So back in high school, my first job was working at a Mexican take-away shop in the food court of a shopping centre. I know. Magical. We made nachos with liquid cheese and crumbed chicken burgers with the corn chips that crushed and were left in the bottom of the tub. Tres authentic. Three afternoons a week and all day Saturday I would smile patiently at the lady and her adult son who would come in, order, eat most of the meal and then come back with a complaint and demand a refund (Dad taught me how to deal with them and I would make every step of the meal with them watching me, asking them if I was putting on too much salsa, if they wanted me to zap the final product so it was extra hot, etc. etc. Thanks Dad). On Thursdays, in the lull between afternoon and late-night shopping, I would clean every inch of tiles and counter, scrub out the deep-fryer and fold a million paper napkins around two million pieces of plastic cutlery. I would get free pizza and garlic bread from the (also now gone) Italian take-away next door at the end of the night. I was so special.
I started on 6.64 AU an hour and started saving for a car immediately. Later I saved for schoolies and then moving out to go to uni. My first boss was great but the couple who bought the business later were really nasty and didn’t like that another part-timer and I had been working there more than a year and therefore couldn’t be easily fired and were also getting on in age (17. Over the hill).
Even thought the other girl quit, storming out one lunch after being accused of stealing from the register (an embarrassment I would also later be accused of) and I was berated in front of customers if I was too generous in my servings, I stuck at that job until I moved to Brisbane.
I never liked Mexican food.
That’s right. Mexican was never as popular in Australia as it has been for a long time in the USA, because Mexican meant Old El Paso taco shells or tortillas, salsa and sachets of mince meat seasoning. There were no other brands to buy, you couldn’t get flat bread in the bakery of the supermarket yet and so it was quite expensive. Add to that I never liked cheese and (still don’t like) sour cream, I was not one to beg for Mexican for dinner. Hell, I didn’t even like corn chips and salsa at parties.
And I’m not sure what changed. I’d like to tell you a story about a friend’s mum who made amazing authentic Mexican taught to them by Indigenous people of Mexico’s highlands (does Mexico even have highlands?), but I can’t. I have no idea when my taste buds changed (probably when I stopped being such a picky eater) but I would place a bet and say it was probably nachos. White people love nachos 😉
One dish that I loved and began recreating from the take-away store was tortilla bake. We made a chicken and a beef on and people lost their minds over it. This tortilla bake is obviously vego, could be vegan if cheese was left out and could be healthier if I had used less cheese. It was supposed to be special and “what the hell”, we had the cheese to spare. These days, I see tortilla bakes all over sites like Pinterest but, back in 2001, this was the best you could get.
In pictures, with explanatory captions, is my current incarnation of tortilla bake.
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