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Tex-Mex was still called Mexican food when its popularity began to spread beyond Texas to other parts of the country. But the biggest fans of Tex-Mex have always been west of the Mississippi. Texas-Mexican food first became popular in the Midwest in 1893, when a San Antonio chili stand was set up at the Chicago World's Fair. Chili con carne was being canned in Oklahoma and St. Louis by 1910. Cincinnati's first chili joint opened in 1922. And more chili joints sprung up across the country, becoming Depression-era havens for cheap food. Meanwhile, tamale vendors popularized another kind of Mexican food across the country. In The World on a Plate, food historian Joel Denker tells us tamales were among the most common foods on the streets of Chicago in the early 1900s and were far more popular than hamburgers.
Because of their greater familiarity with its traditions, food writers and cooking authorities from the western half of the country think of Tex-Mex more sympathetically than do their New York counterparts.
"I love Tex-Mex. I grew up on it," says Rick Bayless, author of Authentic Mexican and Mexico One Plate at a Time.
In his cookbooks, Bayless, who comes from Oklahoma, pays tribute to Tex-Mex as a distinctive regional cuisine. "When people cook from the heart, there isn't a right, or wrong, way to do it," he told me. Bayless said that when writing Authentic Mexican, his first cookbook, which was published in 1987, he wanted to include Tex-Mex as well as New Mexican and California Mexican. But his New York editor didn't share his point of view.
In Eating in America: A History (1976), the late Chicago food writer Waverly Root defines Tex-Mex as a unique regional cuisine: "Tex-Mex food might be described as native foreign food, contradictory through that term may seem. It is native, for it does not exist elsewhere; it was born on this soil. But it is foreign in that its inspiration came from an alien cuisine; that it has never merged into the mainstream of American cooking and remains alive almost solely in the region where it originated . . ."
Today, most people agree that Tex-Mex isn't really Mexican food. And for reasons I hope this book will explain, Tex-Mex has started to shed its negative connotations. In the last five years, some of the same Texas-Mexican restaurants that once shunned the term have begun to claim they invented Tex-Mex!
Meanwhile, historians are beginning to study "Tex-Mex" more seriously. As it has become more widely understood to describe an American regional cooking style, it has also begun to be used retroactively. Culinary folklorists now trace Tex-Mex cooking all the way back to the state's Native American peoples and to Juan de Onate's colonists who first brought European livestock to El Paso in 1581.
"Tex-Mex foods are a combination of Indian and Spanish cuisines, which came together to make a distinct new cuisine," writes Joe S. Graham in the Texas State Historical Society's Handbook of Texas Online.
For all these reasons, I thought this might be a good time for a Tex-Mex cookbook. For the past ten years, I have been gathering scraps that I thought might shed some light on the story of Tex-Mex cooking. From restaurants and museums, garage sales and presidential libraries, I've collected recipes, snapshots, menus, postcards, and advertisements for canned chili. And I've interviewed a bunch of colorful veterans of the Tex-Mex restaurant business. In this book, I have put those scraps together. The result is not a complete picture but a fragmented collage made up of one man's gleanings.
It's been more than thirty years since The Cuisines of Mexico was published, and many of its baroque Mexican dishes seem like museum pieces now, while at the same time, Tex-Mex has achieved worldwide popularity.
We can all thank Diana Kennedy for inadvertently granting Tex-Mex its rightful place in food history. By convincing us that Tex-Mex wasn't really Mexican food, she forced us to realize that it was something far more interesting: America's oldest regional cuisine.
-Oxford English Dictionary: "Designating the Texan variety of something Mexican. First use in print, Time magazine, 1941 '. . . Tex-Mex Spanish, that half-English half-Spanish patois of the border . . .' "
-Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition Dictionary: "Of, relating to, or being the Mexican-American culture or cuisine existing or originating in esp. southern Texas."
-Food Lover's Companion: "A term given to food (as well as music, etc.) based on the combined cultures of Texas and Mexico."
"In Spanish, a Texan of Mexican descent is called a tejano or tejana (with a lowercase t). Hispanics in Texas identified themselves as Tejanos as early as January 1833, when leaders at Goliad used the term. Contemporary historians use the term to distinguish Mexican Texans from residents of other regions and to distinguish them from the Texians as Anglo-American Texans were called, during the period between the end of the Spanish era in 1821 to Texas Independence in 1836.
"The term 'Tejano' gained greater currency following the Chicano movement of the mid-1960s with corresponding changes in nuance and usage. It now encompasses language, literature, art, music, and cuisine. Tex-Mex is a related term that is not synonymous."
-Adán Benavides from the Handbook of Texas Online.
|Introduction: Tex-Mex: That Lovable Ugly Duckling||XIV|
|Chapter 1||Talking Tex-Mex: Terms, Tools, and Techniques||XX|
|Chapter 2||Old-fashioned Breakfasts: The Spanish Missions and the Cowboy Culture||16|
|Chapter 3||Chili con Carne: The Chili Joints and the Chili Queens||38|
|Chapter 4||Early Combination Plates: The Original Mexican Restaurant||62|
|Chapter 5||Hot Tamales! Mexican, Tejano, and Southern-style||80|
|Chapter 6||West Texas Enchiladas: The Old Borunda Cafe||98|
|Chapter 7||Mex-Mex: The Myth of Authenticity||114|
|Chapter 8||Dulces and Desserts: The Pecan Shellers' Uprising||138|
|Chapter 9||American Cheese Enchiladas: The Mexican-American Generation||152|
|Chapter 10||Puffy, Crispy, and Crazy: The Lost Art of the Taco||174|
|Chapter 11||The Junk Food Era: Nachos, Bean Dip, and Frito Pie||190|
|Chapter 12||Sizzling Fajitas: Tejano Tastes from the Valley||206|
|Chapter 13||Frozen or On the Rocks? The Margarita Revival||224|
|Chapter 14||From Paris, Texas, to Paris, France: Twenty-first-century Tex-Mex||238|
Posted September 13, 2005
As a born and bred Texan now living in Upstate New York, I felt immediately at home while perusing this book. The recipes chosen were a spot-on representation of what defines the glorious whole of Tex Mex cuisine. As for the people and culinary institutions brought to life on the pages, well, let me just say that I recognized enough of them to realize how much of a stranger to the North East I am and always will be. Have to go now ¿ have some enchiladas to bake, and some plane reservations to make.
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Posted August 20, 2004
I was taken with the history,& the pictures are great! This book gives you the feel of the cowboy days and that you are 'there' enjoying the smells, thrills, flavors and tastes but most of all the people. You're a guest of a fasinating culture. Good food, easy recipes. Enjoy. I really love this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2010
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Posted June 10, 2010
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Posted October 20, 2009
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