When the United States was still an infant nation, rough and tumbling cowboys made their way across the Midwest and down south to Mexico. They experienced many new and exciting traditions and cultural trademarks of the native peoples who lived around the Rio Grande. One of the most magnetic aspects of Mexico was the excellent food. No, it was not the cheesy nachos and giant sizzling burritos that are seen in American restaurants today, but it was delicious, and American citizens were excited to take the recipes back to their own towns.
Nowhere was this “new” cuisine more popular than in Texas, no doubt due to its neighboring location to Mexico. Texans loved Mexican flavors, but they were also quite partial to their own. The marriage created an entirely new cuisine. Today, most Americans do not know that Tex-Mex is not traditional Mexican food. Here are the differences between Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.
Beef is extremely common on menus in American Mexican restaurants. Some people are surprised to learn that beef is not a traditional staple of the Mexican people. In fact, few people, except the affluent cattle farms of the North, use beef in Mexico. Beef was a huge staple not far north of the border, though, in the rolling hills of Texas. Texans incorporated beef into their take on traditional Mexican favorites pretty instantaneously. People throughout the country still love beef in their tacos, nachos and burritos, but do not be fooled: beef is a classic Tex-Mex additive.
Many Americans create their Mexican dishes using cumin, a great “smoky flavor” spice that was actually imported to the United States from England. Though the flavor was adopted by neighboring regions South of the border, the Americans were using it religiously long before. Cumin was one of the first flavors used to take traditional Mexican cuisine and form modern day Tex-Mex.
Nearly every favorite dish in United States Mexican restaurants incorporates cheese. The irony is that these dishes often require American cheese, a clear give away that traditional Mexican Cuisine is not on the menu. Cheese, especially that which is made from cow’s milk, was not commonly used by Mexican cooks before or after the creation of Tex-Mex.
Most of the most beloved “Mexican” dishes that are consumed in the U.S. are fabrications of the real deal. There is no such thing as cheesy nachos in Mexico, no stuffed burritos and even chili con carne was the creation of innovative Texas cattlemen. Fajitas are also a far cry from traditional Mexican cuisine.
Nearly every Mexican restaurant in the United States is, in fact, Tex-Mex. That is no travesty, as Americans love their take on old world classics. North American flare combined with tried and true flavors creates dishes that are simply irresistible.