When Tex Met Mex
Enchiladas smothered in neon-orange cheese, burritos as big as your forearm spilling with rice and sour cream, and runny refried beans in a puddle next to a mound of yellow rice—welcome to the world of Tex-Mex, a delicious hybrid of Spanish and Mexican flavors that dates back to the time of the conquistadors.
When the first Spaniards arrived in Galveston in 1528, led by a guy named Cabeza de Vaca (Mr. Cow Head, to you), they were met by the Karankawas, indigenous hunter-gatherers who ate a whole lot of foraged plants, local shellfish, and all the turkeys, rabbits, and deer they could kill.
De Vaca, a castaway who washed up naked on the beach, didn’t contribute much to the local fare, but later ships from the Old World brought chickens, and other livestock, as well as rice, and treasures from the spice route, including cumin, cinnamon, and peppercorns. These ingredients sparked an evolution of the regional diet, as cooks in the Rio Grande region incorporated these with foods native to the Americas, including tomatoes, corn, and chile peppers.
Of course, food is never just what we eat. Look deep enough and you’ll find there’s a portion of politics on every plate. In 1821, Spain got the boot and the region officially became a part of Mexico. Twenty years later, Texas declared statehood. These swift-moving cultural shifts, aided by the expansion of the railroads and the industrialization of food production, had an impact, too, as they brought new ingredients to the pot. Today, Tex-Mex continues to define itself, evidenced by crisp-shelled tacos, fully-loaded nachos, and blue margaritas.
In the late 1800s, the Central New York city of Utica became home to a thriving community of southern-Italian immigrants. A popular dish on dinner tables was escarole cooked with a rich mix of prosciutto, Parmesan, and breadcrumbs. In the 1980s, local Italian-American chef Joe Morelle put it on his restaurant menu as “Greens Morelle.” It became such a hit, other restaurants adapted and renamed it Utica Greens.Read more