Frito Pie, Walking Taco, Hidden Dragon
Anthony Bourdain is my Kurt Cobain. Maybe I should say John Lennon for all of you Boomers out there. I’ve idolized his unapologetic passion for food ever since I first read Kitchen Confidential and his tv shows have proven to be a blueprint of sorts for this blog. But even your heroes get it wrong every once in a while. If you don’t believe me, download “Some Time in New York City”. I remember watching Season 2 of Parts Unknown, Bourdain was digging a plastic fork into a bag of Fritos in the back of the Five & Dime General Store in Santa Fe New Mexico. He said he was opposed to everything the dish stood for, admitting nonetheless it was delicious. He then referred to the iconic Southwestern snack as a “colostomy pie” that felt like a warm bag of poo. I am not really into scat play, but when I watched that steaming beef chili poured into a sliced open bag of Fritos, topped with a fistful of shredded cheddar; I started catching all the feels. With all due respect to the legend, I disagree with Anthony. Frito pie is not bad at all, it’s the shit.
I have always thought that in order to achieve culinary greatness status, a foodigenous should have a disputed origin story, as is the case with the Frito pie. The most plausible claim suggests that it was Daisy Doolin, the mother of Frito founder Charles Elmer Doolin who introduced the world to a casserole of corn chips, chili con carne, diced onion and baked cheddar cheese. According to an amazingly thorough article detailing other possible origin stories, "All That and a Bag of Chips: The History of Frito Pie" Frito Pie was being served at ladies luncheons and society dinners as early as the mid-1930s.
Another popular lore from the 1960’s gives props to Teresa Hernández, a Santa Fe Woolworth employee working the counter at the luncheonette who first popularized
serving their New Mexican red chili, cheese and onion directly into a bag of Fritos. The aforementioned Five & Dime has taken over the defunct Woolworth storefront and continues to sell over 30,000 Frito pies annually becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.
Late To The Walking Taco Game
I’m embarrassed to admit that I only recently heard about the walking taco. While my high school football team was kicking ass every weekend, I was working in the back of an Italian restaurant. I never got to many games and when I did go, I sure as hell never saw a walking taco being served at the concession stand. If I did, I probably would have gone to more games. I pride myself on being a well-researched foodie and it isn’t very often that I am completely out of the loop on a decade’s old food trend, but unbeknownst to me this “cousin” of the Frito pie which was once only available in the Southwest is now a staple on football concession menus across the country.
For those of you not in the know, like the me-of-the-not-so-distant-past, a walking taco is an individual sized bag of Doritos or corn chips sliced and filled with traditional taco accoutrement. Unlike the laterally cut Fritos bag, the taco bag tends to be cut upright making it more portable. The combinations of this simple yet genius creation are endless like the spicy chicken and chorizo, slow roasted pork carnitas or a popular vegetarian option of twice fried beans, salsa, avocado and cut jalapenos stuffed into a bag of Cool Ranch. Check out Food Network’s Molly Yeh’s really cool recipe for walking fish tacos, with crunchy slaw and cilantro dressing served in a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips.
And you mean to tell me that there's someone smart enough to invent a walking smores bag stuffed with bite sized honey graham crackers, toasted marshmallow and melted chocolate but we still can’t put a man on Mars? Sounds suspect.
It’s The Bag For Me But…
There is something about eating right out of the bag that makes these foods really enjoyable, but I’d be remiss not to include the fast food chain Petros and mention their importance to the evolution of the Frito pie. In 1982, Joe and Carol Schoentrup set up a stand at the Knoxville World's Fair selling their version of Frito pies which they dubbed "petro" chips in honor of the exposition’s energy theme. They are credited with elevating a simple bag of chili and chips and transforming it into a gourmet affair. They introduced new cheeses, added sour cream, guacamole and diced tomatoes ultimately creating the foundation for today’s walking tacos. The chips were a hit. They ditched the bag for a cup, changed a snack into a meal and Petros is now franchised in 3 states with 19 locations and counting.
It's amazing how a simple hack turned into an iconic food. I spent most of my early twenties MacGyvering things from my empty kitchen cabinets with almost expired items from the fridge. Why didn't my signature imitation crab meat, Philly cream cheese and Doritos dinner get the same shine? Who knows? The one thing I do know, is if you are in the mood for salty, crunchy and convenient treat, you don't have to travel to a tailgate party or a high school football game, make these bad boys in your house, you won't be sorry.