I want to dedicate this note to Diana Kennedy, an exceptional woman, a cook and adventurer who spent fifty years of her life dedicated to researching Mexican cuisine and spreading it around the world. And that she continues from her Foundation working for biodiversity, eternally young.
The love-hate relationship between Mexico and the United States is known throughout the world. Few things insult a Mexican more than the fact that a foreigner refers to his cooking with nachos or chili con carne.
I must say something in defense of Tex-Mex cuisine: it has never pretended nor does it pretend to be Mexican cuisine. The confusion has arisen because in other countries, they confuse one with another and take economic advantage of it in some “supposedly Mexican” restaurants.
and that in some respects it is similar and in others it is different.
The Texas area has always been a place where races coexist and very interesting miscegenations take place. It has always been a meeting ground for numerous cultures, since the times of the migrations of the first settlers of the current territory of Mexico.
I must confess that I am a huge fan of Mexican cuisine and just a supporter of Tex-Mex cuisine. To which I do not rest, neither identity, nor merits.
That is why things go very badly for me in Argentina, every time one of my friends, in Rosario, in the Federal Capital or in any other city, aware of my preference for said cuisine, take me to eat at a trendy Mexican restaurant, to entertain me .
As I am polite, I always appreciate the invitations, I attend on time, I always praise the food, I enjoy friends and I congratulate the cooks.
I get drunk with Tequila, Mezcal and the occasional Corona with lemon, well, actually I get drunk, why use euphemisms. Then I retire staggering and disillusioned, except in honorable and very few exceptions. Because what they actually served me was not Mexican food, but Tex-Mex food.
Many assume that Tex-Mex is simply a shortened combination of the words Texas and Mexico. However, the phrase was not used to describe food when it first appeared. Tex-Mex was used as an abbreviation for the Texas Mexican Railroad that ran in the south in the 1870s. Over time, the term caught on and was used to describe jeanswho are Texans of Mexican descent.
In 1963, an article in the New York Times referred to Mexican food in Texas as “Tex-Mex,” marking the first time the phrase was used to describe this cuisine. But it wasn’t until 1972, when an author named Diana Kennedy published a Mexican cookbook, that the term Tex-Mex became universal.
In his book that officially popularized Tex-Mex, entitled Mexican cuisinehe referred to Mexican food in Texas as “Tex-Mex” and drew the distinction between authentic Mexican cuisine and Mexican food in Texas. His book helped establish Tex-Mex cuisine within American culture and gave it legitimacy, popularity, and a new level of respect.
In an interesting article published by the Mexican Digital Magazine animal foodie, published by Grupo Editorial Criterio, the same one that publishes Newsweek in Spanishtells the story of the Texan Mexican Railway, which gave rise, in its abbreviation, to the word Tex-Mex.
In 1875, this line connecting both countries was inaugurated and motivated the migration of thousands of people. Over time the entire region began to be known by the abbreviation of the railway.
It is important to find the similarities and differences between Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex cuisine, to be able to understand and respect them as two independent styles with a common heritage.
Tex-Mex cuisine, first of all, should be considered as one more of the regional American cuisines, which does not pretend to be anything more than that. Its origins, as in many other cases, are the product of various migrations.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries – that is, for more than 300 years – the Spanish crown ruled almost the entire American continent. And despite the length of that domain, the Spanish presence in the current United States and Canada has fallen into strange oblivion.
A particularly notable forgetfulness “among the Spaniards themselves, who are unaware of the immense footprint of their ancestors in those lands,” says David de Caixal, a renowned military historian, Membership in support of the AUSA Association of the United States Army
And it is that, at the time of maximum expansion, between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Spanish territories comprised more than half of the current United States.
The US states of California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Alaska were Spanish possessions that were part of the Viceroyalty from New Spain.
Spanish soldiers in Florida
From the time Ponce de León set foot on the Florida peninsula in 1513 until the last red flag was lowered in 1821, there were 308 years of Hispanic rule that extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
America’s First Thanksgiving Day It was celebrated by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés after founding St. Augustine in Florida on September 8, 1565, through a mass and a fellowship meal celebrated between Spaniards and Saturiwa natives, 56 years before the Playmouth Rock pilgrims.
