Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:
In Chapter Thirteen of the Manx-Mex Chronicles, I mentioned that some of the only references to Tex-Mex that average locals will get are from the Old El Paso display in the grocery store. After writing it, I realized that taking a closer look at what’s on offer at the grocery store would give us an inside look the average local’s palate (the grocery store is only going to offer what sells!) and tell us more about what, if any, Tex-Mex influences are popular. So I took my camera and strolled around the local grocery store, documenting what I found.
Let’s begin with the obvious. This is the “Mexican” section of the store:
The yellow branding of Old El Paso dominates the shelves, taking up more than 50% of the space. Most of the boxes are quick meal kits and taco shells, both hard and signature standing style. There are only three kinds of salsa available, though my favorite friend, Cholula, is present. Demand for normal tortillas also seems low – the tortillas take up only a tiny half shelf of the section (By comparison, on the other side of the aisle, the naan and papadums take up four times that amount). This is also the only area of the store where you can find sour cream or guacamole, (actually, it’s a guacamole “style” sauce). I’m not sure how I feel about these being made shelf stable, as I’m used to both items having to be refrigerated.
I also use the quotations around “Mexican” for a reason. Approximately a quarter of the section is dedicated to sauces and seasonings that are distinctly Central American. They even say so on the package!
If you came this area of the store looking for true Mexican and Tex-Mex items, I’d say you’d be sorely disappointed. However, as I continued searching, my spirits were lifted. While the “Mexican” section may be totally lame, there are bits and pieces of Tex-Mex flavor hiding all over.
The deli section offers both a “Mexican style” chipotle shredded pork and beef, as well as Mexican flavored chicken fillets. I was naturally suspicious of what these Mexican-flavored items might actually be made with, but I found cumin, chilli, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder in the ingredients, so they didn’t seem far off the mark.
There was a Chilli con Carne flavored pizza available (usually pizza places here have some kind of Mexican flavor featuring jalepeños) for the bold), as well as a Mexican chicken bake meal (chicken covered in mild bell pepper and chilli salsa, cheese, and tortilla chips), and a frozen barbacoa taco meal from TGIFriday’s. Some snacks I saw offered seemed alright but had odd twists thrown in (like a Mexican rice and bean snack with harissa sauce, which is associated with Tunisia and Libya).
Mexicana cheese is another interesting find. Mexicana is a brand, but it seems like it’s also become a variety of cheese. The one I got from the store says it was prepared by the cheesemonger, so I don’t think it’s the actual brand. It doesn’t have a specific ingredient list either, but it says it contains “spicy chilli and mixed peppers”. The cheese tastes strongly of cumin, is pretty spicy, and makes a hell of a quesadilla too.
But what surprised me most was finding some truly, actually Tex-Mex in the prepared foods section. I thought that it would be easier to find true Tex-Mex in a restaurant than in the grocery store, but I may have been proven wrong.
Both this Chilli con Carne and Fajita Chicken actually SAY Tex-Mex on the label, and are accepted Tex-Mex foods (even if they did serve the Chilli con Carne with plain rice)!
What I took away from this experience:
Chilli con Carne is far and away the most popular Tex-Mex item.
Mexican and Texan (read: BBQ) flavors are big hits, especially for quick bites (though spicy is still hit or miss).
The ability to discern between Mexico and Central America leaves something to be desired.
The only tequila in the shop is a small bottle of silver.
But most of all, I found that the idea of Tex-Mex is being embraced by the wider public, even if they’re only just beginning to be offered what we would consider true Tex-Mex.
Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Fifteen: What’s On Offer This was reposted for my personal reading use