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BOOK REVIEW:

L.A. Mexicano : recipes, people & places

Cookbooks that combine recipes, history and personal anecdotes are a treasure.  When the author is passionate about their subject we readers benefit. Bill Esparza is that person, who is passionate about food, history and writes about his ancestry, his family and their relationships with food, culture, the Spanish language, Mexican heritage, immigration and U.S. citizenship. That personal history is a jumping off point for Esparza's history of Mexican food in Los Angeles. Breaking bread and sharing food is at the heart of this book, and the featured cooks and chefs have very big hearts.

The chapters cover Mexico's culinary regions, drinks, different types of cuisines, takeout and food trucks, markets, a dictionary with definitions of foods and products.  In neighbhorhood resources he covers the directional areas of Los Angeles and then breaks down those areas to cover different types of cuisines, markets and venues. The chapter, Regional Mexican Cuisine, is divided into people and recipes, which will drive foodies crazy. 

The history of the famous taquito is revealing, about the person, Aurora Guerrero, who created it, and the times in which she lived. She was hard working and had a sharp business acumen, realizing what would sell, specifically to tourists visiting Los Angles in the1930s.  She originally sold tacos, but when those were not selling, she figured out what would attract white American tourists who were, “... looking for Mexican food--just not anything ‘too Mexican.’ " Her restaurant, Cielito Lindo, is still in business and the website has photos of the current eatery and of the family. Thank heavens that most Americans tastes have developed and broadened, so that many of us want to taste authentic foods. Ah taquitos, I have personal memories of them.  My mother told me about eating taquitos when she and other family came to Los Angeles from Chicago during World War II. At that time, they had not seen or eaten any type of Mexican food. On Olvera Street, there was one woman, seated outdoors, frying taquitos in a cast-iron pan. As fast as she made them, several family members were gobbling them up. 

Another personal favorite is El Tepeyac. Whenever I have ordered the famous Hollenbeck Burrito, and thought I was so hungry that it would be possible to finish it--I never could. Reading what makes up a Hollenbeck, now I know why. This is a wet burrito, layered with beans, rice, guacamole and then Chile Rojo, which is a very rich stew, and pico de gallo. The burrito is rolled up, (There are directions about how to do this correctly.) put on a plate, topped with shredded cheddar cheese, then one cup of Chile Rojo over it all. The exceedingly rich Chile Rojo, full of meat and other goodies, is enough to fill someone up very quickly. The recipe is on p. 46. Unless you absolutely, positively must try the recipe for Chile Rojo, I suggest you go to El Tepeyac insead, a place full of history, atmosphere and good cheer.

The book is richly illustrated with color photographs by Staci Valentine. There are full, half-page and quarter-page photographs of people, places and food. The book is beautiful and functional, printed on heavy paper with a clearly delineated table of contents, and a meticulous index.

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear a presentation by Bill Esparza, which created my interest in this book. In person and in his writing, his enthusiasm for food and the people who make it is captivating.

 

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