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Tex-Mex vs. Americanized Mexican


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If Tex-Mex is simply a Texan interpretation of Mexican cuisine, rooted perhaps in the special ranch culture of the early days of the state, what seperates Tex-Mex from generic Americanized Mexican cuisine?

Tex-Mex as a cuisine seems to have potential to be considered to still be evolving and growing, but as the ranch and cowboy culture which drove its early days is no longer around, is new Tex-Mex anything other than Americanized Mexican that happens to be from Texas? Do state or even national borders matter at this point? Would the same dish be treated differently if instead of originating in Mexico, it instead came out of Texas, or even Wisconsin? Along the same lines as this question: if Tex-Mex is a valid cuisine and is simply a Texan spin on Mexican, wouldn't all Americanized Mexican be just as valid?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Isn't Cajun food just a Louisiana spin on French food?

Hence isn't all Americanized French food equal in importance to Cajun cuisine?

Tejano culture began when native Americans from the Gulf Coast were trained in Spanish missions of San Antonio to speak Spanish and practice agriculture. There was no Mexico at the time, it was all New Spain. So, the cultural antecendents of Tex-Mex predate the formation of the Mexican nation.

Any Spanish missions in Wisconsin?

But as you may notice one recipe in The Tex Mex Cookbook comes from Paris, and I don't mean Paris, Texas. Tex-Mex is being adapted all over the world. Not Mexican food. Tex-Mex.

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I'd like you to explore, though, the difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican-American. I generally don't use the term here in Oregon (ie, Tex-Mex) because it's misleading. People have a tendency to call our food here Tex-Mex even though it's largely not, imo. It's more influenced by California (and hence, Sonora) than by Texas. We have both the baja influences and the Sonoran influences and the ubiquitous items like the "mission burrito". You rarely see chile con queso, or chili as a topping for enchiladas, nor the spicy beans, or puffy tacos you can find in Texas here.

Do you delineate much between Tex-Mex and the rest of Mexican-American? There seems to have been a strong intermingling of cuisines both ways. The burrito is now part of Texas, as are blue corn, sopapillas, quesadillas, etc. And fajitas and nachos are certainly a part of every Mexican restaurant's repetoire, as are cheese and ground beef enchiladas.

Do you eat much non-Texas Mexican-American? It seems to me that New Mexico's foods are still largely undiscovered. Sonora/California and Texas seem to have made much bigger strides through places like Taco Bell, Chilis, Chipotle, and so on.

I've looked through the book a little and plan on buying it at Amazon (so I can give a little cut to this site) soon. It looks every bit as good as your Legends book.

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Do you eat much non-Texas Mexican-American? It seems to me that New Mexico's foods are still largely undiscovered.

I have eaten a lot of New Mexican food. It is quite wonderful. But I would hardly call it undiscovered. On the contrary. Compared to Tex-Mex, New Mexican food is downright overexposed. How many cookbooks has Mark Miller alone published?

But it is difficult to compare the Mexican-American cuisines of Texas and New Mexico with the Mexican-American food in California. Not because of the ingredients, but because of the cultures.

Tejanos make up the majority of the population in South Texas. They are proud of their heritage. And they are responsible for Tex-Mex, Conjunto and Tejano music, which are hugely popular in Northern Mexico as well as South Texas. There is a vibrant culture to observe and a lot of archival material that begs to be documented.

Cookbooks that have come out of California don't tend to celebrate Mexican-American culture, rather they claim Mexican authenticity.

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Compared to Tex-Mex, New Mexican food is downright overexposed. How many cookbooks has Mark Miller alone published?

uh, robb, surely you're not confusing what mark miller does with new mexican food? no, of course not. mark miller has about as much to do with new mexican food as dean fearing does with tex mex (which isn't to say that they're not great cooks). and while tejano culture is indeed vibrant and long-lived, so is new mexican ... since about 1500 or so? ok, granted, the music isn't as good (or maybe just not as overexposed).

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I just don't see many New Mexican dishes making it into the broader Mexican food scene, places like Taco Bell, your average Mexican place in Ohio, or mid-scale chains. It seems to have gotten lost by the domination of California and Texas. That's not necesarily a bad thing. About the closest I've seen is that every once in a while you get blue corn this and that at more upscale places. But it's more just for the novelty, I think.

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Russ Russ Russ Russ Russ.

You Lubbock boys were always a little sweet on New Mexicans.

The question is: Is New Mexican food undiscovered or overexposed?

The contention is that Taco Bell represents Tex-Mex somehow, but not New Mexican. I don't buy it. Taco Bell was invented in San Bernadino, California by an Anglo. And they are culturally callous enough to call a pita a gordita. If they thought they could make a buck on green chile, they would buy it by the boatload.

