Key Moments in Mexican Food History

December 2010By Comments

Illustration by Bernd Schifferdecker

3500 BC
Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America begin cultivating chiles, thus paving the way for salsa and jalapeño poppers.

1200 BC
Native Americans refine nixtamalization, a process that softens corn kernels and releases their nutrients. They begin eating tortillas.

The Aztecs establish their empire in Mexico. They show their enemies no mercy—and use the smoke from roasting chiles to punish their ill-behaved children.

Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés throws a taco party in Coyoacán, now a neighborhood in Mexico City, to reward his captains for their defeat of Aztec king Cuauhtémoc.

Sister María of Ágreda, Spain, writes down the first supposed recipe for chile con carne after an out-of-body experience in which her spirit visits Native Americans in modern-day Texas.

José María Guadalupe de Cuervo receives the first official permit to produce tequila commercially in Mexico.

San Antonio’s Original Mexican Restaurant becomes the first establishment on this side of the border to offer authentic Mexican dishes.

Kraft Foods introduces Velveeta. Its golden gooeyness quickly becomes the basis for chile con queso, the national party dip of Texas.

Pace Picante Sauce is invented in San Antonio. It quickly becomes the preferred salsa of gringos throughout Texas.

Diana Kennedy publishes her groundbreaking The Cuisines of Mexico, drawing a sharp distinction between Mexican food and Tex-Mex.

President Gerald Ford visits San Antonio and attempts to eat a tamal without first removing the outer corn husk.

Astronaut William Lenoir eats a jalapeño in space while aboard Columbia.

Salsa overtakes ketchup as the top-selling condiment in the United States.

The world’s largest taco, in Mexicali, Mexico, is almost 36 feet long and 1,654 pounds. It beats the record set in 2000 by Ninfa’s Original Mexican Restaurant, in Houston.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that a third of the country’s 381 tortilla- manufacturing establishments are in Texas.

The Culinary Institute of America opens an expanded campus in San Antonio. At the inauguration ceremony, the president of the CIA cuts a rope made of chiles.

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