Not only does Mexico and the United States share a long border stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean – the two countries have a rich history dating back centuries. It is therefore not a surprise that this continued cultural interaction and immigration between the two countries has seen the development of Mexican-American cuisine in the United States. With most menu items being American variations to Mexican dishes, Mexican-American cuisine is now a global phenomenon.
Mexican-American cuisine: History and Cultural Influence
Mexican cuisine, which is the basis for Mexican-American cuisine, is heavily influenced by Spanish and Native (especially Aztec) food cultures. American soldiers were first introduced to Mexican cuisine during the Mexican-American War and later increased cross-border migration from Mexico to the United States, further spread the popularity of Mexican cuisine into America’s heartland. Mexican-American cuisine is the most popular ‘non-native’ food genre in the modern-day United States. While Mexican cuisine is the biggest influence on Mexican-American cuisine, different regions within the country have been innovative in terms of developing their own interpretation of traditional recipes.
Regionally, Mexican American cuisine is, understandably, more popular in the four states that directly border Mexico: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Texas even has its own unique variation of Mexican American cuisine that is referred to as Tex-Mex. This is due to the fact that it is at the border states where American and Mexican cultures come into direct contact. Cross border immigration, in both directions, also mainly occurs in the border region, which helps the cultural integration process.
What Defined Mexican-American Cuisine?
Mexican American cuisine is essentially an Americanized version of popular Mexican dishes. Some food items that are unique to Mexican American cuisine include fajitas, salsa, chili, corn chips, burritos, and even chimichangas. The use of American cheese in many dishes further differentiates them from their native Mexican counterparts. Guacamole dip is one of the food items that remains largely similar in Mexican American and traditional Mexican cuisine.
Iconic Mexican American Dishes
Three iconic Mexican American cuisine delicacies are:
Tacos are small, open-faced tortillas (a wheat or corn thin flatbread) that can be filled by a wide variety of food items. Popular taco fillings include ground beef, pork, chicken, beans, vegetables, and cheese.
Nachos are a meal that includes heated tortilla chips covered with melted cheese and some light toppings.
Chili is a stew that includes hot chilies (hence the name) with meat or beans (in most cases, the two ingredients are mixed).