Debra and I tried a new place for dinner the other night. When she asked me how my meal was I said, “North Dakota Mexican food.” She laughed and nodded. Considering that we were at a Vietnamese restaurant, that exchange probably deserves some explanation.
We flew to North Dakota back in 1992 to attend my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary celebration. When we arrived in Bismark, we learned that our bags didn’t make the transfer in Denver. The airline assured us that the bags would be on the next flight. Bismark wasn’t a thriving aviation hub at the time (not sure what it’s like now), so we had a few hours to kill.
In retrospect we should have known better, but we were hungry and frustrated. We saw a restaurant advertising Mexican food, and the parking lot was reasonably full. “How bad can it be?”
As it turns out, pretty bad. Worse than Taco Bell. It’s not that it tasted bad, but that it hardly tasted at all! It looked like Mexican food, but it tasted like … pretty much nothing. The ground beef was bland. The lettuce and tomatoes were standard tasteless restaurant fare. The cheese … well, there was lots of cheese. In fact, everything was covered in cheese. Like their version of Mexican food was a bunch of bland stuff covered in cheese. And the salsa? Pretty much just ground up stewed tomatoes with a little green onion thrown in. Corn chips were the cheapest, thinnest … I think you get the picture.
We had a similar experience about 10 years ago. We went to a little Mexican food place that several friends had recommended. The place was clean and bright and tastefully decorated, the service was good, and their food was indistinguishable from what we encountered in Bismark, North Dakota back in 1992. Except for the salsa. The salsa wasn’t good, but at least it had a little bite to it. With all the good Mexican food available in the Austin area, I honestly cannot understand how that place stays in business. Maybe there’s a bunch of North Dakota natives living nearby?
“North Dakota Mexican food” is our way of describing something that looks like what it’s trying to imitate, but has no taste or tastes completely wrong. I suppose the term could be used to describe things other than food, but I haven’t used it in that context.