This weekend, I embark on a once in a lifetime journey. I am heading to Mexico for three weeks to study the connection between food and the formation of national identity and culture. This week has consisted of list making, reservation printing, and endless double checking. From where does that bus leave? At what time is that cooking class? What is the weather like in Oaxaca?
A few months ago, when I opened the email informing me that I had been awarded the travel grant I applied for, I squealed and did a happy dance around the faculty room. I am normally pretty unemotive, so all of my colleagues looked up from their laptops with quizzical looks before I skipped out of the room to call my mom and husband. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about an award or acceptance.
I am embarking on this journey with a fellow Mexican food blogger and Spanish teacher, Nicole Reyna! Nicole is the sweetest friend I’ve never met. When I started my food blog, I found hers when looking up a masa recipe one day. I was amazed by her knowledge on the subject and passion for Mexican food and culture. One day, when drafting my grant proposal, she popped to mind. I messaged her on Instagram, and to my delight she was elated to apply with me. Since then we’ve spent countless hours on the phone planning, researching, editing, and writing.
I have mixed feelings about this experience. On the one hand, Mexican cuisine is very familiar to me. The smell of chiles roasting and salsas frying evokes a deep sense of comfort and home for me. On the other hand, so does the sight of a big pot of bright yellow chile con queso, something unequivocally Tex-mex. My journey with Mexican food in many ways parallels my journey to understand myself as Mexican-American.
Growing up brown in Texas, I was often asked the question, “Where are you from?” My answer was always, “Mexico.” I didn’t think much of the question until I arrived to college and an unassuming peer asked a follow up question at an international student mixer: “Where are you really from?” It was a simple moment; perhaps my peer was getting at my lack of accent, or the fact that I was not in fact an international student, but this question unleashed all sorts of questions about my authenticity and identity. Was I actually Mexican? For the first time, I found that I could answer the question “Where are you from?” in more than one way: I was both from Mexico and from Texas.
A few months later, when visiting relatives in Mexico, I was asked the same question by family friends. This time I answered tentatively, “I was born in Mexico City.” They quickly retorted, “Well, where did you grow up?” The answer for someone who immigrated to the U.S. as a baby was obviously Texas. Since then, my understanding of my ethnic identity began to feel complicated. I am Mexican, yes, but I am also American.
My Spanish is not perfect. There are many times when a conversation is abruptly stopped with a “como se dice..?” or, much to my parents chagrin, a phrase that starts like this–“Es muy importante tener”—will end with a brusque English word like “boundaries.” Ironically, the same thing happens in English. I’ll be having an intense conversation with my colleagues at work that would make my sociology professors proud, and then a word will appear in my mind, something that I haven’t heard out loud enough times to memorize the proper pronunciation. I’ll vacillate between all possible pronunciations, quickly pick one and blurt it out.
I am incredibly proud of my Mexicanness and my Americanness, even when sometimes the two feel like they conflict with one another. Sometimes my newly-found Yankee pragmatism will shut down my instinct to prioritize relationship and to slow down. Other times, both parts of my identity fuse beautifully together, and one of the ways I love to express and celebrate this fusion is through food. Like these tacos.
These tacos were served at the restaurant where my mom worked for years in downtown Houston. They are ridiculously simple and very tasty. They are quintessentially Tex-mex. You will need one flour tortilla, bacon, refried beans, scrambled eggs, potatoes, lots of cheese (quesadilla if you’re feeling Mexican or monterey jack if you’re not), and salsa if you have some at hand. Obviously, the more homemade they are, the tastier they’ll be, but even if you use canned refried beans and flour tortillas from a pack (like I did for these pictures), they will be delicious.
These tacos hold well if made ahead of time, last a few days in the fridge, and can easily be reheated.
The process is simple. Fry your bacon slices first. Reserve some of the bacon fat for frying your potatoes, which should be cut into small cubes. Cook and salt your potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked through, add eggs and scramble until they are cooked to your liking, a few minutes. Then, heat your tortillas on a comal or the microwave and spread your warm refried beans, a slice of bacon, a tablespoon or two of the scrambled eggs, and potato and top with a generous handful of cheese. Roll up your tacos and keep them on a low heat in the oven until you are ready to serve–or eat immediately like I did. Enjoy!
Tex-Mex Breakfast Tacos
Yields: 8-12 tacos
Cook Time: 10-20 minutes
- 8 flour tortillas
- 5 eggs
- A dash of salt
- 1 pack of bacon, cooked
- 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat, for frying eggs
- 1 cup of cooked potato chunks,
- ½ cup of melting cheese
- 1 cup of refried beans
- Fry eggs in one to two tablespoons of bacon fat. Salt to taste.
- Make sure that all of the taco fillings are hot.
- Take a warm flour tortilla and add a tablespoon or two of refried beans, scrambled eggs, potato, cheese, and a slice of bacon. Roll breakfast taco and allow cheese to melt from residual heat.