It's been around for sixty-years and has now reached International food star status. No, we're not talking about Emeril LaGasse or Rachel Ray. They weren't even born yet. The star we're talking about is none other than the Nacho.
Yep, the nacho. Born in the late 1940's in Piedras Negras, Mexico, it's beginnings may have been a little humble. But down through the years it has grown into one of the world's most favorite and famous snacks. Now, every year the nacho is celebrated in grand style at the International Nacho Fest in the place of its birth, Piedras Negras.
This year the festival runs Oct. 13-15 with an itinerary full of live music, art, cultural activities and, of course, the popular "biggest nacho of the world" contest, an event which is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Nacho's legendary birth began almost by accident from the creative inspiration of maitre d' Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya. What began as a quick fix for a few customers quickly grew into a popular snack that changed the course of culinary history. "Nacho" was working at a restaurant owned by Rudolfo De Los Santos, at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.
Americans have crossed the border there since the Mexican War when Camp Eagle Pass was established. Then in 1849, the permanent Fort Duncan was founded, and during the 1940's visitors from the nearby air base crossed the border often to experience the culture and food of Mexico.
As fate would have it, one day Nacho found himself alone in the restaurant with 12 U.S. military officer's wives -- and no chef to be found. Not wanting to put his American visitors off, he quickly volunteered to prepare something for them himself.
But after looking through the kitchen pantry for anything that could be prepared quickly, Nacho grabbed a handful of homemade tostados, grated a little cheese on top (Wisconsin cheese actually - because that's all he could find), and put them under the Salamander (a broiling unit that quickly browns the top of foods). He pulled them out after a couple of minutes and added a slice of jalapeno.
It may not sound like much, but so unique and different was the presentation that the guests were delighted and asked for the name of the strange dish. Nacho did not have a name for new invention, so one of the guest, named Mimam Finan (one of the officers wives), titled them "Nacho's Especiales" - or Nacho's specialty.
These simple but delicious treats of hand cut, hand fried tortillas with melted cheese and jalepenos have grown more complex in recent years. But the name "Nacho" stuck, and even today many prefer the simplest of nachos in the tradition of its' inventor, Nacho Anaya.
After several years, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya went on to work at the Moderno restaurant where he took his nacho recipe. The restaurant is still in business today and has won the "Best" nacho title several times in years past. The restaurant is famous for two of its' entrees: The classic nacho (cheese and jalapeno only), and special nachos prepared with fresh jumbo shrimp.
In later years, Nacho opened his own restaurant and in 1975 with the help of his son, Anaya Jr., they tried to patent the name. Unfortunately, the name had officially been around for 17 years and was in the public domain. But true nacho lovers and aficionados know the real credit for this Mexican treat lies with Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya - and the world will be forever indebted to his culinary invention.
Every year during the second weekend of October Piedras Negras comes alive with the celebration of the nacho. You'll find nachos of every flavor and variety, from caviar nachos to fajita nachos to the simple cheese and jalepeno nacho.
Come hungry, bring the antacid, and leave plenty of room for margaritas to cool the heat of the day (and the jalepenos). While nachos may well have conquered the world, Piedras Negras is the only place where you can get the original.
Piedras Negras, Mexico
This busy Mexican city is an easy walk from the American border town of Eagle Pass. As with many Mexican border towns along the Rio Grande, you will find traditional Mexican markets, handicrafts, pharmacies, dentists, fine restaurants and other businesses that attract American visitors.
With a population of almost 300,000 it still maintains the feel of Old Mexico. Yet it has a bustling coal-mining and manufacturing industrial section as well, a base for the local economy. It more closely resembles the interior cities of Mexico than it does the typical border town.
To get there go southwest from San Antonio to Eagle Pass (about 125 miles) and cross over the international gateway into Piedras Negras. Like other border towns, Eagle Pass is bilingual and works closer with its sister city Piedras Negras to make all visitors feel welcome.