The Topopo lettuce footprint in southern Arizona and past

Unsure what Topopo is? clarify lettuce.

Little recognized and infrequently seen exterior of Tucson, the topopo salad is among the metropolis’s most vital contributions to the Mexican meals lexicon of southern Arizona—virtually actually. Its precise origins, in addition to its uncommon title, stay a little bit of a thriller.

So far as Sonoran-inspired appetizers go, it is an outlier. Diced lettuce, onions and tomatoes characteristic on tacos and in ceviches, small salads are friends like burritos and enchiladas, however elaborate veggie creations hardly ever take middle stage.

Topopo salad at Rosa's Mexican Food Restaurant

Topopo salad at Rosa’s Mexican Meals Restaurant (picture by Isaac Stockton)

The Topopo additionally retains a low profile on website. After I requested 93-year-old Abuelita from my Midtown neighborhood, who has been frequenting native Mexican eating places because the Forties, about her favourite place on the town to benefit from the dish, she mentioned she had by no means heard of it. A number of mates who not too long ago moved to Tucson have been related topopo-untrained.

However when requested once more for a quick description of the salad, I used to be stumped.

I went down the web rabbit gap to attempt to get some solutions.

For those who google “topopo” with out including any geographic search phrases, the lettuce turns up in a number of recipes worthy of credit score El Azteco, a restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, as a supply. The topopo is described on the restaurant menu as follows:

“A mountain of lettuce! The Mexican equal of the American salad with lettuce, tomatoes, hen, cheese, jalapenos, peas and spring onions. Served on a mattress of tortilla chips with frijoles, melted cheese and guacamole.”

Feels like nachos for a well being increase.

Topopo salad at Theresa's Mosaic Cafe

Topopo Salad at Theresa’s Mosaic Cafe (Photograph by Edie Jarolim)

A restaurant critic in Lansing had some ideas on the salad’s uncommon title:

“Topo, en Español, means ‘large lump’… El Azteco’s Topopo salad actually matches. This appetizer is actually an unlimited, huge, and monstrous mound of scrumptious splendor.”

I couldn’t confirm the quoted definition of the phrase “topo” in my very own Español search. Numerous Spanish-English dictionaries outline it as “mole” – each a small furry animal and a spy – or alternatively as “bug, tripper, clumsy particular person”. I dug up no large lumps. It occurred to me that the journalist is likely to be complicated “topo” with “tope,” Mexico’s generally monstrous velocity bumps.

This made me much more uncertain than I already was concerning the dish’s Midwest origins. Anita’s Desk Discuss chef/blogger, a Lansing resident, had her personal doubts concerning the attribution and did some analysis. The consequence:

“It seems that within the early Nineteen Seventies, California-based Sundown Journal printed a cookbook that featured not solely the topopo, but in addition a number of different favourite recipes on the El Azteco menu. A former El Az worker mentioned the cookbook was hidden below a restaurant counter for reference.”

Topopo Salad at Guillermo's Double L

Topopo Salad at Guillermo’s Double L (Photograph by Edie Jarolim)

Coming from the East Coast, I did not know the way a good friend informed me, “There was a time when each self-respecting middle-class chef within the West had a alternative of Sundown’Cookbooks.” So it was straightforward for me to borrow a replica Mexican sundown cookbook within the metropolis.

Like El Azteco, the cookbook calls the topopo a “counterpart to our hearty chef’s salad,” however provides that it “takes on the rather more dramatic form of a mountain or volcano” and that it is “typical of northern Sonoran delicacies and that.” contiguous Arizona.”

That is a large space. However including “Southern Arizona” or “Sonora” to my Google search bar returned no outcomes. Phoenix and Scottsdale? Hardly a blip. It wasn’t till I added “Tucson” that I hit the jackpot, with listings galore for eating places all around the metropolis.

Topopo salad

Photograph by Jackie Alpers, featured within the Style of Tucson cookbook.

However that also left the questions of origin, title and distinguishing options of the lettuce unanswered.

Mountainous heights and, in some circumstances, volcanoes remained a typical denominator in lots of native descriptions. Jackie Alpersan award-winning photographer who illustrated an attractive model of the dish for her Style of Tucson Cookbook, wrote the next as an introduction to the recipe:

“I’ve heard a number of tales that specify why Tucson’s most well-known lettuce seems like a volcano. One origin story states that Tucson is surrounded by mountains, essentially the most well-known being Sentinel Peak, also referred to as “A” Mountain, which is usually mistaken for a small volcano. It isn’t. However it was shaped from lava from a volcano that erupted close by 25 million years in the past and hardened into black volcanic rock. In truth, the title Tucson means “on the foot of Black Mountain.”

