Because of their greater familiarity with its traditions, food
writers and cooking authorities from the western half of the country
think of Tex-Mex more sympathetically than do their New York counterparts.
"I love Tex-Mex. I grew up on it," says Rick Bayless,
author of Authentic Mexican and Mexico One Plate at a Time.
In his cookbooks, Bayless, who comes from Oklahoma, pays tribute
to Tex-Mex as a distinctive regional cuisine. "When people
cook from the heart, there isn't a right, or wrong, way to do it,"
he told me. Bayless said that when writing Authentic Mexican, his
first cookbook, which was published in 1987, he wanted to include
Tex-Mex as well as New Mexican and California Mexican. But his New
York editor didn't share his point of view.
In Eating in America: A History (1976), the late Chicago food writer
Waverly Root defines Tex-Mex as a unique regional cuisine: "Tex-Mex
food might be described as native foreign food, contradictory through
that term may seem. It is native, for it does not exist elsewhere;
it was born on this soil. But it is foreign in that its inspiration
came from an alien cuisine; that it has never merged into the mainstream
of American cooking and remains alive almost solely in the region
where it originated . . ."
Today, most people agree that Tex-Mex isn't really Mexican food.
And for reasons I hope this book will explain, Tex-Mex has started
to shed its negative connotations. In the last five years, some
of the same Texas-Mexican restaurants that once shunned the term
have begun to claim they invented Tex-Mex!
Meanwhile, historians are beginning to study "Tex-Mex"
more seriously. As it has become more widely understood to describe
an American regional cooking style, it has also begun to be used
retroactively. Culinary folklorists now trace Tex-Mex cooking all
the way back to the state's Native American peoples and to Juan
de Onate's colonists who first brought European livestock to El
Paso in 1581.
"Tex-Mex foods are a combination of Indian and Spanish cuisines,
which came together to make a distinct new cuisine," writes
Joe S. Graham in the Texas State Historical Society's Handbook of
For all these reasons, I thought this might be a good time for
a Tex-Mex cookbook. For the past ten years, I have been gathering
scraps that I thought might shed some light on the story of Tex-Mex
cooking. From restaurants and museums, garage sales and presidential
libraries, I've collected recipes, snapshots, menus, postcards,
and advertisements for canned chili. And I've interviewed a bunch
of colorful veterans of the Tex-Mex restaurant business. In this
book, I have put those scraps together. The result is not a complete
picture but a fragmented collage made up of one man's gleanings.
It's been more than thirty years since The Cuisines of Mexico was
published, and many of its baroque Mexican dishes seem like museum
pieces now, while at the same time, Tex-Mex has achieved worldwide
We can all thank Diana Kennedy for inadvertently granting Tex-Mex
its rightful place in food history. By convincing us that Tex-Mex
wasn't really Mexican food, she forced us to realize that it was
something far more interesting: America's oldest regional cuisine.
-Oxford English Dictionary: "Designating the Texan variety
of something Mexican. First use in print, Time magazine, 1941 '.
. . Tex-Mex Spanish, that half-English half-Spanish patois of the
border . . .' "
-Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition Dictionary:
"Of, relating to, or being the Mexican-American culture or
cuisine existing or originating in esp. southern Texas."
-Food Lover's Companion: "A term given to food (as well as
music, etc.) based on the combined cultures of Texas and Mexico."
"In Spanish, a Texan of Mexican descent is called a tejano
or tejana (with a lowercase t). Hispanics in Texas identified themselves
as Tejanos as early as January 1833, when leaders at Goliad used
the term. Contemporary historians use the term to distinguish Mexican
Texans from residents of other regions and to distinguish them from
the Texians as Anglo-American Texans were called, during the period
between the end of the Spanish era in 1821 to Texas Independence
"The term 'Tejano' gained greater currency following the Chicano
movement of the mid-1960s with corresponding changes in nuance and
usage. It now encompasses language, literature, art, music, and
cuisine. Tex-Mex is a related term that is not synonymous."
from the Handbook of Texas Online.