Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taco Dinner From The 1970s

I come from a world where Mexican food came in a bright yellow box.

Before Taco Bell, before El Azteca in Clarksville, before R&R Deli served a dozen spectacular dishes from the Shell station, there was Old El Paso.

Old El Paso delivered Mexico in a box.  Or at least that was the idea.  Hard shells in a box, taco seasoning in an envelope, taco sauce in little bottles.  This was the world before salsa.  Taco sauce was thin and mild and left the fridge only on taco night.  We didn't even have refried beans until our babysitter taught my mother about them.

You can recreate the 1970s even in these days of "no trans fat.  Mrs. HowChow liked the burgers made with Laurel Meat Market's ground chuck, but she requested an Old El Paso night as well.  To be true OT, you need to limit yourself:  Old El Paso hard shells, the taco seasoning, iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar.  Consider the canned green chilis, which were an innovation in the early 1980s.  But don't serve avocados, which are ubiquitous today but tasted inauthentic when I added them to our table.

No soft tacos.  No authentic corn tortillas from Lily's Mexican Market.  No chipotles.  Mrs. HowChow and I shared the same childhood strategies to put the cheese on the beef so you get a little melting along the way.  Top with the vegetables and crunch away.  It's not just nostalgia.  We really enjoyed dinner.

The final authentic touch would be eating until your stomach hurts.  As I remember, taco night involved no portion control.  My brother and I crunched taco after taco by the box, then made "taco salads" with the leftover fillings and the inevitable broken shells.  (The Old El Paso that I bought today had no broken shells.  They have clearly improved the packaging in the past 25 years.)

Next time, I might just whip up an appetizer that I remember from the same time -- slice green olives, stuff them with ground beef, then deep fry.  That's party food.  I'd get one before I was hustled off to bed.  It's the 1970s on a toothpick.

Old El Paso is a General Mills brand, so you can buy them at almost any grocery store -- and at Laurel Meat Market for a one-stop shopping with that delicious ground chuck.  For real Mexican, you should start at Lily's Mexican Market -- or just read all my posts about Mexican cuisine.

12 comments:

Sarah said...

Speaking of which, somewhat tangentially-- we went to R&R Deli two nights ago and the entire station was dark! The gas pumps were cordoned off and neither the "snack shop" nor the deli were open. Do you know anything about it? I'm hoping they were just out of gas or something. I don't know if it's still like that or not.

BaltimoreMan said...

Awesome, that is how I picture tacos.

Justin said...

Surprisingly enough - Cheesecake Factory has fried, sausage-stuffed olives on their Small Plates menu.. total nostalgia, and way delicious.

Trip Klaus said...

In Re: R&R

I was concerned by what Sarah said so I called today and they told me they are very much open.

Jess said...

So glad my husband and I aren't the only ooes who enjoy taco nights like these :)

Anonymous said...

Lucky you! My Old El Paso boxes have broken shells every now and then. But, I love those meals as much as I always have.

Christy said...

I do taco night just about every other week. It's one of the few things that everyone likes and no one can complain about.

Bets said...

reminds me of my childhood obsession with Chinese food - which, in rural PA in the 70s, was Chung King cans.

I asked for Chinese food on every birthday, and by the time I was turning 17, there was actually Chinese restaurant only 2 towns away! Desperately exciting.

dzoey said...

The kids always love when we do a taco night with the yellow box. The hard shells are just as good as when I was a kid. The soft tortillas aren't that good though. It's an easy, fast meal, and I can get the kids to eat some lettuce.

Wow, I haven't thought of the Chung King Chicken Chow Mein with the little fried noodles that you sprinkled on top in years...

I remember how much I liked spaghetti o's during the '70s. A few years back (2003 or so),I bought a can of spaghetti o's and a can of Chef Boyardi raviolis which I also used to love. The kids tried both and refused to eat them. I tried them as well and found it cloying and pasty. I'm not sure if the recipe has changed in 30 years or if I've just gotten used to better food.

Sarah said...

@Trip Klaus: thank you for being awesome! I think I'll go there for dinner tonight.

Lee Biars said...

Couldn't agree more. In fact, I usually only eat Mexican when I'm in the mood for tacos and get the crispy shells and ground beef. I'm always disappointed when a place only has steak and no ground beef; I'm not a huge fan of cheap grisly steak in my tacos. 6 or 7 tacos usually does the trick, but I can sometimes get up to 10 on a good day (which usually results in a bad day to follow).

Thanks for bringing up memories of taco night as a kid.

Alicia said...

I remember taco night! My mom never bought shredded cheddar cheese... so for taco night, she would slice up Kraft singles into long strips and we would load up the tacos with nicely processed cheese.