As for Mark Miller, he is under the impression he is writing about New Mexican food. But it hardly matters if you agree or disagree. I am willing to bet that city has spawned more cookbooks per capita than any place on earth. Mark Miller, the Jamisons, Jane Butel, etc etc.

I am a little prickly on the subject because these guys have long been the publishing industry's Texas experts. According to an article I read, Jane Butel pitched a New Mexican cookbook back in the 1980s. Her New York editors decided it would sell better under the title, Jane Butel's Tex-Mex Cookbook, and regardless of content, it was so labeled. It became the best-selling reference on Tex-Mex in the nation. The book's recipe for chili con carne comes from Chasen's in L.A.

Bill and Cheryl Jamison, the award-winning cookbook authors, live in Santa Fe. They are the authors of The Border Cookbook, on Mexican-American food; and Smoke and Spice, one of the top-selling books on barbecue. (Barbecue in New Mexico?)

I am just hoping there's room on the crowded bookstore shelf occupied by all these New Mexicans for a couple of cookbooks from Texas.

As for the vibrant long-lived culture, I was lumping New Mexico and Texas together (as did the maps of New Spain) when I said:

"But it is difficult to compare the Mexican-American cuisines of Texas and New Mexico with the Mexican-American food in California."

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gee robb, maybe if you sell a couple books you can move to santa fe, too. let's not mistake books written by people who happen to live there with books that actually represent the area (of which, I can think of only one in the modern era: huntley dent's quite nice "feast of santa fe": he does veer off down some coyote cafe streets, but only because a book based on traditional new mexican cooking would be quite thin). and just for the record, though I lived in lubbock for 4 fun-packed years, i've lived in n.m. off and on since 1958.

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No cookbooks about New Mexico? What about:

The Rancho De Chimayo Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico by Cheryl Jamison

Cafe Pasqual's Cookbook: Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe by Katharine Kagel, Barbara Simpson

The Food of Santa Fe: Authentic Recipes from the American Southwest by Dave Dewitt, Nancy Gerlach

Green Chile Bible: Award-Winning New Mexico Recipes by the Albuquerque Tribune

The Red Chile Bible: Southwestern Classic & Gourmet Recipes by Kathleen Hansel, Audrey Jenkins

Best from New Mexico Kitchens by Sheila MacNien Cameron

Best of the Best from New Mexico Cookbook: Selected Recipes from New Mexico's Favorite Cookbooks (Best of the Best Cookbook) by Gwen McKee, et al

Best from New Mexico Kitchens by Sheila MacNien Cameron

The Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook by Susan Curtis

License to Cook New Mexico Style by New Mexico Federation of Business and Professional Women, Esther Feske

Southwest Flavor: Adela Amador's Tales from the Kitchen by Adela Amador

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point taken (and i edited one edition of the tribune book when i was working there!). still, i'd point out that the only two books anyone is likely to have heard of are the restaurant books, which describe more of an individual approach to the food (particularly pasqual). and y ou did leave out the classic "mexican cooking" by erna ferguson (of course it's been out of print for, oh, 40 years). it does have some really interesting historical stuff as it was written before world war II, when the highways/los alamos lab, really began opening up northern new mexico to outsiders ... well, outsiders who weren't artists.

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point taken (and i edited one edition of the tribune book when i was working there!). still, i'd point out that the only two books anyone is likely to have heard of are the restaurant books, which describe more of an individual approach to the food (particularly pasqual). and y ou did leave out the classic "mexican cooking" by erna ferguson (of course it's been out of print for, oh, 40 years). it does have some really interesting historical stuff as it was written before world war II, when the highways/los alamos lab, really began opening up northern new mexico to outsiders ... well, outsiders who weren't artists.

You could say that the Manhattan Project was fueled on Enchiladas then. :laugh:

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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You could say that the Manhattan Project was fueled on Enchiladas then. :laugh:

Stacked enchiladas, I assume. :biggrin:

Even Robb though, in his book, talks about some New Mexican items as if they are Tex-Mex though, doesn't he? I'm thinking in particular of those stacked enchiladas again.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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New Mexico includes most, but not all, of an area first colonized by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate and his 400 colonists in 1581. That area of colonization also included El Paso, Presido, and other areas along the Rio Grande river in present day Texas.

Stacked enchiladas sauced with red or green chile sauce are popular in New Mexico and in those parts of West Texas that were also a part of that Spanish colony. These kind of enchiladas have a long history in Texas. They were served by Tulia Borunda at her cafe in Marfa, Texas--an eatery that opened in 1887. And they have always been the primary enchilada style of El Paso.

While the stacked enchilada may remind many people of New Mexican cuisine, it is also a part of Tex-Mex.

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