About Regional Flavor
Lone Star State, how do we love thee! Let us count the ways: We love the barbecue, brisket in particular, that is more tender than warm butter – especially wonderful when eaten in one of the old back-of-the-butcher-shop smoke houses around Lockhart. We love chicken-fried steak that makes something humble into a kingly feast. And we love Czech kolaches and German sausages and Mexican fajitas and African-American soul food. Of course there are jailhouse chili and lunch-counter Frito pie. Pecan pies, cream pies, fruit pies are to die for. Even vegetarian meals are way better than we’d expect in a land where red meat is so delicious.
Texas Regional Specialties
In Texas, beef rules; and as good as steak may be, brisket can be even more satisfying. As the inherently fatty cut of cow basks in the smoke of smoldering live oak wood for hours, its marbling melts and insinuates intense flavor into the meat. The exterior, blackened by all its time in the pit, has some crunch and an even more concentrated flavor; interior fibers that are still laced with fat literally melt on your tongue.
Chili is the official state dish of Texas, but it isn't all that easy to find the classic meal that old-timers know as a "bowl of red." That means chile con carne – chilies with meat. Nothing more, nothing less. No beans, no peppers, no onions, no cheese. The places that do serve it in all its purity usually do offer the likes of cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips, but on the side.
Casseroles layered with corn tortillas go back to Mesoamerica, but the Fritos pie (or, if you wish, Frito pie) cannot, by definition, predate 1932. That is when Fritos were patented by Elmer Doolin, who got the recipe from a streetcorner vendor and started selling them at his lunch counter in San Antonio. (Doolin subsequently invented the Cheeto.) Long before Fritos, Mexicans had enjoyed eating fritos (small f), which simply means "little fried things," but it was Doolin who figured out how to mass-produce the curly little corn chips and it has been reported that it was his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, who first put them into a baked casserole with chili and cheese. Like Fritos themselves, Fritos pie is no longer strictly regional, but it is especially popular across a wide swath of the Southwest from Arkansas through Texas and Oklahoma and into New Mexico.