So there is something worse than a soggy bottom.
If you think there’s a way to celebrate and explore Mexican cuisine while giving it the respect (and pronunciations) it’s due, you’re right. If you think you’ll see that exemplified in this week’s installment of The Great British Bake Off, you haven’t been on the internet in a few days.
Available to watch in the United States as of today (where it’s called The Great British Baking Show thanks to a big, doughy Pillsbury copyright), the fourth installment of the thirteenth season of the beloved baking show sees contestants trying their hands at pan dulce, tres leches, and—brace yourself—tacos in its premiere “Mexican week.” And as with the “Japanese week” before it, the episode has been widely criticized, with viewers saying it heavily stereotypes Mexican food and culture without giving it the context or appreciation it is owed.
The worst of it: a “fiesta cake” adorned with a cartoonish oversized mustache, sombreros and maracas aplenty, Juan jokes, and the way that one woman pronounces “guacamole.” Plus, it’s a special kind of affront that of all the decadent pastry options Mexico has put forth, tacos are what the show landed on.
Hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas appear to give a knowing nod to the nature of “Mexican week” a couple of times, as when Fielding warns Lucas during the show’s intro that “I don’t feel like we should make Mexican jokes, because people will get upset.” Setting the tone for the episode, Lucas responds, “What, not even Juan?”
Fielding also asks Lucas in a mid-episode bit: “So, is Mexico a real place?” Lucas responds, “I think so . . .” The pair then compare it to fantastical destinations like Oz and Xanadu.
The nod there is, yes, Mexico can sound like an exotic, mystical place when it’s an ocean away, historically underrepresented in media and entertainment, and one of the few nations your country of origin didn’t manage to colonize. But the joke also establishes this sort of cluelessness on the part of the hosts as harmless—as light as when they mix up homophones or use painful puns to announce the remaining time to contestants.
Texas Monthly’s taco editor, José Ralat, says the episode is but a ding in a long history of Britain exoticizing Mexican culture.
“Mexico gave Britain baking essentials chocolate and vanilla. Britain has given Mexico a giant raspberry in this week’s Great British Baking Show,” Ralat said. “It’s the latest offense in a long tradition of exoticizing and minstrel framing of Mexican food and people. But this one includes a living muppet. Cooking shows should surprise the contestants and the audience, yes, but the hosts and bakers could have at the very least been educated in the pronunciation of the basic ‘pico de gallo.’ Hearing folks butcher easy words from my native language is as infuriating as having a child kick the back of my airplane seat for hours straight.”
Speaking with the Washington Post, Mexican chef Pati Jinich said she initially thought the response to the show was fueled by the “authenticity police.” But that was before she saw clips. “If there had been a little bit more about the depth and the substance, you can get away with some of those jokey things, because those things are part of the culture—like, yes, mariachi musicians do have the big mustaches. But taking it out of context and putting it on a stereotypical platter is just tired. It’s basic,” Jinich told the Post.
If you’re the type who can’t quite look away, well, Godspeed. If tweets and memes have told you all you need to know, consider spending some time this week doing any one of these things that isn’t sitting through “Mexican week.”
1. Support a local taqueria.
At whatever hour you’re reading this, it’s either breakfast time, lunchtime, or dinnertime, or one of them’s coming up next. Why not take a long and hard look at a picture of the tacos made by Great British Baking Show contestants and then set out on a hunt to find a taco that wipes the image from your head.
If you’re in Texas, you know your options are endless. But if you want to keep the variety of taquerias and Mexican restaurants in your city thriving, support them. Seek them out, order frequently, and send friends and family their way.
Hopefully, you already have a local spot in mind, but if not, Texas Monthly has a long, long list of 120 tacos to try before you die, and TM will also release a “Top 25 taquerias” ranking this coming week.
2. Celebrate Taco Week alongside Texas Monthly.
Instead of observing “Mexican week,” join Texas Monthly in celebrating and exploring all things taco during our inaugural Taco Week (happening now!). Our series of stories take National Taco Week, started by San Antonio’s National Taco Council in the early sixties, a step further and explore the political, personal, and cultural impact made by tacos across the state of Texas.
All our Taco Week coverage can be found here.
3. Learn something new about Tex-Mex cuisine with our Tex-Mexplainer series.
Had the cast of The Great British Bake Off done their research, we could have avoided this. Our James Beard Media Award–winning Tex-Mexplainer series, written by Ralat, traces Tex-Mex dishes back to their origins and bridges the gap between modern-day Tex-Mex cuisine and historical Mexican fare.
4. Make yourself a drink.
Maybe you’re in need of something cold and tangy to take the edge off while “pico-de-callio” rings in your ears. Opt for an avocado margarita, popularized by Austin’s Curra’s Grill. In an ode to the creamy cocktail, Texas Monthly editor Kathy Blackwell says, “After I took one taste, everything made sense. It worked. The concoction was smooth and refreshing, and unlike most fruity frozen margs, it showcased the reposado tequila rather than camouflaging it.”
5. Try your own hand at tres leches.
You can skip the tres leches renditions featured in this week’s Great British Bake Off and instead bake the classic yourself. We recommend a recipe from El Paso’s Cafe Central initially published in our magazine’s pages in 1999. Yes, you really do need that many eggs.
6. It’s also Fat Bear Week. Cleanse your palate by casting your vote.
You know who didn’t don a sombrero in a lastingly cringe-inducing fashion this week? A series of extremely fat, extremely good bears. Weigh in on a competition that really matters, and cast your vote in Fat Bear Week. Originally started by a former park ranger, Fat Bear Week sets out to find a favorite plump, hibernation-ready bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park.