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Mexican Monday at Weatherspoon’s – A ‘Dilla?

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:

On one rainy afternoon while running errands, I stopped for a swift pint at a local Weatherspoon’s, which is a chain of pubs which are known as the destination for “cheap and cheerful”. Imagine my surprise when I saw this paper placemat on the table!

Nachos! Quesadillas! I thought I’d hit the Manx-Mex jackpot! But alas, my luck was not to be. I ordered off the Mexican Monday menu on two separate occasions, and I have to say that both experiences were sub-par.

On my first attempt, I ordered the BBQ pulled pork and cheese quesadilla. (BBQ pork is not exactly Tex-Mex, but it’s a definite favorite among the English since I see it almost everywhere!) The plate came with “Mexican-style” rice (I think we’d call it Spanish rice. Tomato-y with bits of onion and a hint of cumin), sour cream, salsa, and guacamole. I was pleased to see some good looking grill marks on the tortilla and eagerly dove into my food.

The rice was about what you’d expect for mediocre Mexican rice, and the salsa tasted like Picante or a grocery store equivalent, but that was fine with me. The guacamole didn’t disappoint and the pepper slices on it made me smile. But after my first bite into the quesadilla, I knew something was terribly wrong. I opened up the tortilla to see…

…no cheese! NO CHEESE! How can they call this a quesadilla if there’s no queso to it?! I checked the menu again to make sure this wasn’t some bastardized spin on a quesadilla, but the text confirmed there was definitely supposed to be cheese on it. I heaved a sigh and spread my condiments over the pieces to try and save it, not wanting to make a scene at the bar to get it fixed. The BBW pork was nice and there was enough in the tortilla, bit a ‘dilla is just a ‘dilla when there’s no cheese.

Tune in next week to hear about another puzzling tale of Mexican Monday at Weatherspoon’s!

Galveston Eats Movie Premiere Party!

On Sunday April 2 from 6 to 8 pm, Beerfoot Brewery on the Seawall at R 1/2 and 28th will host the Galveston Eats Movie Premiere—the first public showing of a series of short films about forgotten Galveston foodways–hosted by Robb Walsh. The event is free to the public.

During the celebration, Beerfoot Brewery will offer happy hour prices: $2 well liquor, $2 domestic bottles and $1 off draft beer. 

The three films that kick off the series are:

Island Olives: Did you know Galveston once had hundreds of olive trees? Exploration of Galveston’s century old history of olive cultivation and cookery with interviews of Lawrence “Junior” Pucetti at Sonny’s and Ronnie Maceo at Maceo’s Spice Company. Italian immigrant stories and demonstration of olive curing techniques and muffaletas and olive salads are included.

Going Crabbing: Why are crabs disappearing from Texas restaurants? Demonstrations of crabbing techniques and cookery with visits to Gaido’s and Benno’s restaurants and advice from Captain Joe Kent, the Galveston Daily News fishing columnist.

Island Oktoberfest: Why do we all drink German-style beer? Galveston’s German immigrants and their contributions to brewing are featured with a trip to Oktoberfest, a visit to the abandoned Galveston Brewing Company building and interviews with Mark Dell’Osso at Galveston Island Brewing and Heath Cherryhomes at Beer Foot Brewery.

The Galveston Eats short film series is produced in cooperation with The Gulf Coast Food Project at the University of Houston and funded entirely by donations.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Five: Fajitas Bonitas

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: read more Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Five: Fajitas Bonitas »

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Four: Chimichanga Cha-Cha

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:

 

The interior of Chiquito’s is a decidedly Mexican mixture of festive and relaxed. Beer bottle chandeliers (using only bottles from Dos Equis and Corona, of course!) light up piles of straw sombreros that are strewn everywhere for guests to wear and take selfies in. They’re especially popular with the kids.

 

My Manchester Chimichanga was served in a suitably English fryer basket of chips (or fries, if you’re from America) with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream on the side. (The name means “thing-a-ma-jing.”) It was filled with Mexican-style rice, beans, “jalapenos cheese sauce” (a distant relative of queso) and melted mozzarella, with a choice of meat (chicken, chili beef, or BBQ pulled pork) or habanero mushrooms. I decided to try the habanero mushrooms and was delighted by the decent kick of heat I got from them. Besides the infamous curries, I thought that this was the land of the bland!

Always delighted to be proven wrong.

Note from Robb: Though it was actually invented in Tucson, Arizona; the chimichanga, which is essentially a deep-fried burrito, is lumped into the Tex-Mex category by many Americans and most Europeans. The Manchester version pictured here is certainly Texas Size!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Three: Nacho…Bowl?

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:

 

 

Nachos are probably the most common Tex-Mex dish in England–they are front and center on the pub grub Hall of Fame. But my first taste of English nachos wasn’t very inspiring. On the menu they were described as being “stacked high and covered in jalapeño cheese sauce, jalapeño peppers, melted mozzarella, sour cream” and then topped with my choice of either salsa and guacamole, or chorizo and cranberry salsa (huh?). I chose the more traditional of the two, wanting to stick to a more authentic Texas taste for my first try.

