Sometimes all it takes is a turn of the tables to teach people a valuable lesson.
On July 22, Mexican American Las Vegas resident Daniela Rabalais posted a TikTok that aimed to show what culinary appropriation felt like by appropriating a food item that most of the country is already all too familiar with: hot dogs.
“Hi guys! Today I’m going to show you my newest obsession. I call these my sausage tacos,” Rabalais says in a video that has gone viral on multiple platforms: First on her TikTok, where it has amassed 2.7 million views, and again on Twitter, where it has been viewed another 2.4 million times.
“I made it up all by myself and they’re so good,” says Rabalais in a facetious and blatant lie, of course. In the clip, Rabalais continues to make a hot dog in an all-too-familiar way while calling every ingredient its Mexican quasi-equivalent.
Hot dog buns become "fluffy tortillas," mayonnaise becomes "an American kind of crema," ketchup is referred to as "salsa de tomate" and more. Rabalais even purposely mispronounces mustard and concludes the video by encouraging everyone to make "her recipe" so it "can become super popular."
In another video, Rabalais gives a hamburger the same comedic treatment, treating a drive-thru the way a problematic blogger might treat their trip to a restaurant that serves foods they're unfamiliar with.
“So this is what I always get,” says Rabalais in a TikTok which has so far amassed 225,000 views. In her hand, she’s holding a hamburger a little bit like someone would hold an object they can’t exactly identify.
“I don’t really know how to pronounce it. I think I’m going to butcher it if I try, so I’m just going to call them 'torta de carne molida,'" Rabalais says, which translates to "ground beef patty."
In the clip, she uses language that infantilizes the beloved American staple in the same way these influencers talk about cultural foods in the videos she is lampooning.
For Rabalais, these two videos and another she made about chicken nuggets that has 1 million views, are allusions to a growing trend of white TikTok influencers taking already widespread and popular foods from other cultures and trying to pass them off as brand new foods they've discovered.
“I noticed that several creators of color that I follow on TikTok were all commenting on this new trend amongst white creators,” Rabalais told TODAY Food.
The trend that Rabalais was referring to is “spa water,” a recipe one TikTok user recently shared on the platform that is facing criticism for closely resembling a beverage central to Mexican cuisine.
“It’s something that we as Mexicans have been enjoying for many, many moons, called agua fresca,” said Rabalais. “When I saw that, I was a little bit mind-blown. I thought it was a joke and it turns out it wasn’t. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened.”
Accusations of culinary appropriation are frequent on social media. In March 2021, a white blogger incorrectly labeled a noodle dish "pho" and received backlash, and in July 2021, a white woman who started a healthy breakfast company went viral when she called herself the “queen of congee.” Since the Asian rice porridge is over 4,000 years old, she found herself at the center of a social media uproar over her “new” and “improved” version of millennias-old dish native to a continent she didn't come from.
On TikTok, many social media users have called out the Tex-Mex dish cowboy caviar, "spa water" and other food trends for removing their cultural context, which some feel makes them, as one TikTok user stated, “not funny 'ha ha,' funny 'weird.'"
Rabalais isn’t the only one to turn the tables in this way, trying to expose what it feels like to have one’s culture appropriated.
“I wore a European tribal print too! Howdy, howdy,” she says in a TikTok, pretending to be a woman going to Cracker Barrel for the first time, treating the viewer like an acquaintance or server who doesn’t understand what she’s saying, as a way to show what microaggressions feel like to the folks they’re directed at.
The "spa water" controversy has also made its way to Twitter, where users are mocking the way so many influencers whitewash and rebrand their cultural foods.
“Cheese pancakes from mexico,” wrote one Twitter user, mockingly, including an emoji of the flag of El Salvador and photos of pupusas, El Salvador's national dish.
“Omg i can’t be the only one obsessed with hispanic hot pockets and rice cinnamon (lattes) like they taste so good,” tweeted the same user, including images of tamales and horchata.
Rabalais said that most of the attention she’s gotten has been positive, but there are some outliers. A few comments under Rabalais’ videos wondered how anyone could tell the difference between cultural appropriation versus appreciation.
“Serious question: are people not of a different culture not allowed to cook/eat foods outside of their 'culture' or lack there of or what?” asked one commenter on TikTok.
“Culture is a beautiful thing. It’s something that should be shared and celebrated,” Rabalais told TODAY, in response to that comment. Happily sip your glass of agua fresca or take comfort in a hot bowl of congee, but know where it came from — and don’t erase that fact.
“Unfortunately, it can sometimes even lead to the original people who have been making these dishes, being priced out of them,” Rabalais explained, pointing to avocados and mangoes both becoming much more expensive as their popularity grew.
“These are dishes and foods that, growing up, a lot of us were maybe bullied for. I know I was,” Rabalais said. “Now all of a sudden, it’s popular and trendy just because white people decided that it’s OK. That’s where the issue lies.”