While watching Nacho Libre the other night, I started hitting up google (as I usually do) trying to find out information about the real Nacho Libre. Well as you usually do, on Google, I found out more than I bargained for. Nacho Libre is a movie starring Jack Black but the forename ‘Nacho’ means something in the gastronomical world. Nachos are usually a simple snack food that we all know derived from Mexico. This simple dish is now made by taking tortilla chips and plopping melted cheese down on top of them. Some ballparks, concert venues, restaurants and bars are kicking it up a notch (to steal a line from Guy Fieri) by elevating the snack food to a full blown main dish by adding ground beef, ground pork, chicken, beans, olives, jalapeño peppers, sour cream, guacamole or any other misc topping that your heart could desire. So why has this dish, that many people in America label nachos as a cheap ballpark snack or when souped up, view it as a to-be-shared bar or restaurant appetizer, become synonymous with snacking? Does this simple chip delicacy deserve to be known as more than a chip snack covered in fake cheese?
The nacho itself began life in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico; which is just across the Mexican border from Texas. The town teamed with people in 1943 because the U.S. soldier’s and their families stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass would come to Piedras Negras to shop. On one specific shopping trip, a group of U.S. soldier’s wives arrived a restaurant in town after a day of shopping but they arrived just after the kitchen had closed down for the day. To not turn away any business; the maitre d of the hotel, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, concocted something for the ladies to eat utilizing what he had left over in the kitchen. As he looked around the kitchen he could only find left over tortillas, cheese and pickled jalapeño peppers, so he cut up the tortillas into triangles and deep fried them. He took these crispy tortilla ‘chips’ and covered them with cheese shredded cheddar cheese and melted the cheese in the oven. As they were still piping hot from the oven, he sliced the pickled jalapeño peppers on top before they were whisked away to the table.
The ladies loved the dish and when asked what the dish was called, the quick thinking Nacho says, “Nacho’s especiales”. From there the legend was born. Word continued to travel and somehow along the way, the apostrophe was lost or the pronunciation was lost in translation but the ladies told everyone that they must try the “Special Nacho” instead of Nacho’s Special. The popularity of the dish skyrocketed, despite the miscommunication in the name. Nacho began working at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras but eventually opened his own restaurant, Nacho’s Restaurant. Nacho’s original “Nacho” recipe was printed in the 1954 St. Anne’s Cookbook leading to the dish spreading throughout all of Texas and all of the Southwest….and the rest is just history.
Waitress Carmen Rocha took the recipe from a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas with her to Los Angeles where she introduced the dish at El Cholo Mexican restaurant in 1959. The dish continued in popularity and a cheapened version of the dish was marketed in 1976 by Frank Liberto at the Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This version which utilized a zesty cheese sauce and premade ‘tortilla chips’ became known as what we call ‘ballpark nachos. During a Monday Night Football game, Howard Cosell a sportscaster working a Monday Night Football game, mentioned the new dish in his broadcasts which introduced the dish to the dish to a whole new demographic. Over the years has led to many varieties nachos being found on menus all around the world.
So whether you like your nachos the old fashion way with homemade fried tortilla triangles topped with cheese and pickled jalapeños; Mexican restaurant style topped high with ground beef, pico de gallo/salsa, guacamole, jalapeños, sour cream and lettuce; gastropub style made with heirloom tomatoes and roasted duck; or the cheap, quick and easy ballpark version, just remember to tip your sombrero to Ignancio “Nacho” Anaya and yearning to never turn away a customer.
Well….I think I’ll go now, because now I’m hungry. For some nachos of course. 🙂
Piedras Negras Sign Image by and accredited to Mquirarte – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17937208
Sausage Sandwich with nachos image by and accredited to jeffreyw – Uploaded by Fæ, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23104887
Featured Image – Nachos image by and accredited to Jennifer Feuchter from Surrey, British Columbia, Canada – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9803156
Nachos with beef and beans image by and accredited toRenee Comet (photographer) – This image was released by the National Cancer Institute, an agency part of the National Institutes of Health, with the ID 2646 (image) (next). https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1635390