Key Moments in Mexican Food History

Key Moments in Mexican Food History
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.

1428
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.

1521
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.

1620
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.

1795
José María Guadalupe de Cuervo receives the first official permit to produce tequila commercially in Mexico.

1900
San Antonio’s Original Mexican Restaurant becomes the first establishment on this side of the border to offer authentic Mexican dishes.

1928
Kraft Foods introduces Velveeta. Its golden gooeyness quickly becomes the basis for chile con queso, the national party dip of Texas.

1947
Pace Picante Sauce is invented in San Antonio. It quickly becomes the preferred salsa of gringos throughout Texas.

1972
Diana Kennedy publishes her groundbreaking The Cuisines of Mexico, drawing a sharp distinction between Mexican food and Tex-Mex.

1976
President Gerald Ford visits San Antonio and attempts to eat a tamal without first removing the outer corn husk.

1982
Astronaut William Lenoir eats a jalapeño in space while aboard Columbia.

1991
Salsa overtakes ketchup as the top-selling condiment in the United States.

2003
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.

2007
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that a third of the country’s 381 tortilla- manufacturing establishments are in Texas.

2010
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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