1. The yellowness of your cheese is an indicator of the Tex-mex-ness of your food.
This is perhaps one of the most obvious distinctions between both cuisines. Mexican food favours white cheese, to the point Mexicans associate yellow cheese with gringo-style fast food. Believe it or not, nachos are not considered Mexican anywhere in Mexico.
2. Tacos in Mexico are made with soft tortillas.
The only exception to the rule are flautas (fried tortillas filled with cheese, chicken or mashed potatoes), but that’s the reason we call them flautas and not tacos! Taco shells are practically unknown throughout Mexican territory and most Mexicans will laugh out loud at the idea of using those things in their everyday meals. I mean, taco shells are cool and everything, but they’re not really practical.
3. Cumin is to Tex-mex what coriander is to Mexican food.
Cumin is an essential spice in most chili con carne recipes, it’s also a common ingredient to enhance the flavour of burritos and chimichangas; however, most Mexicans don’t even distinguish the smell of such spice. South of the border we use fresh coriander, parsley, oregano and epazote as our usual spices. No quesadilla is complete without epazote and every single Mexican knows that.
4. Sweet corn is a faithful indicator of everything Tex-mex.
It’s strange that in a country where corn is such an important cultural icon, sweet corn is practically absent from its typical dishes. In Mexico we prefer savoury dishes made of cooked corn grains and complete corn cobs, like esquites, pozole and mole de olla. You think Mexican salsa looks better with sweet corn? I know a hundred million people that would certainly disagree.
5. Baked beans in a can? No, that’s not Mexican.
In México canned beans are synonym of refried beans. Those pinto beans in chili sauce that you can find in the Mexican section of the supermarket are not a common sight in Mexican households. The reason is simple: in Mexico there’s always someone near you (normally your mom) who prepares frijoles from scratch, no tin can needed.
6. Everything that includes the name “chili” is Tex-mex.
Let’s get to the obvious. Why would we rename “chile” as “chili”?
7. Tortilla chips in your salad? Tex-mex!
Maybe the most common salad in the central part of Mexico is what we call “nopalitos”, made with fresh nopales (yes, that’s a cactus), coriander, onion and tomato. It’s more of a side dish than an actual salad, but that’s as far as we go in that category. A fresh vegetable salad topped with cheese and tortilla chips is as Mexican as falafel… or pizza.
8. The burrito dilemma.
The infamous burrito is probably one of the better known Mexican icons abroad. Mexican food lovers take note, burritos do exist in Mexico, but are just known in certain regions near the border with the U.S. and are quite different from what you’re expecting. The Mexican burritos from Sonora and Sinaloa are oversized tacos of grilled steak (asada), but they don’t include rice or fresh veggies; the Tex-mex version is the better known carnival of ingredients and flavours that includes beans, rice, cheese, veggies and meat. I can’t really favour one version over the other. Both are pretty awesome!
9. The chimichanga situation.
Same case as the burrito. I know that chimichangas are actually a thing in some places in northern Mexico, but considering it as a typical dish when only one of every ten thousand Mexicans have ever heard of their existence, could be pushing the things a little bit too far, don’t you think?
10. When your main course contains ground beef and it’s not inside a chile, it’s definitely not Mexican.
Ground beef in Mexico is just used to prepare picadillo, which is normally used to stuff poblano chiles and prepare our traditional chiles en nogada. Tacos with ground beef? Not very Mexican if you ask me.
11. Chipotle’s glorification.
Green chiles, jalapeños and chipotles are the usual suspects in Tex-mex cuisine and they’re pretty good at that. These chiles are versatile ingredients, but also some of the milder examples when it comes to spiciness. In Mexico we do like chipotles, we just use them in the same amount as serranos, pasillas, poblanos, guajillos, cascabel, piquín, manzanos, the all mighty habaneros… We love all these guys just the same!
12. Guacamole… guacamole everywhere
Ok, guacamole is practically identical in both of its versions (except when it’s served with sweet corn), but despite what many of you might think, guacamole is much more frequent in Tex-mex than in Mexican food. Guacamole is not omnipresent in Mexico, mainly due to the high price of avocados and because, as a salsa, it has a lot of competition. It’s still the favorite side dish of many Mexicans and it’s always better when served in a good old molcajete. Long live to guacamole!
13. Finally, if it’s in the Taco Bell menu…
Be sure it’s not Mexican at all!