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Tuesday April 23rd 2019

The Tex Mexican Mystery

I’d like to be able to say that the Tex-Mex/Mexican food mystery is shrouded in secret spices, but to be honest it’s all about mass-production and availability.  Now, before I make the proprietors of all the restaurants mad, let me try to explain…

Tex-Mex food does have its origins in Mexican food, but for the sake of getting people in, serving delicious food, getting their money, and getting the next eaters in, mass-production is the way to go.  Also, as a diner, I want the enchiladas and fajitas that I had last week, the taste like the enchiladas and fajitas that I have next week to taste the same.  In fact, one of the most successful chains of Tex-Mex food lost my business when they changed they enchilada sauce recipe, for that very reason.

Mexican food is different.  On a recent trip to south Texas, I was able to do a comparison of what I thought was Mexican food, to what I now know to be Mexican food.  There are certainly the same spices being used, but I now know that the use of those spices comes from what was available to the original inhabitance of Mexico, and from what region they came.

Surrounded by the sounds of the evening, and an occasional ESPN app letting us know about the Atlanta Braves scoring, I was able to sit down with local foodie and former columnist for OKIE Magazine, Amy Merchant, and her mother Sylvia, who grew up in home with second-generation Mexicans.  They explained that Mexican cuisine relied greatly upon what was available at the time.  Flour tortillas may have been cheaper to make, but since corn was what was available, corn tortillas were what was made and served in the home.  Sylvia explained that even as she was growing up in a house that had eight children, her mother would made fresh salsa, and would prepare foods with what was available to them.  She added that her parents would have a garden so that they could make dishes with the freshest of ingredients.

One of the interesting facts that Amy brought up was that Tex-Mex cuisine is largely influenced by meat and Mexican cuisine is influenced by what is available.  The one thing that they both have in common is what is available.  Of course, Tex-Mex food is going to be more popular in the southwest region.  The spices and flavors that are rich in Tex-Mex food are what was available in Mexico, but throughout this region of America meat is readily available.

Amy explained, “This is cowboy country; steak and potatoes, hearty, filling food that you could work out on the ranch all day, so they had to adapt their cuisine to that.  For me my favorite thing to eat, which is probably more Tex-Mex or urban is carne asada, just very simple: meat, lime juice, cilantro, on a corn tortilla.  That, to me, is better than refried beans or something heavy like that.  In our opinion, Las Margaritas is the closest to authentic Mexican cuisine.”  Sylvia added that when her mom would cook, it was just like that.

Personally, having grown up eating Tex-Mex food, I prefer Los Tres Amigos.  I know that I’m going to get the same thing every time, and it’s going to taste the same – every time.  I know that every person is going to have different tastes when it comes to Tex-Mex or Mexican food.  It’s a personal decision.  My advice it to get out there, try some different restaurants, and decide which one is best for you.