By Gustavo Arellano
Scribner, $25.00, 310 pages

How Tacos Define Cultures

You can tell a lot by how a culture treats its food. Taco USA  is an exploration of Mexican cuisine and what happened when it encountered American culture. It is a fun look at what happened to even something as simple as a taco when it became one of the basic American foods, where well-meaning people attempt to maintain their cultural fantasies while stamping out the original culture, and then how that culture gets its vengeance. Being able to look at the evolution of a number of foods that we see as an intrinsic part of American culture while acknowledging their origins makes this an interesting book.

Author Gustavo Arellano brings the same sensibility from his column to this exploration of Mexican food and how it evolved as it was prepared by American cooks and corporate sensibilities, with some input from Mexican chefs. This is just a fun look at how cultures clash and then work out a compromise both can live with, mixing some of the best and worst of both cultures into some great food. This makes an impressive book on how food is linked to our culture, and vice versa.

Reviewed by Jamais Jochim