To those of you who are unsure of the history, once upon a time there was a large part of the USA which was actually Mexico, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. Following many battles and deals however, those states eventually fell into US hands. The reason for this brief history lesson however is to showcase the reason that we have a clear difference in food, between what is considered to be Tex-Mex and what is considered Mexican.
Now there are some dishes like Chili con Carne and Nachos which only exist in Tex-Mex cooking, and whilst you will find them in Mexico, they are not Mexican dishes as such. There are also some dishes that can be found in both cuisines, only with some key differences, let’s take a look.
Tacos are probably the greatest snack on the planet and the range of fillings and toppings that you can find is pretty endless. There are however some key changes between the two cuisine styles, which offer up entirely different options. For example generally speaking the taco from Mexico features a very small corn tortilla which is filled up with the goods, and then dressed. Alternatively in Tex-Mex style, they often use flour tortillas or they will use the much-maligned hard shell tortilla. In Mexico these hard shells are tostadas and they are flat and filled, never curved.
The quesadilla seems to have evolved over time and in Tex-Mex is usually a flour tortilla which is loaded with cheese and chicken, and then cooked in the oven with another flour tortilla on top, which ends being more like a cheesy pie. In Mexico the quesadillas are always made with corn tortillas, either blue corn or regular, and then they are served very simply with the filling inside and then fried up. Sometimes you may find quesadillas which are deep fried too, fatty but damn delicious.
As we can see from these examples, the reason why Tex-Mex uses the ingredients that it does is because of the American influence. This is something which we can also see in the enchiladas which are made in Tex-Mex cooking, that usually feature ground beef inside and yellow cheese. South of the border however this is not the case at all and enchiladas are usually topped with red or green chili peppers and then covered in cream and fresh cheese.
Finally there are some key differences in the sauces which are available in Tex-Mex and the ingredients which are used to make them. For example there is a much heavier reliance on cumin whereas in Mexican cooking there is a much bigger focus on ingredients such as chili peppers, oregano and epazote.
My friend Rose Burillo is a chef and she is often bothered when people confuse the two types of food, what we can say, and even she would agree, is that both have their place in world cuisine, it is just important to recognize the differences between the two.
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