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what am i eating? comparing and contrasting tacos, pupusas, and quesadillas.

by sam. 17 dec 2010

This morning, I was hungry for some breakfast. Sounds like a typical day in Alphabet City, right? Not today - my mind was about to be blown.

A poorly-kept secret is that my favorite food is not, in fact, tacos. Through and through, I'm a pupusa man. A couple nights ago, I made some black bean-potato-onion-queso fresco pupusas for a potluck I attended, but my fillings/dough ratio was slightly off, so I was left with a bit of extra goo. When I looked through my fridge, I realized that breakfast was the perfect opportunity to use it all up. However, as I got out my masa harina and prepared to make some dough, I soon found that my leftovers were extremely awkwardly sized. I had the correct amount of dough for either two extremely small pupusas, or one comically large. Naturally, being the type of man that I am (that is, the type of man who constantly desires extreme quantities of food), I opted for the oversized novelty pupusas. Unfortunately, I don't yet have the skills to make the classic "pinched-bowl" technique work on such a large scale, so I was forced to revert to the amateur level "circum-conjoined discs". I heaped in the fillings, tossed it onto Mahlab's cast-iron pan, and let the heat do its work.

After returning to my computer to listen to some rock and roll music, I went back to the stove to flip the beast. When I saw the nicely toasted, supermarket-soft-taco-sized underside of the pupusa looking up at me, a crazy thought entered my head: I need to apply an external layer of cheese to complement that already inside. At this point, it deserves mentioning that my business associate Ben and I are both leaving town next week to return to the Seattle area for Christmas. Therefore, we've made a pact (under penalty of death) to consume literally every item in our fridge before our departure. So, with that in mind and a bag of Trader Joe's smoked-cheese-shreds in hand, I whipped up a batch of sour cream and cheese in a bowl and lathered it on top of my pupusa. After cooking for a few more minutes and covering with Marie Sharp's, things turned out like this:


Even the layperson can see this is clearly not a pupusa in the traditional sense. The conjoined sides came undone under the weight of the overstuffing, the hot sauce is Belizean, and there's cheddar cheese all over it. It is, in essence, two tortillas with a cheesy-beany mixture in the middle and a layer of cheese on top. At Taco Bell, this would probably be known as a double-decker gordita supreme- however, such an item is not in my vocabulary. In attitude, this felt like a quesadilla in many ways, yet the thickness of the exterior dough was clearly of a pupusa thickness. I had a mental and emotional crisis on my hands. Can I eat something without knowing what it is? (Answer: yes, and I do so all the time). Can I, in clear conscience, tell someone I made a pupusa for lunch, or must I use some strange hybrid word (such as pupusadilla)? Dismayed and confused, I attempted to resolve the problem the only way I know how- creating a venn diagram.

Taco-Pupusa-Quesadilla comparison diagram

As you can see, there are several criteria that make it extremely easily to tell what, exactly, you are eating at any given time. As for my meal? That's a question for the philosopher-kings.