How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The cross-cultural legacy of Doritos

Photo courtesy of Jim Benning

Doritos then (okay, sort of - a Hipstamaticized bag of resurrected Original Taco in vintage packaging)

Photo courtesy of Jim Benning

Doritos then (okay, sort of - a Hipstamaticized bag of resurrected Original Taco in vintage packaging)

It might seem to some who read this blog that I'm a fan of junk food. I'm not, really, unless it involves something doused in Tapatío sauce. But in recent days, after reading a series of obituaries for Archie West, the man credited with inventing Doritos, I've become fascinated with the chips' cultural legacy.

The dusty little corn-based triangles were, according to lore, inspired by an encounter that West had with real Mexican fried tortilla chips while he was traveling in California in the early 1960s. The Doritos product launched in 1964. The first flavored variety appeared a few years later, something involving brownish flavored dust dubbed "Taco" that tasted nothing like tacos, in a bag that implied something Mexicanish, but wasn't.

Doritos, what a long way you've come. The blog Now That's Nifty lists 102 flavors of Doritos, a sum that seems like an undercount. The list doesn't include Tapatío sauce flavor, a recent innovation. Still, that's a lot of flavored dust. Flavors from around the world that are listed range from the ubiquitous Nacho Cheese and Salsa Verde stateside to flavors like Sesame Chicken and Tandoori Sizzler and the intriguing Mr. Dragon's Fire Chips.


The hunt for Red Tapatío Chips, concluded

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Empty bag, chips gone

So the hunt for Tapatío hot sauce flavored Doritos that I embarked on last week has come to a happy conclusion. Over the past few days, several gracious readers shared chip-sighting locations that ranged from a gas station in Los Feliz to the Superior supermarket in Lynwood.

And in the end, the day before I planned to hit the Lynwood store, I found them during a weekend trip to San Diego at a gas station. Just like that.

So how were they? The chips had a fair amount of heat, to start with, which is a good thing. The powdery coating was the right shade of Tapatío red-orange. And the taste did have that distinctive vinegary Tapatío tang (even though vinegar isn't a listed ingredient in the sauce).

There was also an oddly familiar taste that had nothing to do with Tapatío, and I realized why after reading a Frito-Lay press release today, which explains that the "distinct Tapatío taste is added to top-selling Doritos Nacho Cheese flavored tortilla chips to make Doritos Tapatío." Aha, that's the taste - Nacho Cheese. Not bad, but it distracts the palate a bit from the Tapatío-fest.


On the trail of the Tapatío Doritos

Photo by Jeremy Brooks/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last week, I came across a Facebook update from a friend with a photo that made my heart skip a beat. It was a small photo of a bag of Doritos, on the front a familiar and revered image: The smiling man in the sombrero from the label of the Tapatío hot sauce bottle.

Her message:

OMFG!!! I have been waiting a long time for this.

Ditto, sister. L.A.'s own Tapatío hot sauce, the closely-guarded secret of a local Mexican American family business, is a regional obsession. Before it became available nationwide, I remember smuggling it in my carry-on bag to California expats on the east coast, even to a friend who had moved to Europe.

And wisely, after years of creating bizarre flavors that range from the very un-taco-like "Original Taco" and even faux pizza, Frito-Lay recently got wise, apparently, to the fact that many people like to douse the company's chips in Tapatío sauce. Sure, there are flavors like "Flamas," blazing-hot Doritos the deep red color of imaginary hellfire with a lemony tang, but it's no Tapatío sauce. The Tapatío-flavored Doritos - along with Tapatío-flavored Fritos - have only been available recently.