Respuestas to frequently asked questions

What would possess a person to eat a prickly pear cactus?   Well, they’re abundant and cheap—and free if you gather them yourself. Called nopales, the pads have a mild vegetable flavor with a lemony zing. The taste of the fruits—called tunas—varies widely and can resemble anything from watermelon and honeydew to berries and cucumbers.

What is the difference between migas and chilaquiles?   Both of these breakfast dishes contain fried tortillas, but the similarities end there. Migas are basically crushed tostadas scrambled with eggs, tomatoes, chiles, and onions and topped with cheese. Either a pan-cooked dish or a casserole, chilaquiles consist of fried tortillas simmered in a sauce; they can be topped with cheese and crema. Confusingly, restaurants sometimes use the names interchangeably.

What is “interior” Mexican food?   ”Interior” basically means un-Americanized Mexican food, the exotic stuff like papa-dzules (tortillas in pumpkin-seed sauce) or pescado tikin xik (fish in a sauce of orange juice and achiote) that you encounter deep in the heart of Mexico. But culinary citizenship is readily granted in Texas, and as immigrants sweep north, they take their regional recipes to restaurants across the state. What was “interior” twenty years ago (ceviche, mole poblano, and huachinango a la veracruzan a) is today as familiar as the dishes of bedrock Tex-Mex: tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.

Coca-Cola used to taste better in Mexico than in the U.S., but that’s not so anymore. What’s going on?   Mexican Coke used to be sweetened with better-tasting cane sugar rather than less-expensive high-fructose corn syrup. But recently we found a Mexican Coke label stating that it may contain “High Fructose Corn Syrup, and/or Sugar.” An era has ended. Guess you’ll have to trust your taste buds on this one.

Are refried beans really refried?   No. Refried beans are fried only once. The confusion comes from the Mexican term frijoles refritos, which means “well-fried beans.”

Why does Tex-Mex use yellow cheese and other Mexican dishes white cheese?   White cheese was a rare and exotic food in Texas in the first half of the twentieth century, when Mexican restaurants were opening left and right. But yellow cheese—including Velveeta—was widely available and popular. Savvy Tex-Mex restaurateurs served what their customers liked.

Why do Mexican restaurants sell pralines at the cash register?   Until the sixties and seventies, only simple sweets were offered in most of Texas’s Mexican restaurants: pralines and

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