I have had a lifelong affair with Tejano cuisine. Actually cuisine sounds too fancy, it is a French word after all. Let’s just say I love my comida Tejana.
Recently, while reading “The Reminiscences of a Texas Missionary,” I ran across an observation by Father P.F. Parisot, OMI, which I found interesting. While on his way to Brownsville late in 1857, the good father stopped in San Patricio to buy a horse and while there was introduced to Tejano cooking. A far cry from the cuisine he was familiar with growing up in France.
Father Parisot writes,
…we became acquainted with the tortilla. Bread in the Mexican ranches is not a
wheaten loaf, but thin tortillas made from corn meal without any yeast. The women soften the corn in lime water and place it on a flat stone called a metate, and then with another stone shaped like a rolling-pin they grind the corn into a paste. This paste is then patted with the hands into thin cakes and baked quickly on a metal plate. Tortillas and frijoles (beans) are the principal food of the Mexican ranchero. This bill of fare is hardly ever changed by the poor, sometimes they have frijoles and chile (red pepper), an egg or two, chile con carne (red pepper with meat), or soft red pepper. The manner of eating tortillas and frijoles is soon learned by Americans or any others, who have been amongst the poorer class of Mexicans. They spread the beans or eggs on the thin cake, using it as a plate. Then they double up another cake, which they use as a spoon, and with this they convey the beans or eggs to the mouth. When the beans have been eaten, they consume the plate and the spoon.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me hungry. In fact, that is how I eat huevos rancheros to this day, and if I’m eating with tortillas it is not unusual for me to “spoon” my food with the tortilla. It also sounds like he is describing the genesis of the breakfast taco that so many people start their day with in almost any modern American city.
I remember telling my children when we first moved to Austin in 2010 that the so-called Mexican food sold at Austin eateries was not like any Mexican food I knew. I still harkened back to my tripas en disco, mollejas, fajitas hechas en brasas, etc. I have to confess, though, that in my “senior years” I have grown fond of Austin Mexican cooking, which is much lighter and more agreeable with my aging digestive system. But I still hang on to my beloved Tejano cooking, even if not in the quantities or frequency I used to eat it.
The Tejano ranchero is quite simply the foundation for the cultural life of South Texas. The language they used, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, etc. all shaped the culture of South Texas today.
In his first book, “Life in a South Texas Colonia” released by MCM Books in March, my friend Andy Soto describes many aspects of Tejano culture and has several stories about Tejano cooking, including one on the “matanza” or slaughter of a pig, from which people made chicharrones, tamales and more.
But, of course, hogs are not the only animal Tejanos slaughtered in their ranches. Beef was also a main staple of the Tejanos’ diet. Indeed, there was no part of the beef that was wasted. Everything from head to the tail was eaten. How many times have you savored barbacoa de cabeza. Here again—the entire head from brains, eyes cheek, tongue—all of it was eaten. At the other end of the animal we have the tail, and how many of you have not eaten caldo de cola or as they call it in the finer restaurants in Austin ox tail soup. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I do not eat brains or eyes. In fact one could say I am not a fan of any of the dark organs, such as heart, liver, kidney, etc. I prefer the light organs such as mollejas, tripas and pansa (menudo).
Okay, that’s enough talking about food. I can already see the humo coming out of all your backyards this weekend, and I won’t be invited. Coman con gusto!