Originally posted by Farfromhome
The first Mexican restaurant I went to in california I ordered a plate that had a tamale, a cheese enchilada and a taco on it. The tamale was huge - and super doughy. The taco had this stringy shredded meat in it and the gravy on the enchilada was sweet not spicy. Also the cheese in the enchilada was different. It was white and just had no real texture to it. I learned the difference between tamales is in the masa. in the southern part of Texas ingredients like baking powder are not added to the masa and in California (at least the restaurants I've been to) they add a lot of baking powder to the masa so it makes it poofier for lack of a better word. Another difference someone else mentioned is the size of the items. The taco was HUGE - the tortilla they had stuffed this meat in was the size you'd make a super sized burrito in however it was a corn tortilla. The tamale was at least 3 times the size of the ones I was used to in Texas and the enchilada was also substantially bigger. Fajitas however are about the same in both states! I've yet to see any Cali-mex restaurants selling sopapillas or pecan pralines. Also in Texas most of the mexican food (in my experience at least) was cooked with Gebherdt chili powder, and its sometimes hard to find in California and greatly overpriced when you do find it. I've taken to begging relatives to send me cases of if for holidays and birthdays
I don't know where you guys are eating and getting these super-sized tortillas and things. I've lived in CA for 22 years and I haven't seen this phenomenon. The very large tortillas are used for burritos, but that's pretty much it anywhere I've eaten. They do sell larger ones, as well as the regular size, in markets, but I haven't seen the used in restaurants.
The "stringy shredded meat" you refer to is skirt steak (or sometimes flank steak) and may be unusual in Tex-Mex but not in Mex-Mex. It's just stewed with chiles and spices until it falls apart into the shreds you identified. Actually, in southern Arizona and Sonora (Mex), they often use dried beef (carne seca) cooked similarly. What they DON'T use in better quality Mexican places in either state (CA or AZ) is GROUND beef.
The "textureless white cheese" was probably queso fresco:Queso fresco: A spongy white cheese, used to crumble over botanas - snacks - as well as on enchiladas and taquitos, this type of cheese was introduced to Mexico from Burgos, Spain. It is usually made with a combination of cow's milk and goat's milk. A very mild feta is an acceptable substitute for the grainy and mildly acidic queso fresco .
or, if it was truly "textureless", it may have been queso blanco:Queso blanco: This creamy, white cheese is made from skimmed cow's milk, and has been described as being a cross between cottage cheese and mozzarella. It is traditionally coagulated with lemon juice, giving it a fresh, distinctive lemon flavor, although nowadays it is often commercially made with rennet. It softens when heated, but doesn't melt, and is a good choice for stuffing enchiladas.
Again, I have never seen puffy, risen tamales in California or anywhere else. Strange cooking down there in LaLa Land these days (I live in NoCal but have eaten plenty of Mexican food in Orange County and San Diego without experiencing these phenomena).