Fast Food Catering

The Tex-Mex and Mexican Divide

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The United States is known for its melting pot culture – and it applies to its hodgepodge of cuisines from the Americas to Asia, Africa and Europe. Among its most notable fusion cuisines is Tex-Mex, obviously a mix of Texan and Mexican cuisine, which is available in many restaurant chains like Chipotle.

But what makes Tex-Mex dish Tex-Mex and a Mexican dish Mexican? There seems to be little distinction between the two but you will be surprised because there’s a great divide between the two types.  Here’s what you need to know.  

Tex-Mex as a Modern Creation

Mexican cuisine has a rich history rooted in Mexico’s peoples and places. If you want to enjoy true-blue Mexican cuisine, then you have to cross the border into Mexico, venture into the interiors, and find hole-in-the-wall restaurants, perhaps be graciously invited into a Mexican home. You will find that it has different flavors, textures and appearances than the standard Tex-Mex food available in American homes and restaurants.

In contrast, Tex-Mex cuisine is a modern creation although it has its roots in the birth of the American nation. When Anglo-American settlers first colonized present-day Texas, they encountered the food and drinks of Mexicans. For them, the Rio Grande area presented plenty of opportunities to experiment with the exotic dishes, desserts and drinks – but there were no chili or nachos then, which are staples in Tex-Mex cuisine now.  

In the process of experimentation, these home cooks used ingredients that weren’t staples in Mexican cooking but were basics in the Texan diet. These ingredients included wheat flour and beef.

But Mexican cooks also started using American elements including ingredients in their fare, mainly to accommodate the preferences of diners. This meant pairing ground beef with traditional enchiladas, among other then-experimental dishes.  

But it was only in the 1940s when the first mention of Tex-Mex cuisine was made. By the 1970s, it was accepted as a new cuisine unique to the country, especially in Texas.

Tex-Mex Staples

So what’s the simple test to determine whether a dish is Tex-Mex or not? If it has beef, wheat flour, cumin, canned vegetables particularly tomatoes, black beans, and yellow cheese, then it is Tex-Mexm hands down.

The staples in Tex-Mex cuisine then include:

  • Texas chili con carne that combines the robustness of beef and the heat of chilies
  • Steak fajitas with its grilled skirt steak that celebrate the meat’s robust appeal
  • Queso, known as the Texan national party dip, with its ground beef and rich seasoning
  • Nachos are usually made of fried tortilla chips, which are topped with pickled jalapenos and doused in cheese
  • Refried beans with its earthy, creamy and slightly sweet flavors
  • Cheese enchiladas with their saucier and cheesier flavors than their Mexican counterparts
  • Tacos specially puffy tacos from San Antonio and breakfast tacos

Look for these dishes and start your Tex-Mex journey!  

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