We all know nachos are a Mexican dish composed of chips topped off with a variety of toppings. But did you ever wonder how the fun and flavorful appetizer came to be?
Nachos were invented by a maître d’ named Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya in the 1940s. A few customers were already seated at the restaurant when the cook was nowhere to be found. Anaya put together the appetizer with whatever he found in the kitchen.
The History of Nachos
Ignacio Nacho Anaya was a maître d’ at Club Victoria which was just by the border of Piedras Negras, Mexico. A group from Eagle Pass, Texas, came in looking for something to eat. As the maître d’, his job was limited to attend to the guests, but the cook was not around on that particular day.
Anaya didn’t turn the customers away. Instead, he went to the kitchen and whipped up a dish with the ingredients he found. It was a quick and straightforward dish; tortilla chips topped off with grated cheese and jalapeños. He called it Nachos Especiales, and just like that, nachos were born. (Source: Mental Floss)
How Did Nachos Evolve?
This was not the end of the story. The dish evolved so much over the years. Toppings got more complex, the flavor profile improved, and it is appreciated by millions all over the globe.
The Tortilla Chip
Before we got to the nacho chip, we had the tortilla. The popular Mexican flatbread started from a simple ingredient; maize. Maize or corn was first domesticated by the indigents living in Mexico way back in 7000 BCE. It was a vital part of the diets of the people back then. Compared to the sweet golden corn we are used to today, early corn crops grew in tiny cobs encased in a tough shell, making it difficult to eat.
Mesoamericans developed a process called nixtamalization to turn maize into something more edible. The process involved drying the kernels and then soaking them in water with slaked lime. The high pH of the solution broke down the tough casing of the corn that made it easier to consume.
When corn is nixtamalized, it makes it easier to turn into dough. This dough is the base for most Mexican dishes. Mexicans have been flattening balls of corn dough to make tortillas for centuries. Tortillas were versatile. They were topped off with salsa, toasted, fried, used as a wrap, and yes, turned into a chip to make nachos. (Source: Mental Floss)
Anaya’s original nachos were topped off with American cheese he found in the kitchen. Even today, we rarely see traditional Mexican cheeses served with nachos. In fact, the cheese of choice for modern nacho recipes is the Monterey Jack. It melts faster and has a mild flavor profile that doesn’t clash with the dish’s bold flavors. (Source: Mental Floss)
The first nacho recipe consisted of only three ingredients; nacho chips, cheese, and sliced jalapeños. Purists prefer and appreciate the 1943 classic, but people have experimented with the dish over the years, and it has evolved into a more complex piece. Today you can find nachos topped off with beans, salsa, beef, guacamole, and sour cream. (Source: Mental Floss)