Tostilocos sound like nachos gone berserk. John T. Edge wrote about the borderlands food in a New York Times article titled “Corn Chips, Garnished and Sauced. Loco? Right.” Edge is the culinary historian behind The New York Times’ United Tastes series and author of The Truck Food Cookbook.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Tostilocos -- what is it and what does it taste like?
John T. Edge: You begin by opening a bag of Tostitos, usually the salsa verde-flavored kind, and you layer on ingredients. If you can imagine an assembler of this dish in Tijuana, Mexico, ripping open the bag of Tostitos and then taking the ingredients from three shelves in a bodega and dumping all of those in. Those ingredients include: shaved jicama; pickled pigskins; stumpy, little, sweet, sour tamarind candy; sweet coated peanuts; and chopped cucumbers. Then they pull out two liquids: fresh-squeezed key limes and chamoy -- that magenta-colored, vinegary, puckery, pickled fruit in brine. It’s sauce that you see often when someone is buying chips in a store -- even when they are not buying Tostilocos. You’re handed a bottle of chamoy with which you garnish chips.
All that goes in the bag. The bag kind of bulges under that payload. Often the bag, when filled with all those ingredients, the sides slip and you just start dripping this Rorschach pattern on the pavement as you eat and walk.
LRK: Is it delicious? Because it sounds like it really could be.
JTE: It is delicious. It is one of the most texturally compelling dishes I’ve ever had because it has so much going on. There are so many layers of flavor.
LRK: Is this something that has been created in the border towns in Mexico? Is this American influence on Mexican food or is it Mexican food just borrowing some things from the U.S.?
JTE: It’s definitely borderlands food. It’s food to me that represents the porosity of the border between Mexico and the U.S. It’s almost like a Mexican reclamation effort. It’s like if American companies took tortilla chips and packaged them and sold them to everyone, that would be Tostitos. Then Mexican-Americans and Mexicans from Tijuana are reclaiming Tostitos chips for Mexico by adding all these things to them and creating a new product.
LRK: So who eats them and how do they eat them? Are they a big deal?
JTE: They are a big deal in Mexico, especially in the northern half of Mexico, in Tijuana and its environs. You’ll see them sold by the flats preassembled with the bearers carrying them on their heads at Mexican wrestling matches. You’ll see them at the beach. You’ll see them in movie theaters in custom Tostilocos carts. You’ll see them also in Tosticentros, which are centers for selling Tostilocos. They are a big deal in Mexico.