What’s The Difference Between Tex-Mex and Mexican Food?

Tex-Mex vs Mexican

The Difference Between Tex-Mex and Mexican Food May Surprise You

Chances are, you’ve eaten Tex-Mex food and THOUGHT you were eating Mexican.  I know.  Because it’s happened to me!  ~sniff!~   Hello. I’m Johnny, and I’m an Accidental Tex-Mex Eater.

Tex-Mex is pretty much all we have here in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.  There really isn’t any ACTUAL authentic Mexican food here.  Much to my dismay!  I was taking out-of-towners to La Frontera and El Braceros when they’d visit Amarillo and ask about “Mexican Food”.

Boy, was I wrong!

Mexican food…the Real Deal….doesn’t involve any ingredients that you can’t get south of the Rio Grande.  If it has beef in it, It’s Tex-Mex.  Cheddar cheese?  Tex-Mex.  Wheat flour?  …well, you get the idea.  Actual “Mexican” food isn’t made with beef, it’s made with “Cabrito” – goat meat (all Cabrito is goat, but not all goat is Cabrito.  But that’s a story for another time!). Cabrito, lots of pork, fish when available…those are all the quintessential Mexican meats.  NOT beef.

Also, cheddar cheese is totally a Tex-Mex thing.  The Texas ranchers in the early-1900s had cheddar on-hand, and lots of beef.  So those 2 things made their way into the Mexican food that their cow-hands and cooks were serving up.

As more and more people settled in Texas, the popularity of Mexican food (available due to its proximity) grew quickly. Folks started attempting to make it themselves in their own kitchens, using available Texan ingredients like pinto beans and wheat flour — two things that aren’t extremely common in Mexico proper. So, now we’ve added 3rd and 4th items item to our ‘Must Not’ list:  The Flour Tortilla and the refried bean.  Definitely NOT authentic Mexican ingredients!

So.  To sum it up (before we get too hungry and have to run to El Bracero for some Platos Michoacanos) here are the Rules To Remember:
The differences between Mexican and Tex-Mex food can be summed up in the use of a few key ingredients found in the US that are scarcely used anywhere South of the Rio Grande. These ingredients are: beef, yellow cheese (like cheddar), wheat flour, black beans, canned vegetables (especially tomatoes), and cumin.

If the food you’re eating contains any of those ingredients, you’re eating Tex-Mex.  Also, if the restaurant you’re ordering from has a picture of a “Bell” on the sign…well, just forget it!

-Johnny

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