Montezuma Surfboards

Outside Montezuma Surfboards, Australia. Courtesy of Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher.

I blame figure skaters and their Olympic Championship.

Walking into the Bell Museum Auditorium last Thursday night, I questioned why I had just paid $7 for admission. I was there for Historian Jeffrey M. Pilcher’s lecture on the Globalization of Tex-Mex cuisine.  I was late. So why were only six people in the audience?

I figured that most people were probably at home watching the Olympics. I went to the front and chose an empty row. I sat down then reconsidered the whole thing–a woman ahead of me was knitting.

But then Prof. Pilcher took the stage.  He talked about Tex-Mex with fervor. And in the course of the hour, he made good my money.

Although the scholar said it best, here’s what I gathered:

  • Mexican is one of America’s top three ethnic cuisines beside Chinese and Italian.
  • What is known as Tex-Mex emerged during the colonial period, when indigenous dishes of Mexico spread north and people adopted Texas fare. In particular, beef replaced poultry and wheat flour replaced corn flour.
  • In the early 19th century, word about Tex-Mex got around via railroad. The Alamo and the Chili Queens of San Antonio–female Mexican street vendors, mythologized as uncouth, promiscuous women–became the two primary tourist attractions in Texas.
  • Nachos arrived mid century (before then, Mexican restaurants served saltines). Around the same time, following McDonalds’ lead, Tex-Mex entered the fast food industry.
  • Taco Bell’s Glen Bell claimed to have patented the first taco fryer. Not true. The first taco fryer was patented by Mexican restaurateur Maldonado Juvencio. Here’s the patent.
  • Still, credit goes to Glenn Bell for franchising Tex-Mex. It has since circled the globe. Tex-Mex feeds Europeans, South Africans, Mongolians, Japanese, and Australians. Astronauts, too. “NASA launches tacos into outer space,” said Prof. Pilcher.

During Q&A, a woman in the audience shared a story about her travels to Scotland. She had become sick of pub food and one dreary Scottish night she found a Tex-Mex restaurant. “The place was packed with Americans,” she said.

After the lecture, I asked Prof. Pilcher where to find Tex-Mex overseas. He recommended two spots: Anahuacalli in Paris, France–“A stone’s throw away from Notre Dame”–and La Bamba Oshini (now called Hermanos) in Osaka, Japan.