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Editor’s Letter: Birria-ing It All Back Home

Frame > Frame Stories > April 2022: The Taco Issue > Editor’s Letter: Birria-ing It All Back Home
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Photo by Joe Vaughn

In some more active food circles, the prevailing conversation the last few years has been occupied with the somewhat nebulous concept of authenticity.

Who gets to cook, or, more importantly, profit from a cuisine that is historically tied to a very specific culture or place?

It’s not an easy conversation because there is no one definitive answer. Because what does “authenticity” even mean in a globalized, multicultural, and increasingly connected world where food trends can ping-pong from one hemisphere to the other in the time it takes to upload a video to TikTok?

For a lot of the more thoughtful folks I’ve spoken with on this topic over the years, the answer seems to lie somewhere in the words of Otis Redding, as most famously popularized by the Queen of Soul:

I’m about to give you all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey
Is to give me my propers

How do you spell “taco”? Turns out it’s: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

That’s pretty much what Aunt Nee’s proprietor and proud Mexican-American Carlos Parisi tells us in this month’s Q&A. The Sandwich Talk podcast host gets real about navigating dual identities and makes an astute observation about handheld food’s leg up over fork-and-knife dishes, while once and for all settling any sort of “is a taco a sandwich?” debate. (Read: “Detroit Tacos and Mexico City Roots“.)

“Tacos just make sense,” Parisi says.

That friendly, handheld taco form perhaps helps explain why birria, the crimson stewed meat dish that hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco — like so many Detroiters with Mexican roots — has now become a national trend.

In its birthplace, birria is a stew. But in the hands of an inventive taco truck in Tijuana, it became quesabirria, a griddled taco filled with melty cheese and birria meat served with a side of the stew’s consomé for dipping. This handheld, familiar-looking, and social media-friendly repackaging was then brought to Los Angeles, and now, ironically, has made it back to Detroit in its new, trending form in a town that’s served birria for years. (And the family who runs Detroit’s most popular quesabirria truck isn’t even from Jalisco!)

But maybe that physical distance is just wait it takes to loosen the belt of tradition enough to expand a dish’s reach?

And maybe that’s just what authenticity looks like in 2022…

This month, we tapped Frame friend and collaborator Serena Maria Daniels to bring her own brand of authenticity to both these digital pages and the physical space at FRAMEbar. Daniels is a veteran Chicana journalist who runs the Detroit-based digital food publication Tostada Magazine and also serves as the recently appointed president of the International Taco Council.

Her impact on the goings on in our little corner of Hazel Park this month has been profound. Not only did she reconnect us with seasoned Mexican restaurant pro Eddie Vargas, our current chef-in-residence who’s brought his family’s traditional birria recipe and its quesabirria version — among other delectables — to FRAMEbar through May 8, Daniels also reported an original piece for Frame Stories about how the quesabirria trend and a family from Durango have turned Antojitos Southwest into one of Detroit’s most popular food trucks.

Finally, for our Community section, we’ve republished a story from Tostada Magazine about the rising cost of doing business and what that might mean for the fate of the $2 truck taco. (Read: “Is this the end of the $2 taco truck taco?“)

And no taco is complete without salsa, so we spoke with M Cantina proprietor Junior “The Liquid Chef” Merino about the deep and varied tradition of Mexican sauces and their respective applications. They serve at least 18 different salsas at M Cantina on any given day! (Read: “The Mother Sauces of Mexico“)

To cleanse our palates, Frame’s cocktail and spirits director, self-described “mixtress” Jaz’min Weaver breaks down everything you need to know to be an educated consumer of tequila and mezcal. (Read: “Spirits of Agave“)

And if you make it in for TAQUERIAbar, you should probably ask your bartender for a Birria Back.

Because, as Parisi says, part of the beauty of a taco is that you can eat it with one hand and chase it down with whatever is in the other.

Buen provecho y salud!

— Mark Kurlyandchik