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Texas features its own style of Southwestern cuisine – a blend of Southern and Western foods with a Mexican twist. Texas cuisine varies across the expansive state, with greater influences from Mexico closer to its southern border. Texas-influenced Mexican food, dubbed Tex-Mex, has become popular not only across the state, but it has spread around the country as well.
Texas is known for its cowboys and beef, and many new meals originated from the cowboy lifestyle. These dishes were created out of necessity and creativity while camping out on cattle drives, in which trail hands moved cattle long distances around the country to various markets. Today, Texas is the top beef producer in the nation, producing nearly 15% of the country’s supply of the meat and dairy. Texas barbecue is focused on beef, featuring beef brisket. Texas barbecue typically includes sides like Texas Toast, which is double the thickness of regular sliced bread, making it the perfect addition to a meal with barbecue sauce or other gravy.
Chili con Carne
Chili con carne or Texas Red chili has been declared the official state dish of Texas. Texans are well known for their strong opposition to chili made with beans. While some regional varieties of chili include and even focus on beans, Texas chili is made from stewed meat and chili peppers, giving the dish its Spanish name, chili con carne (literally: chili peppers with meat).
Chili con carne is said to have been created by immigrants from the Canary Islands as far back as 1723. They incorporated the native peppers, onions, garlic, and spices like oregano to create a dish similar to one from their homeland, where a similar chili pepper grew. The dish evolved when cattle drivers began to add fresh meat they hunted along the way, which was anything from buffalo to rattlesnake.
Today, chili is a divisive dish, prompting many arguments over which method and recipe is best. Chili cook-offs and competitions are held all around the state. Variations on chili are served at chili parlors, in homes, and at cookouts around the state. Texans generally agree that beans do not belong in chili, but some also believe that true chili con carne does not have tomatoes either. The only ingredients allowed in true Texas chili are meat, usually chunks of steak, which has been stewed over several hours, chili peppers, and other spices, like cumin. Sweeter spices like cinnamon and allspice, which are common in Cincinnati chili, are not added to Texas-style chili.
Chili is sometimes added to creamy melted cheese to create a dip called chili con queso, meaning chili with cheese. The cheese dip is served as an appetizer at many Tex-Mex restaurants and eaten with tortilla chips.
Frito Pie is a specialty in Texas as well as some parts of the Southwest and Midwest. Fritos are a corn chip snack made by Frito-Lay, a large snack company based in Plano, Texas. Chili con carne is poured over an individual-sized bag of Fritos, which is then topped with shredded cheese, and sometimes salsa or jalapenos. Alternatively, this dish is made as a casserole and baked in the oven to soften the chips and melt the cheese.
Pan de Campo
Pan de campo, literally translated to camp bread, is a simple biscuit traditionally eaten by cowboys in the Old West. With few ingredients and baking soda as its rising agent, this thin bread is a Texas favorite, especially in southern Texas near the Mexican border. This bread has been influenced by the Mexican tortilla. Placed in a dutch oven (the official state cooking implement) or in a covered pot, the bread is cooked over an open fire and sometimes dipped in molasses for flavor. Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, declared pan de campo the official state bread of Texas in recent years.
Chicken Fried Steak
Chicken fried steak, also known as country fried steak, is steak that is breaded and fried like southern fried chicken. The similarities between chicken fried steak and an Austrian dish called wiener schnitzel show influences from the Austrian immigrants to Texas in the 1800s. The immigrants probably incorporated the local meats into their own recipes to create this specialty. Chicken fried steak is served with a country gravy poured over it.
Beginning with street vendors in the late 1800s, Tex-Mex is a fusion of Mexican and American cuisine. Tex-Mex, as opposed to Mex-Mex, or authentic Mexican cuisine, is an Americanized version of Mexican food, which was modified to suit American tastes. Combining flavors from both sides of the border, Tex-Mex meals include nachos and fajitas. Fajitas were popularized in the 1970s at Ninfa’s restaurant, and consist of grilled meat, cooked with bell peppers and onions and served in a tortilla (usually flour). Chimichangas are another Tex-Mex treat, which are deep-fried burritos filled with meat and topped with sour cream and guacamole.
Tex-Mex has become a popular style of fusion cuisine around the country, with chain restaurants and even fast food chains influenced by this style of cuisine. While authentic Mexican food can be found in many places around the state, it is most common to find Tex-Mex cuisine or at least a combination of true Mexican foods and the American-influenced Tex-Mex.Tex-Mex reflects the history of the region, which was formerly part of Mexico, and the many people who have moved between Texas and Mexico over time.