 

When the nachos hit the table, I was baffled. Nachos in a bowl?! The slightly scorched chips were standing upright in a funnel-shaped bowl with all of the toppings piled on top. By the time I was finished taking pictures, they were half way to soggy.  The chips I was able to pick up and eat tasted good, though it was a challenge to keep any of the toppings on them as the slightly sodden tortilla chips collapsed under the weight of all those toppings. Other than that, they weren’t bad, and the combination of toppings and chip mush at the bottom of the bowl was actually pretty tasty.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Two: ¡Tequila!

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:

 

A tequila sampler: Just like home!

 

2: Manx-Mex Agave Beverages 

JW: When I moved to Manchester, I was worried that I might never drink good tequila again. Most of the stories I’d heard were about a clear liquor that tasted like petrol. But one of my first Manchester Tex-Mex experiences, a visit to Chiquito’s at Salford Quays, put my mind at ease. A tequila sampler offered there featured (pictured from the darkest going clockwise): Patron Incendio (chocolate and chile flavored), Patron Reposado, Don Julio Anejo, and the Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia. Also pictured are a house margarita (left), a Negro Modelo, and an elderflower margarita (right).

Houston, we are off to a good start!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter One: Nacho Walks into a Bar

Manx-Mex Defined:
The popularity of Tex-Mex restaurants in Europe peaked sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but Tex-Mex flavors became indelibly imprinted on the palates of Europeans, especially the French, English, Irish and Dutch. Today, tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are familiar menu items. And rare is the English or Irish pub that doesn’t serve some variation on “nachos.”

We first ate Tex-Mex in France in the 1990s. Chapter 14 of The Tex-Mex Cookbook is titled: From Paris, Texas to Paris, France: Twenty-First Century Tex-Mex. Along with menu graphics from the early days of Chuy’s and a portrait of Big Rikki, the Guacamole Queen, there is a narrative about the rise of Tex-Mex in Paris, France.

“Mexican food is too elaborate and too old-fashioned for Parisians,” one restauteur told Robb Walsh. But “Tex-Mex sounds like cowboys and Indians, like the Wild West, and the food is all so crunchy and spicy, it fits the image.” Another Paris restaurant owner remarked, “La Cuisine Tex-Mex garde le parfum de temps des pionniers.”

At Texas Eats, the influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine is one of our favorite topics. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked here to chronicle what she calls Manx-Mex (Manchester-style Tex-Mex cuisine).

Taco Art: Gauguin or Cezanne?

The artists who paint still lifes of tacos and other dishes on the exterior walls of restaurants and food trucks never cease to amaze me. I suspect there are few talented art students putting themselves through school this way.

Their artworks serve the extremely utilitarian purpose of advertising the variety of choices on the establishment’s menu: a useful service for those who can read English and an vital one for those who can’t. Sometimes their efforts are cartoonish, sometimes merely commercial, but quite often they create images that belong in the realm of folk art.

I posted this photo on Twitter with the headline: “If Gauguin painted tacos.” My wife, who has an MFA in Art, suggested: “It looks more like a Cezanne.” What do you think?

Perfect Gift for Oyster Lovers!

A limited number of signed copies of Sex, Death & Oysters are now available at Kitchen Chick in Galveston and El Real Tex-Mex in Houston.

One night at  Gaido’s, the historic seafood restaurant here in my hometown of Galveston, my wife and I were being seated at one of the popular tables near the windows when I overheard a conversation between a guy at the next table and his waitress. They were talking about oysters.

51fbp8aclnl-_uy250_“Have you ever read Sex, Death & Oysters? Now that’s a great book,” he told her. It was the moment of a lifetime. I smiled from ear to ear. My wife heard him too, and she prodded me to go talk to the guy.

“I’m glad you liked the book, I’m Robb Walsh, I wrote it,” I said as I extended my hand to shake. His iaw dropped. We both sputtered in laughter and incoherent mumbling about the odds of such a coincidence.  It was like a scene in a Woody Allen movie. When we recovered from our surprise, we talked about books and oysters for a few minutes and exchanged cards. Turns out it was his birthday. I told him I would come by his shop and sign his book if he wanted.

Last weekend, I gave a talk about oysters at the Grand Soiree, part of the Dickens on the Strand celebration. After my speech, I ordered a beer, The lovely young woman who filled my glass with a draft said, “After I read your book, I went to the Galway Oyster Festival. It was wonderful,  I met the world champion oyster shucker who gave me a few tips backstage,”  Turns out she not only tended bar, she also shucked oysters for a living. It’s kind of amazing how this particular book resonates with the small, but passionate population of avid oyster fans.

Sex, Death & Oysters has been unavailable for awhile, The only copies on Amazon were used or slightly damaged and bookstores haven’t carried it for years. Alicia Cahill at Kitchen Chick, the kitchen equipment and cookbook store in Galveston, told me she had a standing order for the book, but her distributor couldn’t find any. For my oyster talk at the Grand Soiree, I talked the publisher into doing another small printing. So for a little while, you can actually buy a new paperback.

