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~The Sizzling History behind Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon)~

IMG_2053Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Fahitas transition from tortillas to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b02788030868b200dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa, fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.

Try my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling:

IMG_1936Try my Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:

IMG_2148Try my Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos too:

IMG_2020 2Or, my Cheesy Chicken-Fajitas Quesadillas:

IMG_3150Or, perhaps, my Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos:

6a0120a8551282970b026bded89db9200cAll that said, try all of the above substituting my Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling for my One-Skillet Chicken-Fajita filling:

6a0120a8551282970b027880393a15200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)  


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