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Which Cusine is Popular in Your State ?

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  • #91
    The Myth of Authenticity Is Killing Tex-Mex

    The official version of chili con carne can only be made by people from Texas. It’s literally the law: In 1977, the 65th Texas Legislature enshrined the stew of beef and chile peppers as the official state dish, but also an official version of the dish, declaring that “the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.” Defending chili from non-Texan contamination was at least a half-century too late, but now those offenders slapping ground beef and chili powder on French fries and hot dogs and spaghetti and — despite repeated warnings — adding godforsaken beans would know they were wrong.

    But the zeal for defending Texas chili has dwindled considerably in the 21st century; there is a new national sensation to claim and protect. In 2013, Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, in solidarity with longtime writer for the magazine and proud chili-hater, Paul Burka, launched a campaign to depose chili as the state dish in favor of brisket — specifically, the Texas-style barbecue brisket in the process of taking over the world, its cult rooting down in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Paris.

    The debate over the state food is, on one hand, deeply silly. Over the phone, Vaughn explained to me the brisket campaign was his most pugnacious moment as a professional barbecue evangelist. He bears chili no ill will — he just wrote a guide to brisket chili, in fact. His targets were the lobbyists who sought to make chili the state dish in order to promote their cook-off in far West Texas’s tiny Terlingua. “In comparing what Texas is more well known for, a bowl of chili or brisket, it’s brisket,” Vaughn says.

    But selecting a state dish also, like literally every other question of food ownership in America, quickly surfaces large, painful assumptions about whose food matters and why, fractured along the lines of race, national origin, and ethnicity. Smoked brisket is fetishized as Texan authenticity, but its veneration leaves out many Texans. The cut of beef, as Vaughn later noted in his 2015 profile of Robert Patillo of Patillo’s Bar-B-Q, the oldest black-owned barbecue restaurant in Texas and the fourth oldest in the state, is primarily associated with the state’s white pitmasters, and Texas Monthly’s decision to assess a barbecue restaurants based on their brisket largly left out the black-owned businesses that helped originate and preserve Texas barbecue. The brisket tunnel vision is much less evident in the magazine’s 2017 barbecue rankings.

    Chili, on the other hand, was originally popularized by women, most of them Tejanas or Mexican — San Antonio’s long-lost chili queens — though they go unmentioned in the state resolution. Whatever the chili lobby’s original aims, it ensured that Texas cuisine was officially represented by a food that spoke to the state’s Mexican roots. And chili con carne, even if it’s now out of style, has had the kind of cultural impact Texas barbecue brisket is only beginning to dream of: Chili was the first and most famous manifestation of the robust, misunderstood, supposedly inauthentic and staggeringly influential cuisine that we now call Tex-Mex.
    The standard narrative about Tex-Mex is that it’s an inauthentic, unartful, cheese-covered fusion, the kind of eating meant to be paired with unhealthy amounts of alcohol or to cure the effects thereof. There’s a lot of easy-melt cheese, the margaritas are made with a mix, and the salsas come from a bottle. In our snackwave food moment, Tex-Mex receives the same amount of affection and respect as a Doritos Locos taco or a microwaved burrito — a processed, comforting, lovable American monster.

    Those assumptions are entirely wrong. Not only are they incorrect — they were promulgated by elite white food writers in * Pace Picante voice * New York City! In The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos, peerless Texas food historian Robb Walsh pins the denigration of Tex-Mex on English cookbook writer Diana Kennedy, whose introduction to her 1972 book The Cuisines of Mexico refers to the American enchilada combo plate as “so-called Mexican food” and makes the case that the real cuisine could only be eaten further south — and that there was a “real” Mexican food that exists, period. New York Times food critic and giant of the food world Craig Claiborne was a defender and acolyte of Kennedy’s, and helped popularize her anthropologically dogmatic version of Mexican cuisine.

    So what is the food we call Tex-Mex, really? Its origins lie in an extremely obvious time and place that tends to be obscured in modern Texas: when Texas was part of Mexico. Before cowboys, there were vaqueros; before Anglo Texans, there were Spanish-Mexican Tejanos. Their culture gave rise to a rustic ranch cuisine heavy on local chiles, pecans, beans, stews, and flour tortillas as well as corn. (A note: chile is the pepper; chili is the dish; chilly is the opposite of how your mouth, nose, and guts will feel after consuming either.)

    In the late 19th century, San Antonio was a booming railroad town and became famous for its open-air food stalls, run by women, decked out with red-and-white checked tablecloths and laundry lamps, serving food like tamales and chili con carne, according to The Tex-Mex Cookbook. Portrayed as sharp-witted and alluring by accounts from the time (by men), the Chili Queens, and their fame, helped propel their iconic dish out of Texas into the Midwest and beyond. Tamales, which likely already had a foothold in the Mississippi Delta, followed on chili’s heels.

    Waves of cheesy, spicy, frankly pleasurable Texas-Mexican dishes, with many regional variations, continued to spiral outward in the 20th century and into the 21st: sizzling fajitas, cheese enchiladas, frozen margaritas, queso, breakfast tacos, Frito pie, barbacoa, puffy tacos. Along with the crispy tacos and burritos of Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex became one of America’s most beloved and important regional cuisines, even if most Americans didn’t realize that was what they were eating.

    Last edited by G David Bock; 10 Apr 19, 11:25.
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