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Tex Mex And California Burritos: The History Of Mexican Food In The US

Mexican food is one of the most popular cuisines in the United States today. Easy and inexpensive to prepare, Mexican dishes have become a staple of many American households’ diets. To fully understand this nation-wide culinary phenomenon, we need to go back to its 19th Century origins in the American Southwest.

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The History


In the early 1800's, much of the western part of the United States belonged to Mexico. After the Mexican-American war, the United States gained territory in the West and in much of what is now Texas. Even though the area became an official part of the United States, Mexican cultural influences were still very strong in the area. When the people in the Eastern part of the United States moved West, they adopted many aspects of Mexican culture. In addition to this cultural exchange, trade between Mexico and the United States was thriving, introducing Mexican imports—including foodstuffs like tortillas—to new settlers.

The Taco


Tacos are one of the more well-known Mexican staples enjoyed in the United States today. The first time the term “taco” was used in print was in the early 1900's. At this time, there were thousands of Mexican laborers who lived in Mexico but worked in the United States. These workers would bring tortillas with a little meat and vegetables with them to eat while they were out working.

American Culture & Tex Mex


The effect of American culture on Mexican food in the United States plays a key role on where the genre of food is today. American culture demands that everything be bigger and better. Although the first taco was essentially just a tortilla, businesses in the United States saw an opportunity and added lots of meat, vegetables, and cheese to the traditional Mexican dish.


A culinary historian with a Master of History degree says that instances of cultural blending will often result in new cuisines, in which the staples of one culture's cuisine are adapted to suit the other culture's tastes. This fusing of cuisines is hardly new—though rarely has such a fusion achieved the popularity that Mexican food has in the United States. What we now call a “taco” or “burrito” is quite different from what those first workers introduced to the United States.


Due to a shared portion of both U.S. and Mexican history, it makes sense that influences from both culture would manifest in the food we consume in the United States today. Though what we enjoy as “Mexican food” today is vastly different than what was originally enjoyed by the workers who introduced it to the nation, it remains extremely popular and widely available throughout the United States.

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