The United States is called “the melting pot” because of the variety of people who are living here. Such a wide variety of people brings a lot of new cultures, and with new cultures brings new food. One type of food that came from another culture and is very popular in the US is Mexican food. This type of food is so popular that one out of every ten restaurants sells Mexican food (ABC News). According to Arellano in Taco USA, “Mexican food is as much of an ambassador for the United States as the hot dog…” (5). If another food’s popularity can be compared to the popularity of the hot dog, then you know it has to be something special. One of the reasons that Mexican food is so popular is because there are so many different dishes that you can get. One of Spongebob’s favorite dishes, and the one that will be focused on in this essay are enchiladas.
Just like Mexican food, enchiladas themselves have their own popularity. Not only are enchiladas one of the most ordered Mexican dishes, but they have their own holiday. National Enchilada Day is on May 5th, so mark that on your calendars (Foodimentarian)! Enchiladas are also one of the most “talked about” Mexican dish, as they have two sayings about them. One of the sayings is “The whole enchilada”, which basically means the whole thing. There is not a lot of information on the origin of the phrase, other than that it seems to have started in the 1960s (Random Misanthrope). The second phrase is “Esto no es enchilame otra”, which basically means this is no piece of cake (Holtz and Mena 239). This saying came about because making enchiladas is a fairly easy process compared to other dishes. When you see the enchiladas that are served in restaurants you might not think that the process of making them would be easy, but in Mexico enchiladas serve more as a hot dog you can buy in a cart on the street corner (Bowman).
The word enchilada derives from the Spanish word enchilar which means to season with chili (Zeldes). This definition makes sense, because the traditional way to make enchiladas is to douse the tortilla in some sort of chili sauce before you add the “stuffins’”. This traditional enchilada originated in Mexico, and the first version of it was invented by the Atecs (Bowman). One thing that a lot of people do not realize is the fact that there are different varieties of enchiladas, and I’m not just talking about whether the sauce that comes on top is red or green. According to Holtz and Mena in Tacopedia, “Every state of Mexico has its own version of enchiladas” (239). In Aguascalientes you can find red enchiladas that have white corn tortillas that are dipped in a tomato and ancho chilie salsa, filled with cheese and onion, topped with sour cream and served with fried potatoes (Holtz and Mena 241). You can get a completely different type of enchilada in Queretaro; a red corn tortilla stuffed with aged cheese and guajillo chile salsa, and garnished with fried carrots and potato, lettuce, onion, fresh sour cream, and slices of chiles in vinegar (Holtz and Mena 241).
If you were to order an enchilada at a chain Mexican restaurant, let’s say El Rio Grande, your enchilada would not even begin to have half of the ingredients in the enchiladas from the Mexican states. The reason for this is because Mexican food has taken on more of Tex-Mex role in the United States. According to Bethune in Serious Eats, the biggest difference between Tex-Mex enchiladas and traditional enchiladas is the color of the cheese, traditional being white and Tex-Mex being yellow, and the sauce that goes on top, traditional having mole or a green sauce and Tex-Mex being a red chile sauce. Another thing that people like to point out is that in all Tex-Mex dishes, sour cream always somehow finds a way to end up on the plate. There’s an interesting saying that goes along with the amount of sour cream you put on your tacos; its goes as follows “Le echas mucha crema a tus tacos” (Holtz and Mena 229). If someone says this to you, it is not a compliment; it is basically saying that you are conceited. So, note to self, lay off of the sour cream a bit.
Now that you know some history about enchiladas themselves, we will move on to the building blocks to create them. A big part in making the enchilada is having the perfect tortilla, because it is the ingredient that makes or breaks an enchilada, or any dish for that matter. The word tortilla comes from the Spanish word “torta” which is a round cake (La Tortilla Loca). Traditional enchiladas are made with a corn tortilla, which can be white or yellow, and has more of a firm and chewy texture to it. Whereas enchiladas made today either come with a corn tortilla, or a flour tortilla. Flour tortillas have a very soft texture to them, which makes it a lot easier when rolling up a burrito. One of the great things about both types of tortillas is that, unlike bread, when they go stale they are still able to be used. When a corn tortilla goes stale they can be fried and made into a crunchy taco shell, and when white tortillas go stale you can make quesadillas with them. You can see why tortillas are such a huge part of Mexican cuisine, in fact, that the average Mexican consumes 135 pounds of tortillas per year (Holtz and Mena 44). Arellano agrees in Taco USA where he states that “with no tortilla, there is no Mexico. There is nothing” (197).
The next part of building an enchilada is what goes on the inside. This is one of the best parts of an enchilada, because you basically get to choose what you would like on the inside (menu willing, of course!). Some enchiladas have chicken or beef, and may contain cheese, beans and tomatoes. At La Casa de las Enchiladas, chef Alejandro Kuri has his menu set up to where the customers can build their own enchiladas. There are as many as 2,000 different combinations that you can choose for your enchilada (Holtz and Mena 242).
The final step of building an enchilada is the liquid that covers the top and cascades down the sides. Traditional enchiladas are topped with either mole or a green tomatillo sauce. Mole is a sauce that comes in many different varieties, a lot of people only think about the variety that contains chocolate in it. The word Mole is derived from the Spanish were “Moler” which means to grind, and it goes even further back with the Aztecs and their word “Molli” which means sauce (Culinary Lore). Mole can be spicy, it can contain chunks of vegetables in it, it can have the texture of gravy, it can even range from the colors black all the way to yellow; there is a mole for everyone (Culinary Lore). When a green tomatillo sauce is what tops an enchilada, this dish is sometimes referred to as enchiladas verde (Bethune). Other enchiladas are topped with either a mild-spicy red sauce that most likely came out of a can, some sort of sour cream sauce, or some tomato based sauce that has no flavor.
Enchiladas in America have completely veered off from what they traditionally were, to the point where it might not even be okay to call what we eat enchiladas. Regardless of whether or not enchiladas are eaten traditionally, or with a Tex-Mex flare to it, they will always be one of the top selling Mexican entrees.