It has been over 80 years since “nachos” were first created by Ignacio Anaya. The snack he invented, called “nachos” after his nickname, is now a favorite around the world.
Nacho worked at the Victory Club, a popular restaurant in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras near the Mexico-US border, right across the Rio Grande River from Eagle Pass, Texas. Customers came to the restaurant from both Mexico and the US, especially those who lived on the Eagle Pass Army Airfield complex, which served as a training base during World War II. In 1943, Mamie Finan, a regular patron from Eagle Pass, took a group of military wives with her to the restaurant. Mamie asked Nacho if he could serve her and her friends a different snack from the usual fare. Nacho, inspired by his foster mother’s quesadillas, took a bowl of freshly fried pieces of corn tortillas, sprinkled them with cheese, topped them with jalapeño peppers, and put the concoction in the oven till the cheese melted. The women were enraptured.
Word of mouth brought others to the restaurant for “Nacho’s Special,” and it was soon added to the menu. A recipe for “Nachos Especiales” appeared in the 1954 St. Anne’s Cookbook, published by the Church of the Redeemer in Eagle Pass, Texas. This helped spread the creation across the US boarder.
After the Victory Club closed in 1961, Nacho opened his own restaurant in Piedras Negras, called Nacho’s, with his most popular dish being the snack he invented.
Restaurants all over both countries began to serve the dish, “and somewhere along the way,” the author writes, “restaurants started calling the dish simply ‘nachos.’”
The New York Times reported that the original nachos featured colby cheese:
“‘Colby was widely used in the region during World War II, when nachos were created’, said Dr. Adalberto Peña de los Santos, the director of the International Nacho Festival . . . . It was a time of hardship on both sides of the border. “’In Piedras, we used to call Colby ‘queso [cheese] relief,’ he said. “It was one of the ingredients provided by the US government.”
Nachos got another boost as a snack when concession stand nachos (using a cheese sauce requiring no refrigeration) were introduced in 1976 at a Texas Rangers game by Frank Liberto, a businessman from Texas. That year, Arlington Stadium sold $800,000 worth of nachos. In 1977 Liberto took his nachos concession to a Dallas Cowboys football game. It didn’t hurt that their spiciness boosted drink sales. Sports stadiums were hooked. From there, they appeared at stadiums and movie theaters throughout the United States, and then one country after another.
The author includes a recipe for “Original Nachos,” a list of sources, and an Afterword providing more biographical information about both Ignacio Anaya and Mamie Finan. She points out:
“Most people around the world don’t know that there was a real person – a man named Nacho – who created the popular dish. The city of Piedras Negras, however, never forgot. Every year around October 21, when International Day of the Nacho is celebrated, Piedras Negras throws a three-day Nacho Fest with music, games, and best of all, lots and lots of nachos.”
Illustrator Oliver Dominguez clearly did his research to convey the clothes, cars, and art deco feel of the area in the 1940s and 1950s using ink and colored pencil along with acrylic and gouache. Warm colors add to the impression of looking at the past. His varying portrayals of the different emotions of people experiencing nachos for the first time are terrific.
Evaluation: Most kids are familiar with nachos, and will be delighted to find out how they got started. It might inspire them to come up with their own snack creations!
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2020