If you look up Tex-Mex food in the dictionary, you will find many different definitions. Some dictionary definitions say Tex-Mex is Americanized Mexican food, or just a kind of Mexican food in Texas. In Texas, however, Tex-Mex means a large, specific part of Mexican food. If it involves yellow cheese enchiladas with onions and chili gravy, then it is considered Tex-Mex food. If it is fish tacos in San Francisco, then that is not Tex-Mex food. It is Mexican-American food, but not Tex-Mex.
Tex-Mex foods are generally considered a combination of Indian and Spanish cuisines, which came together to make an all-new cuisine, called Tex-Mex. For many years, people who owned the Tex-Mex restaurants would not use that term at all. It was considered a slur and an insult, because the term Tex-Mex was looked to mean Americanized Mexican food. This insult cost Mexican-Texan families quite a bit of business in the restaurant business for generations.
Tex-Mex was still called Mexican food when its popularity began to grow beyond the Texas state lines to other parts of the country. A San Antonio chili stand set up a booth at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Because of that, chili con carne was being canned in Oklahoma and St. Louis by 1910. After that, more and more chili stands started springing up across the country.
Tex-Mex food is now being studied as an American regional food, as it becomes more widely understood and described as a regional American cooking style. Historians now trace Tex-Mex all the way back to Native American peoples. There is even evidence that ties Tex-Mex food to colonists who brought cattle to El Paso in 1581.
Today, Tex-Mex food can be considered native foreign food, as it really does not exist anywhere else. It is foreign because the inspiration comes from another country. The Tex-Mex cuisine has really never merged into the mainstream of American cooking, but it remains alive mostly in the region where it began.
Most people agree today that Tex-Mex food is not really Mexican food at all. Texas-Mexican restaurants has even started to shed the negative connotations surrounding this type of food. Some of the same Texas-Mexican restaurants that hated the term have even started to embrace it, claiming they invented Tex-Mex food.
Tex-Mex food has obviously staked its rightful place in food history. It has achieved worldwide popularity and forced us all to realize it is America’s oldest regional cuisine.