And also the second, in this case on April 30, 1598, when 600 Spanish colonists, led by Juan de Oñate, crossed the Rio Grande in El Paso -Texas-, and celebrated together with the Manso Indians the end of a long journey through the Chihuahuan desert.
Their Thanksgiving ceremony is still known as Texas Thanksgiving. So to trace the origin of Tex-Mex cuisine, we cannot ignore this decisive migratory influence.
The first was at the end of the 16th century, at the time of the Spanish missions, when these colonizers brought large amounts of cattle, in addition to their traditions and customs, which were mixed with the customs of the native peoples of the region.
The next influence comes with a second Spanish migratory wave, coming from the Canary Islands. Many of these settlers arrived accompanied by their slaves, mostly from North Africa, and they in turn brought with them their characteristic spicy stews based on meat with spices, particularly cumin and coriander seed, giving rise to the start of an emblematic Tex-Mex dish: chili con carne.
The third migration and certainly the one that contributed the most, it was that of the inhabitants of central Mexico who migrated to Texas, a region at that time still belonging to Mexico, taking with them the cultural and culinary baggage of their homes, which they had to forcibly adapt to the ingredients they found at their disposal.
A clear example is Cheddar cheese, which at that time was much easier to obtain due to the deep-rooted English influence, than the traditional quesillo from Oaxaca. Although Texas became independent years later, this was only politically, since culturally and gastronomically it was impossible.
What unites them and what differentiates them
They share a love for avocado and guacamole: They understand that this fruit tastes good on everything, especially as a salsa mixed with cilantro, onion, lime, and salt.
They also share the burritos, whose origin is disputed by various legends of the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, but that the contemporary ethnogastronomy, fixes without a doubt the Mexican side of the border.
But while in Tex-Mex cuisine they are filled with beans, rice and vegetables, in Mexican cuisine priority is given to quesillo, meat and sauces.
In Texas they understand the tortilla more as a crunchy element, what in Mexico they call tortilla chips or even toast, which is like a container of food.
That’s why they fry them, bathe them in cheddar cheese, garnish with pickled jalapeño peppers and name nachos.
When you are served those rigid, pre-molded tortillas that are sold in any supermarket, and they tell you that it is a Mexican tortilla, smile and never go back to that restaurant.
Another completely Texan dish is chimichangas, which are nothing more than burritos fried in oil. You won’t find tamales or decent ceviche in Texas either, because they just don’t share that part of Mexican cuisine.
Due to the Canarian and African heritage, they use cumin, pepper and cinnamon to give depth. Hence the typical recipe for chilli con carne that has been confused with the Mexican picadillo.
They use preserves in vinegar and brine that balance the pungency of chilies such as the jalapeño but raise their degree of acidity.
Among its most successful dishes is the beef head barbecue, cooked underground for hours and served in tacos with spicy sauce, venison chili with spiced beans, grilled quail in marinade, and the famous fajitas , which were originally prepared with cuts of waste meat.
The peculiarity of Mexican cuisine
Mexican cuisine has the peculiarity that it is difficult to transfer because it involves very special techniques and products that are only found in certain regions of Mexico.
Talking about tacos, tamales, chili peppers, moles and everything that involves Mexican gastronomy means also talking about biodiversity, techniques, traditions and history.
Added to this, the flavor of the Mexican ingredients is unique and very intense; there is no way to remain indifferent to the heat of a chili or the aroma of a mole.
It is impossible to cook with the love that a Mexican cooks. Season with the taste that a Mexican does. Combine the ingredients of a mole, sometimes more than fifty, as a Mexican does.
So dear readers, it is impossible, in short, to eat good Mexican food outside of Mexico. On the other hand, Tex-Mex cuisine is very easy to export to any part of the world. Its ingredients allow it to be made in any country.
Any cook can make Tex-Mex food. Moreover, with a good Procedures Manual and good food handling practices, more than one successful franchise makes Tex-Mex cuisine with kitchen workers.