The very first real job that I had was at a bland fast food taco franchise called Taco Time. Nestled deep within the food court of the Columbia Center Mall, I rang up and served up countless deep fried crispy burritos, big red sodas, choco tacos and a flatbed’s worth of nachos over the months that I worked there. I later hung up my guac gun holster to build and shill skateboards at the local Zumiez, the (then) height of culture for a stoned kid in 1994 Kennewick, Washington. Yet I digress.
Although I resented my 40 year old store manager severely and my hot pink taco grease permascented shirt eternally, I did pick up a thing or two working the Mexican-ish line. For example, I learned how to organize a walk in cooler efficiently for health inspectors. I became a whiz at dismantling soda fountain machines for cleaning. I memorized burrito configuration and rolling technique. And, as mentioned before with the quantity served, I learned how to make spectacular nachos. Since those days I have become an afficionacho (as well as having a keen awareness for dirty soda fountain taste).
However, I always took for granted where plate after plate of those nachos came from. I mean, have you ever really thought of where the nacho originated? It’s not like they just descended from the sky one day with portion perfect plops of pico de gallo and four cheese blend. Who made them? Why did they make them? How can we thank them?
Of course I did some digging to find out the origins of the nacho, and the results were rather interesting. The toppin’ laden mexihemoths that are found on bar menus from Nova Scotia to Nambia really just started out as fried corn tortillas, longhorn cheese and a few jalapeno peppers. That’s it. No guacamole. No sour cream. Nada. Just a corn, cheese and jalapeno wonderland invented by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.
Mr. Anaya, known to his friends as Nacho, was the head waiter (and possible cook) at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras in 1943, located right over the border from the Eagle Pass Airfield of Eagle Pass, Texas. Depending on which source you cite, Mr. Anaya was either approached by Mamie Finan to create a unique appetizer as part of a dinner for wives of military officials or he was coerced in whipping up a dish for a group of officers and their wives after the kitchen had closed for the night. Either way, Mr. Anaya invented the trajectory of ballpark and convenience store food when he went back into that kitchen, fried up a few corn tortillas, covered them in longhorn cheese and threw them in the salamander to await their destiny. A few minutes later, he garnished the mess with a few jalapeno rings and viola! Future bar food was born.
Nachos were an instant hit with the Victory Club patrons, where they were simply called “Nachos Especiales” on the fly. The simple dish caught on like a brushfire throughout Texas. The first mention of nachos was found in the 1949 book entitled A Taste of Texas but the first recipe for homemade nachos appeared in 1954 in the St. Anne’s Cookbook. The recipe then left the state for California when Carmen Rocha made the first plate of them at El Cholo Restaurant in Los Angeles in 1959.
Over the decades the popularity of the nacho grew, especially in ballpark settings. In the mid 1970′s ball park nachos had become a staple at Texas sporting events thanks to the invention of processed nacho cheese. Sportscaster Howard Cosell found the word entertaining and made sure to mention nachos at every chance he got during his time slot, thereby catapulting the popularity of atomic orange cheese dishes to the nation.
Although the nacho became to big to fail as the years went on, Mr. Anaya never gained much from his humble plate of cheese and chips. He saw no reason to patent his recipe as the popularity for his signature dish exploded, instead favoring to perfect his recipe in the neighboring El Moderno restaurant in Peidras Negras. Mr. Anaya died a man of moderate means in 1975, and the restaurant where he toiled for years closed quietly in 1982. He left behind nine children, all of which who probably slightly resent his choice.
He did, however, get a post mortem plaque in Piedras Negras. Also, somewhere in the 1990′s October 21 was declared International Day of The Nacho, a week after the International Nacho Festival held in town. (That’s something to hang your Stetson on.)
Today, you can find nachos worldwide with just about every known Latin condiment on them. Taco Time, for example, had a rather complex system for making their signature plate that resulted in a perfectly balanced blend of fixins and cheese that never gained a mushy interior. As a final salute to Mr. Anaya, I present to you the original configuration of the Taco Time nacho platter.
How To Build Nachos
-Tortilla Chips, any shape except the scoopy type
-Finely shredded cheese
-Pico de gallo, well drained
-Green Onions, sliced (green and white parts separated)
-Canned refried beans, cold
-Black olives, sliced
1. Preheat your broiler as high as it will go.
2. On a heatproof plate (or sizzle platter), put one thin layer of chips down. Do not have them stack or overlap, but have them close together.
3. Sprinkle some of the cheese over the layer of chips with even distribution. Go fairly liberally. Then scatter some of the white part of the green onion, the drained pico de gallo and olives on top. This essentially creates a foundation for layer two.
4. Repeat the same chip layering process as before on top of the garnished first layer of chips. With this layer, double the amount of cheese used so that everything is essentially smothered.
5. For decorative purposes, sprinkle on some more pico de gallo and olives over the top of the second chip layer. Go light though, it’s just to break up the entirely yellow landscape that you have just created.
6. Next, using an ice cream scoop, pack a scoop of refried beans tightly. (Presentation is important!) When you have a firmly packed scoop of beans, plop it gently on top of the cheese layer in the center of the dish. Admire your work.
7. If using a plate, I suggest putting the plate on a pizza pan or cookie sheet before placing it in the broiler. If using a sizzle platter, get tongs and sidetowels nearby. Whichever method you have chosen, place the entire thing into your now hot broiler.
8. Heat the dish for a few minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. The beans may spread out a bit.
9. Remove the dish from the oven. Sprinkle the nachos with the green part of the green onions and some of the diced tomato.
10. Serve with guacamole and sour cream on the side in a little dish. Add additional hot sauce or salsa as desired.