It is the perfect gift for the oyster lovers on your Christmas list.

 

 

Chile con Queso vs. Cheese Dip

images-1
A Wall Street Journal reporter who grew up in Arkansas wrote an article titled:
Don’t tell Texas, but Arkansas is laying claim to queso. I am quoted in the article recounting the time I was invited to judge their “Cheese Dip Derby” up in Little Rock. I declined, of course.

There has been much ado from these parts. Even a little sympathy for the hapless Arkansans.

And today I have received many emails and tweets asking about the history of the dish.

Some credit Switzerland’s fondue, recipes for that melted cheese dip first appeared in a cookbook in 1699.

In the WSJ article, I read that Lisa Fain is tracing the dish to Northern Mexico. The article also says she is working on a Queso book.

Rachel Ray makes a fusion Queso/Fondue with “mystery meat” that sounds perfectly awful.

The history of chile con queso, cheese dip, fondue is confusing because of the mix of languages. Are we looking for the earliest cheese dip? That would be fondue in Switzerland. Are we looking for the earliest Mexican queso dish? Queso Fundido in Chihuahua? Or are we looking for something specifically called Cheese Dip? The WSJ article seems to say that chile con queso and cheese dip are the same thing. Is the claim that it was invented in Arkansas in 1935 tongue-in-cheek?

Thanks to Barry Popick at the Big Apple for his post on Chile con Queso (December 23, 2006):

According to Barry, the first use in print seems to be from 1920 in Iowa, which would contradict the claim that “cheese dip” was invented in an Arkansas Mexican restaurant in 1935. The article seems to be referencing a culinary experience while traveling elsewhere. Several other citations point to the popularity of chile con queso in Southern California. There also a recipe from the LBJ Ranch.

17 June 1920, Nashua (Iowa) Reporter, pg. 3?, col. 6:
Pepper is the source of Mexican revolutions, according to many people. Hot tamales, chili con carne, which means pepper with meat; chili rellenas, chili con queso, or pepper with cheese; all the other hot dishes that delight the Mexican palate, are supposed to incite these fiery Latin-Indian folk to actions that people of more mien would not contemplate.

18 May 1937, Modesto (CA) Bee and News-Herald, “Foreign Cookery Is Studied By Women,” pg. 12?, col. 4:
Mrs. R. B. Hogancamp, chile con queso,…

27 December 1940, Los Angeles Times, pg. A5:
Walt and Sit Candy—the latter in a bright Yuletide red felt chapeau—were raving over the chile con queso.

4 November 1947, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 25:
Chili con queso made a bigger hit at my table than even the sout-of-the-border barbecued chicken. Chili con queso is a cheese and pepper toast, um-mm, but good!

Chili con Queso
1 chili peppers
1 onion
2 cups tomatoes
2 eggs
Salt
1 cup grated yellow cheese
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1. Chop peppers and onion fine and saute in a little fat. Use a green pepper if chili peppers are not available.
2. Add tomatoes, stir well, and add while stirring, the well beaten eggs.
3. Add salt to taste, cheese and chili powder, stir and cook until cheese is melted and serve hot on toast.

1 February 1954, Los Angeles Times, “Recipe of the Week” by Lola Turley, pg. B6:
This modern version of the traditional Spanish chili con queso, was sent to us by Mrs. Lois Marie Young of El Paso, Tex., and is made with green chilis blended with creamy, smooth cheese and a dash of lively tabasco. This tempting dip is a savory change from the usual line of “nibble foods.”
(…)
Chili Con Queso
Use two and one-half cups canned tomatoes and one small can green chilis. Put both in top part of a large double boiler, place directly over flame. Cook slowly until mushy, adding a little water if necessary. Remove from flame and place over boiling water. Add approximately two pounds cheddar cheese, cubed, slowly and cook until the cheese has melted. Flavor with a dash of tabasco. Serve with tostados, crackers, potato chips or anything with which to “dip.”

1 October 1964, Washington Post, pg. D1:
LBJ RANCH dishes will include chili con queso, pickled okra, guacamole and chili dip. All are favorites of the President and First Lady.
(…)(Pg. D14—ed.)
Here are the recipes from the White House.

LBJ RANCH DISHES
Chili con Queso
1 No. 2 can tomatoes
1 large onion chopped fine
1 bud garlic chopped fine
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp, powdered comino seed
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. aged cheddar cheese
Simmer all this except cheese slowly for about 2 hours, covered, stirring often. Uncover, turn heat up high and stir constantly until all fluid is gone and you have a thick paste. This paste can be frozen. If so, set out to thaw a couple of hours ahead allowing for about 30 minutes in a double boiler before serving time. Add to it, in double boiler, 1 pound best aged cheddar cheese cut up in chunks.

Cover and let stand over water that is simmering, not boiling, as boiling water tends to make cheese stringy. Stir occasionally to mix well. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve in a chafing dish with large size fritos if desired, but tortillas quartered and fried in deep fat are better.