Eat

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

¡Ask a Mexican! has a taco lesson for us all

Does Size Matter?

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Maza is a flat circle at Minero - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Maza is a flat circle at Minero
Last week we posted a brief account of our staff visit to Minero (“Mmm, Minero food porn,” Oct. 10), Chef Sean Brock’s new taqueria on East Bay Street. For all intents and purposes, the write up was a benign look at lunch — queso fundido and all. But there was one sentence in our post that sent commenters racing to their keyboards. We wrote, “The tacos are small, roughly the size of a man’s palm.”

click to enlarge How do we know Minero's tacos are five inches? Because we snuck one home in our purse and measured it - KINSEY GIDICK
  • Kinsey Gidick
  • How do we know Minero's tacos are five inches? Because we snuck one home in our purse and measured it
A slurry of responses quickly filed in. But the one that made us pause was one reader who asked: “Tell me, do they have any normal-sized tacos or is everything child-sized?”

Normal size? What exactly do Charlestonians believe is a normal-size taco?

First, let’s define normal. Normal means conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern. Can we all agree on that? Great. So this reader was suggesting that Minero’s corn tortillas are outside of the normal spectrum. Actually not just outside it, but below it. Which beget the question: What are normal-size corn tortillas in this city? Big quilts of masa swimming in a sea of refried beans? Don’t get us wrong, we love all things cheese-laden, taco-based or otherwise, but we had our doubts those muy grande meals were really authentic or the norm.

So we decided to find out 1) What is the standard size for corn tortillas in Charleston? and 2) How do these corn tortillas compare to the size of traditional Mexican tortillas — the likes of which Chef Sean Brock is attempting to replicate?

We called every Mexican restaurant in our 2014 Winter Dish Taco Trend list to find out. Here are the results:

Restaurants that purchase their tortillas (in alphabetical order):
3 Matadors
6 inches.

Cha Cha’s Tequila Bar
6 inches.

Fuel
4 or 5 inches.

Juanita Greenberg’s
6 inches.

La Hacienda
6 inches.

Mex 1 Coastal Cantina
6 inches. 

Santi’s
6 inches.

Sol Southwest Kitchen & Tequila Bar
6 inches.

Taco Boy
5 inches.

Taco Mamacita
6-7 inches.

The Taco Spot
Not serving their own, but have purchased a tortilla press and plan to roll them out at 8 inches

Triangle Char & Bar
8 inches. 

Yo Bo Cantina
6 inches.

Zia Taqueria
6 inches.

Restaurants that make their own tortillas (in alphabetical order):
Básico
6 or 7 inches.

Carmen y Juans
4 or 5 inches. 

La Nortena
4 inches.

Minero
5 inches.

Raul’s Maya del Sol
6 inches.


The median number here is clearly six inches. Fair enough, Minero’s tortillas are, in fact, one inch smaller than the local trend. However, if you compare the five restaurants who make their own tortillas, Minero’s tortilla size is average. But are smaller tacos authentic?

We decided we needed an expert opinion. So we tracked down Orange County Weeklys ¡Ask a Mexican! columnist Gustavo Arellano. He says it’s us gringos who have the whole taco trend backward. Responding to an April 2010 reader letter titled “Why do small tacos exist?” Arellano writes under his ¡Ask a Comida Critic! profile:

“It’s in the United States where the taco has been super-sized. In Mexico, and in Mexican communities in los Estados Unidos, tacos continue to be best appreciated in small — four bites maximum. A taco is meant to be a snack, a bit, not a full meal.”

And the reason for the petite portion? Arellano says, “Rather than committing to three or four massive tacos of a particular meat, we can mix it up easier.”

But what about size, is there really a standard? “Tortilla sizes are like penis sizes. It’s not the size of the ship, but the motion of the masa that matters," Arellano says. "In the U.S., where big is always better, gabachos are accustomed to gargantuan tortillas that fill you up a bit fast. In Mexico, on the other hand, we appreciate smaller tacos, the better to eat more of them.”

Hear that small taco haters? In Mexico small tacos are the trend, not flapjack flotillas of carne asada. As for his own mini masa masterpieces, Brock defends his tortilla size.  

"The Minero team tried a million different sizes before deciding," says Brock. "We wanted people to be able to hold the tortilla in their hand. It's a specific size for flavor balance, textural balance, and balance in general." 

Balanced for your pleasure. 

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