Some years ago, correspondent Mickey Weems PhD was improving his Spanish and Zapotec, conducting anthropological foodways fieldwork, and supplementing his meager adjunct faculty wages by working at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Columbus, Ohio. He also cooked up a tasty Spanglish writing style:
“One domingo a couple of semanas passadas, Ashley and Papi Tigre made chilaquile, a dish made with corn chips cooked in salsa and served with huevos, pollo, sour cream and guacamole. The chilaquile was caliente but too good to pass up. I now understand the purpose of sour cream, arroz, and guac in the scheme of Mexican cuisine: they calm the fuego.”
New York Times “Minimalist” Mark Bittman, who gives a recipe for chilaquiles in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, once caused a food fascist furor by using the term “taco chips” in a Travel Section piece about Mexico City. Variations of this dish, with and without meat, are popular throughout North America, and monolingual Norteamericanos call it “Mexican lasagna,” “Tortilla Casserole,” and ”Frito Pie.”
Regional, seasonal, and personal variations abound; cooks whip up what they like with what they’ve got. The word chilaquiles may have achieved a metaphorical meaning in U.S. Spanglish reminiscent of the Yiddish trope using tzimmes, the Jewish casserole dish, to mean ”big deal” or “big production.”
So if somebody calls tostadas “taco chips,” don’t make a big tzimmes, carnales.
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Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com
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