What Is Texas Mexican Food?

A lot of people are crazy about Texas Mexican (or Tex-Mex) food and for good reason. From chili con queso and nachos to fajitas and enchiladas, Tex-Mex is considered to be the ultimate comfort food for many.

But before it became widely popular all over the US, it experienced a lot of struggles along the way to earn the respect it deserves and to be acknowledged as regional cuisine in its own right.

Surely, it has already gained its right to be a household name around the world now. But with its deep roots in both Spanish and Native American culture, some people are still confused with what Tex-Mex food truly is and where it all began.

This is why in this article, we will take a look at the history of Tex-Mex cuisine and its rise to popularity.

History of Tex-Mex

From the term itself, Texas Mexican cuisine is closely tied to the history of Texas. Essentially, Tex-Mex food is an American and Texan cuisine that derives from the culinary creations of the Tejano people (Texans of Mexican descent) of Texas.

The popularity of Tex-Mex cuisine has a long and rich history that dates back to the Spanish invasion. The flavorful Tex-Mex dishes we know today were created in Texas and have been a staple in Texan culture since the late 1800s.

Southwest beef enchilada - EL RinconWhen Spain invaded Mexico in the early 16th century, the Spanish economic system, religion, and customs were introduced to the colonies all over the area. The native population was still dwelling in these areas at the time. Inevitably, this formed a culture that is a blend of Native Mexican culture and Spanish culture.

So, when Mexico finally gained its independence from Spain in 1821, its native cuisine had already assimilated the ingredients and recipes brought over by their Spanish colonizers.

In 1836, when Texas declared its independence from Mexico and officially became a part of the US in 1845, a lot of new spices and ingredients became more readily available and accessible for the Tejanos.

There are some ingredients that are not common in Mexican cuisine. Many foods like cheddar cheese, beef, wheat, and cumin were introduced and incorporated into the traditional Mexican food by Tejanos cooking in their own homes.

This gave birth to many other popular dishes we eat today, like wheat tortillas, nachos, chili con carne, burritos, and barbacoa. And when these new recipes were introduced and sold in restaurants, they gained popularity as Mexican food.

Introduction of Tex-Mex in the US

It’s hard to imagine, but the term Tex-Mex was not originally created to describe the cuisine. The term TexMex, with no hyphen, was actually first used in 1877 to abbreviate the Texas Mexican Railway that began operating in southern Texas at the time.

By the 1920s, the term Tex-Mex, with hyphen added, was later used to describe the people of Mexican descent living in Texas—more accurately called Tejanos—in American newspapers. Eventually, the label would be applied to the Tejano cuisine or the Mexican-style food typical of the region.

But what popularized the term Tex-Mex was when Diane Kennedy, an influential food authority, explained the distinctions between Mexican cuisine and Americanized Mexican food in her 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico.

In her book, she referred to Texas’ Mexican food as Tex-Mex and called it inauthentic. While it was meant to be negative, Kennedy’s categorization actually legitimized the Tex-Mex cuisine in the US.

Tex-Mex Today

As you can see, the Tex-Mex cuisine that we know today is a product of a long and complicated history of many different cultures and culinary traditions that are inextricably combined.

How To Tell If It Is Tex-Mex?

However, even if Tex-Mex food can be found anywhere in the world today, there are still some Tex-Mex dishes that are still masquerading as Mexican food. Here are some tell-tale signs to know the differences and distinguish the two:

  • It is Tex-Mex if it has black beans instead of pinto beans.
  • It is Tex-Mex if burritos are giant and jam-packed like the ones in Chipotle. Mexican burritos are small with few ingredients.
  • Chimichangas are Tex-Mex.
  • Quesadillas with all of the toppings are a Tex-Mex twist on the simpler tortilla-cheese-tortilla Mexican style quesadilla.
  • It is Tex-Mex if they use flour tortillas.
  • Tex-Mex cuisine uses a lot of cheese as compared to the mainstream Mexican cuisine

Truly Tex-MexSpicy Homemade Cheesey Queso Dip - EL Rincon

Now that you’ve learned about where Tex-Mex cuisine truly began and how it has taken its place as a separate and different type of cuisine from Mexican food, we hope that you have gained a new level of appreciation for your favorite Tex-Mex dishes.

Next time you dine in your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, you will never look at chili con queso the same way again.

The Best Tex-Mex dishes in Texas

Call El Rincon to reserve a table for your next Tex-Mex night!

More from El Rincon Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar

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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.

Besides serving food for our customers in Carrollton and Addison we’re also active in communities across Texas.


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