The implementation of the relatively simple ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ yet tasty ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ art of Mexican-inspired cuisine has been one of Cape Town’s more spectacular failures. I mean, how difficult can it really be to serve-up a passable plate of nachos or a fresh tortilla filled with crisp salad, spiced meat and cheese?
Okay, the aforementioned foods are about as Mexican as Sarah Palin. But Tex-Mex, a.k.a. Americanised Mexican is the kind that has crossed the shores from Cortez and if well executed does offer a satisfying mouthful of fresh and savoury, palate-cleansing breadiness and an inoffensive spicy kick.
Yet for some or other reason Cape joints calling themselves Mexican have been intimidated by this simplicity, not understanding it and churning out stuff that would turn a chiuaua into a rabid boerboel.
In any event, the other day I decided to check out a local Mexican place I had not been sick in yet. The Fat Cactus is on the relatively clean, modern restaurant strip in Park Street, Gardens. It was pumping on a weekday afternoon, the tanned apr?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës beach crowd sipping margheritas and drafting War and Peace length messages on twitter and facebook. Easy south-of-the-border music was playing, and the service staff looked suitability laid-back and attentive.
The menu was laden with Tex-Mex goodies, just the reason I was there. Enchilada. Fajita. Taco. Nachos. Choices of vegetarian, chicken beef and lamb. Served with refried beans, salsa and guacamole. Heck, bring it on. Bring it all.
We ordered a pitcher of margherita which would have attracted all the bees in Benoni. It was sickly sweet with none of that desired citrus tang. The tequila had also been poured by a guy with a lead prosthesis on his arm and was barely present.
I ordered a beer, and waited.
My table went for a selection. The fill-your-own fajita was deemed a bargain as you get all the tortillas you want. Three of the group ordered this ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ two beef, one lamb. The others went for nachos (chicken), calamari and I settled for a straight forward burrito filled with spicy beef.
So far so good. We sat back and watched the crowd, noticing that few of them were eating but really digging those sweet margheritas.
The fajitas arrived on huge boards. In the middle, a hot skillet filled with the meat. The skillet was surrounded by little bowls of salsa, guacamole, grated cheese, beans and sour cream. Folded tortillas were stashed in a small bucket-kind-of-thing.
The nachos were piled sky-high, the calamari was dusted with spice and grilled a golden brown, and the burrito was, well, a burrito. A tortilla stuffed with meat and cut in half.
Mexican cuisine or any derivative thereof is, however, not dependent on presentation and appearance. Were that the case, the Fat Cactus would have stormed up the ranks.
But Mexican food is about flavour, freshness and diversity. And unfortunately this was mostly lacking.
The tortillas were doughy and tasted like paper mach+¬ that had been soaked in chlorine. Seeing that tortillas are a cardinal ingredient in Mexican, as indispensable as a tribal tattoo to a Sea Point body-builder, the poor tortilla quality was bad news.
Fortunately for students of zen, everything was in balance as the other ingredients were just as shocking as the tortillas.
The beans were not refried, but hard buttons. That green stuff – the guacamole – had been left open in the fridge for days, not only turning it into a sickly gooey green paste but also imbuing it with the flavours of the other stuff parked in the fridge. Fishy, cheesy things.
Now we come to the meat. Having visited butcheries in Tijuana I know the Mexicans are not too choosy about their meat. In TJ the difference between the butcher, the taxidermist and the morgue is slight.
That’s why the Mexicans have spice. So that they can cook the bejesus out of any meat, then spice it up. Same as the Indians ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the reason the Indians worship cows is because they’re scared they are going to have to eat the bloody things if they kill them.
Fat Cactus had, however, taken poor quality meat and cooked it without any noticeable contribution from the spice department. It thus ended up stodgy, fatty and tasting like bully beef cooked by a blind Aborigine.
I made the error of unwrapping my burrito to take a look at the meat to see what awful meat looks like. Bad move: it looked like Kalahari road-kill after the crows had finished with it.
Why did I hate this place so much?
Yes, the food was terrible. But after a few bites it made me despondent, sad and lethargic, the way one feels after being maltreated by heartless restaurant proprietors and disrespectful chefs.
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