Readers sometimes ask if we’ll ever run out of things to write about. No way. Origins are a good example: as we recently discovered, even lowly snack foods can have fascinating (and delicious) origins. (This article was first published in Uncle John’s Fast-Acting, Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.)
In 1943 Ignacio Anaya, or “Nacho” as he was nicknamed, was working as the maitre d’ at a restaurant called the Victory Club in Piedras Negras, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. According to Anaya’s son, Ignacio Jr., one night the restaurant’s cook disappeared just as a group of officers’ wives from Fort Duncan Air Base arrived for dinner. Thinking fast, Anaya went into the kitchen and improvised a meal by taking some tostadas and topping them with shredded cheddar cheese, then putting them in a broiler, and serving them garnished with jalapeño peppers. The women were impressed. One of them, Mamie Finan, named them “Nachos Especiales” in honor of Anaya’s nickname.
The recipe soon became a specialty of many local restaurants, but remained unknown outside of southern Texas until a man named Frank Liberto saw the potential of nachos as a concession stand item. In 1977 he figured out how to process the cheese to keep it soft all the time, and started selling nachos at Arlington Stadium, then home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. He later replaced the tostadas with tortilla chips, and modern-day nachos were born.
But nachos might have remained a Texas specialty if not for Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football. Someone gave Cosell nachos before a game. He loved them…and liked the funny sounding name. That night (and for weeks after), Cosell and the broadcast team worked references to nachos into the game analysis as often as possible. Cosell loved describing great plays by calling them “nachos,” giving the food national recognition, making the term an acceptable adjective for spectacular events, and forever securing its spot as one of the sport watcher’s favorite finger foods.