I’m from a Mexican family that can’t cook. When I took up food writing, I joked to my mother, who is almost proud of our culinary incompetence, that I had already gone through all the recipes in our family tree after just two essays: tortillas and caldo de pollo. “Maybe I’ll learn another one for you,” she said, laughing. I doubted it. Once, I saw my mother microwave an egg and two slices of bacon, roll it up in a slice of bread, and eat it for breakfast. She is not ready for the Bon Appétit test kitchen — none of us is, but at least it’s our food and we make it, or don’t make it, our way.
Maybe that’s why I hate the word “authentic.” I hate how it intrudes on my memories, looking for things it can use. As a kid I ate at a taco chain, Taco Bueno, every other day with my abuelos, who had little money and carried their dollar bills in a plastic sandwich bag. We’d pillage the salsa bar. We’d eat at a table in front of a heinous mural of a corpulent iguana wearing sunglasses and a sombrero. We’d scarf down cheesy quesadillas and bean burritos in a corporate caricature of an old hacienda, then return home with our bounty of dips and sauces in little white cups covered with napkins. “Authenticity” has no interest in these things. It tosses them aside.