I’ve become, in very short order, a big fan of Robb Walsh, because of the depth of research this writer uses to develop his stories. In the comments to my Fire of Brazil review, I gave two “must read” Robb Walsh links, and also about that time, ordered three books of his.
The first is The Tex Mex Cookbook. As Robb Walsh points out, nobody knew the difference between Tejano food and Mexican food until the publication of the landmark The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. Diana did something worthwhile, which is to treat the food of the poor in Mexico with the same respect as the food of the rich. She did, however, reflect the dislike Mexicans felt towards border food in her writing. As a consequence, she created a huge critical distaste for Tex-Mex (or New Mexican border cuisine or Mexicali) in places like New York.
Red headed step child or no, Tex-Mex is popular in Paris, France, where a number of Tex-Mex restaurants can be found. As Robb Walsh details, the movie Betty Blue is in part responsible for this, with its tequila and chili scenes. It created a demand for Tex-Mex that could not be met by traditional Mexican foods, which Parisians regarded as old fashioned. The last chapter of this cookbook is full of the Tex-Mex recipes of Paris.
The second cookbook by Robb Walsh is The Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook. This was interesting to glance at, because I’ve heard the refrain, “Texas is about barbecuing beef over mesquite” for at least a decade now. As Robb Walsh points out, it isn’t anywhere near that simple. Mr. Walsh identifies, by my count, at least 6 different styles of barbecue in Texas, from techniques dating to prehistory and the Caddo Indians to the pork barbecue, sans sauce, that evolved in northeast Texas after the Civil War. In between he talks about the barbecue of Texas’s German and Czech immigrants, the barbacoa of the Tejano, the evolution of the open pit barbecues that became national spectacle in the presidency of LBJ. In between he talks etymology of the word barbecue (in side panels), and throws out dozens of interesting recipes for meats and sauces. He showed me some terms I’d never seen before. Though my father’s first grill was a 55 gallon drum cut open and set up by his own father, I had never heard one of these grills referred to as a “Texas hibachi” until now.
The third book, “Are You Really Going To Eat That?“, seems a kind of Travel Channel-esque tour through the food world. I’ve looked at it the least and have the least to say about. It reminds me a little of Eat Buford Highway’s subtitle, and I wonder if this book and his subtitle are somehow related.
The final book to mention is “Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook“. I have spoken about this cookbook before. I could review it, but Zack Davisson’s review is excellent, a must read if you’re interested in this kind of cookbook. I will say it has a nice history of the izakaya, which rather than being a single kind or model of restaurant, is something of a chameleon.