A Brief Look at Mexican Food in American Culture
By: Lucas Heckenberger, Lehigh Valley’s Cocktail Connoisseur
We’ve all heard of them; Margarita Monday! Taco Tuesday! Avocado toast, and guacamole on everything. How did these things become so popular today? Where do these traditions actually come from? Let’s take a look.
In this day and age, many people have taken the time to study and look back at the history and origins of cocktails, rather than try and mass replicate them. The margarita has a muddled past, and there are a few people who claim to have invented the iconic classic.
The first claim to creation is in 1938 at a restaurant called Rancho La Gloria in northern Mexico. It was created for a patron who was allergic to all spirits, except for Tequila. The original recipe was most likely equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Another story takes place in Ensenada, Mexico at a Hussong’s Cantina. Don Carlos Orozco is said to have been experimenting with tequila, Controy (a close cousin to Cointreau) and lime. Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German ambassador to Mexico at the time, was the first to try the drink and he aptly named it Margarita after her.
However, there is one theory that I personally think holds truer than the others. There is a cocktail called a Daisy that shared many similarities to the Margarita. The most notable distinction is the base spirit of brandy versus tequila. Somewhere along the way, someone substituted tequila for the brandy and used lime instead of lemon and simply renamed daisy into its Spanish counterpart, Margarita.
As is with anything over time, things change and evolve. I will never mix up an equal part margarita, and most restaurants do not. Here is my recipe for a proper margarita:
- 2 ounces Blanco Tequila (Herradura, Espolon, or Tres Agaves are my go-to’s.)
- 1/2-ounce Cointreau (much better than Triple Sec.)
- 1-ounce Fresh Lime Juice (If you see sour coming out of a gun or a jug, opt for a different cocktail!)
- 1 ounce of Simple Syrup (Equal parts sugar and water, dissolved together.)
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and strain on the rocks or served up. I do not care for salt as it dehydrates you and probably makes hangovers worse if you knock more than a few back!
Personally, I always start with a drink and then move on to something more along the lines of a snack. That’s where the guacamole comes in. This delightful dish has origins that date back to the 1500s and the Aztecs. Guacamole literally translates to “avocado sauce.” The base recipe has been relatively untouched since the 1500s; guacamole, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime. It wasn’t until the 1930s that avocado and guacamole became popular in the states. Rudolph Haas, a postal worker in southern California during the era, purchased a seedling and started cultivating in the 1930s and later patented the Haas avocado, the most popular brand today.
So, after a couple of rounds of margaritas, some guac, it is now time for the tacos!
Oddly, the term taco doesn’t necessarily have origins in the food world alone. In the 1800s the charges used to clear silver mines were known as tacos due to a paper being wrapped around the gunpowder and then charged to clear the way. One of the first mentions of the food taco is known as “tacos de mineros” or, miner’s tacos. Who knew?
Due to the nature of working-class neighborhoods in Mexico and the southwest, coupled with the number of migrant workers, taquerias were very prevalent in many neighborhoods. Tacos are more commonly known to be either a corn or flour tortilla with some kind of meat and vegetable wrapped in between. Today, there are fish tacos, pork, vegetarian and plenty of other kinds of varieties. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the taco craze really hit America. Maybe you’ll recognize the name Glenn Bell. If not, I’ll let you in on a secret; he went on to found Taco Bell. Despite not having invented the taco itself, Bell simply used American business acumen and began franchising in neighborhoods where there was no exposure to tacos otherwise.
Since then, many of these traditions have become staples of any kind of cuisine across the US. But, that’s the beauty of it. It fits into any category of food, almost any influence and is found on menus everywhere. We’re lucky to have so many that specialize here in the Valley, and it makes sense. Almost 85% of the foodservice industry consists of people of Latin descent. Without them, we wouldn’t enjoy so many of these staples we do. So, raise a glass and a shell, and celebrate the simplicity and humility of a staple to our cuisine.