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Tex-Mex vs Mexican

Tex-Mex vs Mexican


You don’t have to live south of the border to enjoy good Mexican food. Mexican and Tex-Mex have been gaining in popularity in the United States for over 100 years. However, there seems to be some confusion sometimes as to what is authentic Mexican food and Tex-Mex (hint: one of them doesn’t involve Cool Ranch Dorito shells). I can clear up the differences between the two.


Meat
Traditional Mexican food uses plenty of meat found locally in Mexico. Many of the staple dishes include beef and pork, both of which can also be shredded, goat, seafood and chicken. Chorizo is very popular as well and it is usually minced pork and beef mixed with a Mexican Chorizo seasoning blend made with Ancho chilies, cumin, garlic, coriander, salt, black pepper, Mexican oregano, thyme, Ceylon cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves. Combining chorizo with black beans can make a wonderful meal all by itself.  While chorizo may look like ground beef it certainly isn’t. Traditional Mexican food doesn’t use ground beef typically, but it is the main ingredient in Tex-Mex food and is the meat most commonly found in Tex-Mex dishes such as Mexican Cornbread.


Cheese
Cheese is another area where Tex-Mex and Mexican differ greatly. Melted cheddar cheese is used in many Tex-Mex dishes such as enchiladas and nachos. Mexican food on the other hand almost never uses yellow cheeses and relies heavily on white cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, queso asadero, queso Qaxaca, queso panela, or queso Chihuaha. The choice in cheese is dependent on the local flavor in most cases. None of the regions of Mexico are known for using yellow cheese which is primarily an American ingredient.


Toppings
Sour cream is an ingredient that is non existent in Mexican cusine, but is used often in Tex-Mex. Crema is similar to sour cream, but it is less sour and thinner. Along with crema Mexican dishes will be topped with fresh lime juice, raw onions, grilled onions, fresh cilantro, or avocados. The emphasis in traditional Mexican food is freshness where as in Tex-Mex it’s not. Chile con queso is another thing that might garner you some strange looks if you tried to order it in Mexico. It’s just simply something they don’t eat. Lettuce is another ingredient that, while found in some Mexican dishes, isn’t as prevalent as it is in Tex-Mex. For example, tacos in Mexico would almost never have lettuce on them.


Quesadillas
In some cases Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes share names but are almost entirely different. Tex-Mex quesadillas are usually two flour tortillas bound together with melted cheddar cheese and stuffed with either chicken, steak, or beef and some veggies such as lettuce and tomatoes and topped with a dollop of sour cream. While tasty it is far from what Mexico considers a quesadilla. Mexican quesadillas are simply warmed flour tortillas with melted white cheese in the middle sometimes topped with homemade salsa or guacamole. Sort of like the equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich here in America. So quesadillas in Mexico would never have lettuce, tomato or sour cream because adding those things means it is no longer considered a “quesadilla”. The other difference of course is the meat, where as Tex-Mex may use chicken or ground beef a Mexican quesadilla with ham is considered a sincronizada or a gringa if it has shaved pork meat. This is just one example of dishes that share a name but little else between the two.


Healthier
As I’ve mentioned freshness is a very important part of Mexican cuisine. Going back to the Aztecs they ate what was on hand which happened to be the vegetables, grains, and meats they could cultivate themselves. This led to their diets being substantially healthier than American Tex-Mex which relies on melted yellow cheese and ground beef. White cheese is almost always healthier for you than yellow cheese which is more processed and colored to provide an evenness in it’s appearance. Ground beef also tends to be a fattier meat to use compared to the leaner meat of pork, chicken, lamb, or seafood. Along with healthier ingredients Mexican food is also served in smaller portions. All these factors along with fresh vegetables used in sauces makes Mexican cuisine much healthier for you than Tex-Mex.

So there is no right or wrong answer. Some people prefer Mexican and some prefer Tex-Mex, but the next time you go to a "Mexican" restaurant you can better identify exactly what it is you're enjoying. Just stay away from the Dorito tacos!


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