“Tex-Mex” is a term used to describe a regional American cuisine that blends food products available in the United States and the culinary creations of Mexican-Americans influenced by the cuisines of Mexico. The cuisine has spread from border states such as Texas and those in the Southwestern United States to the rest of the country. In some places, particularly outside of Texas, “Tex-Mex” is used to describe a localized version of Mexican cuisine. It is common for all of these foods to be referred to as “Mexican food” in Texas, parts of the United States, and some other countries. In other ways it is Southern cooking using the commodities from Mexican culture. In many parts of the U.S. outside Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the term is synonymous with Southwestern cuisine
Food historians tell us Tex-Mex cuisine originated hundreds of years ago when Spanish/Mexican recipes combined with Anglo fare. “Tex-Mex” first entered the English language as a nickname for the Texas-Mexican Railway, chartered in southern Texas in 1875.
In train schedules published in the newspapers of the 1800s the names of railroads were abbreviated. The Missouri Pacific was called the Mo. Pac. and the Texas-Mexican was abbreviated Tex. Mex. In the 1920s the hyphenated form was used in American newspapers in reference to the railroad and to describe people of Mexican descent who were born in Texas.
In the mission era, Spanish and Mexican Indian foods were combined in Texas as in other parts of the Northern Frontier of New Spain. However, the cuisine that would come to be called Tex-Mex actually originated with Tejanos (Texans of Hispanic descent) as a hybrid of Spanish and native Mexican foods when Texas was part of New Spain and later Mexico.
From the South Texas region between San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, this cuisine has had little variation and from earliest times has always been influenced by the cooking in the neighboring northern states of Mexico. The ranching culture of South Texas and northern Mexico straddles both sides of the border. A taste for cabrito (kid goat), barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued cow heads), carne seca (dried beef), and other products of cattle culture is common on both sides of the Rio Grande. In the 20th century Tex-Mex took on such Americanized elements as yellow cheese as goods from the United States became cheap and readily available.
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