The original nachos were crunchy, cheesy and truly Mexican – The Denver Post

By Pati Jinich, The New York Times

The biggest claim to fame for the border city of Piedras Negras, in Coahuila, Mexico, is that it was the birthplace of nachos, one of America’s most popular snacks. Yet that fact is not widely known beyond the region, something that has long frustrated the people of Piedras, as locals call their hometown. They’re so proud of their invention that they started the International Nacho Festival there in 1995.

“The nacho origin story is the one your mother tells you since the day you are born,” said Enrique Perret, a friend of mine who hails from that city of about 165,000 people. “After I moved from Piedras to Mexico City and kept boasting about it, I realized people were either not impressed or had an intense disbelief of nachos being from Piedras, let alone from anywhere in Mexico.”

Until recently, you could count me as one of the nonbelievers. I’m a native of Mexico City, and my first time eating nachos was also the first time I went to a movie theater in the United States, when my parents took our family to visit in the 1980s.

I experienced mixed feelings: Excitement as we waited in line surrounded by flashy blockbuster movie banners, and ordered the nachos. Suspicion as the basket was filled with chips from the orange-lit heated glass box, and the ultrayellow sauce flowed hesitantly from a gigantic pump. Perplexity as I tasted the oversize salty chips covered in the creamy sauce and too few pickled jalapeños.

I finished them, but not before asking for more jalapeños, to have enough for each bite.

Years later, after moving to the United States and becoming a mother to three boys, I found nachos again in stadium concession stands, and ate them along with hot dogs every single time. In my eyes, nachos equaled American entertainment. Just like other Mexicans who aren’t from Piedras, I was puzzled when anyone called them Mexican.

Now that I’ve lived in the United States for more than two decades, I’ve begun to grasp why they defy categorization. Mexican? American? Tex-Mex? Nachos are the epitome of comida fronteriza, food from the borderlands. It’s a place where foods seem caught in a constantly evolving in-between: not from here, not from there, strongly rooted but hard to pin down.

“Not Tex-Mex, Pati,” said Adán Medrano, a chef and an authority on the food of Southern Texas and Northeast Mexico, which he refers to as Texas Mexican food. “The original nachos are Mexican through and through, and have little to do with those. I mean, enough with the cheese!”

All those nachos I’d been eating, including the superlayered ones from Tex-Mex restaurants in San Antonio, were neither the only kinds nor the originals.

Nachos were born in 1940 when, as the story goes, a group of women walked into the Victory Club in Piedras outside business hours. But Ignacio Anaya, the maître d’hôtel, had no cooks in the kitchen. Anaya was known as Nacho, the traditional nickname for anyone named Ignacio in Spanish-speaking countries.

The wives of Americans stationed at a military base in Eagle Pass, Texas, the women had crossed the Rio Grande to shop and were looking for a drink and a bite. Aiming to please, Anaya ran to the kitchen and made a quick appetizer with ingredients he found. He topped totopos, fried corn tortilla chips, with colby cheese and slices of pickled jalapeños, and threw them in the oven.