On my Instagram page, I made a post looking at something that I and my Mama came across when eating at an Applebee’s a couple of weeks ago. On the menu, there was a new kind of salad that Applebee’s customers would be able to eat while they dine there. They called it the Big Tex Taco Salad and I would be wrong to say that I didn’t think it looked good. I see guacamole (though mine will always be better) tomatoes, cilantro, beans, and corn. It looked colorful and I am certain that was the purpose to try and intrigue customers to getting it. Not to mention the large edible bowl that it comes with. At first glance, it caught our attention and naturally the next thing we did was look at the food description for the salad bowl.
I remember reading this description and being a little impressed because of all the ingredients that were in the salad. Some of the more questionable things that I found in the description didn’t make me question it at first. I guess my initial hunger at the moment prevented me from making a more critical analysis of the language used on the menu. But that is what a post like this is for! My Mama decided to order it to try it out and I order a burger with fries. When the Taco Salad came we were both shocked at the size of it.
The taco salad rested in the innermost part of the plate; in other words, it was huge! The towering ingredients looked as colorful as the picture shown on the menu. My Mama wanted the Chipotle Lime Chicken so that too was also sprinkled on the top of the salad and made it even more appetizing. From the few bites that I had it did taste good. There were a lot of flavors going on that was pleasing to my tastebuds. However, now looking at the menu and the meal with a more critical lens I can offer some more feedback and analysis on this meal at Applebee’s.
I notice the language that was used in the menu description had some phrases that caught my attention; such included: “freshly-made tortilla bowl,” “house-made,” and “taco-seasoned.” To me these felt like trigger phrases for customers to become intrigued with the meal that they can have, but despite having familiar ingredients to Mexican cuisine it is most certainly still Americanized. I remember having discussions with my classmates about how certain restaurants and chains appropriate Mexican food to create this experience for the consumer. In this case, it definitely felt like a sort-of “experience” with this familiar, yet also unfamiliar, dish at Applebee’s.
The tortilla bowl that cupped the ingredients together didn’t taste “fresh” in my opinion nor did it look like how more traditional tortillas would appear as. The bowl-like appearance looked like an enlarged tostito scoop chip which adds to that thought of selling an experience that has ingredients you can find in Mexican food, but isn’t Mexican at all. The use of the term “house-made” also is complicated because with this phrase it implies a more intimate and more “homemade” practice that is done with food. However, this is a food chain and there is nothing really “homemade” in nature that these chains are providing. The pico de gallo and guacamole served with the meal was good, but slapping on “home-made” just seems like a marketing term to get people to eat it. Lastly, there is the “taco-seasoned ground beef.” I think I recall asking my Mama what did that even mean and she wasn’t so sure herself. It’s obviously not actually seasoned with tacos al pastor or any other taco creation that would put this bowl to shame, but the phrasing also just pointed to being another marketing and “eye grabbing” term to get people invested in ordering it.
Exploring this dish that Applebee’s offered allowed me to take a step into the Taco Literacy analysis on something that I wouldn’t typically do when I’m eating outside. I usually don’t criticize the food that I eat based of the language and the kind of food they are selling, but now I’ve grown accustomed to questioning and being more aware of the marketing that these chains do. It’s amazing what language can do, and here, language had its way of bringing up complications that I wanted to touch upon. Because if I can become aware of the marketing tricks of larger businesses then I can help others become more informed too. Does this post mean that I won’t go to Applebee’s again? Of course not! But it’s always great to resist and notice these subtleties that usually go unnoticed. However, I’ll stick to eating actual homemade Mexican food if I’m feeding for those “bold flavors” that Applebee’s speaks of.