Memories of prior disappointments came flooding back. As a teenager living in Mexico, I was sure Tabasco sauce was domestic. It’s hot. It shares a name with a big Mexican state. Depending on who you believe, the name comes from the Mayan for “our lord of the eight lions” or the Nahuatl for “flooded land.” I wasn’t prepared to discover it was made in Louisiana.
It evoked the sympathy I felt for the people of Ceske Budejovice. They liberated themselves from the Soviet yoke only to find that “Budweiser,” the flavorful brew they’ve made since the 13th century, stood on the other side of the Iron Curtain for a light tipple they had trouble recognizing as beer.
I’ve gotten over it, however. It is only natural that Americans would be so prolific at reinterpreting everybody else’s cuisine. We come from everywhere: repurposing our roots to fit our new circumstance. Of course we would bring our food with us. There’s a path from the snack handed out in Frankfurt during the coronation of Maximilian II to Nathan’s Famous frankfurters at Yankee Stadium, which last year tied with Wrigley Field for serving the best stadium dogs in the country, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
The burrito was probably invented in the desert states of northern Mexico. But on its way across the border it beefed up from a modest taco wrapped in a wheat tortilla into the gargantuan wraps stuffed with meat, beans, rice, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and grated cheddar cheese that one finds in food courts across the United States today.
I believe we must preserve at least some of the original traditions of food. I am grateful there isn’t a Pizza Hut in Rome. I hope Taco Bell’s second foray into Mexico ends up in retreat, as did the first. I like caterpillar rolls, but maybe it’s not so bad that I can’t find them in a Tokyo sushiya.
But I can’t agree when traditionalist Neapolitans cringe at a new pizza topping as if the last acceptable recipe was the late 19th-century combo of basil, cheese and tomato invented to honor Queen Margherita of Savoy with a topping in the colors of the Italian flag. After all, the Margherita is a mongrel too, just a little older. The tomato only arrived in Italy from the New World in the 16th century. The Aztecs called it tomatl. But they didn’t put it on pizza.