Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:
Early on in my stay, my boyfriend’s workplace booked reservations at a “global buffet”. I was excited to see they had an entire section devoted to Tex-Mex, complete with its own visible grill, and I was eager to document it as part of the Manx-Mex Chronicles. However, when I got the counter, I was deeply disappointed. The only items being made on the grill were plain hamburgers. The rest of the dishes offered were barbecued chicken slathered in a sweet sauce, piri piri chicken wings, fajita vegetables, chili con carne, and a bowl of plain tortilla chips with no salsa or anything to go with them. I understand the ties between barbecue and Texas, I thought to myself, but how did this mix of foods end up on a Tex-Mex buffet table?
As the series has progressed, we’ve seen some hilarious mishaps and not-quite-right adaptations on classic Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes. As I stared at menus offering what I considered to be “incorrect” ingredients and lamented the dismal technique, I wondered to myself how anyone who is serving Tex-Mex could make such rookie mistakes. I think the basis of my critique was assuming that they knew what Tex-Mex IS, even in its most basic terms, and that’s where I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate.
Over the course of our long friendship, my now boyfriend Andy has tried to explain to me how Texas is perceived in England. The first time we talked voice to voice, he was surprised (and he admits, somewhat disappointed) that I did not speak with a classic Texas twang or drawl. Though there is an enormous amount of American television and culture streaming into England, he says, the only real images and perceptions of Texas that England gets are distorted through the lens of American perception and stereotype. Things like the tv show Dallas, with its oil baron, cowboy hat wearing family. The song “Is This the Way to Amarillo” by Tony Christie and “Galveston” by Glen Campbell (this recording was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so please don’t mind the shout out at the end).
In the end, I’ve concluded that if something so broad as Texas gets compressed down in this fashion it’s no wonder that something as nuanced as Tex-Mex is going to lose some pieces in the translation. Even a large percentage of America is still griping that Tex-Mex is just bastardized Mexican food instead of recognizing it as its own regional cuisine. So, knowing that, you can imagine what it must be like when some of the only references you have to Mexican and Tex-Mex food are the Old El Paso display at the grocery store and the melange of Latin American flavors offered in “Tex-Mex” restaurants. All of that said, I think that England is getting better and better at executing true Tex-Mex.
Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Thirteen: Yee-huh? syndicated post