If you like eating good food, you have probably enjoyed an enchilada or two before. It is a dish that seems to be universally liked by everyone.
But have you ever wondered what an authentic enchilada is? And what is the long and colorful, albeit at times dark, history behind the rich and flavorful dish that originated from Mexico.
More than a culinary monument, the history of enchiladas is like the history of Mexico on a plate. Its history shows that enchilada is a product of Mexican heritage combined with colonialism and cultural appropriation.
The roots of enchilada date back to the Aztec Empire. Its long history goes way back to pre-Columbian days when eating foods wrapped in a tortilla was the most popular way to eat in the Aztec Empire, particularly in the region of Mexico by the Yucatan.
There is much evidence to suggest that Mayans first created enchiladas when they started eating corn tortillas that had fish rolled in it.
It is similar to a traditional Mayan dish called papadzules. This dish, dipped in pumpkinseed, rolled around chopped boiled egg, and then smothered in tomato sauce, is said to be food for the nobles served for special occasions.
Another trace of enchilada ‘s origin could be found in the book “Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España” by a Spanish conquistador named Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Published in 1576, the book recounts the time when Spanish conquistadors had their first taste of enchiladas and how its richness led to its historic preservation.
In Diaz’s account, the Spaniards favored some of the local cuisines that were served around in the Aztec Capital and had a particular liking for enchiladas.
It became popular among the conquistadors for its versatility and simplicity as it can be easily made and eaten during long marches.
It wasn’t long before Spanish conquistadors started to appropriate it into their culture and taste. They made modifications and began to use ingredients such as pork, cheese, chicken, and spicy sauces instead of chili paste to raise the flavor profile.
It was during the Spanish colonization that the “modified enchilada” started to be referred to as enchilada, as an effort to fit it into the Spanish culture.
The name enchilada is the past participle of the Spanish word ‘enchilar’ which means ‘to add chili pepper to’ or literally ‘to season or decorate with chili’.
Later on, enchilada became a defining feature of the new Spanish colony. During the colonization period, the colonists of New Spain have begun to slowly adapt this newly discovered simple recipe, even adding a few modifications.
By the time Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexican cuisine began to form its own identity and flavors.
With Aztec and Spanish influences, the enchilada gradually took on the image of distinctively Mexican food. Easily, it became the closest thing the new country had to a national dish.
When multiple territories: Texas, California, and the Southwest were annexed by the United States in the 1840s, American culture started absorbing Mexican cuisine. With enchiladas at the forefront, Mexican cuisine became so popular throughout the Southwest region.
As many people moved to and from the region, they took recipes for enchiladas and other dishes with them. This laid the foundations for what would eventually become the well-known and loved style or method of cooking called ‘Tex-Mex’ cuisine.
By the late 1800s, regional recipe books started to record accounts of enchiladas. The earliest account appeared in a cookbook published in 1876 called the Centennial Buckeye Cook Book.
During that time, these cookbooks were typically aimed at struggling poor families to teach them how to be resourceful in order to make ends meet.
Even if enchiladas are delicious and great for many other reasons, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that it gained a wider acceptance nationwide.
During the early 1920’s, many restaurants and eateries in the southern states started serving enchiladas despite the anti-Mexican sentiments running high in some areas.
Not long after, people started clamoring for its taste. Eventually, the dish became very popular not just in the southern states, but throughout the whole country as well.
Today, enchiladas have distinctive recipes with unique fillings and sauces. From their original form, as a simple corn tortilla dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings, enchiladas eventually evolved into many varieties.
Fillings may include any kind of meat (e.g. beef, poultry, pork, seafood), cheese, vegetables, beans, tofu, and potatoes in any kind of combination. Toppings and garnishings usually include lettuce, sour cream, olives, onions, avocado, salsa, chili peppers, or fresh cilantro.
Enchiladas have become easily customizable to suit personal preferences and tastes. Aside from its delicious taste, its versatility have surely made it a popular menu item at many Mexican restaurants around the world.
Essentially, it all boils down to how enchiladas transcends time, culture, and social class. As we have seen in its long and rich history, enchiladas have been appropriated and changed so many times by different people and cultures in the process.
It is really problematic and misleading to regard one recipe as more authentic than the others. What we can do though is to continuously enjoy and appreciate this delicious dish for more years to come.
Now that you’ve learned the whole enchilada about enchiladas, it’s time you appreciate its history while appreciating its delicious taste as well.
At El Rincon, only the finest and freshest ingredients are used to prepare and cook authentic Mexican cuisine, including enchiladas.
Whether you like beef, chicken, vegetables, or cheese, El Rincon has something for you.
Come and visit El Rincon to get a taste of delicious Mexican cuisine in Texas.
El Rincon Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar or known as El Rincon among the locals around the restaurant serves Mexican food and drink made from the freshest ingredients.
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