Q: How can I tell my Yankee in-laws that food in Texas is supposed to be spicy and that we like it that way? Some years ago, they retired to Texas and settled nearby and now the weekly dining out always includes comments like, “Why is this enchilada so spicy,” “Why do they put pepper in the cream gravy,” and “Is this pico de gallo hot?” All considered, they are pretty good folks and I don’t want to rile my wagon master, but her parents’ continued comments on foods they consider to be too spicy is making me hot under the collar. What should I do?
Bill Huston, Tyler
A: Before the Texanist advises you to look across the dinner table at your wife’s parents and proudly, clearly, and somewhat loudly proclaim just what you have stated in your letter—that food in Texas is supposed to be spicy and that we like it that way—let him first say that reading about your unfortunate predicament has caused him to wince in agony. As if relations with in-laws weren’t tricky enough already, your wife’s persnickety Yankee parents insist on ruining what would otherwise be pleasant mealtimes with their constant kvetching about the perceived piquancy of Texas’s world-famous fare? Man, oh, man.
In addition to inducing cringes, your letter has also provoked a good bit of salivation. Spicy enchiladas? Peppery cream gravy? Hot pico de gallo? Mmm-mmm! What’s for lunch? Texas cuisine, as you and everybody else except your in-laws knows, is famous the world over for its toothsomeness and also occasional snappiness, but not every dish comes with a kick. As a whole, our cookery is a great big stew consisting of rich influences that range from not-that-spicy American, German, and Czech cuisines to can-be-spicy Southern, Cajun and creole, southwestern, and cowboy cuisines. The resulting comestibles are many: Hamburgers (invented in Athens), grilled steaks, chili (invented by the chili queens of San Antonio), etouffees and gumbos, barbecue (invented by . . . well, let’s not relitigate that here), and, of course, delicious Tex-Mex and all that it entails—enchiladas, tacos, tamales, regular dinners, el numero unos, homemade tortillas, fajitas, beans, chips and salsa, chips and guacamole, chips and queso, chips and that spicy pico de gallo, pan dulces, sopaipillas, etc., etc., etc. Admittedly, some of these dishes can be a little fiery, but not all of them carry a Scoville pungency scale rating. Few are so zesty as to cause a real fuss. Your frustration is not without cause.
The Texanist bets that if there were a listing of the world’s most impossible to please people, Yankee in-laws would probably be on it—right near the top. Of course, the Texanist is just guessing about this, as he had the good fortune to marry a Texas girl of native parentage. In fact, the Texanist’s dear old mother-in-law, as well as his dear old stepmother-in-law, both avid readers of this column, are fantastic women—the nicest mothers-in-law you’d ever care to meet. They don’t mind spicy food and never complain about anything at all. The Texanist is lucky to have them in his life. Truly. Sorry for the digression, but that needed to be said.
For better or worse, your own in-laws call Texas home now. Perhaps, before you make it clear to them that the food here is supposed to be spicy and that we like it that way, you might first swallow your anger and then take a moment to educate them a little bit. Do they know, for instance, that Texas has not one but two officials state peppers? Or that our official state dish is chili, which consists mainly of meat and peppers? Or that our official state vehicle is the chuck wagon? And that such things became official symbols because they are emblematic of who we are as a people?
The thing is, if they’ve been here for years, as you state, that “we” now includes your wife’s parents. The time for their taste buds to become acclimated has, like the bowl of XXX chili the Texanist just ordered, arrived. Good luck!
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to him there and be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the May 2018 issue.