How to Differentiate Authentic Mexican from Tex-Mex

How to Differentiate Authentic Mexican from Tex-Mex

It is fascinating to go into a restaurant that bills itself authentic and really study the food they serve. For example, what you get at an Italian restaurant in America probably looks a lot different than what you would see in Italy. The same is true for Mexican food. What most of us consider authentic Mexican is really Tex-Mex. So how do you tell the difference?

For starters, there is nothing wrong with Tex-Mex as a cuisine. Food is food. If you like a good Tex-Mex menu better than authentic Mexican food, that’s entirely up to you. The point here is not to speak ill of Tex-Mex or make it sound like it is less worthy of your attention. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tex-Mex is Different

Now that we’ve established that Tex-Mex isn’t inferior, we must acknowledge that it is different. Tex-Mex is a type of cuisine that combines ingredients typically found in native Mexican recipes but prepared in an American way. Preparation is key in the sense that Americans, like every other people group on the planet, have grown up with certain kinds of preparation methods. Prepare food outside of what they normally experience and there will be a reluctance to try the food.

So again, how do you differentiate? There are a couple of keys you can look for. At the top of the list is sour cream. Mexicans rarely serve sour cream as a condiment with their food. It is hard to come by in Mexico to begin with, but sour cream also has its origins in Europe. We Americans serve it with Tex-Mex in order to reduce the spiciness of the food.

If your favorite Mexican restaurant serves things like taco salad and whole wheat tortillas, it’s not authentic. You are eating Tex-Mex with some added American enhancements designed to placate a certain segment of the dining population with peculiar tastes.

Authentic Mexican Food

Authentic Mexican food – prepared by people of Mexican heritage who love to cook – is very much about tortillas in their many forms. Meat is also particularly important to Mexican cuisine. You will not find a lot of vegetarian options at an authentic Mexican restaurant. But that’s another topic for another post.

Your typical taqueria tends to be authentic Mexican. What is a taqueria? It is a restaurant that serves primarily tortillas. They are sold in many forms including tacos and enchiladas. Quesadillas are also on the menu. You’ll find plenty of chicken, beef, cheese, and salsa.

Having said that, a truly authentic Mexican taqueria can still delve into Americanized recipes or even a bit of fusion here and there. Taqueria27, one of Utah’s top traditional Mexican restaurants, says that it is common for authentic Mexican cooks to experiment with their recipes.

The question is where you draw the line. At what point does authentic Mexican become something else influenced by other cuisines or cooking styles? The inability to answer that question sufficiently explains why the line of distinction between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex is so blurry at times.

It’s All Good

Whether you prefer authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex, it’s all good. That’s what is most important at the end of the day. Whatever restaurant you feel sells the best tacos in Salt Lake City is entirely up to you. The fact that you like Tex-Mex while your cousin in Dallas prefers authentic Mexican is okay. You both get what you like.

Maybe the line between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex isn’t so sharp after all. Perhaps authentic food really is anything that doesn’t come from a box or can.

David Lockhart