There’s a good chance that you’ve had nachos at some point, be those nachos in the form of cheap corn chips and liquid cheese at a ballpark or a delicious spread of homemade tortilla chips buried under mounds of exotic and spicy toppings. There’s an equally good chance that you never stopped to wonder where the name “nachos” even came from other than, perhaps, to assume (safely) that it came from somewhere in Mexico. Named after a region perhaps? A tradition? A type of chip? Oh no, my friend. Named after the genius of a man who turned the mishmash of what he had on hand into a dish destined to live on forever.
In the early 1940s, a group of military wives, based out of Fort Duncan, Texas, were just over the border doing some shopping in the Mexican town of Piedras Negras. They stopped by a restaurant only to find that they’d arrived after closing time. Rather than turn away patrons, and despite the closed kitchen, the maître d’hôtel of the restaurant, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, headed into the kitchen and whipped up what he could with what he had on hand to feed them. He cut and fried some leftover corn tortillas into chips, melted shredded cheddar cheese on top of them, and adorned the whole thing with sliced pickled jalapeño peppers.
The ladies loved the dish and asked him what it was called. Pressed for a name, he simply called them “Nacho’s especiales”—Nacho’s Special. The women went home, talked the dish up, and people began asking for “Nacho’s Special” in droves. The name shifted slightly over time, becoming “Special Nachos”, then simply “nachos” as the dish spread throughout Texas and the southwestern United States.
It gained steady popularity over the ensuing decades and in 1976, a modified version of the dish (that would come to be known as “ballpark nachos”) was marketed by Frank Liberto, owner of Ricos Products, during Texas Rangers baseball games at their stadium in Texas. Two years later, during a September 1978 Monday Night Football game between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, iconic sportscaster Howard Cosell expressed his enjoyment of the name “nachos” and made a point of mentioning the dish in his broadcasts over the following weeks. This introduced the idea of nachos to a national audience and increased interest in the snack across the U.S.—and today, as a result, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know what nachos are.
Image by chee.hong/Wikimedia.