Nachos have become one of the most popular snacks in America and around the world. If you ever go to a football game, basketball game, or a baseball game, you can be sure of three things. Hot dogs, beer, and nachos. The three snacks are popular in every game. During the Superbowl alone Americans will eat 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips while watching the game live or from their homes. While hot dogs and beer do seem like an American institution why are nachos so ingrained in American sports culture? Where did they come from and why were they such a hit?
They are such a hit because they are delicious. That is the obvious answer.
Nachos date back to 1943. There is a small town on the Mexican/US border that claims to have the origin story. To understand where nachos come from you have to understand the word nacho. It has had two meanings throughout recent history. The first meaning of nacho was a shortened version of “naturally, of course”. As in do you like tortilla chips covered in melted cheese with jalapeno? Naturally, of course! That does sound like a bit of a stretch for an origin story, so let’s try the second meaning. Nacho is also used as a shortened version of the name Ignacio. A common name in Mexico. Like calling Patrick, Paddy in Ireland.
This meaning makes more sense and fits with the story that arises out of Piedras Nagras, Mexico. Piedras Nagras was an important border town for many years. Fort Duncan was located across the border in Eagle Pass, USA only a couple of miles from Piedras Nagras. Many soldiers stationed at Eagle Pass would travel to Piedras Nagras for something good to eat and to escape the pressures of service whenever they could.
In 1943, in one of the restaurants in the town a man named Ignacio Anaya Sr. worked. He was known by most customers and called Nacho by many. One night a group of customers came to the restaurant and asked Ignacio to give them a new dish, something they had never tried before. He went to the kitchen and checked what ingredients he had to play with. Ignacio says that he started to take things from the shelves that he thought would work together. He grabbed the tortilla pieces that had just been fried, he grated some cheese on top, he put some jalapeno strips on top and popped it in the oven for a bit. Nachos the snack was born.
From this point on people would ask for Nacho’s special dish throughout the town and the Mexican border. Word started to spread about the snack and as time went on they became known simply as nachos. While Ignacio is the creator of a man named Frank Liberto was responsible for their success in America. He turned nachos into the fast-food sensation they are today by pitching them to various sporting venues. Swapping out the cheese for an easy to use cheesy sauce meant that they were easy to produce at a large scale.
The nachos moved to the mainstream after one commentator at a Dallas Cowboys game was enduring a particularly boring game. He had nothing to say about the game so instead started to talk about his snack and how delicious it was. Later in the game, he described a play as a nacho play because of how delicious it was. From there the obsession with nachos had reached its peak and the world has been in love with nachos ever since.
My youngest recently told me a terrible joke that I simply have to share:
What do you call cheese that isn’t yours? It’s nacho cheese (naturally, of course)!