WASHINGTON, March 12, 2018: The Netflix non-fiction original series “Ugly Delicious” literally provides some interesting food for thought. Each episode is a tasty combination of travelogue, history, and the evolution of various popular dishes.
To wit: Did you know the Mitla Café, a Mexican restaurant, established in 1937 and located along old Route 66 in San Bernardino, California, was the inspiration for Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell? Bell owned a small hamburger stand across the street that sold quickie meat sandwiches for 19 cents. At the close of business, he would venture over to the Mitla Café and order some Mexican cuisine.
While enjoying his meal, he would imagine ways to reinvent the tasty Mexican taco for the fast-food market.
Cultural Appropriation in Fast Food
Probably, Bell was also worrying about getting squeezed, like an all-beef patty between two sesame-seed buns, by local competitors Richard and Maurice. McDonalds. We can all guess what happened next.
And did you know that in the 1920s there was a big influx of Lebanese immigrants to the sleepy town of Puebla in central Mexico? Known as “Al Pastor,” these Mexican newbies reimagined their spit-grilled shawarma by morphing it with traditional Mexican cookery.
They began by replacing the traditional lamb in that dish with pork. In addition, they wrapped the pork and the spicy sauce accompanying in something not quite a tortilla and not quite pita bread.
Today, many food trucks in Los Angeles serve this immigrant twist on traditional Mexican fare. This evolutionary dish is known as “tacos árabes,” or Arab tacos.
These informational appetizers are just a few of the tales in this “Ugly Delicious” episode’s oddly specific take on tacos.
Cultural appropriation is the sincerest form of flattery
The safe-space Luddites infesting America’s universities claim that “cultural appropriation is an egregious offense.” Most noteworthy, “Ugly Delicious” makes it clear that cultural appropriation is essential in the evolution of cooking and the delight of our palates.
In the “Ugly Delicious” episode on pizza, host, acclaimed chef and restaurateur David Chang queries Mark Iacono, pizzaiolo of Brooklyn’s Lucali restaurant.
“‘What is, actually, pizza? If we were in Naples, would they consider this pizza?'”
Iacono rolls his eyes dismissively.
“I could care less what they consider [pizza],” he says. Proclaiming “I stick to the traditional New York toppings,” he also noes, “I just try to do them really well.”
Meanwhile in Tokyo, Savoy chef Ryu Yoshimura throws diced maguro tuna, corn and a dash of wasabi on rolled-out dough, with mayonnaise substituting for tomato sauce.
“I really don’t consider this fusion,” insists Yoshimura, “This uses Japanese ingredients.”
“That’s very Donald Trump of you,” counters Chang, “alternative facts.”
A Neapolitan killjoy
Antonio Pace, president of the Association Verace Pizza Napoletana, begs to differ.
“Our association was founded 32 years ago with a specific purpose: guaranteeing the authority of pizza to the City of Naples. And to spread all over the world the right way to make a Neapolitan pizza.”
Pace insists strictly preserving his city’s signature pie is nothing less than “a philosophy of life.” He reminds iconoclastic Americans that Neapolitans were making pizzas while we “were still fighting with Indians.”
Most noteworthy, Pace’s organization awards subservient Italian pizzerias with its seal of approval.
“Ugly Delicious” cuisine in America’s melting pot
Back in America, celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck, founder of California Pizza Kitchen, knows he would never win such an endorsement. After all, his restaurant serves a smoked salmon pizza with a caviar topping.
“America is a melting pot of cultures. So, I think there’s nothing wrong with melting some of the cuisines together,” says Puck. “Creativity is good for somebody who is a good craftsman. If you know the basics, if you know your profession really well, then you can navigate and try other things.”
The other things in “Ugly Delicious” include episodes on home cooking, barbeque, and fried chicken, just to name a few.
“Ugly Delicious” is a fun, smart and irreverent romp around the globe in search of delectable cultural mashups – currently streaming on Netflix.
Images above are screenshots taken from the Netflix Original documentary series “Ugly Delicious.”