Authentic tacos (Texas V, Travelog entry 24)

Texas is big. We see t-shirts proclaiming, “Texas is bigger than France.” Egon immediately decides to have a t-shirt made to read, “Alaska is bigger than Texas.” He likes to provoke people. I don’t, so I decide that if I notice any places that print t-shirts on demand while we’re still in Texas, I will distract him from them. I’m sure it would have been even more fun for Egon to have a t-shirt that said, “Norway is bigger than Texas,” but it isn’t, it isn’t even bigger than France, or worse yet, Sweden. Norway is bigger than Montana, but Montana’s not on our route, so there won’t be any opportunities to provoke Montanans. That’s just as well, I think.

Driving across Texas takes a while, and one night we weren’t near any city when we got hungry, so we left the highway at a random exit and pulled into a small-town gas station. Texas is like the South in having cheap gas: $3.30 a gallon, or five kroner per liter. The price increases gradually as you approach the west coast or the northeast, up to twenty percent more expensive in New York and California (which is still far below half what the cost is in Norway, luckily for us since at this point in our trip we have driven 3000 miles, or 5000 kilometers, burning about 136 gallons or 516 liters in our battleship).

After filling up, I asked the young girl at the register if there was any place to eat nearby. Yes, she said, there was a steakhouse down that way and a Mexican place in the other direction. We were very close to the Mexican border so we decided to go for Mexican.

We drove off in the indicated direction, past some small houses and then turned into an area that seemed to consist mostly of dark run-down truck repair places that hadn’t seen much business lately. One had piles of old tires out front, another a muscle car with no windshield or headlights. Around another corner we saw a little place with lights on and lots of pickup trucks parked outside, and figured it must be the Mexican restaurant.

The place was full of diners, a good sign. There seems to be an inverse correlation in America between the size of the town and the degree of obesity, and these people were the most enormously fat that we had seen yet. A man sitting at the table next to us ordered four beers at the same time as he ordered his food. Every few minutes we would hear the crack of a beer can being opened, as he washed down another enchilada.

We ordered steak tacos. They were terrific. The handmade corn tortillas were flexible but resilient, and slightly greasy from being fried in a pan. The strips of steak were juicy and tender. In each taco was a thick wedge of fresh avocado, and a pleasant seasoning with fresh cilantro, but not too much else. We were a little surprised that the food was not especially spicy. Egon tends to put lots of tabasco on everything and here was no exception.

A prepackaged version of Tex-Mex has taken Norway by storm, with Old El Paso and Santa Maria selling kits in every grocery store with hard baked shells and packets of spice mix to blend in with ground beef. Egon tells me Norwegians eat more tacos than anybody else in the world. I can’t believe it so I look it up, and what I find is pretty astonishing. According to the national newspaper VG, a quarter of Norwegians have a set meal every Friday, and for a third of those, it’s tacos — that is, over eight percent of the population eats tacos every Friday. All told, Norwegian grocery stores have sold over eleven thousand tons of food packaged as Mexican over the past year, and that doesn’t include the ground beef, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, corn, and rice that people buy to complete the kits.

I’m no expert but the food in this little border town seemed to me to be genuine Tex-Mex, Mexican food prepared with ample quantities of choice US ingredients. It was our last stop in Texas, because soon we would cross the border into New Mexico.

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