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"Tex-Mex" (portmanteau of Texan and Mexican) is a term describing a regional American cuisine that blends food products available in the United States and the culinary creations of Mexican-Americans influenced by Mexican cuisine. The cuisine has spread from border states such as Texas and those in the Southwestern United States to the rest of the country as well as Canada. Tex-Mex is most popular in the state of Texas. Tex-Mex is very different from the Southwest cuisine found in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. In some places, particularly outside of Texas, "Tex-Mex" is used to describe a localized version of Mexican cuisine. It is common for all of these foods to be referred to as "Mexican food" in Texas, other parts of the United States, and some other countries. In other ways, it is Southern cooking using the commodities from Mexican culture. In many parts of the U.S. outside of Texas the term is synonymous with Southwestern cuisine.
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Some ingredients are common in Mexican cuisine, but other ingredients not typically used in Mexico are often added. Tex-Mex cuisine is characterized by its heavy use of shredded cheese, meat (particularly beef and pork), beans, and spices, in addition to Mexican-style tortillas. Dishes such as Texas-style chili con carne and fajitas are all Tex-Mex inventions. Moreover, Tex-Mex has imported flavors from other spicy cuisines, such as the use of cumin (common in Indian cuisine, but used in only a few central Mexican recipes).
The word "Tex-Mex" first entered the English language as a nickname for the Texas Mexican Railway, chartered in southern Texas in 1875. In train schedules published in the newspapers of the 1800s the names of railroads were abbreviated. The Missouri Pacific was called the Mo. Pac. and the Texas-Mexican was abbreviated Tex. Mex. In the 1920s, the hyphenated form was used in American newspapers in reference to the railroad and to describe people of Mexican ancestry who were born in Texas.
In the mission era, Spanish and Mexican cuisines were combined in Texas as in other parts of the northern frontier of New Spain. However, the cuisine that would come to be called Tex-Mex actually originated with Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) as a mix of native Mexican and Spanish foods when Texas was part of New Spain and later Mexico.
From the South Texas region between San Antonio, Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, this cuisine has had little variation, and from earliest times has always been influenced by the cooking in the neighboring northern states of Mexico. The ranching culture of South Texas and Northern Mexico straddles both sides of the border. A taste for cabrito (kid goat), barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued beef heads), carne seca (dried beef), and other products of cattle culture is common on both sides of the Rio Grande. In the 20th century, Tex-Mex took on such Americanized elements as yellow cheese, as goods from the United States became cheap and readily available.
In much of Texas, the cooking styles on both sides of the U.S. - Mexico border were the same until a period after the U.S. Civil War. With the railroads, American ingredients and cooking appliances became common on the U.S. side.
The Oxford English Dictionary supplies the first-known uses in print of "Tex-Mex" in reference to food, from a 1963 article in the New York Times Magazine, and a 1966 item in the Great Bend (Kansas) Tribune. Diana Kennedy, an influential food authority, explained the distinctions between Mexican cuisine and Americanized Mexican food in her 1972 book The Cuisines of Mexico. Robb Walsh of the Houston Press said the book "was a breakthrough cookbook, one that could have been written only by a non-Mexican. It unified Mexican cooking by transcending the nation's class divisions and treating the food of the poor with the same respect as the food of the upper classes." Another early instance in print appeared in the Mexico City News in 1973.
Award-winning Texas food writer Robb Walsh (of the Houston Press) updated Kennedy and put her comments regarding Tex-Mex cooking into historical and sociopolitical perspective in The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos (New York: Broadway Books, 2004).
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