Nacho memories

Twice in the last week I’ve made tortilla chips by cutting corn tortillas into sixths and frying them. It’s cheaper than buying pre-made chips and they taste better.


The process is tedious since you have to stand over the pan and can’t do much of anything else lest you overfry a chip. But there’s ample opportunity for a Zen state to come about if you know what you’re doing with the chips and can afford to let your mind wander.

As I stared and poked at the little tan rafts in the hot oil I went back to San Antonio of the early 1970s. More often than not on weekends my dad would make nachos. He’d fry chips until they were crisp, drain them for a bit on paper towels, then spread them out on a cookie sheet. He’d lay small bits of cheese on each chip, and finally top some of them with a single slice of jalapeno. I forget whether he or Mama or both liked pepper heat but I know I didn’t. Maybe the margaritas helped with that.

Daddy lavished attention and care on these coarse canapés as if he were cutting diamonds, and I remember him leaning over the oven, peering into the broiler, while the cheese melted and the corners of the chips browned.

Strictly from a culinary standpoint I wasn’t especially knocked out by these nachos but I was impressed by the process. It was still an exotic dish at the time and the idea of making our own Mexican food was hardly trivial.

I wondered just now where nachos came from and how old they are. The answer isn’t absolute but there seems to be a consensus that they were created in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, in the early 1940s by a man named Ignacio and nicknamed Nacho. The OED says so, anyway.

For a dollar’s worth of tortillas and fifty cents’ worth of oil you get a big pile of chips, and not a single one is broken.