Tex-Mex Food. Tex Mex could be described as a regional American cuisine which was created by combining American ingredients with traditional Mexican dishes.
Tex Mex - From Hybrid to Thoroughbred
Tex-Mex is a regional American cuisine which was created by combining American ingredients with traditional Mexican dishes; consequently, this style of cooking has been previously described as 'native Mexican food' when in fact it is really Mexican-inspired American food.
Tex-Mex emerged as a term in 1875 as a nickname for the Texas-Mexican Railway and was first used in relation to food in 1945 as being the culinary product of Texans with Hispanic roots –known as Tejanos. During the 1970s, Tex-Mex became the newest gastronomic trend due to its promotion by the respected English expert on Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy, and quickly became a "must-try" food, particularly among the younger Americans.
So what are the staples of Tex-Mex food?
- Tortillas–the "bread" of Mexico.
- Tacos–usually stewed or roasted meat and salad presented in a hard or soft tortilla shell.
- Enchiladas–rolled corn tortillas filled with meat and vegetable and oven cooked and smothered in sauce and cheese.
- Fajitas-Sliced grilled meat, peppers and onions served on a platter accompanied by tortillas. Also served with traditional side dishes like rice, beans and salsas.
So is it possible to decipher which elements of Tex-Mex are traditionally Mexican and which are not?
There is much debate as to whether Tex-Mex cuisine can be classified as "real Mexican food". It has been argued that ingredients used in Tex-Mex cooking appear to be misconstrued versions of those found in the original Mexican dishes. For example, Mexico's 'frijoles refritos' was interpreted in Tex-Mex as 'refried beans' as opposed to 'well-cooked beans'. Also, while chili was never traditionally used in Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex uses chili in abundance for a variety of Tex-Mex dishes, perhaps being more reminiscent of Indian rather than Mexican food. Moreover, it is not difficult to identify the 'non-Mexican' elements of Tex-Mex cuisine, such as the yellow cheese in which Tex-Mex enchiladas are often smothered, which is a patent Americanization of traditional Mexican food; this yellow cheese was cheap and readily available during the 1900s in America, hence its addition to the Tex-Mex fare. The aforementioned cooking authority of the 70s, Diana Kennedy, added to the perception of Tex-Mex being distinct from Mexican cooking by referring to Tex-Mex as 'mixed plates [from] so-called Mexican restaurants' in her cookery book. This seems to indicate that Tex-Mex is not only separate from Mexican cuisine, but perhaps also an inferior fusion of different cooking styles, culminating in a substandard version of the original dishes from Mexico.
However, this argument is often contested in that, despite exhibiting some differences,Tex-Mex does not vary greatly from traditional Mexican food and is essentially 'half-Texan, half-Mexican'. This is illustrated by the fact that tortillas, which are perhaps the most widely-acknowledged component of Mexican cooking, form the base of many dishes produced in Tex-Mex restaurants. From this perspective, while Tex-Mex exhibits experimental dishes with stray somewhat from traditional Mexican food, the essence of Mexico's cuisine is at the heart of Tex-Mex food.
While some say it is a predominantly Mexican fare and others claim it is a distant relative of Mexico’s culinary heritage, it seems that Tex-Mex, be it ‘half-Texan, half-Mexican’, ‘predominantly American’ or ‘predominantly Mexican’, is a cuisine which has developed in its own right during the 20th and 21st Centuries, growing into a style of cooking which has both encouraged culinary speculation and inspired the opening of many Tex-Mex restaurants. Undoubtedly, the hybrid Tex-Mex has developed into a thoroughbred which is enjoying an ever-widening international presence on the culinary spectrum.