Mex until I left town.
I’ll no-doubt be learning more about it tomorrow.