Topopo salad at Café El Charro

Photograph courtesy of El Charro Cafe on Fb

One of many “totally different tales” Alpers alludes to is undoubtedly from The Charro Cafecelebrating its a hundredth anniversary in 2022. Within the El Charro Cookbookauthors Jan and Michael Stern quote Carlotta Floreswhich her great-aunt Monica Flin describes because the originator of the topopos:

“Topopo is an Indian phrase for volcano. That is what the household historical past says [Monica Flin] was impressed to create the monumental meal after viewing the Popocatépetl volcano exterior of Mexico Metropolis.”

Not too long ago seen at Bravo’s prime chefCarlotta is a culinary famous person, so it’s with nice respect and remorse that I confess that I couldn’t discover a Vulcan supply for the phrase “topopo” in any Indian language.

I discovered an Indian phrase much like topopo, however one which solely requires a single letter substitution to suit the invoice: totopo.

In keeping with Wikipedia:

“The title totopo comes from the Aztec (or Nahuatl) totopochtli, that means ‘toasted factor or factor that crunches when eaten’, from the verb totopotza ‘to crunch or toast’. To differentiate the phrase from different toasted issues, the compound tlaxcaltotopochtli, that means toasted tortilla, was generally used. The mixed phrase roughly interprets to ‘tortillas to chew out loud.’”

Mole salad at El Cisne

Topopo Salad at El Cisne (picture by Isaac Stockton)

In Spanish, totopo is invariably outlined as a tortilla chip or fried tortilla, with the Nahuatl supply typically talked about in dictionary entries.

This spelling mistake-name genesis is smart. Topopo salads are at all times served on crispy corn tortillas, whether or not flat as a tostada, made right into a mattress of chips, or (often) shaped right into a taco bowl. And the definition has some native credibility: the crunchy base explains the title I used to be given a few years in the past The fountainthe place I first tried the salad.

The restaurant, which opened in 1959 and closed in 2014, has been a current favorite Willard Scottthe roving “In the present day Present” weatherman who I am informed stopped in La Fuente to get the Topopo at any time when he was on the town, believing it to be distinctive to Tucson.

From my (admittedly restricted) private expertise, I may also attest that it is vitally straightforward to get the spelling of the lettuce title combined up. When texting mates to ask them to strive the specialty with me, I generally wrote “totopo”. However in speech, “topopo” rolls off the tongue a lot simpler than “totopo”.

Attempt saying every phrase 3 times in a row.

In fact, none of this addresses the query of which chef or restaurateur initially made the gaffe and determined to make use of the title for a crunchy-based salad creation — and in what 12 months.

Ouch. It hurts to hit that wall.

Topopo salad at El Sur

Southern Topopo Salad (picture by Isaac Stockton)

So what makes a topopo salad?

Regardless of the seemingly origin of their title, fried corn tortillas do not dominate topopo salads like dishes like chilaquiles or nachos. As a substitute, only a skinny layer of fries or a single tostada unfold with bean puree—once more, a minimal presence—serves as the bottom for the salad tower.

Sure substances are staples: iceberg lettuce (or often romaine lettuce); shredded yellow cheese, usually cheddar; Tomatoes; inexperienced olives; jalapenos; avocados; and for causes I’ve but to find out, thawed frozen greens, largely peas and carrots. Chilled shrimp, shredded hen or turkey, and carne seca are the most typical centerpieces, and a home salsa as a substitute of salad dressing is the standard accompaniment.

Mole salad at El Cisne

Topopo Salad at El Cisne (picture by Isaac Stockton)

Nonetheless, recipe variations – particularly of the principle protein – aren’t unusual. A topopo might be served with machaca, carne asada, cottage cheese, garlic shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, and even chili con carne, the Tex-Mex invader. The avocados could seem in a guacamole mound slightly than sliced. Displays additionally differ. Though you can find many conical shapes and piles, some topopos are sunk in bowls. And a few of these shells are made out of crunchy tortillas and look suspiciously like taco shells – one other Tex-Mex invader.

I do know, I do know. Simply as few dishes might be traced again to a single supply, there are not any pure recipes from southern Arizona. Crossover is king, and incorporating different influences is important to holding traditions contemporary. Nonetheless, I would like Yelp! No excuse for reviewers to name our native delicacies Tex-Mex, as is usually the case.

This brings me again to the impossibility of giving a quick however correct description of the topopos.

Having executed my due diligence, I can say, “The topopo originated in Sonora and way back grew to become common in Tucson, the place it might now be present in Mexican eating places throughout town. This layer of tortilla chips — generally within the form of a volcano.” – which is unfold with bean puree.”

Until you reside in Topeka, Kansas.

The topopo seems within the City Dictionary as “Members of the Topeka Police Division” with the illustrative sentence “That is the Topopo!”