A new perspective on flavor in this weeks article.
by Alexander Quebec
A lot of people outside of the area don’t realize that East Side San Jose is a foodie mecca of sorts. Hell, San Jose’s first Michelin star restaurant is here. When we think of foodie centers, we normally think of places owned by guys with bushy beards putting food in mason jars, but the reality is that every area is different and that it’s always best to keep your eyes open.
At the Tropicana Shopping Center sits a restaurant on the perimeter called Chala Teco. Unlike some of the other places I have been to, this place seemed off of the radar for those outside the Latinx community.
The tacos, referred to as tacos gringos here, resemble tacos from the trucks and taquerias we’ve been to before. However, the tortilla used was a bit different, a bit softer than the corn tortillas we’re used to. I did enjoy the tacos which, after much searching on Google, I come to find that tacos gringos are the names for “Americanized” tacos, made especially for the American palate.
However, I did have another reason to be here. I admit to spending hours on Wikipedia learning about different subjects and topics, especially food, history, and biographies. One day, I came across a profile for corn smut, which is a type of fungi that grows on corn. In America, crops infected with the fungus would be written off as a total loss. In Mexico, however, they are shaved off of the cob and turned into a treat called Huitlachoche, a quesadilla made with the corn smut and queso blanco.
I actually went through a few other restaurants around East Side San Jose and the Peninsula to see if anyone made them. Sure enough, I found them here along with the tacos. My initial impression is that they looked rather normal for a quesadilla, nothing too out of the ordinary. Curious, I took a whiff of the quesadilla, the salty smelling cheese mixed with an almost earthy sort of smell, kind of like mushrooms, but a bit more pungent.
Finally, the moment of truth came, the taste test.
They tasted very earthy, with a bit of the corn and onion flavors in them. Texture-wise, it felt more like eating sauteed mushrooms that were a bit on the soggier side, but they were firm enough to hold their shape. I was able to finish one quesadilla, as this was an appetizer dish.
Overall they weren’t bad, but I could tell that this was something that is an acquired taste. I remind myself with this visit that some flavors out there take time to adjust to. You may never like something right away, or you may not like the way one place makes theirs but another restaurant’s version makes you fall in love with it.
As Americans, we have to remember that other cultures cuisines are made for the host culture in mind, not for us. Whenever you try the cuisine of another culture that isn’t your own, act as if you are a guest in their house; it’s always in good taste to be as courteous and respectful to the host’s flavors, customs, and traditions.
Chala Teco is located off of Story Road in the Tropicana shopping center and is open Weekdays 9AM to 11PM and closed on Weekends. Hit up that ATM before you go though, as this place is cash only.