What Food is Texas Known For?

By Judith K. Tingley

Amidst such plenty, what to choose?

What Food is Texas Known For?

Texas is known for so many good food. Indeed, an entire book could be written about each of the scores of food made famous in Texas, from chile con queso to peach cobbler, not to mention deep-fried guacamole from the Texas State Fair.

The best of the best

A sense of taste, like a sense of humor, is subjective. Almost everybody agrees that Texan pecans are delicious, but while you might prefer to soak your pecans in hot sauce, your friend might prefer his glazed, roasted or plain. The same goes for Texan food in general. It would be hard to find anyone who doesn't like several Texas menu staples, but not everyone would pick the same ones. So, here's a taster's menu of Texas treats. Try them all and see what you like best.

Go ahead, have a drink

It doesn't have to be alcoholic. For example, the unique taste of Dr. Pepper was created by a Texas pharmacist in 1885. The 23 flavor ingredients of Dr. Pepper have been closely guarded ever since. Prunes are often rumored to be a main component of the drink, but according to company source, its definitely not in the mix. The soft drink Big Red was also invented in Texas and is rumored to be an excellent accompaniment to Texas barbecue. Sweet tea, too, is a delicious thirst-quencher, best served in mason jars as you relax on your porch swing.

There are plenty of alcoholic choices too, of course. Shiner beer is a favorite that comes in several varieties (including smokehaus mesquite!), and is even exported to other states so non-Texans can enjoy it, too. There are also small breweries popping up all over the state, so much so that there's an annual Texas Craft Brewers Festival held every fall in Austin.

Did you know that the frozen margarita, that cooling refresher for body and soul, was invented in Dallas? It was, and the original machine for making this miracle concoction was even donated to the Smithsonian!

Starters 'n' sides

Texan starters are so good and so addictive you'll have to be careful to hold aside some space for the rest of the meal. The quintessential starter is chile con queso: A melted mixture of chilies and cheese often served with homemade tortilla chips. Favored appetizers also include fried okra, "Texas caviar" (a mixture of black-eyed peas, corn, chopped avocado and mango) which is fine by itself and even better as a dip). Once you've demolished all the queso, there are infinite varieties of salsa to dip into, and guacamole (this time preferably not fried). For something a bit on the lighter side, try a bowl of tortilla soup.

The main course

Imagine a buffet table laid out with fried chicken, fried catfish, fried shrimp, chicken-fried steak, brisket BBQ, pork BBQ, chicken BBQ, turkey leg BBQ, gator tail BBQ, sausage BBQ, ribs BBQ, fill-in-the-blank BBQ and as many kinds of chili con carne as there are stars in the sky. Now imagine another buffet table, covered with the glorious dishes that make up what is known as "Tex-Mex" cookery.

About Tex-Mex

One of the existential dilemmas of all time is the nature of Tex-Mex cuisine. Is it nothing but a bastardization of authentic Mexican dishes? Is it limited to cheap fast-food joints serving greasy tacos covered with melted orange-y cheese? Should you shun Tex-Mex or enjoy it? What is it, anyway, exactly?

Why not call it what it really is? It's a world-class, regional cuisine in its own right. It's more than just a Texan take on Mexican food. It's its own thing and has a complicated history. According to the Texas food authority Robb Walsh, Tex-Mex cuisine was adapted from the home-cooking of the Spanish-speaking Tejano mission Indians and Canary Islanders brought to San Antonio. He writes, "There was a lot of cumin, garlic and chili, and those flavors, which are really dominant in chili con carne, became the flavor signature of Tex-Mex. It's very different from Mexican food." The Canary Islands are just off the northeastern coast of Africa, and that "typical" Tex-Mex ingredient, cumin, originated in Morocco. Which just goes to show that food, as much as music, is truly an international language.

So all those delicious Tex-Mex dishes – chili con carne, fajitas, flautas, puffy tacos, chile con queso, refried beans, cheese enchiladas – have come down a long and winding road to reach your plate and your palate. Long live Tex-Mex!

What's for dessert?

Here, have a big slab of pecan pie with a scoop of Blue Bell ice cream on top. Speaking of pecans, these pecan pralines are just yummy. Or maybe some cobbler; whether you choose blueberry or peach, just add that scoop of Blue Bell.

A guide to fried

If you're visiting Texas, you must know that whether your visit is for business or for pleasure, this is no time to either start or maintain a diet. They say that for everything there is a season, but the dieting season in Texas must be very short indeed. You could possibly try to subsist on the official state fruit, red grapefruit, but you wouldn't last long, no matter how delicious and juicy the grapefruit is. Native Texans can keep fit through exercise and modest portions, but few people who are "just visiting" can be expected to restrain themselves when such riches surround them.

And those riches include Texan carnival food, which some say is the most highly advanced fried food in the carnival world. German Texas sausage makers are said to have invented the corn dog, after all. After that came deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies, pizza, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches – and heading deeper and deeper into mind-boggling improbabilities – deep-fried Nutella, jambalaya, and butter. Yes, deep-fried butter! Don't knock it till you've tried it.

Enjoy your trip to Texas! Treat yourself to the wealth of Texas cuisine, and everything else that this great state has to offer.

About the Author

Judith loves cats, books, and road trips with her husband. She was born in rural Indiana, studied English Literature at the University of Chicago, and has lived in Chicago, Boston, Deerfield, MA and now Louisville, KY. She owned a bookstore for several years and is a past-president of the Mass. & RI Antiquarian Booksellers. She edits novels and stories, and makes pictures which have been shown in galleries and juried shows. She loves to write, and her motto is "stay curious."