They are thousands of years apart and equally delicious. It’s up to you – enchiladas, nachos, or both? They go together like an old married couple.
Let’s start with the old.
An enchilada is a corn tortilla filled with cheese, meat, or veggies, and covered with sauce. There are dozens of variations from super spicy to mild, a wide range of fillings, and even colors like verde (green), red (chili), and brown (molé).
Enchiladas are an old Mexican dish that dates back thousands of years to the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The original was probably a corn tortilla rolled around a fish.
Corn was a staple and tortillas were common. Long before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 1500s, enchiladas were part of their diet. Alexander Lee, in the Historian’s Cookbook, wrote that “they were probably first used as an edible plate or spoon.” Eventually, enchiladas evolved into wraps. The Mayans rolled tortillas in “pumpkin seeds around a chopped hard-boiled egg and covered in a rich tomato sauce.” The Aztecs ground up chili peppers into a paste and dipped tortillas, filled with beans, squash, fish, game, or eggs.
The Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 1500s, looking for gold and other valuables. In 1517, Conquistador Hernán Cortés conquered and plundered the Aztec Empire, claiming Mexico for Spain. He noted that their leader, Montezuma loved enchiladas, a food for both nobility and the common people.
While the Aztec empire didn’t survive, enchiladas endured, evolving into a delightful food that you can find in almost every Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant today.
Mexico declared independence in 1821. According to Lee, by that time enchiladas were “neither Spanish or Aztec . . . the closest thing the new country had to a national dish.” These days there’s chicken, beef, pork, vegetarian, cheese, bean, chorizo . . . or anything a creative chef chooses. There are regional variations from Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. You can even get desserts like ice cream, apple pie, and pumpkin spice cheesecake enchiladas.
Then there are those Big Enchiladas – people we love to hate. Or the largest edible enchilada, made in Mexico City in 2010, weighing over 3,122 pounds and winner of a Guinness World Record.
Buy them fresh, DIY, frozen, eat them at your favorite restaurant or food truck, and think of the Emperor Montezuma.
In contrast, Nachos are a humble dish invented by Ignacio Anaya Garcia in the 1940s.
Ignacio’s nickname was Nacho.
It was 1943, Ignacio was the host at the popular Victory Club, close to the U.S. border and near an American World War 2 army base. One day a group of hungry army wives crossed the Rio Grande and ended up in the border town of Piedras Negras. They were hungry.
They decided to go to the place their husbands always talked about – the Victory Club. Ignacio desperately wanted to please them. He went into the kitchen and the chef was gone!
Thinking quickly, Ignacio stacked a pile of tortilla chips with cheese and sliced jalapenos, perfect for the Americans.
The wives loved it!
The dish was so popular that the owner of the Victory Club put it on the menu as Nacho’s Especiales.
When the Victory Club closed in 1961, Ignacio opened his own place called Nacho’s Restaurant.
While nachos used similar ingredients to enchiladas, it was designed for American tastes. Today it’s served in restaurants, bars, sporting events, home parties – just about anywhere people are looking for a delicious snack.
Time has transformed it with gooey melted cheese, guacamole, ground beef, beans, salsa, and just about anything a creative chef can conjure.
Like enchiladas, nachos have become a Mexican classic. With all the same toppings (and fillings) the two dishes are clearly related to one another, served both as Mexican and Tex-Mex.
In other words, a marriage made in heaven.