I recently had the suprise of my life when I learned that what I thought was authentic Mexican tacos I was consuming at Ristras and Mexicali were actually Americanized versions of. I came across this blog called Guns and Tacos which pretty much schooled me about an authentic taco is. I'm 26 and the first Mexican fare I tasted in Manila was Mexicali in 1993 or 1994. That was my standard for Mexican food then.
I was such a fool that a San Francisco-style tacqueria would offer me authentic Mexican food. (In fairness to Mexicali, they admit on their website that they do not know authentic Mexican food, and what they are replicating is the California burritos. But still...)
Anyway, I learned that authentic tacos just had the meat, fresh onions and cilantro. It should be served with a slice of lime for squeezing over the good stuff inside marrying their juices together. No lettuce, no cheese, no tomatoes. I was shocked. I always had the belief that consuming a particular type of food is experiencing a particular country's culture. What I have been consuming is one big cultural sham.
I could go on about the politics and culture but I still had a question: are there any authentic tacos here in Manila? X on Mexicali and Ristras. (I hurt as I write this as I am a big fan of Ristras and their burritos and soft tacos. However, it does not erase the fact that they are NOT authentic Mexican fare.) Yesterday, I was at SM North Edsa and remembered that we haven't tried Army Navy, that new player in town for burritos and tacos. I was not too keen that this place would serve me what I am looking for but lo and behold
Yes, they were smaller than what I saw on Guns and Tacos but they only contain meat (I ordered steak.), onions, cilantro (albeit sorry little pieces) and a teeny weeny slice of lime. It also comes with about 3 tablespoons of salsa on the side. I am seeing tacos for the first time, I thought. I carefully squeeze the lime over each taco and wait a little for them to absorb the juices. I am bowed over the tacos and observe them in silence. My husband, who was almost halfway through his burrito, looked at me like I was going to lose it. I told him that this is the moment I erase what I have believed to be Mexican tacos in my system.
I put some salsa on them, ignoring the squeeze bottles of aoili on our table. I folded the tortilla and took that bite. I am not good at describing the tastes the texture into something like food porn so I am not going to try. It was beef, onions, cilantro and lime topped with macerated tomatoes. It was a clean and simple taste. It was cleansing me from the complex taste of the Americanized version with cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream et cetera. I unlearned and relearned about a particular culture. Sigh.
Most of us may think that this can be easily prepared at home given you can find fresh cilantro and lime at the grocery. That might be true. However, credit should be given where it is due. Army Navy serves authentic tacos.
I am not discouraging people to eat at Ristras or Mexicali. I am still very much a Ristras fan. They serve good super-sized burritos with fresh ingredients. The point is to clarify what is authentic, what-you-eat-from-a-truck-taco-in-Mexico is. Army Navy Burger + Burrito is the closest thing we've got here in Manila. If any other place offers such taco, feel free to comment and let me know.
Army Navy Burger + Burrito is located at the 2nd Floor of SM City Skygarden, North Edsa, QC. Tacos are priced at P125-P145.