Nachos are a Mexican regional dish from northern Mexico that consists of heated tortilla chips or totopos covered with melted cheese (or a cheese-based sauce), often served as a snack or appetizer.
More elaborate versions of the dish include other ingredients, and may be substantial enough to serve as a main dish.
The original nachos consisted of fried corn tortilla chips covered with melted cheese and sliced jalapeño peppers.
Nachos first appeared in 1943 in Piedras Negras, a small Mexican city which is very near to the US military base Fort Duncan, in Texas. A group of about a dozen US military wives, whose husbands were stationed at the base, had spent a day shopping in Eagle Pass when they decided to stop for some dinner —only to find that all the nearby restaurants were closed.
Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a maître d’ (or chef, according to some accounts) at the old Victory Club in Piedras Negras took pity on them and decided to cook something out of what was left in the kitchen. He sliced and fried some tortilla chips, covered them with shredded cheddar and sliced jalapeños, and put the concoction in the oven for a couple of minutes.
After tasting the snack, Finan asked what it was called. Anaya responded, “Well, I guess we can just call them Nacho’s Special.”
The recipe was later recorded in an Eagle Pass church cookbook, which confirms the existence of Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya, and gives the Victory Club as the place in which he invented his ‘nacho specials’, and provides his own original recipe.
The popularity of the dish swiftly spread throughout Texas and the Southwest. The first known appearance of the word “nachos” in English dates to 1950, from the book A Taste of Texas. According to El Cholo Spanish Cafe history, waitress Carmen Rocha is credited with making nachos in San Antonio, Texas, before introducing the dish to Los Angeles at the cafe in 1959.
A modified version of the dish, with cheese sauce and prepared tortilla chips, was marketed in 1976 by Frank Liberto, owner of Ricos Products, during Texas Rangers baseball games at Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This version became known as “ballpark nachos”. During the September 4, 1978 Monday Night Football game between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys, sportscaster Howard Cosell enjoyed the name “nachos”, and made a point of mentioning the dish in his broadcasts over the following weeks, further popularizing it and introducing it to a whole new audience.
Nachos with an abundance of toppings are sometimes called “loaded nachos”. This type of dish is usually served as an appetizer at bars or restaurants in the United States and elsewhere. Typically, the tortilla
chips are arranged on a platter, meat and refried bean toppings are then added, and the entire platter is smothered with shredded cheese.
In Memphis, Tennessee, barbecue nachos are served in most barbecue restaurants, and also at sporting events. Generous portions of barbecued pork shoulder are placed atop tortilla chips, then covered with melted cheese or nacho cheese, barbecue sauce, and sliced jalapeño peppers.
In Hawaii, kalua pork and pineapple nachos are served in many restaurants and bars. Generous portions of kalua pork and pineapple bits are placed atop tortilla chips, then covered with melted cheese or nacho
cheese, and varied toppings.
In the United States, National Nacho Day is celebrated on November 6. The International Nacho Festival is held between October 13 and 15 at Piedras Negras, the birthplace of nachos, and features live music, art, cultural activities, and a contest for the biggest nacho of the world which is registered with the Guinness World Records.
On April 21, 2012, the world’s biggest serving of nachos was made by Centerplate at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. It weighed 4,689 lb (2,127 kg) and contained 765 lb (347 kg) of nacho chips, 405 lb (184 kg) of salsa, 323 lb (147 kg) of tomato, 918 lb (416 kg) of meat and beans, and more than 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of cheese.
The most expensive nachos in America is at the Park Hyatt Hotel in New Yorkand and cost $210 – Russian Nachos: fresh potato chips, topped with caviar, sour cream, chives, and hard-boiled egg yolks.
According to Oxford English Dictionary’s Adriana P. Orr, prior to the 1940s, the word “nacho” had two original meanings. One was a simple Tex-Mex slang that combined the phrase “naturally, of course” into a single word – “nacho.” The other, which Orr learned from a staff member of the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress, was a common nickname given to a small boy who had been baptized “Ignacio.” Basically, it’s like calling a boy who’s named William, “Billy.”