WHY ASK ME?
Ok, I knew. I knew the moment I decided on “Nacho Mama” as my blogging moniker that it would come up a lot. I remember thinking, “I might be answering questions about nachos for a long, long time.” Not that I’m unqualified to answer these questions. For as long as I can remember, the humble tortilla chip has had an inexorable hold on my taste buds. It doesn’t matter if they are freshly cut and fried from homemade tortillas or if they are mass-manufactured in the Doritos factory (in fact, I’ve always had this fantasy that Doritos are made by Oompa-Loompa-like creatures the color of nacho cheese). Simply put, if tortilla chips are within walking distance I can’t not eat them. It’s like there’s a fire in my belly that only tortilla chips can put out. So ask away.
ARE NACHOS REALLY MEXICAN?
This is the question I get asked more than any other. The short answer? Is YES. Nachos were invented in Mexico, by a Mexican. A Mexican who had to feed a bunch of hungry Americans with nothing on hand but some stale tortillas, cheese and chilis. So to be specific, nachos were invented for Americans by a Mexican.
Here’s the official story (via Wikipedia): Nachos were originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, at a restaurant called the Victory Club. One day in 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d’, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese sauce. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added shredded cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, and added sliced jalapeño peppers. He served the dish, calling it Nachos Especiales—meaning “Special Nachos” in Spanish.
And there you have it, a star was born. The story was first documented in the cookbook, A Taste of Texas in 1949 with some anecdotal charm added: Pedro left. Sometime later he returned carrying a large dish of Nachos Especiales. “These Nachos,” said Pedro, “will help El Capitan—he will soon forget his troubles for nachos make one romantic.” (quote via kitchenproject.com)
WHY ARE NACHOS SO POPULAR IN THE US?
So how did this humble dish make the leap from community cookbook to the pantheon of American Snack Foods? Near as I can figure, the popularity of nachos in the United States can be attributed to two individuals: a waitress and a sportscaster.
Carmen Rocha was a waitress in Texas who brought nachos to Hollywood when she started working at El Cholo restaurant in Los Angeles in 1959. According to kitchenproject.com, “Jack Nicholson remembers [Rocha] as a friendly outgoing lady that loved to make this special snack for special guests that was not even on the menu.” El Cholo restaurant is still there, at 1121 S. Western Avenue though, sadly, Carmen Rocha, the wonderful woman who brought nachos to the West, died in 2008.
The other person responsible for the popularity of nachos is memorable sportscaster Howard Cosell. Apparently, while announcing a Monday Night Football game, he got a kick out of the word “nachos” (they were a popular snack in Texas stadiums) and made a point of saying it over and over again on the air in his much-imitated voice.
So what became of the maître d’ who invented this fascinating snack? Once again, according to Wikipedia: Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras, which still uses the original recipe. He also opened his own restaurant, “Nacho’s Restaurant,” in Piedras Negras. Anaya died in 1975. In his honor, a bronze plaque was erected in Piedras Negras and October 21 was declared the International Day of the Nacho. Anaya’s son Ignacio Anaya Jr. serves as a judge at the annual nacho competition.
WHO MAKES THE BEST NACHOS YOU EVER ATE?
This is the second most popular question among my readers. Let me start by saying that, while I never met a nacho I didn’t like, I’m not the biggest fan of all that cheese. I read somewhere that Nacho Anaya’s original recipe calls for Longhorn Cheddar, which sounds so much better than the gloppy stuff my husband practically drinks whenever we go to the movies!
That said, the best nachos I ever ate? HAVE NO CHEESE AT ALL.
Allow me to explain. You must know that bearing the title “Nacho Mama” affords me certain…privileges. Sometimes, like the patrons of El Cholo, I am served “Nachos Especiales” which are not listed on the menu. The best nachos I ever ate? Yeah, they’re not on the menu. But I’ll tell you where you can get them. Click here to read that story—and for a special recipe.
Wishing you love with extra cheese—