The Search For Authenticity

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Front of Taqueria Coatzingo (P.C. Google images)

Imagine it’s Christmas Eve. You and your friend have made it your mission to catch that sneaky old St. Nick, once and for all. Even though you have repeatedly failed, you both continue to try in hopes of catching him in the act, and therefore, proving his existence. Well, people who actively seek out “authentic” cuisine are doing exactly that. The search for authenticity is essentially, for lack of a better word, pointless.

Authenticity is undeniably subjective. Everyone has a different opinion about what should be considered authentic or original. During her visit to our “Taco Literacy” class, Beatris Zapata, helped reinforce this idea. Zapata helps her family run Taqueria Coatzinga, a popular restaurant located in Queens, New York. She recounts an incident that occured during one of her shifts. One day, Zapata was called over by a male customer, shortly after dropping off his order. The customer claimed that the food she served him was not what he ordered. She assured him, it was the exact dish he asked for. But the man was not convinced.He expressed how in the city of Mexico, he immigrated from, they prepared this dish the “proper” way. He went on to suggest that the restaurant was offering inauthentic Mexican fare.

Zapata was understandably, a bit taken aback by this claim. Soon after, she started to realize where his concern was coming from. “It happens a lot, where people think because something is served one way in one city, that it is going to be the same everywhere else. But everywhere you go, people put their own spin on it using the ingredients traditional to them. So to them, that is authentic.” She then shared her thoughts about restaurants like “Chipotle Mexican Grill”and “Taco Bell”. “Those are not real Mexican places, but they are authentic places. They serve a different type of food, so in that way they are original.”

Zapata also brought in her family’s version of chicken mole tamales, for the class to try. It was my first time having a tamal and it was amazing! The chicken was so juicy and the sauce had a nice kick. I would definitely love to visit Taqueria Coatzinga sometime soon and try out some of their other dishes!


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