A brief history of nachos

plate of nachos
Photo: mitchellpictures (Getty Images)

At this point in the culinary timeline, people have decided that they can top nachos with whatever ingredients they want, as long as they include melted cheese. Different types of meats, sauces, car parts, paper towels, you know. But nachos have a legitimate Mexican history and they trace back to a man named Ignacio Anaya (Nacho for short), and thanks to this fascinating and informative story from The New York Times, you’ll finally get to know how they came about.

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The story begins in a border city called Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico. A group of American military wives in Eagle Pass, Texas, crossed the border to shop and were looking for a snack and a drink after hours. Anaya, the maître d’hôtel of the Victory Hotel, had to scramble, as all his cooks had already gone home.

He came up with a simple concoction: He layered Colby cheese and pickled jalapeños on top of fried tortilla chips, and popped the whole thing in the oven until the cheese melted. It was a hit, and the women ordered seconds. The dish became a regular staple on the Victory Hotel menu, and it spread to other restaurants nearby.

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You might think that Colby cheese seems like an unusual ingredient in Mexico, but it was an ingredient supplied to American citizens by the U.S. government during the hard times of World War II and made its way across the border through bartering and selling. It even had its own nickname: Queso relief.

Eventually Anaya opened his own restaurant and called it Nacho’s. Restaurants across the border eventually embraced the nacho, making it a regular part of Tex-Mex menus, with additions like beef, pico de gallo, beans, and the like. Ballpark nachos came about in 1970, when a Mexican-born businessman, Frank Liberto, combined an innovative emulsified liquid cheese product with the pump you’re all familiar with today.

Bar patrons everywhere thank you, Ignacio Anaya. When we can go to a bar safely again, I know what I’m ordering first.

Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

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DISCUSSION

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And that’s why I celebrated my birthday this year by mixing up some sodium citrate, some milk, some spices, melted down a brick of cheese into that, topped with fermented jalapeno rings (the best new item Trader Joes has released in eons) and ruined my health.

That said, it was cheddar instead of colby, so I’ll have to repeat this effort again soon with something more true to the original.

Thank you, Ignacio Anaya, for getting drunk American women fed and changing the world!